Saturday, January 30, 2016

Love Means . . . (RCL Proper 4C, 31 January 2016)

RCL Epiphany 4C
31 January 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
         Paul of Tarsus looked at the letter he was writing to the Christian community at Corinth.  He was not, as we now say, ‘amused’.  Not so long ago they were the crown of his missionary achievements, a diverse Christian community existing in an important colony of the Roman Empire that straddled one of the more important east-west highways.  But now everything seemed on the brink of collapse.
         Jewish followers of Jesus were claiming superiority over Gentile believers.  Rich Christians refused to share their food with poorer Christians when they came together for the community meal.  Free-born Christians were unwilling to accept the equality of Christians who were either slaves or freed slaves.  A small number of the community claimed to have special spiritual gifts from God that made them superior to other Christians.  Christian men continued to treat Christian women as second-class.  And as if these weren’t enough problems to plague Paul, the community was split by partisanship, some claiming to be Paul’s, others claiming to be followers of other Christian teachers.
         As he looked at what he had written, Paul realized that he had come to a critical point in his attempt to deal with the problems.  He had acknowledged that God bestowed differing gifts upon Christians, but he had emphasized that no gift made one Christian superior to another.  He had compared the community and its various gifts to the human body.  Hands needed arms, feet need legs, mouths needed stomachs and digestive tracts.  But was there a greater gift?  Was there a word he could use that would distinguish Christians from others, even in the midst of conflict?
         Paul knew that there was one word he could not use.  There had been rumours that a few of the Christians in Corinth were engaging in extra-marital affairs and other unsavoury relationships.  Some non-Christians were already accusing Christians of being immoral, so the last thing Paul could do was to add fuel to the fire.  No, eros, ‘sexual love’, was definitely not the term he was looking for.
         What about storgé, ‘love between members of a family’?  After all, Christians called each other ‘sister’ or ‘brother’.  Many Christians had been disowned by their own families after choosing to follow Jesus.  This might just be word Paul was looking for.  But then, maybe not.  You can choose your friends, Paul thought, but not your family.  Too many families were dysfunctional and, in Greco-Roman society, fathers had life and death power over their children and wives.  No, this was not the word Paul was looking for.
         What about philia, ‘love between friends’?  Friendship was an important dimension of any person’s life.  Friends shared thoughts, hopes and aspirations.  Friends looked out for one another.  Hold it, Paul, thought, that’s the problem.  Friends did look out for one another, sometimes to the exclusion of other people, even those desiring of attention.  No, Greco-Roman society was full of old boys’ clubs who furthered their own ambitions.  No, this was not the word Paul was look for.
         Just as things were looking a bit bleak, Paul discovered the mot juste, the right word for the right relationship between Christians.  Christians were to treat each other with agapé, ‘self-giving, self-sacrificing love’, the love that God had shown to the world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Agapé was just what the Corinthians needed to embrace.  No more social distinctions.  No more partisan associations.  No more gender distinctions.  No more ethnic distinctions.  Just as Jesus had lived and died for all people, so should his followers, sharing in the risen life, be a community that embraced one another.  This was what Paul needed to write.  And so he did.
         Unfortunately what Paul did not realize was that the Christian message would spread throughout the world and his words would be translated into languages that did not share the precision of the Greek language.  How could Paul have known that agapé would be translated in English by the word ‘love’?  How could he know how imprecise and open to misunderstanding his challenge to the Christians in Corinth would become in the twentieth century?
         We love our cars.  We love our smart phones.  We love our shoes.  We love the shine our brand of floor wax gives to our kitchen. 
         We confuse lust with love.  We confuse infatuation with love.  We confuse warm and fuzzy feelings with love.  Crusty clergy like me roll our eyes sometimes when a young couple chooses 1 Corinthians 13 for their wedding, unaware of the implications of these glorious words for their life together.  Perhaps we should make ‘the familiar strange’[1] and read

                  1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have agapé, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have agapé, I am nothing.  3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have agapé, I gain nothing.

         When Paul writes about agapé, he is asking the Corinthians and us to choose a way of life which involves the willingness to consider the needs and concerns of others as more pressing than our own.  He can ask this, because Paul expects me to look out for your needs and concerns, just as I hope you will look out for mine.  No one need be afraid that he or she will be forgotten.  It’s an expectation that I must honestly say has yet to be fulfilled, but it remains the expectation that is to shape our Christian lives.
         Agapé may bestir us to buy five goats for a village in Africa rather than the gifts our families expect at Christmas.  Agapé may cause us to vote for a political party who promises to raise taxes to ensure the well-being of all citizens rather than targeted tax cuts that bring personal benefit.  Agapé may lead us to volunteer for causes that our friends think akin to the adventures of Don Quixote.  And sometimes, agapé may lead our neighbours to drag us to the edge of a cliff because we are upsetting the status quo.
         But agapé will also bring us insights into God’s purposes for us and for all of creation.  Agapé will forge new relationships that are life-giving even in the midst of all that tries to deny the fullness of life to our sisters and brothers.  Agapé will lead us to look at the world through God’s perspective and see its beauty, its promise and its future.

[1] A phrase my colleague Harry Maier has been known to use as a description of the vocation of a New Testament professor.

Monday, January 25, 2016

An Ordo for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (RCL Proper 3C, 31 January 2016)

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
31 January 2016

The Gathering of the Community


Processional Hymn

‘Word of God, Come Down on Earth’  Common Praise #446

Introductory Responses for Epiphany

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.
May all the earth be filled with the glory of God.
Light has sprung up for the righteous,
and joyful gladness for those who are true-hearted. [i]

Hymn of Praise

Gloria in Excelsis [ii]


Let us pray.

Prophetic God,
strengthen and encourage us
to hear those who speak your uncomfortable truths
and who challenge our dearest prejudices,
so that we may know and heed prophets of our age;
through Jesus, son of Joseph.  Amen. [iii]

The Proclamation of the Word

First Reading

A Reading from Jeremiah (1.4-10).

            4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

            6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God!  Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

            7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.  8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

            9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.  10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
Thanks be to God.

The Psalm

Psalm 71.1-6 with the refrain from Songs for the Holy One

Refrain (sung twice):  Holy One, you are our trust and our protection.

1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
            let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
            incline your ear to me and save me.

Refrain:  Holy One, you are our trust and our protection.

3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
            you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
            from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

Refrain:  Holy One, you are our trust and our protection.

5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
            my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
            my praise shall be always of you.

Refrain:  Holy One, you are our trust and our protection.

Second Reading

A Reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (13.1-13).

            1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

            4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

            8 Love never ends.  But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.  9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.  11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.  12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
Thanks be to God.

The Gradual Hymn

‘We Walk by Faith’  Common Praise #244

The Gospel

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (4.21-30).
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

21 [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’  And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”  24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The Gospel of Christ.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

The Sermon

An Affirmation of Faith

Let us affirm our faith.

Christ is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible.

Christ himself is before all things,
and in Christ all things hold together.
Christ is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him God has reconciled us to God’s very self.

Blessed be the holy and undivided Trinity, one God.
Blessed be God for ever. [iv]

The Prayers of the Community

Intercessions, Petitions and Thanksgivings

The Exchange of the Peace

May the peace of Christ be always with you.
And also with you.

The Holy Communion

The Offertory Hymn

‘Come Down, O Love Divine’  Common Praise #645

Prayer over the Gifts

Let us pray.

Good and loving God,
we rejoice in the birth of Jesus,
who came among the poor
to bring the riches of your grace.
As you have blessed us with your gifts,
let them be a blessing for others.
With the trees of the field,
with all earth and heaven,
we shout for joy at the coming of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. [v]

Thanksgiving at the Table

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you,
almighty and merciful God, through our Saviour Jesus Christ. 
By the leading of a star he was shown forth to all nations;
in the waters of the Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son,
and in the miracle of water turned to wine he revealed your glory. 
And so, with all the choirs of angels,
with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven,
we praise your name and join their unending hymn:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest. [vi]

Holy One, the beginning and the end, the giver of life:
Blessed are you for the birth of creation.
Blessed are you in the darkness and in the light.
Blessed are you for your promise to your people.
Blessed are you for the prophets’ hopes and dreams.
Blessed are you for Mary’s openness to your will.
Blessed are you for your Son, Jesus, the Word made flesh.

In the night in which he was betrayed,
our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;
broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take and eat; this is my body given for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks,
and gave it for all to drink, saying:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.
Do this for the remembrance of me.

[Therefore let] us proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

With this bread and cup we remember
your Word dwelling among us, full of grace and truth.
We remember our new birth in his death and resurrection.
We look with hope for his coming.
Come, Lord Jesus.

Holy God, we long for your Spirit.
Come among us.  Bless this meal.
May your Word take flesh in us.
Awaken your people.  Fill us with your light.
Bring the gift of peace on earth.
Come, Holy Spirit.

All praise and glory are yours, Holy One of Israel,
Word of God incarnate, Power of the Most High,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.[vii]

The Lord’s Prayer

As our Saviour taught us, let us pray,
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and for ever.  Amen. [viii]

The Breaking of the Bread

We break the bread of life,
and that life is the light of the world
God here among us,
light in the midst of us,
bring us to light and life.

The gifts of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.

The Communion

‘Not for Tongues of Heaven’s Angels’  Common Praise #494

The Hymn after Communion

The Sending Forth of the Community

Prayer after Communion

Let us pray.

Radiant God,
with our eyes we have seen your salvation,
and in this meal we have feasted on your grace.
May your Word take flesh in us,
so that we may be your holy people,
revealing your glory made known to us
in Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.  Amen. [ix]

Glory to God,
whose power, working in us,
can do infinitely more
than we can ask or imagine.
Glory to God from generation to generation,
in the Church and in Christ Jesus,
for ever and ever.  Amen.

Closing Hymn

‘You Are Salt for the Earth’  Common Praise #502 (with cantor)


The Deacon dismisses the Community with an appropriate Dismissal.

[i] The Book of Alternative Services (1985), 96 alt.

[ii] Lang Carol Mass.

[iii] Liturgy Task Force, ‘Trial Use Collects and Prayers over the Gifts and after Communion for Year C:  Advent 1 through Epiphany 6,’ 11.

[iv] Colossians 1.15-20 edited for liturgical use by the Rev’d Dr Richard Geoffrey Leggett.

[v] Liturgy Task Force, ‘Trial Use Collects and Prayers over the Gifts and after Communion for Year C:  Advent 1 through Epiphany 6,’ 13.

[vi] Lang ‘Carol Mass’.

[vii] Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), p. 110.

[viii] Common Worship #744.

[ix] Liturgy Task Force, ‘Trial Use Collects and Prayers over the Gifts and after Communion for Year C:  Advent 1 through Epiphany 6,’ 13.