O GOD, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The lessons for the week can be found in the BCP on pp. xxxvi-xxxvii.
Part 1: The First Lesson for Morning Prayer
The First Lesson for Morning Prayer this week begins a four week reading thru the book 1 Samuel.
This week will take us thru chapters 1-6. These include the miraculous birth of the last of the judges and prophet Samuel. His mother, Hannah, sings a song of praise to the Lord for giving her a child, that is strikingly similar to the song of Mary known as Magnificat. In it she praises God as the one who makes promises and keeps them; who causes wars to cease; who feeds the hungry and cares for the widow; who establishes justice and sends a king to rule with equity. With this in mind Hannah is much like Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, who miraculously bore John the Baptist. Samuel was the forerunner, the messenger, for King David. John the Baptist was the forerunner for the greater David, Jesus the King. Maintaining this thematic parallel throughout will help as we read about the corruption of Eli’s priesthood and the loss of the Ark to the Philistines. Jesus has come to be not only King, but also the true prophet and true priest. He has come ‘to purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD.’ (Mal. 3.3)
Part 2. The Second Lesson for Morning Prayer
The Second Lesson for Morning Prayer this week continues in our reading of Luke, this time chapters 13 and 14.
Jesus’ warnings continue from chapter 12. A time of judgment, of great suffering was about to fall upon Israel. They needed to settle all their outstanding accounts, both financial and moral, with their neighbors. Charity and forgiveness, not grudge-keeping, must be the guiding virtues. Jesus is speaking as God’s herald, his prophet or mouthpiece. If his audience will not hear and repent (turn and go the opposite way they had been going) then their city would be burned down. Fig trees without fruit are no better than firewood! Religious precision without charity for the sick and poor is worthless! When this judgment falls on Jerusalem, those who rejected Jesus will find themselves destroyed while those who responded to Jesus’ warnings, while those outside Israel who obeyed Jesus (the Gentiles?) will find that they have been included in God’s family. Jesus had come to establish God’s kingdom on earth at long last. Yet, the Jewish leaders rejected him, and refused to accept his invitation to the Messianic banquet. Whoever wanted to escape the coming fire would have to leave behind all that they held dear: family, reputation, possessions, influence. How do we take up our crosses to follow Jesus? How does suffering relate to being in Jesus’ kingdom? Where are the sacrifices in our own lives that we must make?
Part 3. The First Lesson for Evening Prayer
The First Lesson for Evening Prayer comes from the Book of Ezra.
Ezra and the following book, Nehemiah, were likely written together by the same author who wrote the books 1 & 2 Chronicles. 2 Chronicles ends with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and Ezra begins with the return of some of the exiles to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Cyrus and his Persians had defeated the Babylonians in 539BC and forged a great new empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan. In 537BC he authorized the release of Jews to return and build a temple to the God in Jerusalem. Isaiah had foretold this event in Is. 45, where Cyrus is described as the LORD’s ‘messiah’. Because Israel’s God is the one true god, all nations must come, bow down, and worship him. Sadly, Ezra and Nehemiah’s work to rebuild the sacred precinct is delayed by the local tribes who attempt to intimidate and even persuade the Persian king to withdraw his support for this awesome project. Think about how our own culture is willing to allow us to practice our religion privately, as long as it doesn’t spill over into the public common space. But the true God is not content with a ‘private religious experience’. He demands the obedience of all nations.
Part 4. The Second Lesson for Evening Prayer
The Second Lesson for Evening Prayer continues our reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Paul is intentionally developing the Exodus theme in his appeal to the Romans. They had once been dead in their idolatry (Gentiles) or condemned by Moses’ Law (Jews), and God’s providential plan to rescue the whole world thru his promises to Abraham seem to be in jeopardy. But now he has sent his son Jesus, Israel’s messianic king, to take upon himself all the destruction of human wickedness. He was faithful to the Father’s call, and now the covenant promises have been poured out onto the world. So, all those who have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection are like those Israelites who departed 400 years of slavery to Egypt into the glorious inheritance of the Promised Land in Canaan. They had been given new lives, they could no longer act as though they were living their old lives. Those Jews who reject Jesus as their messiah, and live according to Moses’ law find themselves accused and condemned by that same law. It cannot give them new life, the way Jesus and the Spirit can. Instead, the Torah can only divide Jew from Gentile, and point out that the Jew has broken the Law that he loves so much. But those who have devoted themselves to Jesus, thru faith and baptism, find that they have been released from anyone or anything that might condemn them. God’s own Spirit, guiding them (cloud by day and fire by night) into their inheritance, has made them God’s own children.