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Matthew’s Beatitudes

Today’s scriptures underline the upside-down nature of life in God’s kingdom. The prophet Micah proclaims that the only sacrifice God wants is justice. Paul insists that God’s foolishness and weakness are more powerful than worldly wisdom and strength. In the Beatitudes, Jesus describes true happiness in a way of life that runs contrary to ordinary human expectations.

The Gospel probes contrasts with the Beatitutes. Matthew gathers the teaching of Jesus into five great discourses and balances them with narratives of Jesus’ deeds. Today’s reading is the first of a series drawn from the first discourse, the Sermon on the Mount.

The “blessed” in the Old Testament are those who receive an earthly fulfillment—of prosperity, offspring and long life. In later Jewish writing, the blessings belong to those who will enter the final age of salvation. Jesus offers these future blessings now, for the kingdom is present in him.

The first four beatitudes reflect attitudes that climax with an unceasing hunger for a right relationship with God—both personally and communally. The second four reflect the actions and lifestyles of those who hunger in this way. In verse 10, Jesus teaches that those who live the Beatitudes will face persecution, for this way is contrary to all that the world espouses.

Jesus spoke these words to a crowd of peasants, a tattered bunch, probably not even knowing what they were searching for. They lacked an understanding of their plight. Jesus offered them another view of their aching unhappiness, a hidden dimension beyond their misery.

Jesus assured them that they were holy. He corrected the misconception that salvation must be earned and that earthly prosperity was a sign of divine favor. He reversed “top down” notions of religion, where sanctity filtered from the religious hierarchy to the common folk. He praised the kind of ordinary sanctity that Salvadoran theologian Jon Sobrino called, “in the God of the lowly, the greater God.”

Those whom the world would consider miserable are in Jesus’ eyes most happy. They have seen through the false promises of wealth and the fragility of human relationships. Knowing that all illusions must fail, they seek security in God. Those who mourn are blessed for several reasons: because they have loved deeply, and because God will comfort them.

Lincoln and the Beatitudes

From James C. Wright, Jr.
Published in Christianity Today|
Feb. 4, 1983

In a few days we will celebrate the birthday of our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln. There is so much inspirational quality in his life for all people, and especially today, that it should be profitable to spend a few minutes meditating upon it.

No other person in American history is known and quoted so widely. “What is it,” I have asked myself, “that makes Lincoln stand apart from all the rest?” The more we grope for the things that raised Lincoln to his distinctive pedestal of greatness, the more we are forced to conclude that they lay in the realm of the spirit. The attributes that were distinctively Lincoln’s were remarkably those set forth by Christ in the Beatitudes.

Lincoln was poor in the sense that Christ was poor. True, he had few financial resources. But more to the point, he had a basic spirit of humanity that is rare on the political scene. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Lincoln was dogged by defeat, hounded by failure, and stalked by tragedy. From the loss of his mother, at the age of nine, grief followed his footsteps like an unshakeable shadow. The youthful love he shared with Ann Rutledge ended in heartache at her death. He knew unspeakable anguish at the death of his son Eddie at the age of four, and later, as President, the death of his beloved son Willie. But “Blessed,” said Christ, “are they that mourn.”

There can be no doubt as to Lincoln’s personal feelings about slavery. The spectacle of one human being owned as property by another did violence to his sense of right and wrong. On a trip to New Orleans as a young man he saw for the first time the true horrors of slavery. His conscience rebelled against the inhumanity of human creatures in chains, whipped and scourged. Then and there he swore an oath against the cruel and heartless institution, for it was wrong and reeked of evil. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.”

Above his distaste for slavery, his greater passion was to save the nation. With the vision of the pure hearted, he knew the Union must endure. Still, he was a peaceful man, not a warmonger. He believed the North was as much responsible that slavery existed as was the South, and that both should bear equally the burdens of its elimination. Fanatic abolitionists railed against him and called him an appeaser and a compromiser.

Finally, as President, he proposed that the slaveholders would be recompensed by the government, paid $400 for each slave who was freed. He called representatives of the states to the White House and urged this settlement. They rejected the entire plan. Lincoln the peacemaker had failed, but, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Christ, “for they shall be called the children of God.”

Left no alternative, the President proceeded to gird the Union for war. He proclaimed the emancipation of the slaves, armed the Negroes, and devoted his singular energies to the distasteful business of destroying the enemy. Gloom hung heavy in the North and in the White House. Lincoln’s generals failed him, his cabinet snubbed him, the public reviled him.

The abuse he suffered would have made any ordinary man strike back in wounded pride. When Salmon Chase humiliated him and plotted against him, Lincoln praised Chase and made him chief justice of the Supreme Court. After Edwin Stanton had scorned him as an “imbecile,” Lincoln made him his secretary of war. “Blessed are the meek,” said Christ, “for they shall inherit the earth.”

When the war was finally over and Lee met Grant at Appomattox Court House, there were no humiliating ceremonies of capitulation. There was to be no vengeance such as that demanded by the Northern radicals who for four years had been insisting that Lee and others be hanged for treason. The terms of the surrender were remarkably generous and gentle. Why? Because Abraham Lincoln, just hours before his death, had personally dictated the terms. “Blessed are the merciful,” said Christ.

In the end, Lincoln had done what he had set out to do. Over the most difficult obstacle course to confront a career, he had fulfilled his mission. As he lay dying in the little rooming house across from Ford’s Theater, it remained for Edwin Stanton, his former detractor, to speak the fitting tribute: “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen … [and] now he belongs to the ages.”

Lincoln does belong to the ages because the virtues upon which his life were founded are timeless. They have been the message of God to mankind since the dawn of history. Jesus not only taught these principles of life, but he demonstrated them in every word spoken and in every act performed.

These are the qualities that make a people great, and the neglect of these is the source of evil in the world. My prayer to God is that men and women at all levels of society and in every nation will find in Christ the strength and the courage to demonstrate these virtues in the conduct of the affairs of individuals and of nations.

Story of a painting – Rembrandt’s “Presentation in the Temple”

Rembrandt returned to the subject, "Presentation of Jesus in the Temple" at least 5 times from 1627 to 1654, two paintings, three etchings.

The subject is the biblical story of Simeon. Jesus was still an infant when Joseph and Mary took him to the temple to be presented to God. There they were approached by Simeon, a devout old man who recognised the child as the Saviour and praised him to God.

The most famous of these works was in 1631 when he was about 25 and still living in Leiden. Later that year he moved to Amsterdam. This painting is the high point of Rembrandt’s Leiden years: it represents the sum total of his artistic abilities at that

Most of his paintings are in very dark tones out of which his figures seem to appear to the foreground. Rembrandt was the master of dark and light and most of his pictures are made in this style of struggle between dark and light, night and day, sorrow and joy.

The key to the picture is how carefully and delicate the figures are painted, even those in the darkest part of the painting. The beautiful contrast, between the light on the central group and the soft dimness of the remoter parts of the cathedral, illustrates a style of work for which Rembrandt was very famous.

Our eyes are drawn to the very emotional Simeon, eyes aglow. As with the priest, his figures are often elongated in this period. The pictures is framed by the two figures behind Mary and Joseph in dark contrasting with Mary’s blue and Simeon’s shimmering robe.

Read more about Rembrandt

Meanings in today’s service…

A photo collage of today’s service – communion, the roses around the altar, Rev. Tom Hughes with those roses and the light, greeting of a family by both ministers. Lots of symbols for the service and the lectionary.

From Sun Jan 22, 3rd Epiphany focused on the call of disciples. John the Baptist’s death was the spark that caused Jesus’ ministry to begin. When the news comes to him about John’s arrest, he makes a difficult choice, by withdrawing to Galilee, where he calls his first disciples, preaches the Sermon on the Mount, begins his ministry of healing, and teaches what it means to be the Messiah who is “God with us.”

The Rev. Tom Hughes stressed that what was unique in the Gospel was that Jesus was coming to the disciples and not vice-versa as it was in the Old Testament. His understanding of the needs and potential of the disciples was significant. Here is his sermon.

The calling of the disciples considers the idea of starting over as a new beginning as God did at the time of the crossing of the Red Sea. Where John baptized is where the Hebrew people had originally come across. God is calling us to make new commitments for a community empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in the world inspired by Christ to live in a certain way and knowing that the reward for that is eternity with God.

Jesus’ return to Galilee will be the occasion for those who sit in darkness to see “a great light” (Matthew 4:16-17). No doubt Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing is the basis for that light.

We too are being set apart for purposes in our time. We must be aware of those purposes and act accordingly in our ministries.

Restorative

“What do you do with your grief and frustration about the world’s injustices?  If we aren’t intentional about turning them into redemptive and restorative actions they will shrink and consume us.  Or, they will make us chronically hopeless.  Jesus’s cousin was arrested and then killed.  It was a state and religious community-sanctioned hit job.  After a short time away, we hear that Jesus’ response to this tragedy was to finish John’s work- to preach and heal.  To bring the God conversation to places and people established religion had forsaken.  Jesus redeems John and the good he was doing before his arrest by turning lament into life.  Injustice will be with us as long as there is humanity, the question is will we let it have the last word? ” – Bishop Rob Wright, Atlanta

From the Gospel reading – Matthew 4:12-23

Conversion of St. Paul

On January 25 we remember how Saul (or Paul) of Tarsus, formerly a persecutor of the early Christian Church, was led by God’s grace to become one of its chief spokesmen. Here are two art works that depict the event :

“The Conversion on the Way to Damascus; ” (1601)   “ The Conversion of St. Paul ” Nicolas-Bernard Lepicie, 1767

 "and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him. And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. " Acts 9: 3-5

Read more about the conversion

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan 18-25, 2023

Theme for 2023:
“Do good; seek justice;”
(Isaiah 1:17

At least once a year, Christians are reminded of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples that “they may be one so that the world may believe” (see John 17.21). Hearts are touched and Christians come together to pray for their unity. Congregations and parishes all over the world exchange preachers or arrange special ecumenical celebrations and prayer services. The event that touches off this special experience is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Traditionally the week of prayer is celebrated between 18-25 January, between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul.

The readings are here.

“Isaiah lived and prophesied in Judah during the eighth century BCE and was a contemporary of Amos, Micah and Hosea. This was towards the end of a period of great economic success and political stability for both Israel and Judah, due to the weakness of the ‘superpowers’ of the time, Egypt and Assyria. However, it was also a period when injustice, inequity and inequalities were rampant in both kingdoms.

This period also saw religion thriving as a ritual and formal expression of belief in God, concentrated on Temple offerings and sacrifices. This formal and ritual religion was presided over by the priests, who were also the beneficiaries of the largesse of the rich and powerful. Due to the physical proximity and interconnectedness of the royal palace and the Temple, power and influence were centered almost entirely on the king and the priests, neither of whom, for much of this history, stood up for those who were enduring oppression and inequity. In the worldview of this time (one which recurs throughout history), the rich and those who made many offerings were understood to be good and blessed by God, while those who were poor and could not offer sacrifices were understood to be wicked and cursed by God. The poor were often denigrated for their economic inability to fully participate in Temple worship.

Isaiah spoke into this context, attempting to awaken the consciousness of the people of Judah to the reality of their situation. Instead of honouring the contemporary religiosity as a blessing, Isaiah saw it as a festering wound and a sacrilege before the Almighty. Injustice and inequality led to fragmentation and disunity. His prophecies denounce the political, social and religious structures and the hypocrisy of offering sacrifices while oppressing the poor. He speaks out vigorously against corrupt leaders and in favour of the disadvantaged, rooting righteousness and justice in God alone.Read more about the Week of Prayer

Study the book of Ruth and Esther with the Good Book Club

The Good Book Club is an invitation to all Episcopalians to join in reading the Bible as a community. Episcopalians will read a section every day through the Epiphany season.

The Club will distribute daily scripture readings, reflections, and teachings, from Epiphany, Friday, January 6, to Shrove Tuesday, February 21, 2023.

This year the club wll explore Ruth and Esther, books that explore the faithfulness and courage of two remarkable women.

The first thing to do is to sign up for updates which will send the readings.

Get the links

Remembering Martin Luther King on his birthday, Jan 15

It was 55 years ago. Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.

In the months before his assassination, Martin Luther King became increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America. He organized a Poor People’s Campaign to focus on the issue, including an interracial poor people’s march on Washington, and in March 1968 traveled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers. On March 28, a workers’ protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African-American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration.

On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

King was no stranger to controversy. Though he had little experience in activism, King with a doctorate in theology was known for his speaches.  In 1955, community leaders recruited him to be the spokesperson for the Montgomery bus boycott, one of the first major protests of the civil rights era. The boycott lasted for more than a year and resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court declaring racial segregation on public buses unconstitutional.

King’s role in that boycott transformed him into a national figure. In 1957, he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to help encourage other communities to take up the crusade for civil rights.

5 years before his asssassination, he was focusing on desegregation before the landmark 1964 Civil Rights act. He was in Birmingham on a campaign of coordinated marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.

At the time, in parts of the country—especially in the South—blacks couldn’t eat at certain restaurants, continued to attend segregated schools (though the practice had been outlawed years earlier), and were unemployed at a rate nearly twice that of whites.

The non-violent campaign was coordinated by Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. On April 10, a blanket injunction was issued against “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing”. Leaders of the campaign announced they would disobey the ruling. On Good Friday, April 12, King was roughly arrested with others.

King was not always popular with clergy due to his tactics. The day of his arrest, eight Birmingham clergy members wrote a criticism of the campaign that was published in the Birmingham News, calling its direct action strategy “unwise and untimely.”

LINKS

1 King wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail in response. King’s Letter has been called one of the most significant works of the Civil Right movement. The Letter

Audio from Dr. King

Forum in Feb., 1964 on the letter 

King and the Book of Amos as reflected in the letter. King used the book of Amos throughout his career.

King’s Philosophy of Non-Violence

King Sermon – Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution

Multimedia production of the “I have a Dream” speech

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