The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, An Epiphany Procession with Carols, Saint Thomas Church, New York City, by the Rector
Unraveling the origins of early Christian festivals means wading backwards, as it were, through how the gospel lessons, and the celebrations they inspired, were understood by the generations of Christians who came before us. In the Christian West, second-century Christian writer and teacher Justin Martyr wrote that the wise men were kings from Arabia. Matthew’s gospel, of course, doesn’t mention “kings”; he speaks of “Magi”—probably best understood as Persian wise men, priests, astrologers.
A friend with whom I chat at my gym and his wife are young parents. They go to church. They happen to be Roman Catholic. Last week Epiphany came up. I don’t remember exactly how it came up, but I said something about there being shepherds and angels in Luke, but only wise men and a star in Matthew. My friend realized that I was telling him there were two different stories. I think I said something about Mary being a virgin in Matthew and Luke, but the stories are different. I reminded him about the seven-day creation story at the beginning of Genesis, followed immediately by the entirely different story of Adam and Eve.Read More
In the Israel of Jesus’s birth, very young women, eleven- or twelve-years-old, were formally betrothed by contract to a man, who was often somewhat older. A young woman would continue to live with her parents for a year or a more. According to the commentaries I read, the timing of the move to her husband’s house, in Mary’s case at least, had to do with the ability of a husband to provide a home for a wife.Read More
The book of Genesis preserves a legend about “the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.” They were called “Nephilim.” They were the children “of the sons of God and the daughters of men.” In Genesis, they were among those wiped out by the Great Flood, which only Noah and his family survived.
The preface to the first, the 1549, Book of Common Prayer, begins—famously—with these words, “There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted.” These words were the work, of course, of archbishop and reformation martyr Thomas Cranmer. We know that the seventh-century practice of the monks of St. Peter’s in Rome to read the Bible all the way through in a year had by the ninth century spread through the Christian West. But by the time of the Reformation, these readings had been greatly shortened by the addition of many weekday commemorations—feasts of saints—and other devotions. There was also the major problem that if you did not read and speak Latin well, you could not understand the words you heard in worship.Read More
I was ordained a priest 41 years ago tomorrow. I was confident that becoming a priest would make a difference not only in my life but in the world. I was arrogant. I was a much better Episcopalian than I was a Christian. I was perhaps a Christian in name only. I knew that being a priest would give me power to effect change, and I knew how to save the church.Read More
There are two Christmas stories in the New Testament. There is one by Luke that begins with the annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel. The other is by Matthew that begins with Joseph having a dream in which an unnamed angel announces to him, “Do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Now in Luke, Gabriel tells Mary what God plans to do—note carefully: he does not ask for her permission or agreement. In Luke, she responds, “Let it be to me according to your word.” But Mary’s response is beside the point. With respect, God decided that Mary would be the mother of Emmanuel.
At the Solemn Mass on Friday night on the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the choir sang a Mass setting by Francisco de Peñalosa. Peñalosa died in 1528, so I think music historians would place him somewhere in the middle years of the Renaissance, but two of our choristers, who know about such things, tell me that Friday’s Mass reminded them of music from the early years of the Renaissance. I know too little about such things to venture an opinion about all that, but I will say that there were things in Friday’s Mass that seemed distinctive to me and very powerful. That was especially true of the song of praise, the Gloria in excelsis.Read More
This morning I woke up and realized that there is a high probability that Mark’s gospel was written during the Jewish-Roman War that began in Jerusalem in the year 66. Jerusalem was reconquered by the Romans at the end of August in the year 70. Masada, the last fortress holding out, fell to the Romans in the year 73. But before we get to Mark, I want to begin this morning with Isaiah.Read More
The story of the adult Jesus begins with his baptism, his encounter with the devil in the wilderness, and then with Jesus going out alone to preach, “Change your mind, for the sovereign power of the heavens is at hand.”Read More
The master is Christ. The servants, or better, slaves, are believers, Christians. [The Greek word here can mean servant or slave, but the one called simply “man” at the beginning of this passage is called “kyrios,” kyrie, that is, “lord,” when he returns. The primary definition of this word is “one who is in charge by virtue of possession, owner.”Read More
November 19, 2017, The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Solemn Evensong, by the Reverend James Ross Smith
“Then [the Chaldeans] sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god! . . . Therefore [the wicked man] sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his seine; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich” [Habakkuk 1:11, 16].Read More
In the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus gives five sermons. All of them have acquired names. The first and the longest is the Sermon on the Mount. Then there’s a Mission Sermon, a Sermon in Parables, and a Sermon on the Church.Read More
Tonight’s second lesson and the reading at Benediction to come, both from Luke, probably are familiar to all of us, because these words are more frequently heard in the form Matthew gives them in the Sermon on the Mount. Luke and Matthew are quoting what New Testament scholars now call the “Sayings Source.”—it was known as “Q” for the German word “quelle,” meaning source, when I was in seminary. The text, of which no copy exists, almost certainly did exist in the classical world. In addition to its use by Matthew and Luke; the passage we heard tonight was also quoted by Justin Martyr, who died c. 167, in a form that suggests he was using the Sayings Source, and not Matthew or Luke.Read More
The mother of one of my good friends died at the end of September. I had visited with them in April. Her death was unexpected, but it was a release from the suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In that sense, it was a blessing that many of us have prayed for when someone in own our families has had this terrible disease.Read More
In the post-World War II period many things changed in America. For those of us of a certain age, that time was intense and unforgettable. One of the marks of those postwar decades was a yearning for authenticity. This yearning was a significant element of the literature and cinema of the period. J. D. Salinger was a kind of prophet of the authentic life: his Holden Caulfield condemned phoniness; his Franny, appalled by the bourgeois values of the Ivy League, retreated to her parents’ spacious apartment to recite the Jesus Prayer and remain unstained by everything that was false and fake. In Mike Nichols’s The Graduate, Benjamin, a recent college graduate, played by the young Dustin Hoffman, returns home to Pasadena, lost and confused about his future. And, as we discover, he can’t turn to his parents or their friends for guidance. In The Graduate, the older generation is clueless, hopelessly corrupt, hypocritical and, of course, inauthentic.Read More
Today is the fourth Sunday when our gospel lesson is taken from Matthew’s account of the days between Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his betrayal. While preparing a sermon two Sundays ago, I noticed that Matthew and Luke’s narratives of Jesus’ entry and of his last days in Jerusalem begin differently from Mark’s.Read More
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 15, 2017, Solemn Evensong & Benediction, Sermon by the Rector
In Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented, the narrative is dark from its beginning. When Tess returns home unmarried and with child—well, it’s a sad English novel.
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 15, 2017, Solemn Mass, Sermon by the Reverend Dr. Peter R. Powell
A king has a son who is getting married, and he invites people to the banquet. He sends out his slaves, presumably on the day of the wedding, to remind them that they were invited, but no one comes. He sends out the slaves again to entice them to attend by sharing the menu with them. The food is already prepared, come and eat. No one comes. Not only do they not come, but they mistreat and kill the king’s slaves. He responds by killing everyone who had been invited and destroying their city. Presumably their city is his city and refers to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. So, the king has wiped out what we can assume were the leading citizens of his kingdom and pulled his city down around him.Read More
Let me begin by reminding you and me that starting last Sunday, our gospel lessons until Advent are taken from Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem, the days between his triumphal entry and his betrayal. Today, as it were, is Jesus’ second day in Jerusalem.Read More