Archive for September 2016

Feast of St. Francis Xavier (December 3)   5 comments


Above:  St. Francis Xavier

Image in the Public Domain



Roman Catholic Missionary to the Far East

St. Francis Xavier lived for about 46 years and 8 months.  During his adult life, according to estimates, he converted about 40,000 or perhaps about 70,000 or maybe more than a million people to Christianity.  He was, as John K. Ryan, author of the article on our saint in The Encyclopedia Britannica (1962),

the greatest missionary since St. Paul.

–Volume 11, page 759

Our saint, who devoted his life to God, came from a Basque noble family.  He, born at the Castle of Xavier, Navarre, on April 7, 1506, was the youngest of three sons of Juan de Jasso y Atondo (steward of the castle) and Dona Maria de Azpilcueta y Aznarez (of Navarrese nobility).  In 1526 our saint commenced his study of philosophy at the University of Paris.  For a few years, starting in 1528, St. Ignatius Loyola was among his roommates.  After Xavier graduated in 1530 he started his theological studies and became a professor of philosophy.  Four years later Loyola, Xavier, and five other men–close associates for years and the core of what became the Society of Jesus in 1540–took vows of poverty and chastity then made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  In 1537, at Venice, these men became priests.  Loyola dispatched Xavier to preach to the poor of Bologna in 1538.  Later our saint became Loyola’s secretary.

King Joao (John) III (the Pious) of Portugal (reigned 1521-1557) requested that the Church send six Jesuits to the far eastern part of the Portuguese Empire.  Loyola could send only two.  Among these was our saint, who took the place of a man who had fallen ill.  On May 6, 1541, Xavier and Martin Alfonso de Sousa, the governor of Goa, sailed from Lisbon.  They spent six months (August 1541-February 1542) in Mozambique then arrived in Goa on May 6, 1542.  Xavier carried with him credentials of his new position, papal legate for the Indies.  Holy Mother Church already had missionaries from various orders active in the region.  Our saint not only built on the foundations other had laid but also laid foundations on which others built.

At first Xavier focused on the needs of colonists at Goa.  He lived in a hospital, visited prisoners, preached to the poor, and catechized children, poor free adults, and slaves.  There was much work for him to do, for immorality, such as harsh treatment of slaves, was rampant.

Then, after five months, Sousa suggested that our saint commence evangelism among the Paravan people.  Xavier accepted and followed this advice.  Through the end of 1544 Xavier helped them build up and organize their defenses and to make peace with their enemies.  He also converted many of them to Christianity.  Furthermore, in December 1544 alone, our saint baptized 10,000 in the neighboring Kingdom of Travancore and arranged for others to teach them.

Xavier, as a missionary, did not remain in one place for long.  Sometimes he was in Goa, but usually he was elsewhere.  In 1545 our saint began to evangelize in the East Indies.  He remained there until 1548, when he began to make plans to engage in missionary work in Japan.  In 1547, while at Malacca, Xavier had met Anjiro, a Japanese man interested in Christianity.  Our saint sent Anjiro and two other Japanese men to Goa for preparation for baptism.  On August 15, 1549, Xavier, two other Jesuits, Anjiro, and the two other Japanese converts arrived at the island of Kyushu.  Xavier’s mission in Japan proved successful and ended in September 1551.

Xavier, the new Jesuit Provincial for India, intended to evangelize in China, where foreigners were forbidden.  Diplomatic complications delayed our saint’s attempts to enter the empire as a missionary.  Finally Xavier made plans to go anyway.  For three months he waited on Sancian Island, near the port of Canton, for a ship to take him into China.  In November 1552 Xavier became ill.  He died on this island on December 3, 1552, aged 46 years.

Pope Paul V beatified Xavier in  1619.  Pope Gregory XV canonized our saint three years later.






Loving God, you called Francis Xavier to lead many in India and Japan

to know Jesus Christ as their Redeemer:

Bring us to the new life of glory promised to all who follow in the Way;

through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:1-11

Psalm 62:1-2, 6-9

1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23

Mark 16:15-20

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 99


Feast of Sts. John of Damascus and Cosmas of Maiuma (December 4)   1 comment


Above:  St. John of Damascus

Image in the Public Domain


SAINT JOHN OF DAMASCUS (675 or 676-December 4, 749 or 754 or 780)

Theologian and Hymnodist

Also known as Saint John Damascene

Also known as Saint John Chrysorrhoas (or “Gold-Streaming”)



Theologian and Hymnodist

Also known as Saint Cosmas the Melodist

His feast transferred from October 14 (Julian Calendar) and October 27 (Gregorian Calendar)


The Feast of St. John of Damascus is December 4 in the Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic Church, The Church of England, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, among other denominations.  In Holy Mother Church his feast has fallen on December 4 since 1969; prior to that it was March 27.  (The Book of Catholic Worship, from 1966, confirms this date, which I found on several websites.  I prefer to confirm information via primary sources as much as possible.)  The transfer of the Feast of St. Cosmas of Maiuma from October to December is due to the overlap of his life and that of St. John, who were brothers in all but genetics and partners in various literary and theological projects.

Sergius Mansur, the biological father of St. John of Damascus and the adoptive father of St. Cosmas of Maiuma, held a prominent post in the Caliphate.  (Aside:  Sources have proven contradictory regarding his position.  The two main versions are tax collector and chief representative to the Christians.)  Sergius, a Christian, raised our two saints in the faith.  He also liberated one Cosmas the Monk from slavery and had the monk instruct young John and Cosmas in theology and philosophy.  St. John succeeded his father in government and exercised authority for years.

St. John’s destiny lay elsewhere, however.  Circa 716 he resigned his post, sold his possessions, sold his possessions, and donated the proceeds to the poor.  Then he and St. Cosmas became monks at the Monastery of St. Sabas the Sanctified, near Jerusalem, in 726.  That year Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (reigned 717-741) decreed Iconoclasm.  Our two saints wrote treatises condemning that heresy.  They also worked together on defenses of Christianity against Manichaeism.  St. John’s The Feast of Knowledge, containing “On the Orthodox Faith,” has proven especially influential.  Perhaps their longest-lasting legacies have been hymn texts and tunes for chants.  Due primarily to John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and John Brownlie (1859-1925) some of these texts have entered into English-language hymnody.  Neale translated the texts in various editions of Hymns of the Eastern Church (1862).  Brownlie’s volumes of translations included Hymns of the Greek Church (1900) and Hymns of the Early Church (1896).  Although one of our saints received credit for a particular poem, chant, or treatise, both of them worked so closely that one may assume reasonably that both were partially responsible, until the death of St. John.

St. Cosmas left the monastery in 743 and became the Bishop of Maiuma, a port city in Gaza.  He held that post for the rest of his long life and outlived St. John.  According to tradition, St. Cosmas lived to the age of 100 years, give or take a few years.

The three main greatest hits of St. John of Damascus in Episcopal Church hymnody are Easter texts:

  1. Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain;”
  2. Thou Hallowed Chosen Morn of Praise;” and
  3. The Day of Resurrection.”

These are present in The English Hymnal (1906).  So is a fourth text, “What Sweet of Life Endureth,” a funeral hymn.

These two saints left fine legacies, for the glory of God.








Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power

by your servants Saints John of Damascus and Cosmas of Maiuma;

that we, with them, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man,

and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection,

attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-14

Psalm 29

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

John 5:24-27

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 101


Feast of Channing Moore Williams (December 2)   Leave a comment


Above:  Bishop Channing Moore Williams

Image in the Public Domain



Episcopal Missionary Bishop in China and Japan

Channing Moore Williams helped to build up the church in China and Japan.  This work filled 53 of his 81 years.

Williams, one of six children, entered the world at Richmond, Virginia, on July 18, 1829.  His family was active in The Episcopal Church.  His father was John Green Williams.  Our saint’s mother was Mary Anne Crignan Williams, widowed in 1832.  Young Channing, at the age of 18 years, moved to Henderson, Kentucky, to work in a cousin’s general store.  There he also studied informally.  Williams, confirmed in 1849, attended the College of William and Mary (M.A., 1852) then the Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Virginia, from which he graduated in 1855.

Williams acted on his interest in foreign missions.  He, ordained to the diaconate on July 1, 1855, sailed to Shanghai in November of that year.  Ordination to the priesthood followed on January 1, 1857.  Our saint and John Liggins (1829-1912), former classmates at seminary, left China to become the first two Episcopal missionaries in Japan, arriving at Nagasaki on July 1, 1859.  Ill health forced Liggins to return to the United States the following year, but Williams remained until 1866.  On October 3 of that year he became the second Bishop of Shanghai, with responsibility for the Episcopal missionary work in China and Japan.  For eight years our saint divided his time between the two countries.  Finally, on October 23, 1874, he became responsible for work in Japan alone.  His new title was Missionary Bishop of Yedo.  (The Missionary District of Yedo was Japan.)  Williams, who was fluent in Japanese, founded churches and schools and converted many Japanese people to Christianity.  In 1887 he oversaw the merger of the Japanese missions of The Episcopal Church and The Church of England to form Nippon Sei Ko Kai, or the Holy Catholic Church of Japan, also known as the Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan.  He served as its first bishop.  In 1889 Williams, citing health concerns, asked for the appointment of his successor, who arrived four years later.  Our saint relocated to Kyoto, where he evangelized until 1908.

Williams returned to the United States in 1908.  He died at Richmond on December 2, 1910.  He was 81 years old.

Nippon Sei Ko Kai, founded with fewer than 1000 members, had grown to encompass about 57,000 souls in 315 congregations, organized into 11 dioceses, in 2005.






Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Channing Moore Williams,

whom you called to preach to the people of China and Japan.

Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom,

that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 49:22-23

Psalm 96:1-7

Acts 1:1-9

Luke 10:1-9

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 97


Feast of Blessed Charles de Foucauld (December 1)   2 comments


Above:  Blessed Charles de Foucauld

Image in the Public Domain



Roman Catholic Hermit and Martyr

One volume in my library is Saints Behaving Badly, by Thomas J. Craughwell.  The author summarizes the point of recalling the impious behavior of certain men and women who went on to become saints:

The point of reading these stories is not to experience some tabloid thrill, but to understand how grace works in the world.  Every day, all day long, God pours out his grace upon us, urging us, coaxing us, to turn away from everything that is base and cheap and unsatisfying, and turn toward the only thing that is eternal, perfect, and true–that is, himself.

–page xii

Foucauld’s story is not in that volume, but it is suitable for inclusion in that book.

Charles Eugene de Foucauld, born on September 15, 1858, at Strasbourg, Alsace, France, came from an aristocratic family.  His father was Francois Edouard, Viscount de Foucauld de Pontbriand and Deputy Inspector of Forests.  Our saint’s mother died on March 13, 1864.  His father followed her in death on August 9 of the same year.  A maternal grandfather, Charles Gabriel de Morlet, a retired Colonel of Engineers, raised our saint and Marie, his sister.  At the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) the German Empire came into existence and France lost Alsace and Lorraine to the new nation-state.  Foucauld and his family had to move because of this.  They settled at Nancy.

Foucauld, raised a Roman Catholic, lost his faith as an adolescent in 1872 and regained it 14 years later.  He, a lazy student as a young man, entered the Saint-Cyr Military Academy in 1876.  Our saint’s military career, much of which he spent in Algeria, was brief, for his scandalous behavior led to his discharge from the army in 1882.  During 1883 and 1884 he explored Morocco on behalf of the French Geographical Society.  The expedition was dangerous and life-changing.  As our saint witnessed expressions of Muslim piety he began to question his own lack of religion and to consider the possibility that God might exist.  Back in France, the support of certain French lay Roman Catholics and one Father Huvelin helped Foucauld to reclaim his Christian faith in October 1886.  Our saint resolved to live for God alone from that moment forward.

Foucauld acted on that pledge.  He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land before becoming a Trappist monk in 1890.  As a Trappist monk he lived in France then in Syria.  Our saint left the order in 1897 and became a servant at a convent of the Poor Clares at Nazareth.  The nuns encouraged him to become a priest, a vocation he was reluctant to accept.  The ordination occurred in 1901.

The newly-minted priest became a hermit in the desert of Algeria.  At first he lived at Beni Abbes, near the Moroccan frontier.  Later our saint relocated to Tamanghasset, in southern Algeria.  He lived among the Touareg people, studying their language, and writing a dictionary and grammar (Volumes I and II) of it.  Foucauld sought to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with his life.

I would like to be sufficiently good that people would say, “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”

–Blessed Charles de Foucauld

Foucauld pondered founding a new religious order.  He did not live long enough to do that, for marauders shot him at his hermitage on December 1, 1916.  He was 58 years old.  Eventually the Little Brothers of Jesus (1933) and the Little Sisters of Jesus (1939), inspired by our saint’s example, in turn inspired by the life of Christ, came into existence.

Pope Benedict XVI beatified Foucauld on November 13, 2005.  The Episcopal Church added his feast at the General Convention of 2009.

Robert Ellsberg wrote:

Alone, a seeming failure by the end of his life, Foucauld was to become one of the most influential spiritual figures of the twentieth century.  He was responsible for reviving the tradition of desert spirituality in our time.  Rather than a retreat from humanity, he believed, the experience of being alone with God made us truly available to encounter and love our neighbor as ourselves.  In contrast with triumphalistic models of mission, Foucauld exemplified an evangelism of presence, an encounter with people of other faiths on a basis of mutual respect and equality.  Furthermore, he pioneered a new model of religious life, patterned after the life of Jesus himself, whose only cloister was the world of the poor.

All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 525

I have had conversations with people (both Christian and otherwise) who have recounted stories of having been on the receiving end of obnoxious evangelism.  These experiences turned them off, did nothing to draw them closer to Jesus, and did not glorify God.  Certainly the obnoxious evangelists meant well, but they did not seem to know which tactics to employ.  Foucauld understood well, however, the importance of proper motivations and tactics while seeking to convert people to Christianity and to make disciples in all nations.  Indeed, as many missionaries and trainers thereof have known well for a long time, insulting and alienating the population (or just one person) one seeks to convert is a counter-productive tactic.  Some of them have learned from the examples of holy people such as Foucauld.






Loving God, who restored the Christian faith of Charles de Foucauld

through an encounter with Islam in North Africa and sustained him in the desert

where he converted many with his witness of presence:

Help us to know you wherever we find you, that with him,

we may be faithful unto death; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God , for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-5

Psalm 73:24-28

James 1:2-4, 12

John 16:25-33

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 95


Feast of Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, Hans Peter Boerresen, and Paul Olaf Bodding (December 11)   Leave a comment


Above:  Statue of Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, Lillehammer, Norway

Image in the Public Domain



Norwegian Lutheran Missionary to the Santals

colleague of


Danish Lutheran Missionary to the Santals



Norwegian Lutheran Missionary to the Santals


The name of Lars Olsen Skrefsrud came to my attention via the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), which lists December 11 as his feast day.  For reasons I do not understand this feast has not carried over into the calendar in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006).  Neither have any Lutheran Worship (1982) and the Lutheran Service Book (2006), both of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, included this feast.  I have also noticed that the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996), of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, a body with Norwegian immigrant roots, does not include this feast either.  The names of Hans Peter Boerresen and Paul Olaf Bodding came to my attention as I read and took notes regarding Skrefsrud.

These three saints were missionaries to the Santal tribe in northern India.  The Santals had been present on the Indian subcontinent prior to the arrival of the Aryans.  Skrefsrud, Boerresen, and Bodding worked among Santals, respected their culture, and helped to build a strong indigenous church.

Skrefsrud, born near Lillehammer, Norway, on February 4, 1840, took a winding path to his vocation.  He came from a poor family.  Although Skrefsrud dreamed of becoming a minister, circumstances pushed him into coppersmithing instead.  This did not satisfy him.  Skrefsrud reacted by drinking heavily.  He and some drinking buddies robbed a bank.  The 19-year-old Skrefsrud gave up drinking, delved into Christianity, mastered the German and English languages, and received a sentence of incarceration for four years; he served about half of it.  While in prison our saint received visits from one Anna Onsum, a young woman who believed in him and encouraged him in his spiritual journey.

Skrefsrud became a missionary.  He trained at the Gossmer Missionary Society, Berlin.  (Knowing German helped then.)  While in Berlin Skrefsrud lived austerely and attended services daily.  In 1863 the missionary society dispatched Skrefsrud to northern India.  Anna Onsum joined him there and married him the following year.  She arrived in the company of Catherine and Hans Peter Boerresen, the latter of whom the missionary society sent to work with Skrefsrud.  Boerresen, who was expert in raising funds, was also a minister and a civil engineer.


Above:  Hans Peter Boerresen

Image in the Public Domain

For a few years Skrefsrud and Boerresen worked in conjunction with Baptist missionaries.  There were two sticking points:  (1) the theology of infant baptism and (2) the denial of permission for the two Lutheran missionaries to continue to work together.  So it was that, in 1867, Skrefsrud and Boerresen founded the Ebenezer Mission at Benegaria, from which they worked among indigenous peoples.  The following year they cofounded The Indian Home Mission to the Santals, the forerunner of today’s Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Boerresen returned to Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1877.  He died on September 23, 1901.


Above:  Paul Olaf Bodding

Image in the Public Domain

Another colleague of Skrefsrud was Paul Olaf Bodding (1865-1938), a scientist.  The native of Gjosik, Norway, was son of a bookseller.  The great missionary recruited the young Bodding in the family’s bookstore.  The rest was history.  He served in India from 1889 to 1933.  Although Skrefsrud had written A Grammar of the Santhal Language (1873), Bodding created an alphabet for the people, who lacked one previously.  Skrefsrud translated the Gospels into the new written language, but Bodding completed the process of translating the Bible into it.  Skrefsrud also wrote textbooks and a hymnal into the new written language.  Bodding preserved Santali folklore in writing via that script.  Folklore of the Santal Parganas (1909) depended upon his work.

Skrefsrud did much else to help the Santal people.  He also founded vocational and technical schools and appealed to British imperial officials to protect the Santals from other tribes.  He continued to labor in northern India for the rest of his life.

Bodding returned to Europe in 1933. The saint died at Odense, Denmark, on September 25, 1938.

The Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church continues to minister among indigenous people on the subcontinent.








God of grace and might, we praise you for your servants

Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, Hans Peter Boerresen, and Paul Olaf Bodding,

to whom you gave gifts to make the good news known.

Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds and evangelists of your kingdom,

so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Isaiah 62:1-7

Psalm 48

Romans 10:11-17

Luke 24:44-53

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), page 37


Strolling Down Memory Lane Via Google Earth   Leave a comment

Google Earth is wonderful.  Of all the programs I have downloaded to my computer, it is among my favorites.  Sometimes I use it to find landmarks before I drive to a place for the first time.  On other occasions I look up places I have never been and will probably never visit.  On other occasions I study Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, where I live.  Most of the time I use Google Earth, however, I stroll down memory lane.

I have lived in Athens for slightly more than eleven years–since early August 2005.  This is longer than I have resided in any other place.  Within Athens I have had only two addresses, moving most recently in August 2007.  Most of my moves to prior to August 2005 were related to my family–my father’s ministerial career, to be precise.  Most of the other moves pertained to college.  I have had more addresses and telephone numbers than I can recall, for, after I relocate geographically, I move psychologically.

My memories of places I used to live is such that I recall certain details of them and can recognize them easily when I see them or images of them.  The first step in this process is looking at the satellite view; the street view continues the facilitation of the stirring up of memories.  There is the pastorium in Newington, Georgia; I could not have drawn it yet I recognized it immediately when I saw it on satellite view.  There is the park in Vidette, Georgia; I recall playing there in 1980-1982.  There is the Vidette United Methodist Church; people have expanded the facilities since 1982, but the parsonage looks worse than it did in the early 1980s.  There is the now-vacant lot just outside Dublin, Georgia, where I rented a mobile home for a time between degree programs.  There are the congregations where I attended services prior to moving to Athens.  There are the schools I attended and there are the places where those schools stood.

Spending time recalling the past is a useful exercise, for it (A) helps me to understand better the course of my path to the present and (B) prevents me from falling into the error of nostalgia.  The good old days were not as good as some imagine, I know.  The more I plumb the depths of my memory, the more I know that, despite certain aspects of my reality.  I am, all things considered, actually much better off in 2016 than I was during the time period before I relocated to Athens.  If I could I exchange places with a pre-Athens version of myself, I would not do so.

The past can be a fine place to visit via one’s memories, but one should never live there, seek to reside there, or romanticize it.




Proper 6, Year A   Leave a comment


Above:  Terebinth Trees (Such as Those at Mamre)

The Juxtaposition of Mercy and Judgment

The Sunday Closest to June 15

The Third Sunday after Pentecost

JUNE 18, 2023



Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  He looked up and saw three men standing near him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.  He said,

My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.

So they said,

Do as you have said.

And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said,

Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.

Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him,

Where is your wife Sarah?

And he said,

There, in the tent.

Then one said,

I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.

And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying,

After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?

The LORD said to Abraham,

Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I have indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?  At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.

But Sarah denied, saying,

I did not laugh;

for she was afraid.  He said,

Oh yes, you did laugh.

The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised.  Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.  And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  Now Sarah said,

God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.

And she said,

Who would ever said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I call upon him.

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant,

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people,

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.



Exodus 19:2-8a (New Revised Standard Version):

They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.  Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying,

Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites:  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.

So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him.  The people all answered,

Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.

Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.  Then the LORD said to Moses,

I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.

Psalm 100 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands;

serve the LORD with gladness

and come before his presence with a song.

2 Know this:  The LORD himself is God;

he himself has made us, and we are his;

we are the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;

go into his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and call upon his name.

4 For the LORD is good;

his mercy is everlasting;

and his faithfulness endures from age to age.


Romans 5:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.


Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23) (New Revised Standard Version):

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.  These are names of the twelve apostles:  first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:

Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the Gentiles, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.   As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of God has come near.”  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  You received without payment, give without payment. (Take no gold, or silver, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.  Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.  Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.  When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.)

The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Nothing is too wonderful or difficult for God, who is faithful to promises, even though we are not always mindful of ours or or God.  Therein lies the juxtaposition of mercy and judgment.  This is my theme for this devotional writing.

Let us begin with the reading from Genesis.  Abraham welcomes three visitors and extends to them full hospitality, according to his culture.  The patriarch does not know that one of them is YHWH, who has come to make a shocking announcement.  Sarah is post-menepausal, or as the formal euphemism states, “it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.”  Yet she will have a son, which is what she and her husband have wanted for years and thought impossible by now.  She laughs incredulously and silently to herself when she overhears the prophesy, but laughs with delight when she sees her newborn son.  She names him Yitzhak, or Isaac in English.  This names means, “He will laugh.”  And now others will laugh with Sarah.

Sometimes laughter of joy is appropriate after considering what God has done.  In the case of Sarah, God was merciful, and the laughter constituted high praise.  And although God refused to accept Sarah’s denial that she had laughed, God did not seem to hold either the initial laugh or her lie against her.  Really, who could blame Sarah?  Had anyone ever heard of such a thing as a woman of her years giving birth?

God was faithful in Genesis 18 and 21.  And, in Exodus 19, God (via Moses) challenged the Israelites to obey divine commandments.  They said they would, but their subsequent actions belied their words.  God did not destroy them (That was merciful.), but God did not permit them to enter Canaan.  (That was judgment.)  The next generation entered the Promised Land.  Read the accounts of the wanderings in the wilderness, if you have not done so already.  And if you have, you might want to read them again.  It is no wonder that Moses and God became angry with such behaviors as many Israelites exhibited.

Jesus and Paul remind us of suffering for the sake of righteousness.  The manners of their deaths give their words credibility:  The Roman Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Jesus.  And almost all of the twelve Apostles died as martyrs.  The incarnation of Jesus was itself an indication of great mercy, the message of which Paul took to the Gentile world.  Empires have executed messengers of the Kingdom of God, which had “come near” with Jesus, but the work of God is unstoppable.  Those who persecute such messengers will face judgment, but the faithful–those who endure–will live with God, regardless of what anyone does to their bodies.

I grew up in a Christian home.  This fact contributes greatly to the fact that I remain a Christian.  But other factors have contributed to this choice.  Among these factors is the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Read ancient comparative religion; few claims are original to Christianity.  Older religions featured a Son of God who died for the sins of the world, for example.  But these alleged Sons of God never walked the face of the earth; they were figments of imaginations.  Jesus was real, however.  He was, as I say, the genuine article.

God has come near.  The Kingdom of God has come near.  We have seen it in human flesh, in the form of Jesus.  And, in his own way, Abraham had an incarnational experience.  God seems to like us, sometimes despite ourselves.   Divine mercy does not preclude us suffering consequences of our actions, however.  But judgment does not necessarily connote divine hostility, for discipline is part of love.

Not only does God seem to like us, God loves us.  Should we not love God back?  Should we not laugh in delight for God has done, is doing, and will do out of love for us?


Posted September 6, 2016 by neatnik2009 in June 18, Revised Common Lectionary Year A

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