This is only the second Sunday in Lent, but I am already longing for Easter, for that glorious celebration of the Resurrection. But that is in the future, and for now, I find myself lamenting. I lament not just my own sins, which are many, but the brokenness of this world. The news coming out of New Zealand about a mass murder weighs heavily on my soul. Such evil is a mystery, and it is hard to live with mysteries, with things we just can’t explain or understand. But, if the truth be known, evil is a lesser mystery. Fortunately for us, there is a greater Mystery, a countervailing Mystery, a triumphant Mystery, whom we call God.
We encounter that Mystery in the first reading from Genesis. Abraham, who has not yet received his new name from God and is known as Abram at this point, is the recipient of a divine vision. God promises Abraham a great reward. But Abraham laments to God that no reward has any meaning to him since he has no children. God responds by promising Abraham offspring, despite the fact that Abraham and Sarah are both far too old to expect children. And God further promises that, from his offspring, he will have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. To his great credit, Abraham believes the Lord.
What happens next seems bizarre to us. God commands Abraham to collect five animals and to cut three of them in half! Why? Well, this is where a little knowledge of ancient Near Eastern customs comes in handy. What is being proposed is a solemn oath-taking. In the ancient Near East, one way a person might make a solemn oath was to cut an animal in two and then to walk between the two halves while making the oath. The idea, whether spoken or left unspoken, was that the person passing through the cloven animal was accepting a curse upon himself should he fail to fulfill the oath: “May I die like these animals if I forswear myself.”
So, the cutting up of the animals is not all that strange after all. What is strange is that it is not Abraham who passes through the cloven animals and takes the solemn oath. It is God! At sundown, Abraham falls into a deep trance, and in that altered state of consciousness, he witnesses a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch being carried through the midst of the slaughtered animals by an invisible figure. A voice then declares this oath: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
God kept his oath to Abraham. He had children. And they had children. And some of their descendants did indeed inherit the Promised Land. Nowadays, we have DNA tests that you can take at home and mail in. And I suppose that it would be possible to try to trace one’s ancestry back to Abraham. But that would be missing one important point. Not only did Abraham have many descendants according to the flesh. He had even more descendants according to the spirit.
Today’s Gospel reading from Luke is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. We heard the first part last Sunday. Remember the Beatitudes and the Woes? For some reason, Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain has never achieved the popularity of his more famous Sermon on the Mount. Maybe it has something to do with the aforementioned Woes. Or maybe it’s because of three demands that Jesus puts on would-be disciples: love your enemies, do not judge anyone, forgive everyone.
Now, that word “love” has a multitude of meanings, but Jesus makes clear what he means in this context. To love your enemies means to “do good to those who hate you, to bless those who curse you, to pray for those who abuse you.” Jesus is not asking us to “like” our enemies. “Love” in this context has less to do with feelings, than with actions. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans said, “‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:20–21).” The idea is that doing good to your enemy might bring about a conversion. Having said that, this approach isn’t always successful. St. Ignatius of Antioch, in a letter written while he was being escorted to Rome to be executed, famously commented how, the nicer he was, the worse his guards were in return. At least he tried!
Jesus then touches upon the question of retaliation when he speaks of “turning the other cheek” and surrendering your clothing. At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is advocating absolute passivity in the face of active evil. But something more nuanced is going on here. In Matthew’s Gospel, it is mentioned that the cheek being struck is the right cheek. Believe it or not, this little detail makes all the difference. For, if the attacker is striking the right cheek of his opponent, he is either using his left hand to do it (which was forbidden by Jewish custom), or more likely, he is giving a backhanded blow with his right hand. And in first-century Judea, a backhanded blow was reserved for social inferiors. Turning the other check to your attacker is meant to lure the assailant into striking again, but this time as he would strike an equal.
In the Name of the Father, and of the ✠ Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is All Saints’ Day, a “principal feast day” in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. And so, here we are, gathered together to commemorate all the saints. But what exactly do we mean my the word “saints”? In the early church, all baptized Christians were called saints. All were considered holy. All were considered set apart for God’s use. Only later did the term become limited to those who had lived lives of heroic sanctity and, most especially, those who had crowned their lives as martyrs to the faith. As a result of this change in connotation, the remembrance of the “unheroic” faithful was put off to the following day, the feast of All Faithful Departed, more commonly known as All Souls’ Day. Frankly, I prefer the earlier usage. I like to think of this day as a day to remember all the faithful of ages past, whether or not they were particularly “heroic” in their faith.
But this feast day is not just about looking backward. This day is also a day of looking forward. The prayer book designates this feast as one of four baptismal feasts, at which we dedicate new saints to God through Holy Baptism and at which we may optionally renew our own status as saints by solemnly reaffirming our baptismal vows. Truly, this is a day to remember all the saints—past, present, and yet to come.
Daniel G. C. Wu, devoted his ministry to serving Chinese immigrants in the San Francisco Bay area. A graduate of CDSP and ordained to the priesthood in 1912, he became the vicar at True Sunshine Chinese Mission (SF) and the Church of Our Savior (Oakland).
We give you thanks, loving God, for the ministry of Daniel Wu, priest and pioneer church planter among Asian-Americans, and for the stable worshiping communities he established, easing many immigrants’ passage into a confusing new world. By the power of your Holy Spirit, raise up other inspired leaders, that today’s newcomers may ﬁnd leaders from their diverse communities faithful to our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the same Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
April 13 – Palm Sunday – Holy Communion: 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. (Bilingual – English & Chinese)
Our Palm Sunday service starts with the blessing of palm leaves and a procession of the assembled worshipers carrying the leaves into the church. The service then continues with the reading of the Passion of our Lord, followed by Holy Communion. Please join us as we start this important week.
April 15 – Tuesday in Holy Week – 10 a.m. Stations of the Cross & Holy Communion
The Stations of the Cross are a devotional depiction of the final hours of Christ. This service takes the worshiper through a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer by revisiting the chief scenes of Christ’s suffering and death.
The Maundy Thursday service commemorates Jesus’ Last Supperwith a simple agape supper at 6 p.m., followed by Holy Communion. The service starts downstairs in our parish hall, and it concludes in the sanctuary with the stripping of the altar in preparation for Good Friday.
April 18 – Good Friday – 12 noon Good Friday Liturgy
The Good Friday service commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion and death in a moving, contemplative service.
April 20 – Easter Sunday – Holy Communion: 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. (Bilingual – English & Chinese)
Come celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at one of our Easter services. Our service includes special Easter music as well as our traditional “Flowering of the Cross.”
Homily for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
By the Rev. Darren Miner
Since last Sunday, we have been hearing excerpts from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Last week, we heard Jesus say, “… not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” Today, we hear what biblical scholars have named “The Antitheses.” (To be more precise, we hear four of the six antitheses; the other two will be heard next week.) Now, an “antithesis” is a rhetorical contrast of opposites. And the presumption has often been that Jesus is opposing his new laws against the old Jewish laws. But considering what Jesus said about not abolishing even one stroke of one letter of the Law, it seems unlikely to me that “The Antitheses” are, in fact, antitheses!
What then, is Jesus up to? Well, he’s doing something very Jewish. He’s “building a fence around the Torah.” It has long been a practice in Judaism to draw a legal circle around a commandment, so that one would never even come close to breaking the original commandment. A classic example is the commandment not to eat a baby goat boiled in its mother’s milk. From this came the prohibition against eating meat and dairy products at the same meal. And from this came the prohibition against ever cooking meat and dairy products in the same pan or storing meat and dairy products in the same refrigerator. I think that this is what Jesus is up to in today’s Gospel reading!
With that in mind, let’s go through each of the four so-called “Antitheses” and try to figure out what Jesus was asking of his disciples then and what he is asking of us today.