To Be One, 7 Easter (B) – 2015

May 17, 2015

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

“That they may be one.”

We might be tempted to say, “Who are you kidding, Jesus? It didn’t happen in your time, did you imagine it would ever happen in ours?”

But Jesus told his followers that they should be one in this world, in their culture and their time. It goes along with Jesus always reminding them that the Kingdom of Heaven is here – not something that will come in the next world. So, this may be one of the most puzzling verses in the gospels, and Jesus says it several times, in several different ways. He says it always as a very positive statement, not as a question, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they became one as you and I are one?” He says it as if he expects this to happen. He says it as if he thinks we understand what he’s talking about.

Either Jesus is wrong, or we’re wrong. Well, let’s take a vote on that!

How many of you think Jesus doesn’t quite understand the penchant for human beings to be divisive?

Now, how many of you think we may be misunderstanding what Jesus means when he calls us to unity?

It’s pretty much a guarantee that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. It’s probably our misunderstanding of “unity” and “respect” that is at stake here. We may not even understand truly what it means to “be one as Jesus and the Father are one.” It’s hard enough to understand the vagaries of human nature, as evident in our lack of understanding of people and cultures who are different from us. How can we ever understand the theological implications of the unity within the Trinity? And we are supposed to emulate that?

In a 1997 edition of the magazine Christian Century, the Rev. Dean Lueking wrote an article that put this conundrum very well:

“Nevertheless, that they may be one still haunts as well as inspires. It is wearisome, deadly wearisome, to endure church battles that split not once but repeatedly. The blight of triumphalism, of power games, and the obsession with always being right still throw up huge, offensive roadblocks against Jesus’ prayer. Such sin drags us back to the Upper Room, to dull disciples among whom we now sit, to the grief of our Lord over our tearing apart the seamless robe of unifying love in which he would wrap us.”

Lueking is focusing on the tearing apart from our own church battles. Jesus included not only those, but also the tearing apart of cultures, peoples, nations, every bit of our human existence. Oneness with God means being at one with all God’s gifts: cultures, peoples, nations, every bit of our human existence. To tear apart one bit of our gift is to put a tear in the beauty of oneness with God and oneness with each other.

If we begin just with our problems of division as churches, we see how quickly we destroy what we often hear called “unity within diversity.” In our churches today we speak often of the importance of working ecumenically – respecting differences in things such as theology, liturgy and tradition. But in some denominations, ecumenism means that we all hope those who are different will “come home,” so to speak, to rejoin our way of doing things so we can all be the same.

Being the same is not the basis of unity. Love is the basis of unity.

When St. Paul said there was no more male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, he certainly didn’t mean that men and women morphed into some other form of human being or that Jews and Greeks would suddenly become one new nationality. He meant that each of us in our uniqueness would look with love on all the other precious creatures of God. He meant that we would see beauty in the gifts others have and join together to build the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps Jesus was praying that we would be able to worship God in many different ways, many different liturgies, and many different traditions – that our unity would be in the fact that we share our love and praise of God with others and invite them to seek our God with us.

This kind of love is hard when we put barriers in place to make sure those who join our particular brand of religion, so to speak, all behave just as we do. These barriers can be like the unspoken rules about who is of the right social class to join us, or as obvious as ignoring those of a different race or culture.

To the division we find in church, we must add the divisions we find in many other places of our lives. Watch any news program today and we find ourselves immersed in the evils of war, poverty, fanaticism and greed. We’re becoming used to seeing horrific killings brought right into our living rooms from across the world. How do we feel when we see this? Are we horrified enough to go right to prayer, not only for those being killed, but for those doing the killing? Or do we immediately lump those doing evil with every other member of their tradition? Do we pray that those doing evil will somehow be guided toward repentance? Do we do pray enough for each other when much smaller aggravations happen in our church lives?

The love that exists among the Trinity is not a stagnant, complacent love. It’s a love that not only draws the Trinity into one, but also burns outward to include all creation. Jesus offers this love to be our reservoir of strength and truth, that sacred place where we gain the words and guidance we need as we build God’s kingdom here on earth.

If we take Jesus’ words seriously, we’ll hear that the same vibrant, outpouring love that is God, is there for us. All we need to do is believe it and then let it guide our words and actions.

Who knows? One of us might be called to do something public – to write, to join an activist group, to lead others in helping those less fortunate, to get involved in challenging harmful political issues. Others of us will lead by our prayers and our lives lived through love.

We can do this if we are willing to be transformed by God’s grace. Transformation also comes through the love of the Trinity for us. Next Sunday, Paul reminds the Romans that the Spirit prays for us in sighs too deep for words. There is a well of strength for us who work in the world that will never go dry. Imagine how we would live if we really believed and acted on the fact that God’s Spirit prays for and through us even when we have no energy or understanding ourselves. There could be no greater gift.

Then the following week, on Trinity Sunday, Paul tells us that we are adopted children of God and heirs with Jesus. We will also read that wonderful imagery of Isaiah where the angel touches his mouth with the burning coal and he steps forth when God calls, answering, “Here am I: send me!”

All this is our heritage. These gifts are ours if we only believe it and open our hearts and minds to God’s guidance and strength. It’s pretty powerful stuff, all these things we learn in scripture, and it’s not just words of history or good thoughts. Jesus is the manifestation of God that we may see and touch the One who loves us.

We are called to love. In our baptism we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We promise to make the Good News known to all. And we begin all this by sharing the breaking of the bread, given for all without exception.

– The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is vicar of Petrockstowe in the Torridge Team, Diocese of Exeter, North Devon, England, and is the publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal focused on lectionary-based preaching and ministry.

Moving toward Christian unity, Ascension Day (A,B,C) – 2015

May 14, 2015

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“Lord, is it time?” How many questions like that do we ask on our journey in faith?

In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, while the apostles were still looking for deliverance from political domination and oppression, they asked, “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” It is a question many believers ask today.

Jesus’ answer is simply to say we are asking the wrong question. It is not for us to know the time, nor whether God favors Israel and will restore it to its former glory. Rather, we are to be witnesses to all that Jesus has done, including fulfilling the Law and the prophets by his suffering and death.

The Ascension makes Jesus a universal figure, drawing us all to him, and sending us to be witnesses of the Good News. There is no time to ponder; now is the time to act – together.

Recently, a small town found itself in the midst of a struggle over religion – not unusual for small towns. The struggle had to do with who were the real Christians. One group organized a Jesus parade for the day before Easter. The organizers were mostly made up of folks from the more conservative and evangelical churches. When the mainline church groups went to register, they were told they couldn’t participate because their sign that proclaimed diversity and inclusiveness in Jesus was “too controversial.” So the mainline churches stayed away.

While nobody wanted a religious war, there did seem to be a line drawn between those who interpret scripture with proof text methods and those who interpret it in context. Those on the sidelines took some pleasure in the divide.

The universal ascended Lord confronts both of these groups of Christians to come together, challenging us to move away from the things that separate us and move toward the things that unite us.

Throughout the Book of Acts the apostles face difficulties, including their own divisions over how to interpret and share the Good News. The author of Acts doesn’t gloss over these sharp differences, but in the end shows how the unity of the gospel can be found when we allow ourselves to be drawn to the ascended Jesus rather than claiming the way we know him is the only way. As Peter learns after the Resurrection, God shows no partiality.

In today’s reading from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul prays that “the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [us] a spirit of wisdom and revelation as [we] come to know him.” In a time when our loyalties are challenged and divided by legislation, politics and religion, it is good to remember that the ascended Jesus prays for us and offers us wisdom and revelation, free from our own prejudices and fears, unbound so we can witness freely to all about the Good News of the gospel.

During these great 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, there is time to reflect on the universal ascended Lord and the gospel message. It will not be the same message in every place or every context, but it will be the Good News that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

As we prepare for the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, keep in mind that we all share the Good News. How we express it depends on the time and the place.

Regard the ascended Lord as empowering. Our divisions in the Christian community disempower us. Jesus’ work is to redeem messes, personal and public. While we have a large responsibility in that work, we are never alone. The ascended Jesus prays for us, sends us the power of the Spirit, and guides us to do that work.

So ask Jesus to guide your thinking and actions in ways that bring about unity and overcome division. Ask Jesus to unburden your heart and mind of prejudice and hurtful thoughts that encourage separation among believers. Ask the ascended Lord to empower you to be a disciple, a candle of light in the darkness of division. Then wait for your orders.

The apostles depended on the risen and ascended Jesus to sustain them in very difficult circumstances. He promised them he would be with them, always. We inherit their difficulties and their promise. Most of all, we live in the light of the ascended Lord who sends us the Holy Spirit and will one day make us one.


— Ben Helmer is a retired priest living in Holiday Island, Ark. He has been affiliated with diverse small congregations for over 40 years.

Love one another, 6 Easter (B) – 2015

May 10, 2015

Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

The 15th chapter of John’s gospel is filled with love. These few verses appointed for today form the first part of the three dimensions of a Christian’s life, and all three are centered in love. It’s a remarkable section in a profound and moving chapter. The word “love,” both as noun and verb, is repeated nine times in only eight verses. There is no way one can escape the theme of this chapter.

Something both beautiful and heartbreaking unfolds here. Christ lays his heart bare to his friends and disciples. “I have chosen you,” he tells them, “you didn’t choose me,” and he repeats, “I have loved you.”

But he makes it clear that this relationship is not just two-sided. The source of all this love is God the Father. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” These are powerful words, and when one truly hears them, they can force the soul to kneel before her maker.

And then Jesus uses that enduring metaphor: abide in my love. Stay, remain within it, live in my love. The verb, meno in Greek, “abide” in English, has a continuing connotation. This is not a short-lived experience; this is for life. “Abide in my love.”

Such a powerful state of being does not happen in isolation, or simply as an act of the will. It is very closely related with a requirement that Jesus makes into a condition for love. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”

And here’s the rub. Without keeping God’s commandments, we cannot have love and we cannot remain in this love. Keeping God’s commandments presupposes obedience, and this is something our culture rejects. Obedience is not what Americans admire. Obedience is for the weak, not the strong. Knowing how we react to obedience, Jesus keeps referring to himself. His life was one of total obedience to the Father. And no one who knows the story can ever call Jesus weak.

Jesus obeyed. He kept in constant connection with his father through prayer, through loving communion. Even when he was abandoned in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, he remained in obedience to the will of the Father. The cup was not taken away; it was drunk to the bitter dregs. And still he obeyed, because he knew that, despite everything, the Father loved him.

What is the commandment that we must obey in order to abide in the love of Christ? Jesus now directs us from himself and through himself to others: to love one another. All the ritual and sacrifices of animals and strict adherence to the minutia of the Law are as nothing; what matters is how we treat one another. The writer of the First Epistle of John testifies to this also: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” It is circular.

Obedience to God’s commandments bears fruit. The first fruit of abiding in love is that we have joy. The joy of knowing we are loved by God in Christ – not some easily earned emotion, but a state of being. Joy comes from the conviction that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

“And I have appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last,” Jesus tells his disciples. A few year later, Paul will list the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. These are the conclusions of a man who had suffered immeasurably because of his love for Christ. And yet because he knew that he was one with Christ, abiding in his love, the fruits that resulted are these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Such attributes are not earned, they are not taught; they spring from abiding in Christ’s love – otherwise, a man who had suffered so unjustly would have been filled with bitterness. But Paul was not.

The verses we are studying today, focused as they are on love and obedience to God’s commandments are not meant only for the disciples, for those who were Jesus’ friends. They are meant for us also. We have not been left out in the cold. The great Epiphany came to Peter during his visit to the gentiles of Caesarea, in the house of Cornelius. After Peter preached a sermon on the meaning of the Good News, the Holy Spirit visited all those who were present, not just the Jews but also the gentiles. They were astounded, the writer tells us, that the Holy Spirit descended on them also.

And Peter had the good sense to realize that the love of Christ is for all. “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?” he asked himself. Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, has matured tremendously and has learned to obey. In this instance, in the house of Cornelius, he obeyed the Holy Spirit, understood about the all-embracing love of Christ, and he, in turn, embraced the others, the gentiles. The early Christians were known for loving one another. We are called to do the same.


— Katerina Whitley is an author and retreat leader. She lives and writes in Louisville, Ky.

Christian love, 5 Easter (B) – 2015

May 3, 2015

Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

The word on the street is that love is easy. We just do it. We talk about chemistry, and indeed, the scientists tell us that chemistry has something to do with physical attraction. However, we know that love goes further than physical attraction. We love our parents and our children. We love our friends. There’s a whole neglected tradition of love between friends that has nothing to do with physical attraction. If we think about it, physical attraction does not necessarily have anything to do with love.

Tomorrow is the feast of Monnica, the mother of Augustine of Hippo, the great scholar, writer, preacher. We know from Augustine’s autobiography what a pivotal role she played in his path to Christianity. Augustine must have driven his mother to distraction as he went off on tangents, had a liaison with a woman out of wedlock who bore him a son, and then, just as he set off for North Africa to begin his career as a bishop, she died. The love she had for her son was a suffering love. And therein lies our problem. Love for us is all bound up with bliss and happiness. The very idea that love includes suffering seems repugnant. Surely if suffering intrudes on love, something is wrong. Embracing suffering seems deviant: a form of masochism. Yes, love may bring us suffering, but that means, we think, that something tragic has occurred.

To our minds, loving and liking are allies. We don’t tend to like someone whose behavior offends us, or at least if that person persists in doing things that annoy us. In short, love, we think, has something to do with affinity.

Many parishes pride themselves on being very loving. When the parish is in search, it assures prospective rectors that everyone loves everyone. Just try being someone who has braved coming through those red doors, found a vacant pew, tried to negotiate the liturgy and then found his or her way to coffee hour. The visitor then sees love in action. Groups of people form impenetrable circles. Each group is made up of people long accepted in the circle, bound by an affinity made up of shared backgrounds, longevity, perhaps political beliefs and shared interests. Even if the visitor manages to gain entrance, the subjects discussed involve an element of shared experience foreign to the visitor. Love turns out to mean an easy acceptance of people we know well.

In today’s lessons we meet an uncomfortably different form of love. The lesson from Acts recounts a meeting between Philip, the Jewish convert, a deacon, with the non-Jewish Ethiopian court official. Immediately, the two men are divided by race, religion and social class. Yet Philip is instructed “by the Spirit” to approach the Ethiopian. The Eunuch is reading Isaiah, one of the passages the new Christians identified as prophecy about Jesus:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

Philip has the difficult task of explaining that the crucifixion, where Jesus was killed like an animal sacrifice, was the most sublime offering of love. How on earth was he going to do that?

To begin with, Philip has to remember that the love he has for God, is a love that acknowledges that God loves him so much that his own follies, mistakes, unkindnesses and cruelty don’t stop God piercing through into the depth of who Philip really is. Philip knows that, as the writer of the First Epistle John will write later, loving God and being loved by God demands that we love others. Philip also knows that the only hope he has to get through the barrier of differentness is to claim what happened to him when he was baptized. In baptism he was grafted into Jesus, the true vine. Jesus’ love alone enables Philip to love the Ethiopian enough to share what he has come to know, what has enabled him to become a disciple. And now that loving discipleship is going to bear fruit as he leads the Ethiopian to a pool and there to be baptized, adopted, grafted, welcomed into the Kingdom. The Queen of Ethiopia’s servant is to become the servant of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

We were once given that priceless gift when those who loved us brought us to baptism. Did they also know that we were being invited into living suffering, costly love? Do we accept that we are being drawn toward the sacrifice of true love? In our natural selves, we run from relationships that turn into hurt for us. We may even physically recoil from such pain, the opposite of physical attraction. That is why we hold our hands out today for Bread and Wine, for Christ Himself. He alone can give us the strength to overcome that which separates us from that person who needs to be baptized, or needs to revisit his or her baptism, that person whose lifestyle, habits, opinions are so different from our own offends us, make us want to walk away. Believe it or not, by being Christians we accept that our vocation in life is to bear fruit – the fruit of love – and to make disciples.

As we read in today’s epistle:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”


— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

Wool and mutton, 4 Easter (B) – 2015

April 26, 2015

Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and there are always sheep everywhere you look. This year they’re especially thick – we hear two of the most familiar and cherished portions of scripture – the 23rd Psalm and the section from John’s gospel where Jesus says “I am the good shepherd.”

Over the centuries, this image of Jesus as the good shepherd and his followers as sheep has been, for whatever reasons, terribly appealing. The amount of stained glass, painting, music and poetry that it has inspired is truly staggering, and the number of sermons, articles, hymns, retreats and meditations devoted to it is doubtless vast beyond measure. So, it’s with great trepidation that any preacher wanders into this particular pasture and tackles these particular critters. You need to watch where you step.

Still, in all the words read and heard on the subject of the Good Shepherd and his sheep, there is one thing about all this that no ones talks about. It has to do with the simple question of “Why in the world do shepherds have sheep in the first place?”

Ever thought about that?

Shepherds probably keep sheep for pretty much the same reasons that ranchers keep cows, farmers keep cotton, and the Colonel keeps chickens.

Being a shepherd and taking care of sheep, and being a sheep and having a shepherd, are, sooner or later, going to have something to do with wool and with mutton. There’s just no avoiding it. And this little reality never shows up in the stained-glass windows or in the cutesy paraphrases of the 23rd Psalm on chintzy greeting cards. But keep these two things in mind: wool and mutton.

In a sense, this is rather encouraging. After all, one of the problems with this shepherd-and-sheep business – as popular as it is – is that sheep have a reputation as being passive, stupid, unimaginative, docile and dull. So if we are the sheep of our Lord’s pasture, does that then mean we are supposed to be like sheep: just hanging around, occasionally getting lost, not doing much, looking cute and being taken care of because there is absolutely no way we could survive for 15 minutes on our own? Is the whole point of the story that we aren’t worth very much, and that we aren’t very capable?

No. Remember, shepherds don’t generally keep sheep as pets – they aren’t all that much fun to have around. Instead, there are reasons for the whole enterprise, and expectations for all concerned. The sheep are useful, they are important, indeed they are necessary. If the sheep don’t produce, the shepherd is flat out of business. Which brings us back to wool and mutton. This is the piece of the Good Shepherd business that is about us; it’s about our part of what’s going on with this familiar and comfortable talk about green pastures and still waters. The Lord expects things of us, and if we don’t come through, well, there are no contingency plans.

We have to be careful here, and keep things straight. The point is not that there’s some fine print on Jesus’ promise to be the Good Shepherd, or that he’s only a good shepherd for the most useful of the sheep. Jesus isn’t going to leave us to the wolves or turn us into dog food – or whatever it is you do with worthless sheep – if we don’t produce. The Lord cares for us and has blessed us. He has laid down his life for us. That sacrifice, that love, that continued care, these are simply gifts. They are given without condition and without exception. We don’t try to do stuff in the hope that God will be nicer to us or love us more. There is no “more.”

Nonetheless, there are expectations – there is the business of wool and mutton. The care that the Lord offers us is intended to lead to something, something real and substantial.

We are to produce, to give back, from who we are – from what we can do, from what our situation in life is, from our various skills, abilities, resources and gifts.

We don’t grow wool, that’s not of our nature. But it is of our nature to worship and to serve; to reach out and to share; to study and to pray; to increase in holiness and to tell the truth; to seek for justice and to be willing to sacrifice. It is of our nature to choose to grow, in a disciplined and steady way, into the fullness of the stature of the person of Christ – and to do this in community, and with integrity. This is expected of us. Now, this isn’t about church work – Sunday morning and committee stuff – although that can be part of it. Instead, this is about the work of the church, which is much larger and a whole lot more interesting.

And that costs, it can cost a lot. Once more, remember the wool and the mutton.

At the same time, don’t forget that this also means that each and every one of the sheep has purpose and value and worth, and that each is important. Each and every one of us can contribute, and is called to contribute, in one way or another, to the mission of the church. You can’t be too young or too old or too new or too sick or too ordinary or too uneducated, or too ornery, or too busy, or too anything to avoid the reality of wool and mutton.

We are needed; and without us, without any single one of us, the mission and work of the Lord and his church are impoverished. We matter, and things are expected of us. We aren’t pets, kept for our owner’s amusement. We are valuable assets.

One of the many truths of the biblical story that our culture is eager to forget is that there is no such thing as being chosen for privilege. We are not chosen, picked out, protected by our Good Shepherd for the sake of our own comfort, convenience, personal needs or ease of life. Nobody in the Bible is chosen for this sort of stuff. Instead, God’s care and protection are always given that we might be better equipped for service. It always means that something special, something more, is expected.To be sure, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he pays the price, and protects us and cares for us. That’s the way it is. But there is more to it than this. We are valuable, and important; and we have an essential role to play in all of this. There is the business of wool, and of mutton.


— The Rev. James Liggett has recently retired as rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

Jesus is hungry, 3 Easter (B) – 2015

April 19, 2015

Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

So there is Jesus standing among his closest friends, the disciples. That is meant to represent us. He says, “Shalom!” Loosely translated, that comes across as, “Peace be with you.” This is unfortunately an inadequate attempt to put shalom into English.

Shalom means much more than “peace.” Or “peace” means much more than what we think it means. Since shalom means to convey that all is well with the world, all is just, all is fair, all is the way God means it to be, it ultimately means something more like, “What are you doing to make the world look more like God’s world than Caesar’s world?” With “Caesar” standing in for whatever the principalities and powers look like in a given era – empires, rulers, governments, multi-national corporations, markets, organized religion and the like.

Appropriately the disciples are startled – the dead one is on the loose. And terrified – because, holy moly, here he is! And he still has shalom on his mind. Always has, always will, always does.

Jesus then asks the disciples, “Why are you frightened?”

Could it be because the last time we saw you, you were dead, hanging on a Roman cross, soldiers all around, angry people all around, and, well, as far as we knew, dead is dead?

Well, he seems to say, that is true enough. Here, look at the wounds – see my hands, see my feet.

So, upon examining his hands and feet, hands and feet that have had nails – spikes, really – driven through them, the disciples, we, are filled with joy tinged with disbelief. They still think it may be a ghost. But nevertheless, joy.

Then the real Jesus steps forward. “Have you anything to eat?” Didn’t he always say you have to come to God’s Kingdom like a child? And how many times a day do children look at their parents and say, “What’s to eat?”

Apparently, as it is in real life, so it is in the resurrection of the dead: We need something to eat, something to sustain us, something to nourish us. So does Jesus. He wants us to feed him.

So how are we to respond to his simple yet direct request? The disciples offer some broiled fish. There is evidence that in the early church, as it was with the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000, there likely were bread-and-fish Eucharists. There are even illustrations of such on the walls of early catacombs. There are still places in Europe, I have been told, where the “Eucharist” is still a foot-washing ritual devoid of bread and wine as the fourth evangelist, John, depicts “the Last Supper.” That is, things are not always as they seem.

Jesus is hungry. He wants something to eat. They give him fish. He eats the fish. But perhaps we need to pay attention to what happens next. He “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” – that is what was referred to as The Law and the Prophets: Hebrew Scripture.

This suggests that perhaps his hunger is not for fish, not for bread, not for wine. Jesus is still hungry post-resurrection. He was hungry before the resurrection as well. We would do well to consider the source of his hunger before we are so quick to offer him something to satisfy his hunger. An in-depth understanding of Torah and the Prophets is to be the starting place.

Jesus was vexed with his contemporary religionists. He felt that the application of Torah, application of the Law and the Prophets, had gone off in direction not of God’s liking. Instead of bringing God’s people, all people, together, the administration, the understanding, of God’s 638 rules, beginning with the First Ten, was being used to separate people more than bring them together.

This vexation made Jesus hungry – hungry for freedom, shalom and justice for all people – not some people, not most people, not lots of people. All people.

Had he not made it clear that the hungry were to be fed? The naked clothed? The prisoner visited? The sick made well? The stranger, the resident alien as the Bible calls them, welcomed? The thirsty given something to assuage their thirst? Had he not self-identified with all these people, including lepers, women, orphans, children, servants, gentiles and Jews?

In a church that is increasingly consumed with power struggles within and without; a church looking for the next great Public Relations scheme to attract people; a church consumed with creating dividing lines between correct and incorrect “belief”; a church consumed with parking within the lines, a church consumed with chastising nuns who are devoting “too much time” to issues of social justice; a church that in 1215 under Pope Innocent III decreed that all Jews should wear a yellow patch of cloth sewn to their coats; a church consumed with just about anything but Shalom. Is it too difficult to see that Jesus, who promises to be present in the bread and the wine, Jesus who promises that he is the stranger, he is the prisoner, he is the leper, he is the beggar on the street, he is the prostitute, sinner, the woman who is bleeding to death, the mother or father begging for their child’s life, and a tax collector; a Jesus who endlessly teaches about our relationship to the land, the earth, in countless agricultural stories, parables and analogies; a Jesus who challenges every sovereign temporal and religious power – is it too difficult to see that having been raised from being three days dead and gone and now returned and back with us for all eternity, that this Jesus whom we are to proclaim in all that we do and all that we say wants something more than a piece of broiled fish when he asks, “Have you anything to eat?”

“Repentance,” says Jesus, “and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed…to all nations, all persons, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Are we really witnesses to these things? These things Jesus is hungry for? Jesus, says Luke, is hungry. The Risen Lord, blessed be his Name, is hungry! What in the world are we prepared to offer him? What in the world are we willing to give to him? How shall our witness satisfy his hunger?

Is it possible that his “Shalom” is not a greeting at all? Is it rather a request? An order? Is he asking for Shalom? Are we prepared to give him this Shalom he speaks of and died for? Or, are we still satisfied to just offer him a piece of broiled fish? Jesus is hungry. He wants us to be hungry too. How we respond will determine if His hunger is satisfied. We know what it will take. We have these Great Fifty days of Easter to begin!

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!


— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and American History. His sermons are archived at

What does it take to believe?, 2 Easter (B) – 2015

April 12, 2015

Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Last Sunday, the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we proclaimed with joy and wonder: “He is risen!”

That was the theme for the day, that was the truth renewed and declared. The stone is rolled away! The Lord is alive!

And what we have is an empty tomb.

The women came to the tomb with the spices they had prepared for the body. Seeing heavenly messengers, they believed and ran to tell the men.

But when the women told their news to the disciples – what they had seen and learned at the tomb, that empty tomb – the men didn’t believe them! “These words seemed to them an idle tale,” says one gospel.

And so when we read the story of what happened next, when Jesus came into the house and stood among his disciples, we have to wonder what was going through their minds. After all, these were the same disciples who had refused to believe the women until they could see with their own eyes. And even running to the tomb to see what he could find, Peter did not go in: He stayed outside, seeing only the emptiness.

And then, as we read in the Gospel of John today:

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them. … Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

They got it! They finally believed!

But not all. No, just as there were disbelievers at the tomb, there is a disbeliever in their midst in today’s story: Thomas. No sooner does one believe than another does not, and these back-and-forth tales persist throughout the Christian story.

“But Thomas … one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’”

Thomas was the holdout. There is no record of the other disciples’ response to this, but they could hardly claim the moral high ground. Looking back in John’s story only a few sentences, we read that Jesus showed them his hands and his side. It was only then that the disciples “rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

What is it about proof? Why do these disciples – the ones who were closest to Jesus, who walked with him, ate at table with him, listened to the wisdom of his preaching – require something more in order to believe? And how much is enough to tip the scale?

“Tip the scale”: That’s the image to hold in mind as we think about this.

Have you ever watched one of the many dog shows on television, a dog show that has tricks and trials? Sometimes dogs will have to run an obstacle course, and one of the obstacles will be a teeter totter sort of thing, where the dog will run up one side, and carefully balancing, carefully stepping past the middle point, will tip the board down on the other side. At this point, the dogs often seem not to walk, not even to run off the board, but to jump off, in their excitement.

Faith is much like that teeter totter. It’s a balancing act of running up one side of consideration to the tipping point, and having reached that dangerous ground, that area where you can stay safely balanced on your comfortable side, or you can even stand in the middle if you’re very, very careful – and then jumping, with all you’ve got, to the other side, where you might find the downside of the plank, or you might find only thin air.

This is a useful application of the expression “leap of faith,” because that’s exactly what it is. Most often, what we find when we get to that fulcrum, that tipping point, of faith, is only spiritual “thin air” on the other side. It’s much safer, we think, to stay on the uphill side where we have solid wood under our feet. It’s more uncertain, scarier even, to have to scramble to keep our footing and balance just like those dogs on the obstacle course, before deciding to jump!

The threshold of the empty tomb of Easter morning is a fulcrum, a tipping point, a place of decision. Imagine two people on a teeter totter, facing each other. What is in between them, in the middle, is the threshold of that tomb. The door. The entry or exit. What does each one see? A way in? A way out?

In his collection of essays “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis wrote:

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose that you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

Such is faith.

What is necessary for us to believe? We can all practice religion: That’s what we’re doing now, in acting out worship and remembering Christ in the Eucharist. That is the stuff of identifying ourselves as Episcopalian or Methodist or Baptist or any of a myriad of Christian labels and distinctions.

All of us who call ourselves Christian are not necessarily converted to faith. Tongue in cheek, we might claim that there is complete agreement in this church and every other church about whether to have wine or grape juice for communion, whether to have candles on the altar, or whether to have an altar at all. But those are the things of religion. And yet, so often those are the things that divide us, that get in the way of Christian believing and Christian community. But Jesus was not concerned so much with matters of religion as he was with matters of faith.

Think back on the stories of Jesus, his ministry, his interactions with people. Do you remember the stories of the Pharisees criticizing Jesus for eating food that was unwashed, for healing on the Sabbath, for sharing a meal and associating with those who were considered the less desirable people of society? And what was his response in every single case? Those are trappings, those are not the things that are important. Those are not the things of the Kingdom of God.

In the season of Easter, we tell stories not of religion, but of faith and believing. Of standing at the entrance to the tomb, and deciding whether to go in. Of being closed in the house with the disciples and greeting our Lord. Of the women, the only ones who believed without question or denial. Of Peter and the other disciples. Of Thomas, called “Doubting Thomas,” because he demanded to see and touch. Of Paul and Annanias.

May each of us this Easter season come to know the Risen Christ in a new way. May the event of Easter be a unifying experience, to bring together the Body of Christ, instead of breaking it again on the cross. May we celebrate our differences that will be honored in the gathering of Pentecost and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit at the end of this season. May we remember that it is Jesus Christ who unites us as Lord and Savior, so that we cling to our faith more firmly than we do to our religion.

And may we think about something in this Easter season: How will we put ourselves into the story?

What does it take for you to believe?

You stand at the entrance to the tomb. You have heard the testimony of the women. You know what the disciples know.

What is your story of faith? What is your response to the Easter news?


— The Rev. Machrina Blasdell currently teaches religious studies for Park University, Parkville, Mo., following 12 years as executive director of an interfaith council in the San Francisco area. She enjoys her family life, growing roses and making anything chocolate.

Today is the day, Easter Day (B) – 2015

April 5, 2015

Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

Can you image that celebrating Easter might bring danger for most of us? The danger comes from our knowing in advance the outcome of the drama – that Jesus rose again. Knowing what is going to be said and sung this morning, we are in danger of not being shocked by this unimaginably joyous, unprecedented event.

If we are not careful, Easter can become just another one of those stories with a feel-good, happy ending. If we are not careful, we will cease to be slack-jawed. If we are not careful, the hair on the back of our necks will not stand up when we hear the almost unbelievable Good News.

This is so, because familiarity can bred, if not contempt, then at least a ho-hum, of-course-he-rose-on-the-third-day kind of attitude. If we succumb to this familiar thinking, Jesus’ death on the cross is hardly a life-changing gift, but rather a short pause in a celebration lined only with bunnies and baskets, colored eggs and family dinners.

Obviously, in the depth of our faith, we cannot afford to become so complacent. It is important that we understand Easter profoundly and appreciate its ultimate value; important that we remember that it follows and gives meaning to the weight of Good Friday and the pain that black day bears. The sadness and darkness of Good Friday discloses several things that should never be glossed over – lest Easter lose its goose-bump-producing, almost too-good-to-be-true character.

The women disciples were among the very few who stayed with Jesus until the end, waiting with him until he died. They knew he was dead, that it was no illusion. For them as well as for all his followers, Jesus’ crucifixion and death seemed at first a crushing, disillusioning end, without hope or redemption. For them, all was lost, all was dark. Despite the promises they wanted to cling to, it appeared that Jesus and his cause had been defeated. After all, he had suffered the humiliating shame and the discrediting reality of death by crucifixion. Maybe his opponents were right; his death showed him to be just a deluded messianic pretender.

Despite this apparent reality, the women stayed with him throughout this tragedy. The women stayed with him even after his death. Despite their despair, they went to his tomb early that morning. Yet what these broken-hearted, still-faithful women found when they arrived was that the body of Jesus was not there. So they became the first to experience the frightening, awesome discovery that sometime during the night he had risen.

At first, however, they did not know what to make of his absent body. Terror and amazement seized them, and they fled the tomb. These women became the first believers for whom it was not enough just to know that the tomb was empty. Because for all who are discerning, the empty tomb does not prove the meaning of the Resurrection. The women’s experience shows us what else is necessary.

It was facing Jesus’ death and continuing to stay true to him afterward that allowed them to discover the Resurrection. They found that he was alive to them in a way they could never have imagined, in a way that could never end. They discovered that what the world put to death, God raised high. This is the meaning of Easter: God’s love triumphs over every barrier.

Easter means that no power on earth can destroy the reality that is Christ.

The angel gave the women the clue that unlocks for every Christian the power of the Resurrection. The angel instructed them to tell all the other disciples that Christ was raised and had gone before them into Galilee. The angel told them that they should quit looking for Jesus in death, but rather, find him alive in a new way, in the life of the world. If they could do so, they would discover the meaning of the Resurrection. They would discover that even despite our lack of commitment to God, God remains committed to us – in a loving, unconditional, no-strings-attached kind way – despite how much or little we might deserve that love. They will discover that God makes them the most precious beings in creation – people who are worth dying for.

Easter is coming face to face with a Jesus who has not just reversed the power death, but has completely triumphed over it.

Today is the day in our faith to proclaim this fabulous news. The Good News of the Resurrection is that Christ is a light that overcomes all the darkness that life can entail. That light overcomes the darkness we experienced in Holy Week when we passed through vivid reminders of our human frailty and sin, reminders of how easy it is for us to be gobbled up by the power of the enemies of God.

Now – today – we can declare that things are different.

Now we know we have the love and light of Christ going before us and living within us. Now we can see the way and dare to bring that love and light to the darker parts of our world.

Today our Prayer Book allows us to begin saying, as a response to the dismissal, “Thanks be to God – Alleluia, Alleluia.” Now we can express, once again, the joy of these empowering words. Now we go forth from this service back into our workaday world in a renewed and transformed way. We can go forth with confidence and courage because we know that as Christ went before the disciples into Galilee, he also goes before us into all the world.

Christ leads the way for us, ever going before us, raising us with him from the depths – from sickness and pain and even death, from disappointment and sin and despair and grief. Christ ever goes before us as our light in the darkness, allowing us to reflect his light into the world.

Today we move with the women at the tomb into a renewed life, ready to face everything with joy, and filled with God’s love, proclaiming and showing that Christ is risen, indeed. Today we shout, “Alleluia !! Alleluia !!”


— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of ”John E. Hines: Granite on Fire” (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.

He lives, Easter Vigil (B) – 2015

April 4, 2015

Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21; Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Mark 16:1-8

Welcome friends. This is the night. This is the night we gather as God’s people to hear the stories that matter most to us, the stories that teach us who we are. What we believe. What we long for. What our hopes and dreams are. These stories teach us what our God is like.

Just for a moment, please close your eyes. Imagine that this Paschal candle is a campfire. We are God’s tribe, seeking light in the darkness, comfort in the wilderness. This is the night when we gather with God’s people from all over the world and tell once more the story of our deliverance. Are these stories Good News for you? What do they tell us about our tribe? What do they teach us about our God?

It started with a burning bush. When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, he heard God’s voice. God spoke to him. God revealed his name to Moses on that day: God said that his name was “I am.” And in that encounter at the burning bush, God also revealed his character – God showed Moses, and us, what he cares about.

God said to Moses at the bush:

“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Our God hears the cry of the poor and the oppressed. And our God is the God of freedom.

Moses did as God asked that day. He journeyed back to Egypt, to Pharaoh’s palace where he and been brought up as an adopted prince of Egypt. Moses confronted Pharaoh as God instructed, saying to Pharaoh: “Let my people go.”

Pharaoh said no when Moses and the Hebrew people cried for freedom; but God said yes.

Are we in bondage? Do we have eyes to see the powers of this world oppressing God’s people? If God’s people are suffering, take heart! Our God will lead us from slavery to freedom, from bondage to liberty. That is who our God is.

So God stretched out his hand to save the Israelites from Pharaoh. Even when things seemed desperate, when there was no way out, God made a way. Standing between the armies of Egypt and the sea, Moses stretched out his hand, and led the Hebrew children through on dry land. God led them through with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.

Our God will find a way when there is no way. Even when we are blind and can’t see a way forward, God brings us new hope, helps us see in a new way. Our God is the God of exiles, leading us home through the wilderness, guiding our way, day and night.

The people of Israel – our ancestors in faith – finally made it out of the wilderness, into the good land that God had promised. But the powers of this world did not stop trying to take away the freedom and abundance that God had given them. First Babylon. Then Syria. And finally, Rome.

Let’s hear the next part of the story. Jesus grew up under the oppression of Rome. He saw how Rome broke the backs of the poor – all those fishermen and laborers that were the focus of Jesus’ ministry. But Jesus brought these poor women and men Good News! God’s kingdom is at hand! In God’s kingdom, there will be enough bread for every day. No one will be hungry. God’s kingdom means justice for the poor.

We have journeyed with Jesus through Lent, watching him heal the sick and bring hope to the hopeless. And we have seen his turn toward Jerusalem through this Holy Week: how he entered the city on Palm Sunday, to cries of Hosanna. When Jesus entered the Holy City that week, he went to the Temple, where he overturned the tables of those who were buying and selling, confronting the people who were controlling access to God’s love and grace represented by the Temple.

As Jesus taught in Jerusalem that week before Passover, he kept confronting the authorities, challenging the way they made life hard for the poor. The religious authorities had a lock on God’s grace and forgiveness. And the religious authorities worked with the secular authorities to impose taxes that kept the poor people poor and lined the pockets of the comfortable. Jesus confronted both, challenging them with his vision of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom where all would have enough and peace would prevail.

Rome was always quick to put down any sign of rebellion. Roman justice was swift and brutal, and it usually kept the provinces, such as Jerusalem, in line. And so they put this zealot named Jesus to death. They didn’t like what he had to say, so they killed him, as they killed thousands of others, nailing him to a cross on the outskirts of the city, as a public example of what happens to those who cry for justice.

Just as Pharaoh said no to Moses’ call for freedom, Rome said no to Jesus’ call for justice.

But God said yes. Our God is the one who leads us from oppression to justice.

Now Rome thought it could silence Jesus by putting him to death. Killing Jesus would be their final solution.

But God would not let anything on earth silence the Good News. Not even death. So even though they killed Jesus, nailed him to a cross and tried to forget about him, now he lives. Tonight, he lives. This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

Our God is the God who leads us from death into life. Not even death can stop God’s love, God’s peace, God’s justice, God’s abundance.

Because now, God’s kingdom has taken root in us. Now, Jesus lives in us.

Every time we reach out in love to help someone in need, Jesus rises victorious again. Every time we share the abundance God has given us, God’s kingdom grows. And it will grow and grow until it reaches the ends of the earth.

This night, and every night, and every day, Jesus lives. He lives now in us.


— The Rev. Jason Cox has served as associate rector for Youth Ministries at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 2011. Prior to working at St. Columba’s, he directed the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, a year-long service and discernment program for young adults, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Before ordination, he served as an intern in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, working with homeless clients in a transitional housing facility on L.A.’s skid row.

The opposite of scoffing, 7 Easter (B) – May 20, 2012

By Craig Canfield

(Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19)

“Once there was a little girl who always laughed and grinned
and made fun of everyone, of all her blood and kin,
and once when there was company and old folks was there,
she mocked them and she shocked them, and said she didn’t care.
And just as she turned on her heels to go and run and hide,
there was two great big black things a-standing by her side.
They snatched her through the ceiling ’fore she knew what she’s about,
and the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!”

Did any of you go to bed as children having the poems of James Whitcomb Riley read to you? Well, for those of you who did, you might recall what was just read from the poem “Little Orphan Annie.”

So what has this to do with the major themes from our Bible readings of this week? Everything.

It is not that our little girl lost cannot be found, it is that she is on a bad road. “Scoffers” or, depending on your translation, “the scornful,” is something we encounter in our reading from the First Psalm this Sunday. “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of the scoffers.”

“Sit in the seat of the scoffers.” Now here is a word we don’t encounter every day. Would that the actual adult scoffer be as absent as the number of times we come across that word. Perhaps the substitution of synonyms would ring more clearly to our ears – words such as “mockers,” or “deriders,” or “those who treat others or God with contempt or ridicule.”

If, on the other hand, we are reading verses from our Bible every day, then we will definitely come across the word “scoffer.” Countless times. The Bible is full of references to the scoffers. There is “scoffing at the Lord’s prophets,” and verses such as “All your enemies open their mouths wide against you: they scoff and gnash their teeth.” Then there are the scoffers that “will come in the last days.”

The readings today from Psalms, John and Acts are crucial in fostering a change of attitude not only among the mockers, but among those who are attacked by the mockers and the traditional ways in which people have learned to deal with their attackers. In these readings we are not only led away from the road of the scoffer, with their goblins of separation and alienation, but we are led away from the customary road of revengeful reaction to the scoffers. We are led toward the path of forgiveness.

Given that much has been made recently of the connection between psychology and spirituality, why not look at what psychologists have to say about the corrosive effect scoffers might have on others, the effect on people when they are mocked or negated, and of the effect such treatment has on our souls?

The word “therapist” is taken from the Greek word therapia, which means “soul server” – so helping the soul to expand, to reach God, is something that, if we do not limit ourselves to the pursuit of secular therapy, ought to be the work of therapists as well as clergy.

In the book The Politics of Experience, Erving Goffman is quoted as saying, “There seems to be no agent more effective than another person in bringing oneself alive, or by a glance, a gesture, or a remark, shriveling up the reality in which one is lodged.”

The mocker is the blocker. He is the one, in comedies, called the blocking agent – the one who prevents the success of the hero’s action. But in the act of the soul’s journey toward salvation, this is no joke, no laughing matter. The scoffer is the adversary, the one who interferes, the one who stands in the way.

Other psychologists have written about how the words of the mocker can put one back into the acorn from which the soul is supposed to emerge as an oak tree, back in the cocoon from which the soul is supposed to morph into a butterfly. Many reclusive and traumatized people inhabit these shells, these prisons of isolation. Sometimes strong forces are needed to shake up the rigidity of such confinement. But we are looking at two forces: a loving force that is coaxing one to grow, and another that is thwarting all growth. Few realize the effect that scoffing or mocking can have on someone.

Mocking is betrayal that leads to alienation and separation; alienation of the mocker from what is mocked, whether it is man or God, and alienation of the one who is mocked, who may get caught up in a spiral of hatred and revenge toward the mocker.

Our gospel reading for today gives examples of Jesus’ way and the way he advocates for his disciples, and hence, the way for us to avoid such a negative spiral. In the passage from John, Jesus warns his disciples that because he has set them apart by truth, others will hate them. It is illuminating to see how, although aware of the hatred that comes from the world toward himself and toward his disciples, nevertheless, Jesus’ response is the opposite of scoffing. It is the choice of forgiveness.

If we can stop revengeful responses to the scoffers, take up our own crosses of moving beyond our egos, then we can employ Jesus’ healing energies to learn the way of forgiveness.

Referring to Judas, Jesus said, “I guarded them, and not one of them was lost, except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.” Note the mildness of the language. Jesus does not issue a harsh condemnation, judgment or ridicule Judas, even after Judas’ act of betrayal.

Forgive the betrayer, forgive the murdering Roman soldiers. Forgive, forgive, forgive. Yes, forgive 70 times. That is the way, the highway, the road.

Hopefully the “old folks” in the James Whitcomb Riley poem with which we started our sermon were old enough and wisdom-filled enough to have arrived at the conclusion that scoffing, with its attendant belittlement and betrayal, might be met with forgiveness, by recognizing in the injustice of the other a real call for love. Hopefully the same can be said for us.


— Craig Canfield is a psychotherapist with a focus on the links between psychotherapy and spirituality, particularly dealing with the Biblical text.