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Welcome to Trinity Episcopal Church, NJ!

February 19, 2017: The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Readings of the Day

First Reading

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18
A Reading from the book of Leviticus.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Psalm 119: 33-40 Legem pone

    33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, *
    and I shall keep it to the end.
    34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
    I shall keep it with all my heart.
    35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
    for that is my desire.
    36 Incline my heart to your decrees *
    and not to unjust gain.
    37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
    give me life in your ways.
    38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
    which you make to those who fear you.
    39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
    because your judgments are good.
    40 Behold, I long for your commandments; *
    in your righteousness preserve my life.

Second Reading

1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23
A Reading from Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Holy Gospel

Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Father Kruger’s Sermon for today

Lord God, through the written word, and the spoken word, may we know your Living Word; Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen

During the course of this past week I exchanged some really good emails with a parishioner about the life of faith. In one of the emails he wrote the following: “One of the areas I struggle with is the contrast of the vengeful God of the Old Testament and the God of love described by Jesus in the New Testament.”

At first glance it would appear that the set text from St Matthew’s Gospel reinforces the idea of the vengeful nit picking God of the Old Testament with God of love and Grace we see revealed in Jesus. St Matthew constructs antitheses which contrast what was expected in the past – eye for an eye and hating enemies – with the new law of grace – non violence and love of enemies. Obviously the temptation here is to contrast ‘Jewish legalism’ with ‘Christian Gospel love’.

However, we would do well to remember that the author of Matthew’s gospel was a Jew who was writing for a Jewish audience. The whole point of St Matthew’s Gospel is to convince his audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law; not that Jesus and the law are in opposition to one another.

Many of the Rabbi’s who taught at the time of Jesus were in complete agreement with his interpretation of the law. They recognized that the law of retaliation – an eye for an eye – was not written to encourage taking another person’s eye if they took yours. Rather it was a law designed to avoid the escalation of violence and keep revenge within certain boundaries. In this way the ‘spirit of the law’ was already well on the way to the kind of non violent response Jesus teaches. Humanity, it appears is being redeemed in increments.

Prior to the Torah it seems as though people had the mentality of – you kill my brother, I kill you and your whole family. The law of retaliation limited the violence to killing only the murderer. Then Jesus enters the scene and fulfils the law by teaching non violence and forgiveness. In this way the scriptures can seem to be contradictory.

The reality is that the scriptures are dynamic and of course written by flawed humanity. There are moments where God is supremely revealed like the text from our Old Testament: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” For the author of Leviticus to write that in his time and context is utterly inspired and amazing.

In that moment it’s as though the author takes several steps closer to God. However, being human he is not always able to remain that close to God. In other sections it is as though he takes five steps backwards. But this is the story of the scriptures – they are a very honest record of a peoples journey with and to God – sometimes getting things right and sometimes messing everything up.

Added to this dynamic unfolding of scripture is that the texts we read Sunday by Sunday, were simply not written primarily for us. Because they were written for communities that lived in very different times and many years ago that may not be automatically self evident.

The Gospel for today about turning the other cheek is a good example of this. The traditional interpretation of “do not resist an evildoer” has been nonresistance to evil—an odd conclusion, given the fact that on every occasion Jesus himself resisted evil with every fibre of his being.

So… lets take a closer look at what Jesus might have meant when he said: ”If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matt. 5:39b). Here I am indebted to Walther Wink. You are probably imagining a blow with the right fist. But such a blow would fall on the left cheek. To hit the right cheek with a fist would require the left hand. But the left hand could be used only for unclean tasks; at Qumran, a Jewish religious community of Jesus’ day, to gesture with the left hand meant exclusion from the meeting and penance for ten days.

To grasp this you must physically try it: how would you hit the other’s right cheek with your right hand? If you have tried it, you will know: the only feasible blow is a backhand. The backhand was not a blow to injure, but to insult, humiliate, degrade. It was not administered to an equal, but to an inferior. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; Romans, Jews.

The whole point of the blow was to force someone who was out of line back into place. Notice Jesus’ audience: “If anyone strikes you.” These are people used to being thus degraded. He is saying to them, “Refuse to accept this kind of treatment anymore. If they backhand you, turn the other cheek.” (Now you really need to physically enact this to see the problem.)

By turning the cheek, the servant makes it impossible for the master to use the backhand again: his nose is in the way. And anyway, it’s like telling a joke twice; if it didn’t work the first time, it simply won’t work. The left cheek now offers a perfect target for a blow with the right fist; but only equals fought with fists, as we know from Jewish sources, and the last thing the master wishes to do is to establish this underling’s equality.

This act of defiance renders the master incapable of asserting his dominance in this relationship. He can have the slave beaten, but he can no longer cow him. By turning the cheek, then, the “inferior” is saying: “I’m a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God. I won’t take it anymore.”

Such defiance is no way to avoid trouble. Meek acquiescence is what the master wants. Such “cheeky” behaviour may call down a flogging, or worse. But the point has been made. The Powers That Be have lost their power to make people submit.

And when large numbers begin behaving thus (and Jesus was addressing a crowd), you have a social revolution on your hands. In that world of honor and shaming, the “superior” has been rendered impotent to instill shame in a subordinate. He has been stripped of his power to dehumanize the other.

As Gandhi taught, “The first principle of nonviolent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.” How different this is from the usual view that this passage teaches us to turn the other cheek so our batterer can simply clobber us again! How often that interpretation has been fed to battered wives and children. And it was never what Jesus intended in the least.

To such victims he advises, “Stand up for yourselves, defy your masters, assert your humanity; but don’t answer the oppressor in kind. Find a new, third way that is neither cowardly submission nor violent reprisal.” In a way St Paul sums up all of this in his letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

May God grant to each of us the courage to treat ourselves and those we encounter as the very temple of God’s Spirit. Amen.

Collect of the Day

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Celebrant and Homilist: The Rev. Andrew David Kruger

Deacon: Clive Oscar Sang

Seminarian: Allison Burns-LaGreca

Verger: Anthony Francis Vitale

Organist: Anthony J. Rafaniello

  • Prelude: “Prelude in E-flat” – Henry Smart
  • Choir Anthem: “To God, Let Us Sing Our Praises” – Marc-Antoine Charpentier, arr. Hal Hopson
  • Postlude: “Recessional in a Gregorian Mode” – Henry Kihlken

Audio Files

From the Rt. Rev. William “Chip” Stokes, D.D., XII Bishop of New Jersey

You are the salt of the earth… (Matthew 5:13)

For several weeks in this season after the Epiphany, our appointed Gospel readings for Sunday mornings come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five major discourses, or blocks of Jesus’ sayings, in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel could reasonably be labeled the “discipleship gospel.” Throughout Matthew, Jesus offers extensive teaching about what it means to be his follower and pupil – the root meaning of the word “discipleship.” This is especially true of the Sermon on the Mount.

In his now classic work, The Cost of Discipleship, German pastor, teacher and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers an extensive reflection on the Sermon on the Mount. His insights about the saying, “You are the salt of the earth,” are particularly powerful. Bonhoeffer writes, It is to be noted that Jesus calls not himself, but his disciples the salt of the earth, for he entrusts his work on earth to them.

Too often, I think, we forget this incredible reality and responsibility. Christ has entrusted his ministry to us – to his Church – the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Bonhoeffer later writes, For its own sake, as well as for the sake of the earth, the salt must remain salt, the disciple community must be faithful to the mission which the call of Christ has given it….

The mission which Christ has given us is his ministry of reconciliation and love. The mission of the Church, our Outline of the Faith states clearly, is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (BCP p. 855). As many contemporary theologians have observed and as former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was fond of reminding Anglicans, it’s not so much that the Church has a mission; it’s God who has the mission and a Church to carry out that mission.

“Ye are the salt,” Bonhoeffer writes, quoting Matthew, and then observes, Jesus does not say: “You must be the salt.” It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt by the call they have received.

The world in which we live today is in desperate need of God’s message of reconciliation and love. It needs our “salty” presence. It needs us to be faithful followers of Jesus in word and in deed. There is too much bitterness, anger, division, and enmity.

I invite you to pray and reflect on the Sermon on the Mount these next couple of weeks. It will feed your soul and give you lots to ponder. You can find it in in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapters 5-7.

Blessings and peace, Bishop W.H. Stokes

The Worship Service

10 AM: Rite Two

THE LITURGY OF THE WORD

Prelude see above
Processional Hymn H # 379
Acclamation BCP 355
Collect for Purity BCP 355
Gloria S # 278
Collect of the Day BCP 216
The Lesson Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18
Psalm Psalm 119: 33-40
The Epistle 1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23
Sequence Hymn H # 605
The Gospel Matthew 5: 38-48
Sermon Father Andrew+
Nicene Creed BCP 358
Prayers of the People Form II
Confession BCP 360
Absolution BCP 360
The Peace BCP 360
Announcements

THE GREAT THANKSGIVING

Choir Anthem see above
Offertory Hymn H # 637
Eucharistic Prayer A BCP 361
Sanctus S # 128
The Lord’s Prayer BCP 364
Agnus Dei S # 165
The Invitation BCP 364
Communion Hymns H 605, WLP 761
Post Communion Prayer BCP 365
Blessing
Recessional Hymn H # 657
Dismissal
Postlude see above