Saturday, November 8, 2014

Note on the "Reconciliation" notice at General Theological Seminary.

This is an upgraded form of the Note that I left at the website GTS.EDU on what was called the "Reconciliation."  As usual, I look for your comments.  Perren

Note on the "Reconciliation" notice at General Theological Seminary.

This comes from a devoted alumnus of GTS in 1955.  So far, everything I have read seems to take a “side” in this polygonal problem.  While this is a clarifying “must,” it cannot be a “resolving” matter – only the expression of relief that students are being educated, and some sort of life continues on the Close.  Prayers and tears and hope (as yet unfulfilled) have marked my reactions to the anger, both outright and covered carefully with chosen words.  Now that “education” has (re)commenced, perhaps an orderly life can be restored.

While there is much to be said, I believe, on all sides, everything I have read or heard, comes from the same point and leads back to this same point.  My own ministry during the years 1973 through 1995 was “contributed” to congregations.  I “earned” my own “keep” in ways that gave me much insight into Christian life.  While I consider myself a “liberal” in politics and Biblical criticism, an Anglo-catholic in liturgy, a Jesuit in prayer life, Freud-leaning in psychology and language, a follower of Peter Druker and W. Edmonds Demming in economics, and Winfred Douglas in music, my approach is fundamentally classical, beginning with the period near 1000 BCE.

I strongly believe that our very first issue is the theology of the Church.  Why do we need Seminary education in the first place?  What is the purpose of the Church? What is the purpose of Religion? What is the purpose of a parish? Why do we need clergy? How are the clergy related to the Church? The Diocese? The Parish? The Baptized? The Unbaptized majority?  These are the questions that are fundamental to what has happened at General. And all groups/sides need to understand this as a fact.

In 1919 the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America became the first “denomination” to require the clergy to retire – at the chosen age of 72. At the same time, the General Convention directed the church, at every level to follow the “generally accepted” methods and practices of “modern” business.  This, therefore, fundamentally altered the relationship between a parish and its priest (and added-on non-clergy parish personnel);  so also the relationship of the priest to the Bishop/diocese; so also the (newly created) Office of the Presiding Bishop.  This kind of fundamental change takes a looooong time to be implemented fully.

The Church Pension Fund seems to have considered that the “time has come” to implement to the fullest, this dictum of 1919.   Now spread out as a full scale Human Services/financial system The Church Pension GROUP administers insurance, annuities, and health care for the retired clergy - and others! It has become a full-scale Human Services institution - without a corresponding “corporation” shaping its actions.  The CP Group now assists in “developing” a “path” for the newly ordained (and somewhat younger than recently) clergy.  As family needs develop, so income must be increased – and there is college for the kids!  Sort of each 5 - 7 years the clerics must change the location of  ministry – and of course, the income. These (and many others) are significant issues that MUST be dealt with – while “we must be in the world, but not of it” we still need to provide for family and, “promotion” details.

When I and several other priests tried to follow the French (especially) “Worker Priest” movement, I and they were either too far in front of where the Episcopal Church was/is, or it just won’t work in the USA, at this time.  Or, anyway, it has not done so.  And again, the experience developed by the few of us who tried this has not been sought – and now very few of us still survive in this model.

NEVERTHELESS, the CP Group has adopted the full Human Resources issues needed in corporate understanding for corporate personnel.  The CP Group seems to have made this its outlook since the middle 1980s.  In so doing, we have become transfixed on each parish as its own branch office, serving its own purpose.  Small parishes will care for “beginning clergy,” as they continue to learn the system of making each parish a “successful” example of its place in the diocesan structure.

I could go on and on about this but this Human Resources approach is the beginning of the “full flower” (for the Church) of the clerical person as primarily an administrator of a successful sub-office of the Diocese.  Keep the people happy, care for some needy local issues (either well-known, or sublimated under the general adjective “care for the needy.”)

The concept of the church as the living Body of Christ is sublimated into local concerns, in preaching, music and programs.  BUT THE CONCEPT OF THE CHURCH AS THE MOTIVATING FORCE TO CHANGE THE DIRECTION OF THE NATION/WORLD TO THE GOSPEL MESSAGE HAS VANISHED.  Being a priest is being a preacher/teacher for the  Baptized so that they can bring the Gospel to work with them (preferably with little or no fanfare) so that the so-called “secular” world can be transformed –  that is gone.  Worship often becomes an attraction in and of itself – but NOT a self-offering of life lived in Jesus.

Yes, the Dean is correct (and so is the Board) that there must be changes; but so also is the Faculty correct that the eco-social ethos of modern American Business cannot be the model.

A great personal sadness for me has been that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer – even though it was commissioned to be a MISSIONARY ACTION – has become an institution that looks back to a glorious past and tries to rebuild it.  I am grateful that THAT cannot happen.  (We are simply too poor to try, and too inefficient to succeed.  We need to evolve into a newer way of – in fact – becoming The Shape of the Liturgy of the first three centuries.  This was/is the manifest presented to the Commission that produced the 1979. Book of Common Prayer.

That means remembering that when income for the church is simply part of one’s personal generosity, on the par with PBS, that then God is not fully involved in this.  For us Christians, all we are and all we have is the result of what we have done with the way God made us.  Our pledge is NOT how much we shall “find” to give the church this year– our pledge is how much we need to retain for personal use for family needs and charities, and retirement purposes, and additional education.  It MUST be preached regularly that WE (individual and group) ARE LIVING THE FORGIVEN LIFE ASSURED BY THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION OF JESUS-SON-OF-MARY.  Our life is NOT continuous self-examination and “general confession;” our life is one-glorious-full-participation in the very life of Jesus.  Joy, equality, justice, peace and sharing are our true life.  We do our best as we are able – and the needed strength comes as we feed on the Body and Blood of Jesus – together – with each other.  

God must be at the center of that operation – we have used what God has made us to be because we KNOW the great Creator God whom we worship and adore because that God became one of us to show us how to live; how to bring the creation to its fulfillment – justice, equality, sharing, love.  Redemption, Reconciliation and Forgiveness bring joy to each and all of us each day – and we therefore “DO THIS” wherever we are; however we can; with joy and peace; as fully as we are able.

For this to happen, we need a disciplined, regular “three-year retreat.”  It needs an administration (Dean, Faculty, Students, Administration) that knows that the “past” never leaves us – it lives and grows with us as we continue to evolve into the “holiness” that IS the Resurrection of Jesus the “oneness” that the Creator God provides for us as the “Big Bang” moves toward the glorious conclusion known only to the Creator of the first “positive” and “negative” charges that commenced the continuing act of Creation.

The Dean, Trustees, Faculty, Students, Administration and ALL of US need to stop being concerned about “jot and tittle” issues of power and DO THIS – live the Baptismal Covenant.  Each of us has promised to do that.  Together is the only way we can do it.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

This was my presentation in the annual summer series at St. Peter's Church in Lewes, Delaware in 2013.  Each year for several years these were presented on Thursday evenings, from Memorial Day week until Thursday before Labor Day -- the "in season" for our resort visitors.    I seem to have attracted 40 -- 50 each time.  Here it is:

Whole   Holy
Wonder   One

Good evening!  My name is Perren Hayes and I am a priest of the Diocese of New York, retired, but I live here in Delaware.  In fact, in four days we shall begin our seventh year here in the Diocese of Delaware.  I normally attend church here at St.  Peter’s, unless I am supplying in another parish that needs a priest.  This is my third year as a participant in this program sponsored by Seeker’s.  As always, Prayer is the subject.  I have been working on tonight’s document since February, and I hope it might be helpful to you.  Because I sometimes say things together very closely, if you don’t hear something, or if you think you didn’t hear it correctly, please put up your hand and ask.

On my desk – in the midst of what I call ‘ filing’ – among the many things there, there are two books: one is entitled “Three Spiritual Directors,” and the other is called “Story-Shaped Christology.”  Also, recently, I have seen a movie called “The Story of  Pi,” and another movie entitled “Cloud Atlas.”  These may turn up again, later.

These three 14th century mystics – Julian of Norwich; Anonymous; and Walter Hilton – are of crucial importance.  You see, I believe, they are the first builders of the foundation on which the great, Renaissance stands.  We are here today –  with all the development of science and religion throughout all ages -- because of that Renaissance which only now is beginning to run out of steam.  The second of these 14th century English  mystics is the unknown author of  “The Cloud of Unknowing.”  His (most likely) great contribution is a study of what experts call “apophatic prayer,” as distinct from “kataphatic prayer.”  “Apophatic” is one of those very precise Greek words: it means the “negative,” or “no message” way.  “Kataphatic” is another Greek word that means the “affirmative” or “usual, common or ordinary” message.  Both words have to do with the way in which you and I know God and – most likely –anything that we know about anything we think about.  Kataphatic, or an affirmative, has to do with the stated belief of most of us: God (or science) has revealed him/her/itself through the creation that God made -- using nothing at all.  In other words, we: look around; sniff around; touch around; taste around; and listen around.  These are the ways in which we learn something about God – or any/everything.  We examine the results of God’s creating.

We who are Christians believe that the strongest, most perfect, example of God’s self – creation/Revelation – is the person of Jesus, son of Mary.  Other persons also struggle as hard as we do trying to find meaning and purpose to the world in which we live –whether it is called “creation” or “universe.”

In one form or another, all humans reach out to find meaning, and purpose –an answer to the question, Why?  And – as this year’s Seeker’s program demonstrates – there are many traditions, even more than represented in the previous summer programs: all are constantly seeking meaning and purpose.  And, that is always happening – even if some folk are not aware of it, or “think” they do not want to know or even need to know.
In every group – at least the ones I have looked into somewhat –kataphatic structures are the norm for learning about God – or perhaps I should say, discovering “Reality.”  (Reality is, in fact, the Name the Hebrews had for the Creator – it is not a title, it is a name.)

But at the same time, often hidden away, there are other people who, in addition to looking at kataphatic structures have discovered that no matter how one looks at creation/universe, or whatever – they have discovered that in spite of the splendor, and glory, and beauty of the creation/universe, the five senses are in fact inadequate to express a full meaning –  that is to give a kataphatic, “good message .”  “Apophatic” is the term that is attached to these people.  Again, the word usually means “negative message.”  In fact, however, it means “negative” in the sense of “positive absence,” rather than “empty nothingness.”  No matter how wonderful the sense-perceived creation is –and Dr. Mullaney will show you incredibly beautiful, meaningful, NASA photographs of the perceived creation next week –no matter how wonderful the sense-perceived creation is, it pales at the concept of any being who/that might have conceived it, or organized a process for bringing it to reality.

I remember a little kid whose parents gave him a big thick book entitled “Astronomy,” as a Christmas present.  He was only nine years old but he couldn’t wait to get out into the backyard and lie on the grass and look up at the stars and see how gorgeous they were. He makes out all the ancient Greek constellations – and of course, because electricity was still relatively new, there were very few external lights to destroy the beautiful night sky.  I (he) remember saying, “How beautiful, how lovely, is this wonderful world we live in” – or words to that affect.  I don’t think I have ever lost that awe and that wonder –and I keep trying to see how it all fits together with me and my friends and my family and the whole world.  And I knew – and still know: God made it all.

I want to share with you some of the things that have helped me as I continue to look at that same creation/universe.  But I can’t!  You see, I really want you to hear Dr.  Mullaney next week – but I’m not sure I would be finished in time! !

One of the things that made my life a little bit different from that of other people, was that my father insisted on reading to all of us at the dinner table, for 15 or 20 minutes every evening. What he read was from the “Five Foot Bookshelf of Classics,” published by Harvard University Press.  We – or at least I –asked lots of questions, and my father did his best to provide adequate answers or help us discuss the issue.

Beginning at that point, I began to see that the most important thing we human beings have is our ability to examine and make an attempt to make sense out of all of our five-sense perceptions.  Knowledge for its own sake is very close to the heart of my life.  Because I have to “edit” what I’m going to say this evening, I have decided that I’m going to talk mostly about the Bible.  Mostly I’m going to talk about the Bible because it’s a very important work; but also, since the closing of the Supreme Court agenda for this calendar year, I hear lots and lots of people saying “the Bible says;” or “God wrote it in his Word;” or “Jesus tells us; “and this just infuriates me.  Almost to the point that I am almost ashamed of being a Christian.  (The recent fuss in Rehoboth intensifies my feelings.)

That’s why I’m going to talk about the Bible.

A couple of years ago, at Passover, the Public Broadcasting Service, in its “Nova” series – I supposed it to be relevant to the Passover – devoted a whole evening to “How the Bible came to be.”  (The program was really about the “invention” of monotheism.) I suppose I thought it was so good because I use many the same general approaches as they did.  First of course the Bible came into being over a long period of time.

Using some broad brush strokes and some fine finishing of my own, I need to say some very important things which, if you do not know them, can destroy the Bible for you.  Instead of setting you free as God intends you to be, you will be locked in a tight jail, with no Windows, and no hope of any freedom.  You are then the Captive of an evil force that is sometimes called “Religion .” But I’m showing some of my anger – which is not going to help you or me in this program.

During the next couple of paragraphs you may think that I have lost track of where I’m going, but it is not so.  You see, every academic and social discipline, is built into the very structure and foundation of the Bible as we know it today.  So bear with me – there are many different things from many different disciplines that need to be fit together for me to make sense out of what I’m trying to say to you.  So, here we go!

It was the Hebrews who put together the story – using poetry and prose.  This gives us a way of discussing things which are beyond our comprehension.  (“Story” – that’s the other book on my desk !)

Probably the crowning jewel of what Evolution has so far produced in human beings is what we call the ability to think and to comprehend – and make decisions.  All mammals (at least) had the same five sense perceptions that you and I have.  Some animals seem to have cognitive ability as well.  But, we think, none can begin to compare with humans.  And the reason that cognitive abilities develop is because we can communicate with each other .  (And the reverse!)

That is, we have a language.  Now all mammals seem to have a language;– but their language does not begin to compare with our human language .

Think about it: you and I first use our language – even as it is being introduced to us by our parents – we use it independently within our own minds.  We “discuss” with ourselves!  We “argue” with ourselves!  And all this is over the five sense-perceptions that we all share.  We have many artifacts from over many cultures, from many time frames; and all show how this works everywhere, no matter what the culture.

But we do not keep this “private” thinking for ourselves.  Because this is inherent to all humans: we need to share the insights and concepts “others” have had as they examine the same things we have examined.  Thus it is built into our very nature that the “thing” we call today “society” or (more frequently now) “culture” needs to be shared – in order to have meaning .  Even though the human birth-child is cared for by parents for nearly 10 years: at some point a warm, welcoming, enriching process takes over where each child learns to discuss with other humans, other views of our five sense-perceptions.

There are two results from this discussion.  First, there is a very large number of perceptions where we have an excess of 90% agreement.  Oh, there are nuanced little differences, but that’s  all they are – little differences.  Second, and perhaps far more important – although ranking is not important in this kind of thing – is that in discussion we enrich each other as we learn how sense-perceptions can be differently perceived by different minds.  What a wondrous thing God has made us humans!  Together, we can work, and create, and invent, all kinds of things:- things that are in fact a continuation of God’s original  Act of Creation – often called today, “The Big Bang!

Now I want to go back to the beginning of the Bible – as the book we know.  I’ll make references to the PBS program “Nova” so that you can find additional information should you want to have it.

The Bible – by which I mean what we call the Old Testament -- with its addendum, the New –began to take the form which it has now, at the time of the Great Exile to In Babylon, which began around the year 582 BC.  You also should know two more things first, the Hebrew Bible is not arranged the way our Bible is.  The Hebrew Bible has three divisions: the Law; the Prophets; and the Writings.

TheLaw includes what we call the  Pentateuch, and what we call the History – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings;
The Prophets includes Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel; and what is often called the Book of the Twelve.
The Writings include the Psalms, Job, Ruth, Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ezra/Nehemiah- Chronicles and what we call Daniel.  (The Book of Daniel according to most scholars today, reached its present form probably about 100 to 150 years before Jesus was born.

About the year 130 A.D., the Jewish Bible as I’ve just described became “canonized” –that is to say, it cannot be added to or subtracted from.  At the same time as a Great Exile, there was a beginning of Jewish influence throughout the Mediterranean sea.  (This was the original Diaspora .)  Not long after, because of the work of Alexander, often called the Great, (he died in 436 BC) the Greek language was very widespread throughout the entire Mediterranean and Middle East.  So, beginning in the fourth century, a Greek version of the Bible began to come  into being.  It is called “Septuagint.”  It is a Greek translation of all the books I’ve just mentioned, plus a number of others, and extensions of some of the of the above.  Most of these “extras” are called “Apocrypha” by Episcopalians.

It was this Greek Bible that were used by the vast majority of Jews, and the earliest Christians –until St.  Jerome produced the Latin Vulgate in the fourth century A.D.  You may remember in the Christian book Acts of Apostles, the Order of Deacons – including St.  Stephen – was created to solve a squabble between the Greek speaking Jews and the Hebrew speaking Jews – right there in Jerusalem.  Not too long after the Resurrection!  (I’m made this statement for the edification of those who think the Bible – preferably in the King James translation –was “deliberately dictated” by God.  In the normal sense of the use of words, this just is not true.)  And while there is another way in which it is true , that other way is unrelated to the meaning intended by those who talk about the “deliberate dictation” of Holy Scripture.

There is one other piece of information which you may find of interest.  Classical Biblical Hebrew doesn’t include vowels I guess it is kind of like TXTNG today!  For example, if you have the consonant, “H” and “T,” you need to know from memory or other context what is the correct vowel: you have to know your language pretty well.  Put a vowel “A,” or “I,” “O,” “U” between those two consonants, and you see the problem.  The Jews saw it, and, I believe in the 11th century A.D., they produced what is called the Masoretic text of the Bible – that is the “proper” vowel is printed in Association with the consonants of the Hebrew alphabet.

Now, what in fact happened between 582 BC and 510 BC that made the Bible get organized?

I have to say, that while there’s history here in what I’m going to say, there are also a number of other things from other academic disciplines: psychology; poetry; nomadic culture; women’s-rights; Newton’s Laws of Motion; Darwin’s discovery of the Evolution Principle; Einstein’s fabulous work in physics; DNA; and so forth.

The Hebrew People first appeared on the planet earth –in a way in which in which it could be recognized that it was in fact they – in some very early Egyptian hieroglyphics.  It is important to note that the Habiru, as they were called, were a rather motley collection of nomadic peoples, gathered in groups, or tribes.  They existed in the desert between the Nile River and what is now Syria – they moved from oasis to oasis with their sheep and goats and with all their belongings.

The key thing we need to remember from this is that they had no country of their own.  Let me say that again –they had no country of their own!

After they had been at an oasis for a while, and it began to dry up, they would just gather up all their belongings and move on to the next oasis.  They lived in tents, and because of the physical arrangements of most oases there is a closeness, not only of humans and humans, but of humans and animals.  That also meant that atmospheric elements were extremely important – even though totally out of their own control.

Over time, these Habiru learned, that even though they could not control what we now call the weather, somehow or other they “perceived” that, unpredictable though it was, in the last analysis, the weather was responsible for them, indeed, made their life possible, and therefore – in the weakest form possible –they began to perceive the meaning of caring, “love.”

While I would love to speak about the Habiru engagement with the Egyptians, that is not tonight’s subject.  But I will throw in here, a statement I’ve been making since I’ve been in seminary: “If you understand the book of Genesis, then the entire Bible – right through Revelation –will make good sense.  But in order to do that you must understand that in its most beautiful form, the book of Genesis is written in poetry.”

After the Habiru had lived in Egypt for a while, they acquired a taste for a more organized way of life.  And so they apparently settled in Egypt.  When – as the Bible puts it – a new dynasty of Pharaohs came into being, the Habiru – like many politicians, even today – began to fear “these illegal aliens.”  So, they made the Habiru into slaves.

History is sprinkled with great names.  My Old Testament seminary professor said, “If there was not an actual person named ‘Moses,’ we would have to invent such a person.” And so the ‘story’ arises around Moses: his origin; his religion; his leadership; his five-sense perceptions; and his spiritual development.  A very strong tradition developed about Moses and was integral to the life of what we now called the Hebrews. Moses was a ‘leader’ who refused to accept that title.

Somehow or other, things he had learned from the Egyptians, and other sources, made him realize that there was what we called earlier “apophatic” things in this world.  There was what we now call the God – who, as the 39 Articles say, is “without body, parts, or passions.” And while we call him God, in Hebrew that is a collective noun – plural!  You see?  GrammarIS important!  The use of the collective, or plural, noun, is the attempt to include all the imperceptible things that science, as we know it, continues to open up for us.

Moses understood that the Creator was far more than any other  god, and therefore his individuality could be captured only with a personal name – הוהי. That name is intended to be what might be called a “singular ,” a “uniqueness” – that is.  הוהי is, and can be, only one; no duplication; no other – only a “positive nothingness” that is alive with meaning!

Moses set the Hebrews free.  He led them out of Egypt –into a living “nowhere.”  That led to two characteristics: 1.  They – as human beings –were/are the highest resettable product of the  Creation, by the Creator, הוהי.   2.  The Hebrews were to be powerful witnesses for the Creation, and its Creator, הוהי;  and that peace, justice, and caring (summed up in the word “Freedom” or “Liberty” were fundamentally built into the very Creation itself .  Let me repeat that:  peace, justice, and caring, summed up in the words “Freedom” or “Liberty’,” are fundamentally built into the very nature of creation itself..

After Moses died, the Hebrews began looking for a land they could call “their own.”  The moment the great leader left them, they began to show that they did not fully understand what he had said.  There are many years of warfare; and they finally ended up with a patch of land they called their own – but they took it violently, and said it was the result of the actions of their God.  Thus to this day people who don’t believe that God did that, fight to get back what they believe is rightfully theirs.  But the fact the matter is: it ALL belongs to God –the King.

After a couple of hundred years a new leader came – Samuel. Samuel spent his time seeing that peace, justice, caring, and freedom were brought to all the people associated with the Hebrew people –just as Moses had said it should be.  But – as very often happens – commerce, and commercial activity –money and banks – and the concept of possession began to undermine peace, justice, caring and freedom.  As you can see, the world still has these problems.

In any case, there came a time as Samuel was getting older, when the people, who had traveled to other countries, and seen other civilizations, said, “We need to have a King.”  Samuel argued that in fact הוהי was their King , and that there was no need for any one- or thing- else.  Samuel went on to warn about the evils of a strong executive-centered government.  Taxes, confiscations, standing army, war and warfare, slavery, corruption of all kinds, at all levels!  But he had to give in.  Their first King was named Saul, and he turned out to be exactly as Samuel had predicted.  Then came King David, who also had a whole bunch of negatives but also a very perceptive personality that allowed him much leeway.  In the lasting history of the Hebrews, David is the only one who could be called really “successful.”

When David died, the Twelve Tribes, whose union had always been precarious, began to fall apart.  In Jerusalem, Solomon succeeded his father David in the natural order of succession;  but that was only two tribes.  He had to get himself elected to be the King of the other Ten.  And after he got the title, he paid little attention to his promises but did everything possible to show how important on the world stage he was.

After Solomon, the two groups of Hebrews basically split up, and there was North Kingdom, and there was a South Kingdom.  The North Kingdom seems to have disappeared from the world stage in the eighth century BC.  The only reason the South Kingdom continued, is because a change in world politics happened and the high hills of Jerusalem just didn’t seem worth the effort.

However, in about 582 BC, the Southern Kingdom was again discovered.  The Emperor of Babylon – it’s still there in today’s  Iran – conquered Jerusalem.  But instead of the usual practice of destroying everybody who was still there, all the “quality people” were carefully transported to exile in Babylon.  These are called the teachers, leaders, those associated with the temple, shopkeepers, and, of course bureaucrats –the kind of people that make a government and community function.  They were allowed to bring most of their stuff.  Included among their paraphernalia, were writings from their past,  religious documents, and of course, the very full and rich memories and that the Hebrews had and still have – and in which we too share.

Before I continue with this story that we need to cover, I need – first –to place a context for all this.  The context has to do with the rest of the known world –as far as we of the West are concerned.  In the year 582 BC, the world was beginning to enter a period of great change – a change in the understanding of the five sense-perceptions; a change in the way in which humans related to the reality/existence; and, therefore, a change in the way in which humans related to the world around them.  In Greece, philosophy was just beginning to develop; the beginnings of mathematics and geometry were being discovered,; similar thinking social groups were being created; –the kind of things we are used to from the past, but which now somehow seem to be a bit inadequate.

It should also be noted that Rome, far from being an important city, didn’t even exist!  The wolf that nurtured and nourished Romulus and Remus had not yet been born!  And there are many other examples from the same general Mediterranean/ Near Eastern section that we consider to be part of our own origin.  And it needs to be noted that in other parts of the planet, where there were other humans, a similar form of this Renaissance was fermenting.

The exiled Jews, by being sent to Babylon – at that time the acknowledged greatest city on the planet – were placed where they could receive all the benefits of this true beginning of modern times.

The Jews, however, had one serious problem – perhaps “issue”– is a better word!  The language they used had very little in common with the Indo-European languages like Greek.  (Latin  did not yet exist in any serious form.)  Hebrew – at least Biblical Hebrew –had major problems in dealing with any “abstraction.”  For example, when we read about the “beauty of holiness,” we understand an abstraction called “holiness.” But the actual Hebrew says, “well-woven clothing.”  Also, Indo-European languages like to have nouns and verbs that have a  “singular “ meaning.  Thus, as soon as we Indo-Europeans discover a second idea associated with any particular word, we invent a new word for it.  Hebrew – and also Arabic, which at this time was still on the desert – on the other hand, likes to “pack many” meanings into single words.

Thus, when people when people who like to do this kind of thing, do it, the rest of us learn that while there are just about 2500 words in English in the King James version of the Bible –  not counting place and proper names – but there are only about 750 (+/-) corresponding Hebrew words.

The other major part of the Hebrew language which is totally different from Indo-European languages, is that Hebrew has no Past Tense!  Hebrew has only two forms of the verb: “completed” action; and “incompleted “ action.  Now, if you stop and think about this, it makes a massive difference in understanding what is happening; how it is happening; and where it is going.  And, although this is part of another address, one of the things that this means is that –in Hebrew – not only can the past never be reconstructed or repeated, but that the past is always part of the present.  Among the many things that this means, is that no matter what action (to use the Hebrew term) has been completed, that action must be taken into account when dealing with the present and with planning for the future.  Not only does that help us understand better about the world we live in, but it helps us manage things better –and prepares us for the huge discoveries made by Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and James Hawking.

Darwin, like Newton before him, was a devout member of the Church of England, the mother church of the Episcopal Church.  Darwin discovered the principle which is fundamental to the whole of Creation; and it is called “Evolution.” To deny Evolution is to be out of touch with all of God’s Creation – with its meaning and purpose.  From what we now know about the beginning of the universe, ( as Dr.  Mullaney will show next week), at the instant of the “Big Bang” the principle of Evolution begins to operate.  Evolution takes what we call “the past” and wraps it into the very structure of the present/future.

Thus, when on next week you see Dr.  Mullaney’s spectacular  NASA photographs of the development of the universe, what in fact you are watching is the principle of Evolution activating the whole development of Creation.  It is, in my opinion one segment of what we mean when we say, “Holy Spirit.”

That’s stuff enough for another whole meeting.  Now, back to Babylon.

It cannot be stated how important and how prominent Babylon was at this time in the history of humankind.  Everything that was important was in Babylon: music; art; religion; agronomy (this is the home and time of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon); every culture; well organized government; equally well organized religion; and organized education; and the means to provide for, and care for, the multi-hundreds of thousands of people who lived there.  When the Hebrews arrived in 582 BC, they were treated with respect, and welcomed into the community, and were given help to maintain and develop their trade and their religious practices. They apparently had really good housing, in this new land, and quickly adapted in many ways to their new home.

They could easily have vanished from the face of the earth by allowing themselves fully to enter the society of Babylon.  And that, of course, is precisely what Babylon anticipated.  And, that’s almost what did happen!  But, you see, many things happened that were different from the life back in Jerusalem. There was no war for them to fight.  That free time gave the Jews the time to grow ,and develop, and think – remember the beginnings of Greek philosophy are arriving at the same time.  So, apparently among the things they did, was read with care their old documents, and the Temple Books and papers.

There they discovered two things.

First, they – as humans – had been highly favored by הוהי whom they now called their God.  In fact, they had an agreement, or a covenant, with הוהי.  It was to be their task to bring equality; justice; peace; freedom; and love to the whole of Creation.

Second, as they look around Babylon, they could not help but notice that equality, justice, peace, freedom and love existed in Babylon primarily with the force of arms –and for the wealthy.  And, in fact, as they looked around, there are many horrors that existed in Babylon along with its culture.

So, some of them decided that the first thing they had to do was to protect their own identity.  Here amidst all these people,  they had to be and show themselves to be special, something unique, something desirable.  They did this by identifying three specific things to make a Jew, a Jew: Sabbath;  Circumcision; Law.  (Law –that is, really, a Greek concept; the Hebrew word means simply “word.”) Law was a set of regulations for both interpersonal relationships, and for dietary  care.

The next thing they did was absolutely phenomenal!!!

They re-wrote the texts they had brought with them from Jerusalem; they wrote down the memorized portions of their historic past; then they “edited” those as well.  They developed a “story” about their past.  (Remember the movie, “The Story of Pi”!)  They made their story both interesting, intriguing, and satisfying.  They began right there in Babylon to preach and teach about equality.  Justice, peace, freedom, and love, – and they did so by talking about Sabbath, about Circumcision, and, above all, about Law.  And they used the Creation Story of the Babylonians to do it!!!  They added to the Babylonian story, a Seventh Day – named Sabbath!

At the time that all this is happening, Jeremiah, to a lesser degree Ezekiel, and some unknown person, whom we moderns, with our great felicity for beautiful, meaningful, language call: “Second Isaiah!” And at the same time, the records of other great preachers – we call them Prophets – began to take hold. And these people – all of these prophets –had been trying for years to show a kind of “apophatic” interpretation –in addition to the regular “kataphatic” interpretations –so directly related to the Hebrew language.

And here we must once again interrupt, to discuss language

Because (that word is strictly my word) biblical Hebrew is a less-developed language than, say Greek or Latin or English, it seems to lend itself in a special manner to what we have learned to call “poetry.” That is to say, putting words together with rhythm.  This rhythmic perception makes words easier to remember and helps recall perceptions that might have been seen or heard only once.

Because to many it seems so meaningless, one of the forms of Hebrew poetry, Psalms, contains what is properly called a “cesura,” signified by an asterisk.  This needs to be explained.  In Hebrew, most of the Psalms have three pressures – in English poetry we call them “beats” – on either side of the asterisk.  If you examine the Psalms you may note that the “real poetry” is found in the re-stating of the first half of the verse, in the second half.  So it is, that the abstraction-free the language of Hebrew, fills the mind with pictures that promote abstract thought.  A new kind of perception!!!

The prophets not only enriched the language –they enriched the entire thinking process by developing a form of abstraction.  That’s why in most modern translations of the Bible, so much is printed as what we tend to call “blank verse.” So, when you read the Psalms, be sure to leave a substantial pause at the asterisk; and at the same time, look for the re-statement of the first half in the second.

[]We Episcopalians, somehow, however, seem to be unable to use a punctuation mark for anything other than a pause -- any punctuation mark!  Punctuation marks are intended to help us understand the full meaning of the words so that we can stress the correct word – usually a noun or a verb.  That helps us to read English with a biblical rhythm that will allow both “iambic pentameters,” “chiasmus,” –even blank verse.  But not if you pause at every comma!]

As I said to you earlier, I could continue to talk about all these things for a very long time.  And, I like to do it:- after all, the more we talk about science, the more we learn about the activity we call Creation.  And the more we talk about Spirituality, not only will our understanding of science  become richer, but we will begin to expand in all directions.  In fact, these directions will be things scientists and theologians had hitherto neither thought about, nor perhaps even known about!

But this program is about prayer.

In February, when Father Jeff asked me to do this, it was a great surprise to me.  And at the same time I had a number of other personal issues on my plate, so I haven’t even been thinking in this field.  (Except, about a program a group of us have been developing entitled “Socrateens.)  Anyway I sort of thought a bit, and four words came to my mind: “Whole,” spelled with W, and “Holy .” Now “holy” is the translation of a Latin word –“sanctus” –that in its original derivation means “separate from .”  “Whole” with a W means completeness, and is an Anglo-Saxon word in origin.  To me “whole” means a style of self-perception which is striving for its fullness, in its completeness, with the expectation that is an open-ended exultation.

But this cannot be perceived, or even achieved, without paying attention to all of the five sense-perceptions with a really open mind, that questions everything, while at the same time seeking every grain of reality that is presented to the mind.  In order to do this we need to become truly Holy.

And here we must discuss the difficult problem of “faith” as opposed to “belief.”  I am not sure if Biblical Hebrew makes this distinction.  Faith, you see is an openness to all of the five sense-perceptions – whatever their source –to the need to be discussed not only within your own mind, but also, especially, with others.  Faith is, basically, an accepting thing.  Faith looks forward to being alive– to growing– to enriching– to developing!  Faith is fully capable of building a future built upon the past –participating in the act of Creation by wrapping oneself in the present, so that the future is built solidly on everything that has ever been part of God’s Creation.  When that is our goal –and it is not easily obtained – then we become “Holy.”

Holy is the state of life that gives us insights into that whole process that commenced at what we call the Big Bang!  And, we are then “set free” and and enabled to participate more fully, in our own small way, in that aspect of the Great Creation into which we had been placed.  This brings richness and reverence into our lif – a reverence that is separate from the thrill that comes from just the five sense-perceptions.  And when this happens, the glory and the splendor of it all changes every aspect of our being.

I need to say something about “Belief.”  Belief can be a stultifying force that tries to seize upon a single moment, a single created thing – whether physical or abstract –which interrupts the fundamental principle of Creation – Evolution.  As I said before, evolution is the principle of constant change,  pushing us continually to combine all that has happened, into our present – as a build a new future!  Belief, however, is an attempt to preserve a single moment in time as if it were the total act of Creation.  In the last analysis, it will always fail.  But even this, this is not a total negative!  Before the next step can be taken, at least one foot must be firmly fixed on the ground!

Belief becomes a major issue, however, if we try to keep that one foot firmly fixed in its place.  Then there can be no chance of movement again. We are children of the Creator of Creation. Our life is, therefore, constantly changing.

And the moment that change ceases, then what we call “death”  happens – in and to the mind.  Creating-growth ceases; and the word “holy,” instead of being a sign of growth, becomes instead the sign of death.

The resurrection of Jesus makes “holy” wonderful: Jesus, our King, exists forever, Thankfully we share his life.

And that is the “wonder” of it all.  Seeing reality with the eyes of faith enriches everything.  And when everything in our life is filled with enrichments, life itself is filled with the glorious wonder.  And that wonder brings us to the one who made it all  – whom, because we are totally inadequate when we attempt description – the one we call God, the great Creator.

And we are at peace in ourselves,
with each other,
and into whatever reality the Great Creator provides for us.

Prayer, therefore, is the way of life that lives with:

Everything we do and think is prayer – “Even,” as St.  Francis said… “ If we have to use words!”

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Meditation

The Mass

 It is the highest privilege a priest has, 
to celebrate either as a “president” or as “participant” in 
the Mass –
 Even on the days when you don’t feel  so good, 
standing before the altar of the only God there is, 
the God who wants so much to share love and life;
that God who asks you to bring the love  from this homely meal; 
it reminds the priest and those there and those not there
of the primary vocation: 
to bring the fellowship of the meal of the disciples
to the sometimes reckless community 
in the location where we have been placed.  
By the time of sharing, it has always been my experience, 
no matter how I started, 
I am fully awake and energized by the love manifested in the shared meal, 
where I am the waiter, 
bringing Jesus 
to those there and those not there 
-- and it happens whether I am at the altar or in the pew, or -- as now --
at home and receiving from the blessed sacrament reserved. 
It is this for which I was created -- and also, 
it is this for whom we all are created. 
The Mass is not something we do: 
it is the expression of who we are, 
and as such,
it energizes us.
“Do this, 
for the anamnesis of me.”

E. Perren Hayes

Monday, February 17, 2014

This was written last week for the March Parish Newsletter.  The Daily Office -- part thereof -- is, I am convinced, an important part of the daily life of any parish, as well as clergyperson.  If any wishe to use this, please do so -- just include my name and e-mail address.  Perren

Morning Prayer

Morning Prayer – called Daily Morning Prayer in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer – has its roots way back in the Great Exile inflicted upon our Jewish ancestors about 582 BC.  The form in the present Book of Common Prayer found its origin in the Daily Office established by St.  Benedict in the sixth century A.D. Benedict’s Office had seven parts – see verse 164 in Psalm 119.  In the First English Book of Common Prayer, 1549, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer reduced the number of parts to two: Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer.  These two Offices were – and are – directed to be said “Daily in the church” by the Parish Clergy. Because of the shortage of clergy in the new United States of America in 1789, the absolute requirement to be read by the parish clergy in the church was removed – but the name, “Daily” Morning or Evening Prayer has never changed.  It is interesting to note that in our present Book of Common Prayer, which has 1001 pages, almost exactly half of those pages are devoted to the Daily Office.

Morning Prayer, as a regular service in the church, began here at St.  Peter’s last Lent.  A devoted group, but a very small one, has continued Morning Prayer every day, except one snow day.  Why?

Because as members of the Church Catholic our primary task is to give praise to God: – the God who made us; the God who made the planet on which we live; the God who made everything that exists anywhere.  Our primary task is to praise God by thanking God for all that God has done for – not only for us; not only for other people on this planet; not even for other living beings in some other part of the entire universe.  Just because God IS.

Yes, indeed, we need to say “Thank you,” for all the acts God has done for us within this universe.  But – above all else – through God’s own image placed in us, God has asked us to share in bringing the entire universe to an ultimate enrichment, and final fulfillment.  And we, through our little Office of Morning Prayer, have our own part to play – here, in downtown Lewes!

Come and join us – 8:30 each morning.  Maybe – as is happening in many other parishes in The Episcopal Church – Morning Prayer can be an act of praise provided by the ordinary people of St.  Peter’s parish.  Perhaps even adding other parts of the Daily Office as time marches on.  So, come; read Psalms; listen to Readings; say Biblical hymns of praise; and pray for the living and for the dead.   (You don’t need to wait for Lent – tomorrow at 8:30 would be a wonderful time to commence.)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Christian Unity

Again, this is an "old" sermon -- but I have been having a series of injections into my knee - they seem to be working very well. however.  Think about what it is that we are "in-parished" to do.  Then read this sermon.  Please remember that history and theology are inseparable.  Either without the other will lead -- surely indeed -- in a wrong direction.  This was written in 1998. Comments are always welcomed.  Perren

                              Epiphany 2, Octave of Unity

It is too slight a task for you, as my servant, to restore the tribes of
Jacob, to bring back the survivors of Israel: I shall appoint you a light
to the nations, so that my salvation may reach earth's farthest
bounds.  Isaiah 49:6b

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Confession of St.  Peter, and the
week after that will be the Conversion of St.  Paul.  That
means that Annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins
tomorrow; and so today is my annual sermon on Christian Unity.

An important part of my personal prayer life since I was in High
School has been for the reunion of Christians; and especially during
this specific week, which is now about 100 years old.  If you are not
aware of it, it is the Episcopal Church   in this country   the began
the modern ecumenical movement for Christian Unity.  Its specific
origin is the Chicago Quadrilateral passed by the General Convention
in 1886, and, slightly modified, adopted by the First Lambeth
Conference of Anglican Bishops in 1888.  The American Bishops
wrote: "We do hereby affirm that the Christian unity . . . can be
restored only by the return of all Christian Communions to the
principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church
during the first ages of its existence; which principles . . .[are]
incapable of compromise or surrender . . . and [are] essential to the
restoration of unity . . . we count the following: 1.The Holy
Scriptures; 2. The Nicene Creed; 3.  The two Sacraments   Baptism
and the Supper of the Lord; 4.  The Historic Episcopate."  The full
text is in the Book of Common Prayer on page 876,7.  

This  week of prayer grew out of this declaration; and, since the
1890's we have been speaking with the Roman Catholics and the
Orthodox Churches.  We have entered into a common relationship
with the Polish National Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church,
and a few other very small  independent Catholic Churches.   The
last General Convention, using carefully parsed definitions of key
words, adopted a resolution that would have allowed us to enter into
a long term relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America, during which time, we would be supplying them with
Apostolic Orders.  After 30 years, it would be presumed that all
Lutherans would then be ordained by Bishops whom we recognize as
Bishops of Apostolic Succession.  The Lutherans refused to
participate with us, although they did open lines with some of the
other Protestant Churches..  Thus although we have been successful
in unity movements with Catholics, our first attempt to work also
with Protestants failed   but not because of us!

It might be noted that the changes the Episcopal Church has been
making in Baptism since the 1898 Book of Common Prayer have been
part of our fulfilling of our desire for unity.  The directions of the
General Convention to the Prayer Book Revision Committee as it
made ready the current (1979) Book of Common Prayer are also part
of our work toward unity.  The Committee was directed to go back to
the earliest forms and concepts, forms that existed before disunity
began to appear in the Church.  The Committee succeeded.

For us to understand fully about Christian Unity and our part in it, 
we need to note that the reformation in England, by and large, was
not a matter of religion.  What that means is that what Archbishop
Laud laid down his life for, the certainty that the Church of England
was the exact continuation of the medieval Church, and not a new
creation of the 16th century.  The Reformation and the Churches it
created still suffer from the same set of Medieval issues that set it off
in the first place.  The Reformation Churches   including the modern
Roman Catholic Church   still have the same non-Biblical theology
that infected the Medieval Church: 1. You earn your way into the
Kingdom of God; and, 2.  The Church is an association of individuals.

As long as Christians live and act on these two items, there will never
be Christian Unity, either on the national level or even in local
parishes such as our own.  It was Luther who taught that It is Faith
that makes God accept you, for it is by Faith that you are saved.  Even
the modern Roman Catholic Church adopted that idea.  What this
does is to make us think that we are individually members of the
Church, and further, that it is our faith that makes us members of the
Church.  We then act individually, and privately; we pray alone and
ignore the corporate worship of the Church.  This makes the Church as
the Family of God a fiction that does not exist.  Individualism in its
worst form becomes rampant; and further, we   because we are alone
before God   have no sense of vocation.  Our task is to maintain
ourselves "right" before God.  My friends, Biblical Study and the
history of the early Church, will not allow us to live this way.

Faith is not the cause of our relationship with God: the Cause of our
relationship with God is the Faithful love of God.  Faith is the badge,
the sign, that God gives us to tell us that he has brought us into his
very life in the new family of Christ.  And to that family, which is
found in the Body of Christ the Servant, God gives a vocation, a
burning vocation:  I shall appoint you a light to the nations, so that
my salvation may reach earth's farthest bounds.  Anything less than
that, however nice it may be, is not Christian life.  And if I sound
tough about this, I am.  The Gospel will bring good news and good
relationships in all the world: of Jesus did not rise from the dead.  We
are here because we believe that he did rise from the dead.  No matter
what we may have been taught in the past, it is incomplete  if it does
not bring us to corporate worship not only on Sundays, but also on
such others days as we will make the effort to accept the vocation
God has given to us.  While in the context of the failing Christianity
that has existed since the Reformation it sounds good when it is said
that this little parish has Dail Morning Prayer and Daily Eucharist,
this should not be surprising.  This   like the tithe in pledging   is not
a goal to be attained: it is a point for the beginning of real work.

If you believe the things you promised last week when you renewed
your Baptismal Promises, then praying alone in your room by your self
will not be enough; just as coming here to participate in the corporate
worship of the Church is not enough.  The Gospel expects both, not
either.  And there is no one in this room who cannot do something
positive for Christian unity.  But it will not be in pledges, it will not
be in giving money, it will not in "good works", it will not be in study,
it will not be in prayers or worship:  it certainly will not be in concern
with the petty details of parish administration.

If you believe in Christian Unity   and you shouldn't be here if you
don't   then you will immediately start doing things that will help this
parish become a beacon of light for the Gentiles.  You will go and
bring people to worship who cannot make it on their own; you will fill
this Church with the people who claim they belong here, but do not

We spent much of last years trying to get this parish established on a
framework that will allow it to work for the Gospel.  This year we
need to establish the principle that Worship is the most important
thing a Christian does: that without regular -- week by week --
worship, there is no hope for the success of the Gospel.  What else
you may do, how much money you give, how many hours of volunteer
service here or somewhere else in the name of the parish, how much
study you do: if you do not worship God, all the rest is worthless and
destructive of the mission you have accepted by your Baptismal

My brothers and sisters, I beg you to pray hard for Christian unity this
week.  Not just in your private prayers, but here in the Liturgy, in
your Parish Church.  God gave you your faith   for you all have it  
as a badge of your participation in his task for you as his servant:
Listen again to Isaiah:  It is too slight a task for you, as my servant, to
restore the tribes of Jacob (the parish) , to bring back the survivors of Israel
(other Christians): I shall appoint you a light to the nations, so that my
salvation may reach earth's farthest bounds.  Act like Christians!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

This sermon originated at St. Mary's Convent in Peekskill NY while I was chaplain for them.  This version was a slightly edited version from my early days at St.. Peter's Lewes, DE.   It takes a slightly different venue from what is usually said -- and for that I am indebted to the late Fr. Raymond Brown, the Roman Catholic New Testament Scholar.  I present it to you; maybe it will assist you with this strange story of the Magi/Wise Men that we so often associate either with the giving of gifts or with the killing of the Holy Innocents.



There shall come a man out of Israel’s seed . . . I see him, but not now; I see him, but not close; a star shall rise from Jacob and a man shall come forth from Israel.  Num 24:7,17 LXX

Epiphany doesn’t often come on a Sunday, and I wasn’t the preacher the last time it happened – or at least I have no file sermon!  So when Father Jeff asked me to celebrate the mass for him today, and I could find nothing from the past, I hurried to write a new sermon.  It does, however, follow on the series I wrote on the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke during Advent, Christmass and the two Sundays following.  I preached the Second Sunday after Christmass sermon for you last summer, on the finding of Jesus in the Temple and his going home and being obedient to his parents – even though he was of an age to begin a family.  You may recall I suggested using the word cherish as a substitute for obey wherever it appears in scripture.

Those of you who have been exposed to the Advent sermons have heard me say that it is utterly impossible to integrate the nativity stories of Luke and Matthew.  Each author had his own audience and his own purpose in writing his own story.  And the stories, we must always remember, are not history: they are the presentation of the Gospel to the audience for whom the author was writing.  We might, today, call such writings theological explanations of the Good News.

Matthew’s is a very carefully produced document that relies on the Jewish Scriptures (though not necessarily in Hebrew – the Septuagint was more widely known.)  His gospel begins with the genealogy of Joseph, who is a just man, a term used in Scripture only of Noah – from whom all humans are descended; Noah, the new source of God’s life in God’s world.  Joseph, like an earlier Joseph, learns from God through his dreams. This child that Mary is carrying, conceived through the Holy Spirit, is the Davidic messiah: although this depends on Joseph’s adoption of Jesus as his own child.  And Joseph, like Joseph of old, dreams and learns from הוהי God , and then brings his family into Egypt thus escaping an attempt on his life.

And it is amazing to us to realize that Jesus’ escape from Herod is remarkably similar to the story of Moses’ escape from Pharaoh.  But when we look at the parabiblical documents that existed at the time of the birth of Jesus, we see how they had been expanded to include that Pharaoh had been forewarned that a child was to be born who was a threat to his crown.  So he decided to kill all the male Hebrew children.  At the same time, these same documents show, the father of Moses had a dream that warned him that his already pregnant wife was to bear a child who would save Israel – this child would escape Pharaoh’s massacre.  The parents acted to save the life of Moses – and later on in his life Moses returned to his people from his flight to Sinai when he heard from הוהי God that “All those seeking your life are dead.” – Matthew exactly quotes Exodus so that his readers/hearers will know exactly what he is saying to them.

Then Matthew continues his analogy with the matter of the Magi and the star – a further account of Moses we often fail to associate with the nativity/salvation.  Matthew combines this account about Moses with the picture of a Messiah descended from David– and Matthew had prepared us for this with his very first words:  “The genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David.”

This is the passage in Numbers, involving Balaam.  You remember: Moses was leading the People of God through Transjordan to the Promised Land.  He encountered a wicked king who, like pharaoh was determined to kill him.  It was Balak, the king of Moab – and he summoned a famous seer from the east, a man named Balaam.  Balaam was a practicer of the occult, an enchanter, one who in Jesus time would be called a magus.  Balaam came with his two servants, but refused to curse Moses and Israel.  “There shall come a man out of Israel’s seed . . . I see him, but not now; I see him, but not close; a star shall rise from Jacob and a man shall come forth from Israel.”  At the time of Jesus, the expanded stories indicated that David was the star that would arise.  And arise he did, in the savior, Jesus.  Note that in Matthew’s story that not only did Herod  act like the pharaoh of old by killing all the Hebrew male children, but he tried to do so by using a magus  from the east.  Balaam saw the star of David rise; and so also Matthew’s magi saw the star of the king of the Jews at its rising – a better translation than “in the east.”  In this series of Old Testament allusions, Matthew has proclaimed the entire story of salvation.  The magi and the star tell the story of salvation: a story presented to both Jews and Gentiles; a story with a double response of both acceptance and rejection.  Matthew, after all, knows about the resurrection.

Matthew is writing to a church that is primarily gentile now, even though his special audience is heavily Jewish in their understanding of scripture.  The faith that must be involved comes to all, including the gentiles, through the very fact of nature itself.  (Paul reflects this in Romans.)  And so it is, Matthew shows, that it is the Gentiles (magi) who can interpret the signs of astrology, and respond with faith.  The birth star brings them the good news of salvation; but it is incomplete.  They must go and seek the truth from the source.  The gentiles, says Matthew, can perceive God through nature, but the full meaning comes through the Jewish scriptures.  They can worship, but they need the Scriptures to explain it all to them.  The scriptures give them the answer, as the priests tell them where to find the Messiah.  But, paradoxically as Matthew points out, those who have the benefit of the scriptures and are able to read where the Messiah will be, not only fail to worship – they actually conspire to destroy him, and the wicked king decrees his death.  But God spares his son, and ultimately brings him back from another country.

Now, you see, these Old Testament stories of Joseph, Moses and Balaam have been woven into a new fabric of the passion and resurrection of Jesus.  The same people are present: the secular ruler, the chief priests, scribes – all are aligned against Jesus who has only God on his side.  But God is victorious, because he brings Jesus back.  Note: those who have the scriptures reject Jesus; but the gentiles come, and with the help of scripture, find and adore him.

Matthew is presenting to us the revelation of God.  God has made himself present with us – Emmanuel – and he did so in the life of the one whose story comes next in Matthew’s writings.  Indeed, Matthew says, when you read the story that follows, you will know that God is present in this Jesus; indeed he is so present that Jesus is the Son of God.  This message is offensive to some, but to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, he is salvation in fact.  Thus, you see, the Magi for Matthew, are the forerunners of those who respond to the preaching of the apostles as they proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.

Just as Balaam said “I see him, but not now; . . . a star shall rise from Jacob and a man shall come forth from Israel,” so also the magi in Matthew’s story see the star of the King of the Jews at its rising; they also see, but not now, the Jesus whose kingship will not be visible in history until he hangs on the cross – beneath the title “The King of the Jews.”