Lectionary: Proper 13C / Ordinary 18C / Pentecost +11

Proper 13C / Ordinary 18C / Pentecost +11

What is the point of prison?

by Matthew B. Harper

Hosea 11:1-11 or Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

With over two million men and women incarcerated in America today, and millions more under custodial supervision, it is perhaps time to ask ourselves, what’s the point?

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Lectionary: Proper 11C / Ordinary 16C / Pentecost +9

by Matthew B. Harper

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52 or 82
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Amos is one of the most relevant books of the Minor Prophets, and one of the least known. Sequestered at the tail end of our Old Testament, these books sit seldom used. Called “minor” only because they pale in length compared to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (doesn’t everything). These are not minor words from God. Some of our great treasures, like words to “do justice and love mercy,” or the timeless tale of Jonah and the fish, come from these books. It is from Amos that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King quoted when he cried for “justice to roll on like a river.”

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Lectionary: Pentecost C

by Matthew B. Harper

PENTECOST, May 15, Acts 2

Pentecost is marked in the church with celebration and fire. Our clergy dress in red and our hangings use images of fire and wind. Pentecost is drama.

But to the observers of the first Christian Pentecost what was transpiring looked more like drunken excess. Was there ever a miracle of God so poorly misunderstood? Were there ever prophets more unlikely?

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Lectionary: Easter 7C

by Matthew B. Harper

Acts 16:16–34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21
John 17:20–26

We are in the seventh week of Easter, and our extra readings from the Acts of the Apostles are drawing to a close. But before they do, we read this wonderful account of God shaking the very walls of prison. It is a fitting place to read for this Prison Lectionary.

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Easter Sunday

by Matthew B. Harper

Mark 16:6 – But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that without Easter all our hopes are in vain. I agree. Easter is the undeniable declaration that God is in command, and God is triumphant over the forces of the world that will steal, kill, and destroy. Whatever evil you know, whatever sins you are responsible for, whatever it is that you struggle with, God is over it all.

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Easter Vigil

by Matthew B. Harper

Isaiah 55:7 – Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thought; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon…

Psalm 42:1 – As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

Romans 6:4 – Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death…so we too might walk in newness of life

Matthew 28:7 – Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘he has been raised from the dead

All of these readings come to us from the service for the Easter Vigil, and together they sum up our faith journey.

The words from Isaiah are in a chapter that my Bible titles “invitation to an abundant life.” They are the words that invite us out of our old life of Sin, and into the life of God. We are a fallen people, and the only way back is through a proper relationship with our God. But we cannot go as we are. We cannot be with God when we love our wicked ways.

I am in constant fellowship with godly men who have been criminals of all kinds. The very foundation of their repentance and transformation is to forsake their wicked ways. There comes a day in every person’s life when they are just tired of being wrong, sinful, and alone. To give up what is wrong, and to return to the Lord, is the beginning of all good things.

When we first begin to turn from our sin, and to turn our face back to the Lord we have such a passionate hunger for our God. We want to be with God and to know God’s ways in all things. It is a sad truth that the ways of the world can make that passion dull in our minds and hearts over time. When we are complacent we can forget that there are bigger things than us. We lose our focus on God, and that puts the whole world out of focus. We have to take time to refocus our hearts and minds.

Christ’s death is something we like to talk about, and we cannot allow ourselves to forget that it is our death as well. When we were baptized we were buried with Christ, so that we could be raised in Christ. This Lent we have worked to put to death those things not of God, and to bring forth those things that are of God. This Easter morning we will celebrate Christ’s rebirth just as we celebrate our own rebirth through Christ. Through Christ all of us are in newness of Life.

Mary Magdalene has often been called the ‘disciple to the disciple’ because of the commandment given to her by the angel. It was she that was the first one told to ‘go’ and to tell the good news, and she did. But it did not stop there, and this commandment is given to us as well.

When we realized we are a fallen people, we turned to God; when we thirsted for God, we were filled; when we were crucified with Christ, we were resurrected to new life. In all things we have been given an unbelievable gift from the creator of all creation, and it is the only natural thing that we should go forth and proclaim this goodness to all people. If you are a Christian, how can you not want that very same thing for everyone?

Tonight is the Easter Vigil, and we sit and await the resurrection of our Lord. We sit as if we were children on Christmas Eve; we sit with great anticipation awaiting the new morning. We may already know what will happen on Easter morning, but we cannot allow ourselves to miss the majesty of it. So rise again this Easter. Rise again a new creation, forgiven of your sins, and alive in Christ. Trade your happiness for Joy, find Peace in a troubled world, and pass on the Love of Christ to everybody you meet.

O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. BCP 295

 

Holy Saturday

by Matthew B. Harper

Job 14:14 – If Mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.

I live less than a hundred yards from Virginia’s Death Chamber. Death row is at another prison, but inmates are transferred here in a special van few days before their execution and we can see when it is parked outside the fence.

Tonight, over two thousand years ago, the Apostles locked themselves into an upper room and were in despair. Their leader and friend had just been brutally murdered and they had no anticipation of the resurrection. They probably sat and prayed, they may have hoped, they may have despaired.

Every time there is an execution here the chaplain is on call to minister to the condemned man in his last few hours. It is by far the most demanding job he has ever had in his decades of ministry. The night of an execution we are all on a modified lockdown status, and there is always a group of the believers who sit in their individual cells and pray. We pray for forgiveness for this man, for his faith, for the families of his victims, and for his family.

Ultimately, like Job, we do not know what happens after our death. But unlike those disciples of years ago we do know about the resurrection. We know what happened on Easter morning. I condemn the murder of murderers, I think it speaks to the depravity of our society, but I find strength in the word of the holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel: “We are the ones horrible enough to make a gas chamber, and also capable of walking into it with prayers and praise upon our lips.”

O God, creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of thy dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with Him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever. Amen. BCP 170

Good Friday

by Matthew B. Harper

Luke 23:34 – Then Jesus said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing.”

Last night was a bad night. Sometimes I have a bad night, or bad hours here and there. Nightmares, bad thoughts, and generally spending my time mentally trapped in those horrible few hours when I did the horrible things that brought me to prison.

It was almost midnight, but on weekends we aren’t locked down till 1 AM. So I took a chance on my mom the night owl, and I got up and called home. Mom accepted the call, listened to me and told me she loved me. Then she turned to lighter things to talk about, and even made me laugh a little. I was able to sleep. The support and forgiveness from both of my parents is amazing and humbling.

Forgiveness? Those same parents are the parents of the person I killed. Anne Elizabeth wasn’t just my sister, she was their only daughter. They are the most direct living victims of the horrible things I have done. Their love for me is greater than their anger; and they have forgiven me.

I once asked my mother how she could possible forgive me and she replied: “I can’t. It is beyond me. It is of God.” The forgiveness from my parents is the greatest and most transforming gift I have ever received.

And as Jesus was being tortured and executed he begged his father to forgive his murderers. And God did.

Praise Be To God.

Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and thy Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. BCP 169

Maundy Thursday

by Matthew B. Harper

Luke 22:26 – The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.

It has been said that humility is the one virtue that once you think you have it, you don’t.

All of us suffer from a preoccupation with ourselves; we are prone to arrogance, to pride, to ego-centrism. And in our arrogance we lessen the very humanity of other people. What few of us stop to think about is that if we are first, it means we are forcing others to be last.

And you cannot conquer arrogance your pride by fighting it head on. The first reaction to such an endeavor is to always say “man, I’m beating this pride!” and there you go, taking pride in not being proud!

The path of Jesus was never to pretend to be less than he was, it was to show us that with the power of God we are more than we believe we are. The way to suppress pride is to elevate other people. When we approach other people as children of God, when we open our hearts to love them, when we see Christ in the eyes of every person we meet, then there will be no pride within us, no arrogance.

That is the Christ heart.

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, did institute the Sacrament of His Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may thankfully receive the same in remembrance of Him who in these holy mysteries giveth us a pledge of life eternal, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen, BCP 169

Wednesday in Holy Week

by Matthew B. Harper

Matthew 26:25 – Judas, who betrayed him, said “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

According to Dante, Judas sits alongside Brutus in the 9th circle of hell. As people who betrayed those they were closest to, they are confined to the deepest circle of hell, chewed forever in the mouth of Lucifer. Creepy.

It is a subject I have thought of often over the years. During the legal process of my incarceration I had to endure people that I had loved and trusted, and those I hadn’t, speak up to denounce me and to betray my trusts. One in particular went from hateful before my crimes, to vindictive after them as she wrote letters to the judge as some self-appointed jury.

And yet I believe that there may be a place for Judas in heaven. I believe in a Christ who loved and forgave. On this night all those years ago Christ shared the Passover supper, in what would later be called the first communion, and he handed the cup of life itself to Judas. Christ knew of his betrayal, and he rejected him not. And this is the Christ of my faith, the one who knew intimately the worst that we are capable of, and loved us in spite of it.

I also know this Jesus because I have worked through his betrayal to make peace with mine. I am angry with no one, and I begrudge no one. I understand their pain and confusion, because I too have pain and confusion. If their betrayal came as a result of my own, then my sin is again at the root of my compassion for them.

I do not know if Judas is in hell, but if he is then I believe Jesus weeps for him, and reserves a seat for him in heaven.

O Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave His back to the smiters and hid not His face from shame: Grant us grace to take joyfully the sufferings of the present time, in full assurance of the glory that shall be revealed. Amen. BCP 169