“If you love me…”

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Exhortation to the Apostles (Recommandation aux apôtres) - James Tissot.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 21, 2017

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Again, this Sunday, we hear Jesus speaking after supper on the night of his betrayal. Again we hear him providing for his little band as he faces what he knows will be his death. Again we hear him speak of the Spirit who will come, an ‘advocate’ who will turn the hearts of the crowd in their favor. Again we hear the promise that Jesus will come to his followers. Again we hear about love and fidelity and abiding. And again we hear about living out Jesus’ teaching: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”

Fidelity to Jesus will mean fidelity to his teaching.  We are not joining team Jesus against team Pharisees. We are not joining team Jesus against team Humanists. We are not joining team Jesus against team Hillary or Team Trump. We are disciples, students, of the one who redeems the world: the one who forgives sins, who heals families and communities, who restores the world to its true source and life.

All the other promises weave together with this one: faithfulness is seen in the doing. There is no faith in concepts, ideas or doctrines. Nothing is gained by believing in a six-day creation or a literal ark. Nothing is gained by nodding to the notion of forgiveness. Those who have looked into the eyes of grace will live grace. Those who have fed at his table will feed others. Those who have been touched by his healing hand will extend their hand to others.

When I was about ten my step-father allowed a friend to store his sports car in our garage. We sat in the driver’s seat and roared through the gears, drinking in the wonder of this machine. But make no mistake; we were not driving it.

So, Sunday, Paul will call the citizens of Athens to hear the message that the “unknown God” has been made known in this Jesus. And the author of First Peter will summon us to do what is good even if it brings suffering. And the psalmist will speak of faithfulness in the midst of trial. And the table will be set that welcomes all and the songs will be sung that hint of the harmony to come, and we will be drawn again into the redemptive love made visible in this Jesus who sends the Spirit and comes to abide with us and in us.

Preaching Series: Genesis 3: Fall

We are in the third week of our series going through key stories of the scripture to see, as Jesus showed his followers on the road to Emmaus, that the scriptures bear witness to the sacrificial and redeeming love of God that is manifest ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The story before us this week is the moment when the harmony of God’s good garden goes wrong, when humanity reaches out for the knowledge of life’s joys and sorrows and finds itself now alienated from the world, one another and God.

We are capable of imagining a world of perfect peace and harmony, but we know that the world is full of woe. We are capable of ugliness of spirit and act. We hate. We fear. We abuse. We wage war. We build ovens. We harm even those who are closest to us with words that should have gone unsaid. We know the beauty of the world; why must we also know its ugliness? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars.”

The Prayer for May 21, 2017

Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you love;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for May 21, 2017

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31
“Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’” – Paul, traveling by himself to avoid a conspiracy to murder him, comes to Athens where he seeks to engage the leaders of that city with the message of God, the creator all peoples.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:8-20
“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.” – The psalmist calls for all nations to praise God for his gracious deeds to deliver those in need.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” –
The author’s continuing exposition on baptism, now touches on the Ascension: “Baptism…now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” The author urges his hearers to remain faithful in the face of hostility, to do what is good and be ready to give account for the hope that is in them.

Gospel: John 14: 15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” – Continuing last Sunday’s reading, Jesus makes provision for his followers in light of his impending death, promising that God will send the Holy Spirit (the ‘Paraclete’).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Exhortation_to_the_Apostles_(Recommandation_aux_ap%C3%B4tres)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Garden

File:Nevuas.jpg

“Say what you want about ‘all the killing in the Bible’, the Bible begins with two narratives about relationship with God and relationship with one another and a world in perfect peace.” – from today’s sermon.

We looked at Genesis 2 in worship this morning, the narrative about the creation of Adam and Eve. What follows is the content of the booklet that was handed out following worship explaining the images used in our sanctuary today. The sermon series is designed to help us understand what Jesus was telling his followers on the road to Emmaus about the fundamental witness of the scripture to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God.   (For more information about this series, see the explanation in the post for week 1.)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ANevuas.jpg By Géder Abrahão (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 2:4-25


“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”


File:Épaule musée archéologique de Naples.jpg

The creation narrative in the first chapter of Genesis is a sweeping and majestic portrait of a God who speaks and whose speaking brings order, goodness and beauty, calling all things into being. The creation story in this second chapter gives a more intimate portrait of a God whose first creation is a human. Where Genesis 1 views humanity as the crown of God’s creating, Genesis 2 presents humanity as God’s first thought. Where God speaks with a royal we in chapter 1, and like a great king his word effects what he speaks, in chapter 2 we meet an artisan forming humanity from the earth and breathing into him the breath of life.

And since the Hebrew word means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’, something is happening that is far more than mere respiration. Again we are in the realm of intimacy. God is not just our creator; God is our breath. And we are bound together even as God’s speaking (in Genesis 1) begets relationship.

Marbre antique, détail, épaule, musée archéologique de Naples
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%C3%89paule_mus%C3%A9e_arch%C3%A9ologique_de_Naples.jpg By photogestion [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden;
and there he put the man he had formed.”


File:Araucárias ao fundo Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina - denoise.jpg

Having formed a human, God plants a garden to provide him a home. There are notions of a royal garden in this image. This is a place where God will walk in the cool of the evening (3:8) and the human creature is given the responsibility “to till it and keep it”. We are the royal gardeners, granted the right to sustain ourselves from the fruit of the garden. But we are not hired hands; we are bearers of the divine breath and companions of God.

Sunrise with Paraná pines as seen at the Serra da Bocaina National Park, Brazil..
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArauc%C3%A1rias_ao_fundo_Parque_Nacional_da_Serra_da_Bocaina_-_denoise.jpg By Heris Luiz Cordeiro Rocha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground
trees that were pleasing to the eye…


File:Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms - Flickr - treegrow (14).jpg


…and good for food.”


File:Cornucopia of fruit and vegetables wedding banquet (cropped).jpg

God provides for the human all the goodness and beauty of the earth. It is God’s first act of faithfulness and love.

Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACapitol_Hill_Cherry_Blossoms_-_Flickr_-_treegrow_(14).jpg By Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA (Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A wedding cornucopia
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACornucopia_of_fruit_and_vegetables_wedding_banquet_(cropped).jpg By Jina Lee [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.”


File:Manavgat waterfall by tomgensler.JPG

Four great rivers find their headwaters in the garden – the rivers on whose banks human society will find life: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile (Gihon), and a fourth whose identity we no longer know (though there are satellite images suggesting an ancient river across the Arabian peninsula.) Perhaps it’s just as well we do not know this river: now all the rivers of the world can be seen as arising in the garden.

And it does not matter that these rivers don’t connect with one another. That is not our author’s message. The garden is the source of life for the world. Even when the garden is lost to us, its waters continue to flow, bringing their fertility and abundance to human society.

It is an image taken up by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47) when he describes a life-giving river flowing from the new temple, by Jesus when he declares that he is the source of the water of life (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38), and by the author of Revelation when the river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22).

Waterfall at Manavgat (Turkey).
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AManavgat_waterfall_by_tomgensler.JPG By Thomas Gensler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“It is not good for the man to be alone.”


File:Louis Rémy Mignot Solitude.jpg

Amidst all the beauty and abundance of the garden, it is not yet ‘good’, perfect, complete. Humans are meant for relationship. It is not good for this human creature to be alone. It is a fundamental truth. It is part of what is meant by the image of God. For there to be love, there must be an other, a beloved. We are meant for community.

Solitude, Louis Rémy Mignot
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALouis_R%C3%A9my_Mignot_Solitude.jpg Louis Rémy Mignot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.”


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And so God continues to create, bringing to the human all the other creatures of the earth.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, part of our connectedness. We know this in our pets, but also in the birds we hear singing in the morning or watch around a feeder. There is an intake of breath when we stumble across a rabbit or a deer. There is something familiar in sounds of the frogs in the pond or the sight of a lizard sunning on a rock. We talk to them without thinking about it. They are part of our community. And so the sight of a starving polar bear grieves us, or a wounded bird that has hit our picture window.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, but in all these creatures there is not a companion equal to that first human.

The King James Version translated this as “an help meet for him.” It would have benefited us if they had added a comma after the word ‘help’, (an help, meet for him) for what popularly turned into a single word, ‘helpmeet’, actually means a helper “equal to him”, or “matching him”.

So God takes a portion from the first human and from it makes another.

Adam naming the animals, Folio 5 recto from the Aberdeen Bestiary.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man
he made into a woman.”


File:Tracy Caldwell Dyson in Cupola ISS.jpg

The woman is not made for the first human but from him. She is separate, but she is of the same stuff as he. She is not made like the animals are made. She is unique. And they are uniquely connected.

The Hebrew words here are tricky to translate comfortably into English. The creature God makes is an ‘adam’. It is a word that refers to human beings. There are other words to refer to male and female. And there are ordinary words for a man and a woman.

Clearly the Biblical writers imagined the first human as a male, but women are also “humankind”. In Genesis 5:1-2 it says: “When God created humankind (‘adam’), he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” (‘adam’) when they were created.” It is only with the appearance of this other that humanity emerges as ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

Self portrait of Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below during Expedition 24.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATracy_Caldwell_Dyson_in_Cupola_ISS.jpg By NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”


File:Adam Eve Storonov.JPG

Now come the words for ‘man’ (‘ish’) and ‘woman’ (‘ishah’). These are not the words for ‘male’ and ‘female’; they are words that speak of relationship, words that evoke the connection of men and women in family and community. We are made for one another, even as we are made to be in relationship with God.

Adam and Eve, sculpture by Oscar Stonorov
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAdam_Eve_Storonov.JPG By Smallbones (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

Creation

File:A break in the clouds - Flickr - rachel thecat.jpg

25Then he [Jesus] said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

When Jesus walks with his followers on the road to Emmaus, he takes them back through the scripture to help them understand the fundamental witness of the Biblical writings. He is not proof-texting the resurrection, but opening their eyes to see that the fundamental narrative of the scripture concerns the sacrificial love of God – love that has its fulfillment in the cross and resurrection.

So the sermon series in which our parish has embarked has as its purpose not only to tell these pivotal stories in scripture, but to show how they bear witness to the God whose face we see in Christ.

As we developed this idea, our sanctuary arts people proposed placing a series of pictures in the sanctuary that related to the story of the day. That led to the production of a booklet that summarized the story and identified the pictures.

Here is the text of the booklet from week 1 on Genesis 1.  This Sunday we will talk about Genesis 2.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_break_in_the_clouds_-_Flickr_-_rachel_thecat.jpg By rachel_thecat (A break in the clouds) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 1:1-2:3


“A wind from God swept over the face of the waters”


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At the beginning of God’s creating, there is nothing but the breath of God hovering over a storm tossed sea.

And then God speaks.

It is God’s word that brings order, beauty and life. Before God’s word, apart from God’s speaking, there is neither order, beauty or life.

Speech is relational. It connects. It creates. It enlivens. For God to speak, means that God is relational. (When the author of 1 John writes that “God is love”, he is describing the kind of relationship God has with the world: God is faithful to us.)

Though our words can also create division and harm, God’s word creates community, goodness and life.

The Biblical account is set down in this form when Jerusalem has been destroyed and the leadership of the nation carried off into exile in Babylon. Those surviving peasants who hadn’t fled the war were left to farm the land. They posed no threat of resistance or rebellion. But the people of the city now inhabit the ancient equivalent of a refugee camp. They live in the aftermath of the chaos of war: grief, suffering, disease, dislocation. The temple and priesthood, symbols of God’s presence are destroyed. The sacrifices that were the means of grace and connection to God are lost to them. They are a people in the darkness of a storm-tossed sea.

But the Spirit of God is present.

And then God speaks.

North Pacific storm waves as seen from the M/V NOBLE STAR
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWea00816.jpg by NOAA (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/bigs/wea00816.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“God called the dome Sky”


File:Milky Way over Devils Tower.jpg

God’s first act is to create light and to separate the light from the darkness.

The ancient world imagined darkness as a thing in itself, rather than the absence of light. So into the stuff of the world which is darkness God calls into being a new stuff: light.

And the light is good.

God gathers the light together so we can live in the light. There is now day and night.

Next God speaks into existence the dome of the sky. Imagine a glass bowl upside down in the bathtub: water all around, but a bubble of air under the dome. God has made a space in the midst of the primal, chaotic waters where goodness and life can happen.

A panoramic image of the Milky Way galaxy stretching across the sky over America’s first national monument, Devils Tower. 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMilky_Way_over_Devils_Tower.jpg by NCBrown (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Let the earth put forth vegetation”


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Now, God gathers the water together so that land appears. And the land is summoned to bring forth all the living, growing stuff we see.

The text calls these ‘days’ though there is yet no sun or moon or stars to mark the days and seasons. But the cycle of day and night suggests images of labor, God is working to call forth his world. And the language of days suggests time; God is building something that takes time. And time itself is moving towards its completion, towards Sabbath.


“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky”


On the fourth ‘day’ God calls forth the lights that span the dome of the heavens and appoints them “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.”

The ancient words for ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ were the names of gods. The lights in the sky were considered spirit beings, creatures of fire and light rather than earth, divine beings to be adored and called upon for help. But the Biblical author doesn’t call them ‘Sun’ or ‘Moon’; these are but lanterns in the sky, placed there by the word of God. We use them only to count days.

It is a startling claim for a people whose god has been crushed in battle by the (presumably) more powerful gods of Babylon. The Lord could not protect his own house, his temple. The Lord could not protect his household staff, his people. Yet here our writer proclaims that these powerful so-called gods of Babylon are no gods at all.

Flower of an Indian Lotus
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALotus_flower_(978659).jpg by Hong Zhang (jennyzhh2008) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“ Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind”


File:A butterfly feeding on the tears of a turtle in Ecuador.jpg

Now God begins to summons forth the creatures of the earth. The waters proliferate with creatures and birds fill the skies. It is good. And God utters a blessing: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

God will also speak this blessing over humans. They are among the living creatures. They are not creatures of the air. They are not spirit beings. They are part of the good world God calls forth in all its wondrous diversity.

The fish and birds are called into existence on the fifth ‘day’, creatures of the land and humans on the sixth day.

We are creatures. We are one with the creation and yet the crown of creation. The care of the earth is entrusted into our hands. We are blessed as the creatures are blessed. But we are also charged to exercise “dominion”, governance, stewardship, lordship. And the model of true lordship is not one of control and domination, but the God who provides and cares, and the lord who lays down his life for the sheep. St. Francis is correct when he speaks of the creatures of the world as our sisters and brothers.   The world is to be tended not plundered.

Two Julia Butterflies (Dryas iulia) drinking the tears of turtles (Podocnemis expansa?) in Ecuador. Turtles bask on a log as the butterflies sip from their eyes. This “tear-feeding” is a phenomenon known as lachryphagy.  
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_butterfly_feeding_on_the_tears_of_a_turtle_in_Ecuador.jpg amalavida.tv [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“In the image of God he created them”


File:Heavens Above Her.jpg

The word ‘image’ in the ancient Greek translation of Genesis comes into English as ‘icon’. An icon was an image that represented the presence of another – like the United States planting a flag on Iwo Jima to represent the authority and presence of the nation. Humans represent the presence of God. Or, at least, we are supposed to so represent. We are the agents and signs of God’s presence, the agents and signs of God’s care, the agents and sign of God’s love. Or at least, again, this was God’s intention. This is our calling. This is our true identity.

Perhaps the ancients thought we shared the same physical appearance as God. But the truth is we have no other language or imagery to talk about a loving, speaking being.

These humans are given fruit to eat. And the grazing animals grass. In the beginning we did not yet kill and eat each other. It’s why the prophets say that in the end, when God’s creation is finally restored, the lion can lie down with the lamb.

Milky Way lying above a lady’s silhouette, at Trona Pinnacles National Landmark, California.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHeavens_Above_Her.jpg by Ian Norman (http://www.lonelyspeck.com) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sabbath Rest

“On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done.”


File:Paints of sunrise on Langtang National Park.jpg

So now we come to the final day, the consummate day, the goal toward which all things move: Sabbath. Rest. Completion. Perfection. Shalom. Peace. Wholeness. Harmony. This ‘day’ is holy, sacred, radiant with the divine. Jesus will call it “the reign of God.” St. John the Divine will call it the “New Jerusalem”.

The world is not complete in six days. It is complete with Sabbath.

And Jesus will declare that the reign of God is at hand, so it makes perfect sense for him to heal on the Sabbath. He is not working, doctoring; he is bringing that final Sabbath when all things are made new.

The Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the deep now breathes in all people. The promise of Joel is fulfilled (Joel 2:28-29). Pentecost has come (Acts 2). The Torah is written on every heart (Jeremiah 31:31). The heavenly banquet is begun (Isaiah 25:6-8). Swords are beaten into plowshares (Micah 4:1-3) and the lion eats straw like the ox (Isaiah 65:17-25).

It is all “very good.”

View from mountain pass Laurebina-la
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APaints_of_sunrise_on_Langtang_National_Park.jpg  by Q-lieb-in (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
 © Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

Like Living Stones

File:Cathedral of Toledo (6933231488).jpg

Friday

This is a reposting of a reflection for this fifth Sunday of Easter from three years ago. It connects also with our preaching theme for this week on Genesis 2. The anniversary of my daughter’s birth is this week also. I have written about it here. I have also changed the second photo of the Church of Saint Sava. You will see why.

1 Peter 2:2-10

5Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

I love the passive tense in this verse: “let yourselves be built.” We are not given a great task of building a cathedral. God is the builder; we need only let it happen.

Tuesday would have been my daughter’s 33rd birthday. Words don’t come easily this week. Sentences start, but can’t find their ending. Thoughts flit by, but don’t linger, don’t focus. I can’t find those strong threads that weave themselves into coherent messages. I read a blog entitled “I had a boy,” from a woman who had lost a child, and all I could respond was, “I had a girl…”

Grief is a strange thing. Did C.G., our cat, remember all her kittens that were given away? Was there some ache in her soul? Some remembrance? Some emptiness? If she did, I saw no days of lethargy and tears.

We are beings meant to connect. Meant to connect with others. Meant to connect with that heart of existence we call God. And when those connections are sundered, we are like amputees whose minds still envision their missing limbs and are at a loss to find them gone.

Simon and Garfunkel sang, “I am a rock. I am an island.” But, in the words of John Donne, “No man is an island.” We are living stones, meant to be built together into a living temple.

After setting the first human into a garden in the creation story of Genesis 2, God says, “It is not good that this human should be alone.”   It’s not just about marriage and family, it is about friendship and community. It is about our humanity.

Those ties between us are so constantly ruptured, riven by thoughts, words and deeds. The hunger for connection is so primal, but the reality so difficult to achieve. This is the first portrait of sin: Adam and Eve hiding from each other and from God behind fig leaves.

It will not be long before the years Anna has been gone will surpass the years she was here. But the torn threads of the rent human fabric linger. To them comes only the promise that God is building a living temple…and the exhortation to let ourselves be joined, bit by bit, into that crowning achievement where God and humanity dwell together.

File:Bělehrad, Vračar, chrám svatého Sávy v noci II.jpg

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACathedral_of_Toledo_(6933231488).jpg By Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium (Cathedral of Toledo) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AB%C4%9Blehrad%2C_Vra%C4%8Dar%2C_chr%C3%A1m_svat%C3%A9ho_S%C3%A1vy_v_noci_II.jpg  This image is a work by Aktron / Wikimedia Commons.

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”

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Watching for the Morning of May 14, 2017

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

It will be Mother’s Day and I know the men are planning something that involves fruit and sparkling beverages (under the direction of our female staff!). And while the texts are not about mothers, they are about profound love. Stephen, beneath the assault of an outraged mob heavy with stones, prays for God to forgive his murderers even as Jesus prayed for his. The psalm not only speaks of a deep and profound trust in God but, like Stephen’s prayer, takes us to the lips of Jesus on the cross: “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” The reading from 1 Peter urges us to “long for the pure, spiritual milk,” that we might “be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” All of which leads us to Jesus providing for his followers in the face of his impending death and declaring: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In this good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the heart of the universe is made visible.

Preaching Series: Genesis 2: Made for Relationship

This week we continue our special survey through the scriptures, prompted by Jesus’ teaching on the road to Emmaus when he led his followers through the scriptures to show how it points to the truth, visible in Jesus crucified and risen, of God’s redemptive love. The God who speaks and calls all things into being is now seen in the tenderness of forming the first human (Hebrew ‘adam’) from the ground (‘adamah’) and breathing into him the breath of life. It is a creature meant for relationship; “it is not good that the human should be alone.” And the search for the partner/companion equal to him leads ultimately to the deep sleep and a part taken to form another. Now come the words for ‘man’ (‘ish’) and ‘woman’ (‘ishah’) – not those for ‘male’ and ‘female’, but words that speak of relationship, words that evoke the connection of men and women in family and community. We are made for one another, even as we are made to be in relationship with God.

(The words are tricky to translate comfortably into English, but see Genesis 5:1-2 where it says: “When God created humankind (‘adam’), he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” (‘adam’) when they were created.”)

The Prayer for May 14, 2017

Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way;
keep us in your truth;
enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for May 14, 2017

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” – Stephen becomes a victim of communal violence for his preaching and teaching about Jesus, and in his dying embodies the faith and love Jesus modeled.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:1-5
“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” – A prayer of lament. The trust in God embodied in the psalm is reflected in Stephen and quoted by Jesus on the cross.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –
Expounding on baptism, the author urges the believers to “grow into salvation” as living stones in a “spiritual house” (a spiritual temple).

Gospel: John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” – Jesus makes provision for his followers in lieu of his impending death, urging them to remain faithful and assuring them that God’s resources are more than adequate to provide all their needs.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASofferenza_(1438714987).jpg By Roberto Ferrari from Campogalliano (Modena), Italy (Sofferenza) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

He goes ahead

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Wednesday

This is a reposting of a reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday in 2014

John 10:1-10

4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Palestinian shepherds are different than most shepherds worldwide. Most places in the world the shepherds come behind, driving their flock. In Palestine they walk ahead and the sheep follow.

This contrast alone makes this chapter of John priceless. How much religion consists of people being driven? Driven by guilt, by rules, by demands, by self-righteousness, by the psychological needs of the leadership, by history, by desire. Most of life is driven. Driven by our need to provide, our need to succeed, our need to feel safe. Driven by our fears, our wants, our restless sense that we are missing something. Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden in their shame. The prodigal son is driven home by his desperate hunger – but the prodigal father runs to welcome his son with open arms.

Jesus leads his flock. He goes before. He goes ahead. And though that often results with us running to catch up, it means we are not going anywhere that Jesus has not already been. Every sorrow he has tasted first. Even the grave. But also the resurrection.

He is our elder brother. He goes ahead. He paves the way. He opens the door. He does not ask us to wash feet before he has washed our feet. He does not ask us to take up the cross before he has taken up his cross. He does not ask us to give what he has not given. He does not ask us to walk where he has not walked. He does not ask us to love anyone he has not loved or forgive anyone he has not forgiven.

There is all the difference in the world between the command to go and the invitation to “Come with me.”

My brother got me to do all kinds of things by doing them first. I learned to swim because my brother went first. I learned to ski because he went first. I learned to hold a pigeon, I walked the streets of Brussels, I picked up a live crab, I left home for college. And there were some things I didn’t have to do because he did them, battles he fought I didn’t have to fight.

God does not sit on a throne spouting orders; he has come as our elder brother, leading the way. There are commands in the scripture, to be sure. We know of the ten, even if we can’t name them all. Jesus himself gave a new commandment – and tightened the others. He talked about forgiving seventy-seven times. But he went first. He goes ahead. He calls our name and bids us walk with him.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APikiWiki_Israel_19308_Settlements_in_Israel.JPG ארכיון עין השופט [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Overflowing

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Watching for the Morning of May 7, 2017

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

The fourth Sunday of Easter each year takes us to the tenth chapter of John and the 23rd psalm. In John 10 Jesus uses several metaphors rooted in the care and keeping of sheep, leading ultimately to the declaration “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” His claim that he has the power to lay his life down and take it up again leads to the accusation that he is demon possessed and an attempted stoning.

We should not let sweet images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd with a lamb around his neck obscure the fact that such words nearly get him killed. The language of shepherds and sheep is deep in the Biblical tradition for the relationship of Israel’s leaders to the people. His claim to be the good shepherd means that the Jerusalem leaders are not good shepherds. Indeed, in these opening words, Jesus asserts that they are thieves and robbers. Ironic words given that they will crucify Jesus for being an insurrectionist (here translated as ‘robber’).

These thieves and robbers have no true claim to the sheep – they sneaked over the wall to plunder the sheep. But the sheep (the crowds) hear Jesus’ voice and follow. And whereas the leaders of the nation are thieves and robbers, Jesus is the gate through which the sheep go out to rich pasture.

Jesus is the source of true life, not the pale imitation of life offered by the nation’s elite; but the true life of God’s people, an overflowing life, the good and imperishable life God intended for his creation.

So we hear Peter speak of Jesus, “the shepherd and guardian” of our lives. And we sing with David that the Lord is our shepherd who guides us through death’s vale and grants us rest in good pasture. And we hear Luke, the author of Acts, tell us of this remarkable community living with “glad and generous hearts,” who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Among them none went hungry.

Abundant life. Life to the full. Life overflowing. Life that was meant to be.

Preaching Series: Genesis 1, The Life-giving Word

Last week we heard how, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus took his followers through the whole of scripture to see how it bears witness to God’s self-giving love fulfilled in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Sunday we begin our own survey with a look at the brilliant and courageous work we know as the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. Written following the chaos of a terrible war, in a time when Jerusalem was destroyed and the people in exile, the author bears witness to the God who brings order to the stormy primal sea and makes all things good, beautiful, noble. In Babylon, where the world was said to be created from the slain body of the chaos monster – and humans fashioned from its blood – Biblical faith bears witness to a good world called into being by a God who speaks and whose word creates.

The Prayer for January 22, 2017

Gracious God,
guardian and shepherd of our souls,
keep us in your Word
that, hearing and following your voice,
we may know your abundant life;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for January 22, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” – Luke presents one of his summary descriptions of the early Christian community, an ever expanding community manifesting God’s.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – a song of trust born of reflection upon God’s gracious care and providence through the challenges and trials of life. In the midst of the dangerous intrigues of the royal court, God is the true shepherd who has guarded and guided the poet’s way.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25
“Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” –
this section of 1 Peter is presumably appointed for Good Shepherd Sunday for its line: “you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls,” but this section of the homily speaks to the pattern of enduring suffering given by Jesus.

Gospel: John 10:1-10
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” – Several metaphors from the world of shepherding are taken up as parables of the access to ‘Life’ found in Jesus.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChampagne_tower.jpg By ori2uru (originally posted to Flickr as champagne tower) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In the breaking of the bread

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Watching for the morning of April 30, 2017

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

A resurrection appearance still dominates the readings for Sunday. This is the week we hear Luke tell us of the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

The narrative is pregnant with meaning for a community known as “the way” – literally, “the road”. The unseen Christ walks with us. Through him the scriptures are opened to us. In the broken bread we recognize him. It is the story not only of the first believers but of every generation.

Where else can we turn to make sense of this unexpected ending to the one who opened the gates for us to see and taste the kingdom? In his words the scriptures were alive. In his teaching was the Spirit of God. In his work was mercy for the margins and a daring challenge to the ruling center. In his hands crowds were fed, sinners welcomed, a new path set before us. And in that moment when the old empire should fall, he is stolen away. Where else can we turn to understand? And as we reread the ancient words they shine with a new light. The suffering servant of Isaiah. The humble king of Zechariah. The faithful one of the psalms. Suddenly the scriptures seem to explode with new insight.

And then there is the bread – the promised feast in Isaiah, the five loaves and two fish, the last supper, and now the bread and wine. All the threads of scripture, all the hope of a world made whole, weave into this moment when bread is broken like his body was broken – and shared freely as he shared himself freely for the sake of the world.

In the teaching, in the bread, they see him. They recognize his presence. They see the perfect love. They see the dawning of the promise – a world governed by this wondrous and holy Spirit.

Now the vision is complete. Christ is gone but not gone. And they race back to share the vision, to proclaim the news, to rejoice in the wonder of God.

So Sunday we will hear Peter declare the promise is for all and invite them to turn and show allegiance to this crucified one whom God has made both Lord and Messiah. And the psalmist will sing of deliverance from death and Peter writes that we “have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

The new creation is dawning. We hold the bread of the great feast in our hands.

The Prayer for April 30, 2017

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 30, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” – a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from a threat to his life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism, here urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATand%C4%B1r_bread.jpg By jeffreyw (Mmm…pita bread Uploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

We push on

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Saturday

John 20:19-31

21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Easter drives towards Pentecost.

Christmas drives towards Easter. The wonder of the incarnation pushes towards its destiny in Jerusalem. Every step along the way, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation, the opening of blind eyes, the rejection at Nazareth, the conflict with the Pharisees, the healing of the sick, the lifting of sins, it pushes towards the cross and resurrection.

The Lord of heaven and earth has come to dwell with us. But we are not ready. We are not ready for the world to be healed. We are not ready for the reign of the Spirit. We are not ready for the triumph of mercy. We are not ready to see all people as members of our own household. We are not ready for the love that kneels to wash feet. And so the incarnation ends where it had to end: in rejection, in violence, in the cross.

But that’s not where it ends for God. The incarnation pushes towards Easter. It drives towards the empty tomb, towards the risen Christ, towards the kneeling of Thomas, towards the breaking of bread at Emmaus.

But this is not the end of the matter. The reason God came to dwell among us was to dwell among us. Our rejection of the incarnation and God’s vindication of Jesus hasn’t yet resolved the matter of God dwelling with us. And so we push on towards Pentecost. We push on towards the outpouring of the Spirit. We push on to the mission of this community who have heard the words and seen the work of God in Christ, who have seen the witness to the reign of God, who have seen the cross and the risen Lord, who have seen Christ ascend and promise to come again to dwell among us. Indeed who dwells among us now, already, by the Spirit and in the community gathered.

We push on toward Pentecost. To the breath of God roaring like a mighty wind that gives witness in every language to all the earth. To the breath of God breathed upon the student/followers that makes them bold in witness and full of grace. Stephen dies at the hands of a mob, praying for God to forgive those throwing stones. And Paul, who holds the cloaks that day while the mob works its rage, will himself be counted dead by stoning yet rise again to continue his witness that God has reconciled all things.

It is Easter, but we push on toward Pentecost. We push on towards that day when the Spirit reigns in every heart and all are gathered at God’s table. We push on toward that day when the bridegroom comes and heaven and earth are wed – when at last we are ready for God to dwell among us and the holy city stands with gates wide open, filled with never-ending light.

We push on. And Sunday, on this 8th day since the empty tomb was discovered, we hear already of Pentecost, of the breathing out of God’s breath upon us, and the sending of God’s little community to bear witness to the new creation, the forgiving of every debt and healing of every heart.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APushing_van_together.jpg By Clear Path International (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

An indescribable and glorious joy

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Friday

1 Peter 1:3-9

8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

This is a wonderful verse. But there are so many words in it that we hear differently in our time. This word ‘soul’ for example, is the Greek word ‘psyche’. For most of us, I suspect, the word ‘soul’ refers to the substance of the self that occupies the body such that, when the body dies, the soul continues. However we imagine this, the concept is that the me that is me continues somehow.

It’s not easy to pin down the meaning of this Greek word. It means, on the one hand, our life, our physical existence. In Matthew 2:2, when Jesus had been taken to Egypt for safety, the angel speaks of those “who were trying to take the child’s life.” It would sound weird to us to say they were trying to take the child’s soul. The same is true in Matthew 20:28 where Jesus says the Son of Man came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” It wouldn’t make sense to us to say he gave his soul.

But this ‘life’ is something more than biological existence. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus talks about those who can kill the body but not kill the ‘soul’. You can kill my body, but you cannot destroy my ‘life’. Or in 10:39, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” There is something in the word ‘psyche’ that is more than biological life. There is something that speaks of the mind, the heart, the spirit – yes, the ‘soul’ – of a person: their character, their being, their identity, their story – “who they are”.

What is being saved? I am being saved. Not my ‘soul’, but me. Me, who likes the color blue and chocolate chip ice cream. Me, who started in math but turned to medieval history in college. Me, who loved being father to my daughters. Me, who learned so much at my parish in Detroit. Me, who loves the woods and the high desert and good coffee. Me, who grieves my brother and my daughter and aches with all those with whom I have walked through the shadow of the valley of death. Me, who stands with open hands at the communion table and treasures the wonder of the gift given.

I am being saved.

And this word saved – it means to heal, to rescue, to make whole. I am being saved. I am being healed. I am being made whole. I am promised a place at the table when all things are made new and death is slain and all creation feasts in God’s abundance.

Whatever exactly all those metaphors mean of a banquet on Mt. Zion, a New Jerusalem, swords beaten into plowshares and the lion lying down with the lamb, they point to a making-whole of all life. They point to an end to fears and release from regrets. And this must, in some way, mean a healing of relationships and a restored bond to my brother and daughter and to the whole fabric of the human community.

And all of this is not just awaiting me in the future, but this healing, this saving, this making whole is begun even now. Even now as I hold out my hands at the table, and as I sing the songs of the angels, and as I hold those who are dear to me, and as I welcome those who are new to me – as I breathe the breath of the Spirit. All this is both then and now, future and present, promise and reality, “an indescribable and glorious joy.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APorto_Covo_July_2011-6.jpg By Alvesgaspar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons