I am your David

Sunday Evening

Psalm 23, John 10:11-18

File:Heilig Land Stichting Rijksmonument 523633 de goede herder, reli-art Piet Gerrits.JPGThe LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

11 “I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12The hired hand,
who is not the shepherd
and does not own the sheep,
sees the wolf coming
and leaves the sheep and runs away–
and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13The hired hand runs away
because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.
14I am the good shepherd.
I know my own
and my own know me,
15just as the Father knows me
and I know the Father.
And I lay down my life for the sheep.

I have tried to preach on these texts many times without much success. I look back on old sermons and find scattered notes rather than well-assembled manuscripts. I wish I could look back at sermons that I have stored on those old floppy disks. I wonder if I had any better luck 20 years ago than I did ten. Somehow I doubt it.

I decided last night that the problem is that preaching on these texts is like taking apart a piece of music from Bach or Beethoven or Mozart rather than just listening to it. My life isn’t really enriched by knowing what the notes are, but by letting them play – letting myself be immersed in their glorious sounds.

Psalm 23 is a prayer. Prayers are better prayed than preached upon. So let me try this:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

The LORD is my shepherd. The LORD is my King David who guarded his flock with his sling. The LORD is my David who fought off the bear and the lion and saved his flock from fearful enemies. The LORD is my David who slew Goliath with that same sling and five smooth stones. The LORD is my David who has beaten back every enemy. The LORD is my David who has enlarged the land. The LORD is my David who has made us to dwell securely.

The LORD is my shepherd, my righteous king, my defender, my hope. I shall not want.

I shall not be in want. I shall not lack for those things upon which life depends. Oh, I have plenty of wants and desires, but in him I lack no good thing, no true thing. In him there is the bread of life. In him there is the water of life. In him there are true pathways. In him is my way and my truth and my life.

He feeds me at his table. A table rich and abundant, a table filled with compassion and mercy, a table filled with grace and forgiveness, a table filled with joy and song, a table filled with love.

In the darkest valleys, he is my light. In the shadow of death he is my hope and promise. In weakness he is my strength. In fear he is my confidence. In sorrow he is my comfort.

The LORD is my David – and so much more than my David. He is my companion, my guide, my solace, my song. Even when surrounded by enemies, he is my overflowing cup, my soothing balm. He is my breath, my calm.

Israel was pursued through the wilderness by plundering tribes, but what chases after me is his goodness and faithfulness. Death and fear and sin and sorrow stalk me, and yet what truly pursues me, what seeks me, what follows after me, is God’s determination to enfold me in his life and love.

The LORD is my David, my perfect king, who lays down his life for me.

And now here is Jesus standing before me saying, “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the Good Shepherd, the true shepherd, the noble shepherd, the true and righteous king, the faithful king, who sets the life of his people before his own.”   Here is Jesus before me saying “I am the true shepherd who leads you to life.” I am the honorable shepherd, the faithful king, who lays down his life for you. Who calls you by name. Who knows your name. Who gathers you to myself. Who gathers others to my flock. I am the true shepherd, the true voice, who leads you to true pasture. Verdant pasture. Bread of life and living water.

I am the good shepherd, I am your David, I am your Moses and Abraham and Noah. I am he who walked with you in the garden and will open wide the gates of the city to come.

I am he who prepares for you a table. I am he who anoints you with my Spirit. I am he who seeks you. I am he who has prepared a place for you. “In my father’s house are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you.”

I am he who washes away all sin. I am he who quenches your deepest thirst. I am he who turns water into wine, tears into joy, mourning into dancing. I am he who opens blind eyes, who strengthens feeble knees. I am he who meets you at the well with living water. I am the light that cannot be extinguished. I am the rock that cannot be shaken. I am the fountain that never runs dry. I am the eternal dawn, the morning light that does not fade.

I am your David, your perfect king, your noble shepherd, your eternal life.

And I have other sheep. Sheep that listen to my voice. And I must bring them also. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Amen

 

STatue: Nederlands: Heilig Land Stichting Rijksmonument 523633 de goede herder, reli-art van Piet Gerrits  Photo: By Havang(nl) (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Everlasting friend

Saturday

1 John 3:16-24

File:Good Shepherd 04.jpg

Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the early Christian catacomb of Domitilla/Domatilla (Crypt of Lucina, 200-300 CE)

17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Let’s just skip past this one real quickly.

Why don’t we stay with:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Or maybe:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

There are so many nice, sweet, comforting thoughts on which we could focus in the texts this week. Jesus is our shepherd. He provides us good pasture. He protects us from the wolves. He is our everlasting friend.

And, yes, he is all those things. But our everlasting friends said, “A new commandment I give to you.” He told that story about the Good Samaritan. He invited himself to dinner at the home of Zacchaeus without asking him to repent first. And then he sends Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch and Peter to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius.

We don’t get the everlasting friend without the new commandment. Try as you might, we don’t. Israel tried this. Temple. Priesthood. King. Sacrifices. Ritual. Glory. But they didn’t do justice or mercy or even Sabbath, and marching armies came to tear down all those things in which they trusted. Back to the drawing board. Back to eternal love and the commandments.

So here we are struggling with First John’s troubling question:

17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

We can play games with the text. We can duck and weave and try to avoid its direct and pointed word. But I was never very good at dodge ball as a child, and surely not now. And I don’t want to dodge this word either.

Christian faith is about abiding in God’s love and God’s love abiding in us. This is easier for some of us than others, I know. We all have our wounds and scars. But sometimes it seems like some of us aren’t trying. We are content to gossip, judge, condemn, and go about our lives hidden among the masses, making no difference, bearing no witness, adding no grace or healing to our wounded world. It’s what makes Christianity to be despised in the culture around us, especially among the young.

There is an everlasting friend for us. But he is friend also to our neighbor. And he wants me to treat others not only as I want to be treated, but as he has treated me.

No other name

Making up for Thursday

Acts 4:1-13

File:Florentinischer Meister um 1300 001.jpg12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

Well there it is, that troubling sentiment expressed so poorly by some who assert or imply that everyone who isn’t a Christian (and usually, everyone who isn’t their kind of Christian) is going to hell.

Here we face the great challenge of rightly understanding the message of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke are all quite clear that Jesus proclaimed that people should turn and show allegiance to the dawning reign of God. And even though the Gospel of John uses very different language to describe the reality of this life that has come in Jesus, yet the fundamental elements of the message are the same. For John, who uses the language of eternal life (in Greek the life of the ‘aeon’, the life of the age to come), this life is something we have now in Christ. It is not waiting for us in heaven after we die; it is a present reality he describes as abiding in the Father. What the other Gospels describe as ‘the kingdom of God’ is this same imperishable life, a transformed existence of a world – and our lives – that has been brought into the realm of God, brought under the gracious life-giving governance of God’s Spirit. All four Gospel bear witness to Jesus bringing a world restored, healed, transformed, resurrected.

If our fundamental narrative is that good people (good morally or good from good works or good from trusting Jesus) go ‘up’ to some place called ‘heaven’ and bad people (bad morally or bad because they did not trust/believe in Jesus) go ‘down’ to some place called ‘hell’ then this statement – “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” – is going to sound very different than if our fundamental narrative is that God has come to heal the world in Jesus, to carry us from this broken age of sin and death into a new age of grace and life.

If Jesus is the only way to get into a place called heaven, and I don’t believe in Jesus, then we are stuck putting me and all those like me in hell. But if Jesus is the one who heals a dying world, who reconnects God and humanity that they might dwell together, then his ‘name’ is what heals. Regardless of your religious experience or behavior, regardless of your psychological health or moral history, his name, his power, his identity, is what heals.

It still leaves open, of course, the question whether I am going to show allegiance to and trust in that ‘name’, but it will not be my trust that gets me “into heaven”; it is Jesus who brings heaven to the world.

The Greek words ‘to save’ and ‘salvation’ mean to heal, to restore to a full life in your social context – to restore you to family and friends and fields and the religious life of the nation. Someone who has been ‘saved’ gets to return home. They get to return to the temple. They get to return to their life. Saving the world means restoring God’s creation so that we live in harmony with God and one another. God doesn’t want us to dwell in heaven (the heavens) with him, he wants to dwell on earth with us: the lion and the lamb, the new Jerusalem, the wedding banquet that has no end. The martyrs under the altar in Revelation 7 are waiting for God’s New Jerusalem on earth; they don’t want to stay under the altar.

It is Jesus who brings healing to the world. It is the crucified one, who did not wreak vengeance on his enemies but forgave them. It is the risen one, whom God declared as his true and righteous one. It is this one who would not be tempted to turn his power or authority to his own ends but remained the perfectly faithful son (the ‘son’ we have not been) that brings wholeness to all existence.

Power, War, Sex, or any of the governing powers and ideologies of our world will not do this. War can’t bring peace. It can crush an army, but it cannot bring peace. My mother can force me to share with my brother, but force cannot make me want to share. Only a boundless generosity and love can create me as a loving, generous person. Only the boundless love of God manifest in Jesus will heal the world. That is a far different claim than “believe in Jesus or go to hell.”

Christians don’t have to – and shouldn’t – surrender and say there are many paths to heaven to avoid the ugliness of “believe like me or die.” We have to only understand that “heaven” is coming to us. Jesus is bringing to us the healing of the world.

And we are invited to show allegiance. We are invited to trust it. We are invited to live now the healing that awaits us. To forgive as we have been forgiven. To love as we have been loved. To open wide our hands and arms as God has opened wide his arms to us.

 

Image credit: By Florentinischer Meister um 1300 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That stubborn claim

Friday

Acts 4:1-13

File:Villamblard église vitrail choeur détail.JPG1While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3So they arrested them…

I don’t know whether ‘annoyed’ is quite the right term for the anger of the Jerusalem leaders towards the apostles, but it is helpful to recognize in this simple sentence what ancients and the poor understand about authority: it serves the powerful.   They didn’t like what the apostles were saying so they arrested them. This is not a world in which people have rights.

But why should the preaching of these two from Galilee come to the attention of the Jerusalem leadership, and why should it offend them? It is common for people to suggest, because the Sadducees are named and the Sadducees didn’t find resurrection in the Torah, that the problem is the Sadducees didn’t like that the disciples were teaching the doctrine of the resurrection. But the resurrection was a common idea in Judea and Galilee and there were members of the high council that themselves held this opinion. The problem isn’t a doctrinal dispute. The problem is that Peter and John are preaching that Jesus was raised from the dead – the Jesus that these leaders executed for blaspheming God. To suggest that God resurrected this Jesus is to say that God was on the side of Jesus and not the leadership of the nation. Indeed, it says the leadership of the people has betrayed and forfeited their office for they rejected God’s anointed one.

To proclaim that the high priest no longer represents God is good reason for the high priest to have you arrested.

This is the same thing that gets believers in trouble when they declare that Jesus is Lord. When Caesar claims to be lord of all, he will not tolerate anyone declaring that someone else is Lord.

This is the joy and dilemma of Christian faith in every age. When Rome passes a law requiring every woman to be married and bear children, a woman’s choice of virginity becomes a declaration that her body does not belong to the state but to God. So St. Lucy is put to death. When the amorous advances of a suitor are spurned, he betrays her to the state. In the same way, the martyrs of Uganda perish when they reject the sexual predations of their king. Hitler made it the duty of every German woman to bear children for the Reich. Our culture now mocks virginity and considers our sexual self-expression essential to our humanity. A lot of money is being made selling sex, beauty, and little blue pills, but on that altar many of our young people are being sacrificed.

When St. Francis walks away from his father’s wealth to embrace a life of poverty, he is rejecting the implicit claim of wealth and privilege to supremacy. When Christians do such a simple thing as tithe, giving away the first portion of their income, they testify that wealth and possessions are not our master. Our cultural masters need us to buy more stuff – even at peril of the creation itself – for it serves the bottom line. But we do not belong to the economy; we belong to God.

The dark side of the argument in support of Charlie Hebdo is the idolatry of personal freedom – the belief that I am my own master, that no one can tell me what to do. To this Christianity must say “No, not quite.” There is another to whom your life belongs. He alone gives true freedom.

This is why Christians ought not equate “God and Country”. The two don’t quite match up. I may choose to serve my neighbor by serving my country, but my country is not my Lord.

Nor does God and prosperity quite match up – despite the numbers that Joel Osteen and ilk attract. Jesus kept saying things like “You cannot serve God and Mammon,” and “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God, the things that are God’s.” Jesus is standing in line with Joshua (“Choose this day whom you will serve,”) and Elijah (“How long will you go limping with two different opinions,”) Deuteronomy (“There is no God besides me,”) and Isaiah (“Besides me there is no god”). God and Asherah, God and Baal, God and wealth, God and sex, God and country, don’t match up.

There is a stubborn claim in the heart of Christian faith that life belongs to God alone. He alone is Lord. It is a claim that “annoys” civil, cultural and corporate leaders. It lands Peter and John in prison – and many after them – and many still today.

But God has raised the Jesus this world crucified – and to him all creation belongs.

 

Photo: By Père Igor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Our true shepherd

Watching for the Morning of April 26, 2015

Year B

The Fourth Sunday of Easter / Good Shepherd Sunday

File:WhSouthLawn.JPEGWhen we read Psalm 23, or hear Jesus declare, “I am the good shepherd,” we think of peaceful, pastoral images – rolling hills, green grass, gentle waters. We do not think of the intense conflict of the royal court, the constant rivalry for wealth and power in the capital city, the alliances made and broken for the sake of fame and greater access to the media. Nor do we imagine the intrigue of the renaissance papacy as cities and kings fought for control of its wealth and power. Nor do we imagine even the petty bickering and desire to control that rattles around a town or business or local congregation. But in Israel the language of sheep and shepherds is used of the courts of power.

Jesus is the true shepherd, the noble shepherd, the good shepherd, who does not feed off the sheep but leads them to good pasture. He does not use them as canon fodder or sweatshop labor, but lays down his life for the sheep. They are not masses to be manipulated, but people to be saved, healed, and protected from the thieves and robbers who sit on thrones.

On the fourth Sunday of Easter every year, when we have told the stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, now we point out the truth to which all those stories bear witness: this Jesus is our true shepherd.

In our first reading, Peter and John bear witness to the Jerusalem elite who have arrested them in outrage at their preaching – for, if God has raised the one they crucified, then God has stripped these leaders of all claim to authority. They are not true shepherds, but hired hands protecting themselves.

David sings his song of trust in God, acknowledging the LORD as his (and Israel’s) true shepherd – a noble claim for a potentate.

And the author of First John reminds us that the model for our life together is Jesus who laid down his life for us. We who are students of the noble shepherd must live as he lived, not just talk about loving one another.

The Prayer for April 26, 2015

Gracious Heavenly Father,
Christ Jesus our good shepherd laid down his life for our sake
that he might gather one flock from all the nations of the earth.
Be at work within us
that we might hear and respond to his voice,
and follow him in lives of service and 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 26, 2015

First Reading: Acts 4:1-13 (appointed 5-12)
“This man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” – Peter and John are examined by the authorities after having been arrested for preaching that God raised Jesus from the dead (a message that invalidates the authority of the High Priestly leadership because it declares that God has reversed their judgment against Jesus.)

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – The famous song of trust in God that reverberates with social, political and religious meaning in a world where the king (or ruler) was regarded as the shepherd of the people.

Second Reading: 1 John 3:16-24
“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
– The author encourages his community to remain faithful to God and one another despite the departure of a schismatic group from their community.

Gospel: John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – The middle section of chapter 10 where Jesus employs metaphors drawn from shepherding. Here he identifies himself as the true shepherd who cares for the sheep, freely laying down his life for the people.

 

Photo: By PHC C.M. Fitzpatrick [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Creatures of joy and wonder

Sunday Evening

File:Rödeby kyrka Relief 015.JPG

Rödeby Church.Relief of artist Eva Spångberg with motives: Jesus and the children

We received new members this morning. As the families stood near the altar rail and the Assisting Minister led the prayers, our newest and most energetic member – a little girl of three – stepped onto the kneeling cushions, grasped the rail, and started bouncing on the relatively new (and thick) (and bouncy) cushions.

As the community was absorbed in prayer, her mother and father and siblings each tried to discreetly distract her from her bouncing. I knelt and softly tried to explain that we were praying – talking to Jesus, asking for him to help people in need. She listened to me intently, but when I stopped whispering to her, she promptly began bouncing again. I don’t recall if I said it clearly that we didn’t want to distract people from their prayer, but she certainly didn’t consider joy and enthusiasm a distraction.

Would that all our prayer were filled with such joy, all our worship with such enthusiasm.

When our altar was up on a chancel platform, two steps above the main floor, we had a child who would run and jump the steps after receiving communion. I didn’t want any of our elders to risk jumping – but I wanted them to want to. There should be joy at the Lord’s Table. Great gifts are given.

The ministry of a child is to be a child: to remind us what it is to stand in God’s presence without pretense. To remind us that the world is wondrous and full of joy. To remind us that bouncy cushions are not just for kneeling.

We had a young child who used to linger at the altar rail in fervent prayer long after her family had left the table – and often through the next group as well. There was nothing feigned in her prayer. And she was not to be moved until she had laid before God every person for whom she was concerned.

The ministry of a child is to be a child. They remind us all of deep and essential truths. We are creatures of joy and tears. We are creatures of determined prayer, passionate feelings and deep imagination. We are creatures who know when we are welcome and when we are not. We are creatures who know how to love completely and unreservedly. And all these things we adults need to remember.

It is children who add the magic to Christmas and make it worth hauling out the tree and all the decorations. Alone and older we let such things go…until we are reminded that we are – and must remain – creatures of joy and wonder.

 

By Bernt Fransson,Lindås (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The far country

File:Indre Fure, Stadtlandet.jpgSaturday

1 John 3:1-7

2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

I know that all of us want answers about what happens after death. We want to be assured that we will see our loved ones, that we will be free from pain, that we will be relieved of our burdens. But we have no way of envisioning what that may mean.

I think about my grandmother, still a teenager in Sweden in 1906, leaving her family for America. The father she has never known, who left the family when she was in the womb, who she meets for the first time when she is 18, has offered to pay her way to America. She speaks no English. She has no knowledge of the country. She travels alone to an unknown land. She tries to imagine what this new world will be with images from her experience in her native land. But how does Malmo – the third largest city in Sweden with 60,000 people – compare with the 3.5 million in New York City? How will she imagine the journey across three thousand miles to California? How can she picture the vast plains of the heartland? the Rocky Mountains? the Nevada Desert? How can she begin to comprehend that there are yet more mountains in the Sierra’s before she reaches California? Whatever she imagined at home in Sweden could not prepare her for what was to come.

And how shall we imagine the land towards which we travel? How can we comprehend what stands beyond the gate of death? How shall we picture this Biblical promise of the age to come?   All we can do is take up the imagery we know – a king on a throne, a wedding banquet where the whole village is gathered in joy, a world without war where swords are beaten into plowshares, a world without tears, without heart disease, without hunger, a world of justice, of debts forgiven. Snippets of hope. It must be something like this.

The author of our letter says it most simply: “what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

We do not know what the far country will be. We know simply that Jesus has been resurrected. He lives. He is not a ghost, a spirit, a phantom. He lives. And because he lives, we too shall live. What we shall be we do not know. But we will be like him.

God of Grace and Life, whose promises never fail;
like Abraham and Sarah in Haran,
Joseph in Egypt,
and Moses before the Red Sea,

we stand before the mystery of life with only your promise
that our lives are held in your hands,
and that our brother, Jesus, has gone before us and opened the grave.
Remind us of your promise
and grant us confidence in your Word,
that trusting in you, and sustained by your Spirit,
we may live this day and all days in your Grace.
(A Prayer of the Day for Memorial Services)

 

Photo: By Frode Inge Helland (Private e-mail from Frode Inge Helland) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Children of God

Friday

1 John 3:1-7

File:Eyneburg 5.jpg

Stained glass (detail) in the Chappel of Eyneburg, Belgium

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

There are things we don’t hear in this simple but wonderful sentence. We ordinarily use the term “children of God” somewhat loosely – or broadly – to refer to the whole human family. We use it as a natural corollary of calling upon God as Father. We use it in the baptismal liturgy – especially when we deemphasize the idea of dying and rising with Christ, or the washing away of sins, and focus instead on baptism as an adoption into the family of God.

But in the first century this is not a normal way of speaking. We may belong to the people of God, we may be children of Israel, but the phrase “children of God” implies something much more. It contains a grant of honor not unlike someone being named to the Daughters of the American Revolution or to Phi Beta Kappa. To be named a son or daughter of the emperor makes you a member of the noblest family on earth – second only to God. To be a child of God ranks you above the emperor.

Of course, these children of God are called to wash one another’s feet. Christ came among us as one who serves. We are sent as emissaries of God’s mission. But nevertheless this title “children of God” carries unimaginable honor.

The phrase “children of God” (“sons of God”) is used in the Old Testament for the members of the heavenly court (Genesis 6, Job). In Psalm 82 these are the gods of the other nations who serve like local kings at the consent of the conquering emperor. Failing to observe the high king’s policies of justice and mercy they are deposed from their thrones.

In the wonderful meditation of Psalm 8 the poet exults in the honor that God has bestowed on humanity, ranking them just beneath these heavenly beings:

3When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor

But now Jesus declares, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” And when pressed about the resurrection says of the resurrected, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God.”

We who were once – in our best – a little lower than the angelic beings now, at the very least, are equal to them. We are members of the heavenly household.

It might be easier to imagine this to be true once we have passed over from death into the life of the resurrection, but our author of 1 John declares we are God’s children now. Whatever else the world may say about us, however much the world may despise us, however high or low we may rise or fall on the social scale – none of that has any enduring value. We are God’s children now.

To be named a member of God’s household is an incredible act of divine grace, faithfulness and love: “See what love the Father has given us.” We should exult in it. We should respond with praise and adoration. But we should also think twice, thrice and more about any word or deed or silence that betrays the honor or the mission of God’s house.

 

By User:Lusitana (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Open spaces

Wednesday

Nevada desert roadPsalm 4

1“Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.”

I have been pondering over the recent years why I have come to like the high desert so much. Country that once seemed arid and barren, something to be endured to get from mountains to mountains, has become compellingly beautiful. I find myself looking for excuses to drive the back roads of Nevada and Wyoming. I spent my brief vacation time last summer going to Great Basin National Park. And even when I finally got on the freeway to hurry on to my father’s house, I found myself stopping at every scenic stop to go clamber over the rocks and look out at the austere vistas.

Tree in the Great BasinI suspect that it has something to do with living in an apartment that still has many boxes of unsorted stuff from my previous home.

Neighbors are close. I can hear them sing in the shower and chop whatever they’re chopping in the kitchen. I can hear their telephone calls and the laughter of their parties. I can hear their occasional snoring and someone’s squawking efforts to play “Mary had a Little Lamb” as they learn the clarinet. The noise of leaf blowers, the sound of hammers and construction, the roar of chippers and rug cleaning services, the compressed quality of urban life makes me feel squeezed. Even the demands of work and inevitable gossip in the congregation presses in on me. So the vast emptiness of the desert appeals to my soul. I can breathe. I can sit in the silence. I do not have to negotiate constant traffic. I can drive for hours without seeing another car.

These are the words our psalmist uses in the opening line of his prayer: “You gave me room when I was in distress.” The line sounds odd to us, but the words are related to the feeling of being boxed in and the grace of open spaces.

God delivers him from the constrictions that squeeze him from all sides and leads him into broad open valleys. He has not traveled to the desert; he has entered the expansive realm of prayer, of quiet before God, of the majesty of holiness, of the beauty of divine faithfulness and love.

In prayer God carries him to a new place, a realm of grace and life, of assurance and hope, of tranquility and trust, a realm of wide-open spaces and grand vistas, a world of boundless love where spirit takes flight.

 

Photocredits: dkbonde

Called into Life

Watching for the Morning of April 19, 2015

Year B

The Third Sunday of Easter

File:Duccio di Buoninsegna 017.jpg“Have you anything here to eat?”

It’s hard to avoid the image of Jesus showing up on the third day and rummaging through the cupboards for something to eat like a college teen home for the weekend. But the author of the Gospel is trying to make clear that the one who stands before them is no mere ghost or apparition. This was part of our reading last Sunday with Thomas. Jesus had wounds Thomas was invited to touch. If we think about this too much it makes our heads hurt. Most of us assume that “heaven” is spiritual which, for us, means non-corporeal. What does resurrection mean? What is this future we await when all creation is restored? The answer that the author of First John gives us on Sunday is important: “what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him.” We don’t know what resurrected existence will be, but we know this: we will be like Jesus.

But to be “like Jesus” is more than a question of resurrected flesh. It is about freedom from sin, perfect faithfulness, divine life. It is about love made perfect. It is a world delivered from the spiritual barrenness we see everywhere as children perish from war, cruelty and neglect and evil is called good and good evil.

A taste of resurrected life is given to the beggar at the temple and he leaps in praise of God. Peter wants the crowd to be clear this has nothing to do with him and John and everything to do with Jesus and God’s purpose of “universal restoration” – the healing of the world, taking it back from the dominions of death into the dominion of God. And here are those stunning words: “you killed the Author of Life,” yet forgiveness is offered and their allegiance to God’s dawning reign is sought.

The voice of the psalm joins this chorus, asking “How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?” and calls the hearers to “offer right sacrifices and put their trust in the LORD.”

The world is changed on that first Easter and we are called into that imperishable life.

The Prayer for April 19, 2015

Gracious Heavenly Father,
as the risen Lord Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures,
open our hearts and minds
that, hearing your voice, we might walk with you in newness of 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 April 19, 2015

First Reading: Acts 3:1-21 (appointed 12-19)
“You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” – By the name of Jesus, Peter and John heal a lame beggar at the temple and then witness to the crowd that God has raised Jesus from the dead and appointed him as Israel’s messiah, calling them to turn and show allegiance to God’s work of restoring the world in Jesus.

Psalmody: Psalm 4
“I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” – A individual petition for help from God. The author declares his confidence in God’s help and warns his opponents to choose God’s path.

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-7
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
– The author affirms that we are already members of God’s household, and though we do not understand the nature of resurrected life, we know that we will be “like him.” Since we are God’s children now, destined to be “like him”, we should live faithfully now.

Gospel: Luke 24:36-53 (appointed 36b-48)
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Jesus appears to his followers on Easter Evening, opens their minds to understand the scripture, and commissions them as witnesses of what God has done and is doing in Christ and through him.

 

Duccio [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons