If you love me

File:Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles.jpg“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
John 14:15

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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.

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A message from Sunday morning

The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year A

May 17, 2020

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. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (NRSV)

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

At first this was an emergency.  As the threat of this novel corona virus grew, we had to think through what we would do in worship to limit our risk.  Then, as the shut-down came, we had to quickly figure out a way to continue to worship online with the few resources we had.  It was a challenge, a puzzle to be solved.  And I was entirely focused on figuring out a way for us to worship – and then to do Holy Week and Easter online.  I didn’t have much time to do anything else.

But now, as the days drag on, I find myself grieving the loss of something that has been so important to me for the last 42 years.  I’ve been a pastor of the church.  And it’s been a great privilege.  I’ve been able to embrace those who grieve.  I’ve been able to hold hands and pray for those in need.  I’ve been able to lay my hands upon those in the hospital and say the blessing.  I’ve been able to lay hands upon the newly baptized, and upon confirmands at their confirmation, and upon the dying with the last rites.  I’ve been able to hold a child in my arms and walk her through the sanctuary following her baptism, introducing her to all those who now share in her spiritual life and growth.  Now all I have is this moment when I can see a few of you on the screen and talk to you about a text that seems far away from the realities of our daily life

I’m not able to invite you to be involved in care for others.  I’m not able to celebrate silly occasions like talent shows or youth dinners.  There are no confirmation retreats.  We can’t share a moment over a cup of coffee.  There are no delightful surprises that Tom has brought donut holes or that Elaine has made Kringle, or that Yolanda and Bill have made those amazing little sandwiches.  And I don’t see an end.

At some point it might happen that a few would begin to gather in the building and I could at least see faces – but those faces are likely to be covered by masks.  And we are going to have to sneak in and out without getting closer than six feet to each other.

We are reduced to waving at each other rather than shaking hands.

Jesus touched the man with leprosy.  He made mud and put it on the eyes of the man born blind.  He took the synagogue ruler’s daughter by the hand and raised her up.  He touched the bier upon which lay the body of the widow’s son.

Jesus broke bread.  He washed feet.  And shall I risk any of that?  I will not be able to sit with children for a children’s sermon.  I cannot take a child’s hand as we go outside to look at the tiny seeds of the Redwood trees and think about how they grow into giants.

I stand here on Sunday mornings and look out into an empty sanctuary.  I know you are there.  I know we are still connected in spirit.  I know we are still gathered around this wondrous book and a table set with bread and wine.  And I know we are keeping our physical distance because we care for one another.  But I would like to be in your living room or at your dining table or watching a football game together.  There are other words to be spoken, stories to be heard, lives to be shared.

I am struggling.  So many simple and ordinary joys are gone.  And I don’t want any more losses.

I want to sing the liturgy.  I want to feel the energy of an Easter crowd.  I want to see familiar smiles.  I want to share coffee and talk about the Sunday crossword puzzle.  I want to hear Natalie’s voice and see her face in the office.  I want to feel like this place is a sanctuary in all the best sense of that word.

I want to listen to the Swedish children’s choir singing in the next room when I’m here on a Saturday working on the sermon.  I want to hear the laughter of children on the playground during the week.  I want to chat with parents from the neighborhood who bring their children to play.  I want to pet the occasional dog being walked.  And, yes, there were times I needed to hide away in my basement office for some quiet uninterrupted time to study or write, but the music school was banging their drums in the next room, and there were children walking back and forth before my window with whom I could smile and wave.  I wasn’t just alone in my office.

I am frustrated, frustrated that all this social distancing was supposed to buy time for our leaders to put a plan in place – to get the equipment we needed, to get the testing we needed, to establish a process and hire the people that were necessary to trace and contain this virus.  But we have fumbled that effort.  We have wasted that time.  And it is the weak and the vulnerable and the poor who have born the worst of it.  Some are being forced to go back to work no matter how risky it is for them – or how fearful they might be – or how many children or seniors depend on their care – they are forced to go back or lose their unemployment coverage (if they’ve been able to get it).

On Saturday evening last week, the death toll from COVID-19 stood at 79,696.  Last night it was 89,420 – almost 10,000 more.  10,000 more families have lost loved ones in this last week despite the heroic work of doctors and health workers.  10,000 more have had to die alone, without a parent or a child or a partner to sit at their side and hold their hand.  And the best we can say is that maybe it will hold steady – not because we are helpless before this virus, but because we fumbled the ball and turned it over on the ten yard line.  We have more deaths than any country in the world.

10,000 more this week.  80,000 thousand people so far.  Each with family and friends and neighbors.  Each with lives they have touched.  Each with contributions they have made.  Each with stories to tell.     Each with sadness and loss left behind.

And for each of those 10,000, there are doctors and nurses whose hopes and spirits have been worn down because they couldn’t save them.

We raised an army and built ships and airplanes to fight fascism in Europe and imperialism in Japan.  We created a Marshall plan to rebuild Europe.  We kept Berlin alive with an airlift – planes taking off and landing every 90 seconds, night and day, when the Russians closed the rail lines.  We went to the moon.  We ended polio.  We ended smallpox.  We should have been able to fight this, not throw up our hands and say tests aren’t important and masks are a socialist plot.

I appreciate the fact that on Friday mornings the CBS morning news is beginning to show some of the people who are perishing.  We talk too often about numbers and not often enough about the people whose lives are being stolen away.  Five names, one day a week, however, is not enough when 10,000 are dying.

Paul and Iris shared with the council this week that their nanny’s sister has died from this Corona virus.  These are not numbers; these are real people.  We should not have to fight to have them recognized as such.

The children of Syrian refugee camps are also real people.  As are the children of the border detention centers.  As are the children of Flint, Michigan, and every other place where people are not only absent from our minds, but absent from our hearts.

When Jesus says to us this morning: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he is asking an important question.

The way you express a conditional statement in Greek – an “if/then” statement – can tell you what you expect.  The grammar reveals whether the “if” part of the statement is true or not.  So, one way to express this in Greek says: “If you love me (and we know that you do), you will keep my commandments.”  Another way says: “If you love me (and we know that you don’t), you would keep my commandments.”  And the third possibility says: “If you love me (and we don’t know whether you do), you will keep my commandments.”

When Jesus says this to his followers, he uses this third way.  The statement doesn’t assume that we love Jesus.  Whether we do or not will be revealed by whether we keep his commandments.

The word ‘commandments’ is in the plural.  It refers to all that Jesus has taught.  But there is really only one commandment.  That is the commandment Jesus has just given moments before when he washed the disciples’ feet and said: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.”

And let’s not be mistaken.  When Jesus talks about loving one another, he isn’t drawing that circle around a few close friends.  He is drawing that circle around the whole human community.

If you love me, you will show faithfulness to all I have taught.  If you love me, you will treasure and observe my teaching.  If you love me – if you feel an obligation and allegiance to me as if to a member of your own family – you will keep my commands, you will show faithfulness to all, you will treat every person as if they were family.

Jesus ends this passage with the same point he made at the beginning: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”  Fidelity to Jesus means fidelity to all.

Jesus will not leave us orphaned.  (I rather liked the old translation: “I will not leave you desolate,” but the word does mean ‘orphaned’.)  We are not abandoned.  We are not alone. Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the night he will be taken by the mob and thrust before Pilate and impaled upon the cross.  Jesus knows what is coming, but he will not leave his disciples abandoned and alone.  He will come to them.  It is a reference to that Sunday evening when Jesus revealed himself in their midst.  And Jesus will also come to them – come to us – in the Spirit that he breathed out upon his followers.

The Spirit is the living presence of Jesus in the community.  It is our ongoing teacher and guide.  It is the breath of life and font of grace.  It is the wonder of inspiration and the courage of love.  It is the comfort that comes to the downtrodden through simple acts of kindness and bold words of forgiveness – or simple words of forgiveness and bold acts of kindness.

The Spirit is the ongoing presence of Christ in our midst, the ongoing presence of Christ in the world.

It is a truthful Spirit.  It inspires no deceit, tells no lies, creates no illusions.  It doesn’t deceive or manipulate or confuse.  It does not lead to doubt or despair.  It inspires mercy and forgiveness and courage and truth.  It inspires love and patience and kindness.  It inspires hope and joy.  It carries us from the sorrows of the world to the joy of God’s table.  It carries us from the brokenness of the world to a new birth from above.  It carries us from a wedding that has run out of wine to the eternal wedding feast.  It carries us from our isolation into community.  It carries us from death into life.

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2020.  All rights reserved

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_Apostles.jpg  Duccio di Buoninsegna / Public domain.

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Don’t lose your way

File:Shirakimine Highland - panoramio.jpg“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me
will also do the works that I do.”
John 14:12

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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.

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A message from Sunday morning

The Fifth Sunday of Easter, year A

May 10, 2020

Acts 7:54-60: When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55 But, filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. (NRSV)

John 14:1-14: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (NRSV)

1 Peter 2:1-2, 4-5, 9-10: Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 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…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.
…..10Once you were not a people,
……….but now you are God’s people;
…..once you had not received mercy,
…..…..but now you have received mercy. (NRSV)

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

There is a troubling and tragic line in our first reading this morning.  But before I go there, I want to acknowledge that the current death toll in the U.S. on Saturday evening was 79,696.  Twelve thousand more have died since last Sunday.

I trust you have seen the information that those who are dying are disproportionally older, poorer, and non-white.  The numbers in nursing homes and prisons – both workers and residents – are distressingly high.  These are people our society tends to regard as less important than others.  The White House has a rigorous testing procedure and is now testing daily, but the White House Press secretary said this week that, for the rest of us, testing was unimportant.

This is one of our deep and troubling sins as a nation: we think some people matter more than others.  I don’t need to go through all the familiar inequalities in our country.  And maybe it’s something endemic in the human heart that I matter more than you, and my family matters more than yours, but the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

I want to say that again: the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

I don’t know whether our president is undermining the rule of law in our country or simply nakedly profiting from the truth that our system has always been tilted towards some and away from others.  Too often, whether in law or the economy or in health care we seem to regard some as if they don’t really matter.  That’s why two white men can shoot down a young African-American jogging through their neighborhood, and no one asks any real questions for two and a half months.  It’s why Trayvon Martin is dead for being black and wearing a hoodie.  It’s why Sandra Bland is dead in prison for failing to signal a lane change.  It’s why Stanford student Brock Turner served only three months in county jail and went home to his parents in Ohio.  It’s why Jeffrey Epstein bought his way out of prison for so long and why O. J. Simpson got to go home after killing Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

We can go on.  The story is long.  It’s why J. Edgar Hoover ordered the surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and listed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a black nationalist hate group.  It’s why Native American lands were stolen and its people sent to reservations.  It’s why Angel Island was used to quarantine and interrogate Chinese immigrants in order to refuse them admission.  It’s why Japanese citizens were sent to internment camps during World War II.  It’s why our president called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers and opposes medical care for all citizens.

Some people matter more than others.  It’s not slavery, alone, that is our nation’s original sin; it is the belief that some matter more than others.  Some are not really people.  So our president calls neo-Nazis and gun-toting protesters with swastikas “good people” and Democrats and news reporters “human scum”.  It’s why Sara Palin said only some Americans are “real Americans.”

Some people matter more.  Others matter less.  It’s why we can tolerate hunger in America, why we can tolerate poverty, why we can tolerate hate, and why so many seem so willing to tolerate death by COVID-19.

On the one hand, we have vast numbers of people in this country risking their lives to protect others – doctors, nurses, health professionals, and all the support staff – fighting to keep people alive, or struggling to connect the dying with their loved ones – and yet our leaders dismiss leading health experts because they disagree with the president or say something truthful that embarrasses or contradicts him.

How can the president’s feelings matter more than the lives of our fellow citizens?  And how can my desire to get a haircut or go surfing matter more than the lives of my neighbors?

When Scripture talks about the judgment of God, it almost always speaks of God’s judgment on the nation.  God allows our sins to come back on our own heads.  But because such judgment is corporate, falling on the whole community, the consequences don’t fall on those who are most responsible; it falls on those who are most vulnerable.

During the terrible drought at the time of Elijah, the widow of Zarephath is perishing for want of food, while the king worries about his horses.

It is the most vulnerable who suffer.  And suffering came to Israel because the core values of the society had gotten twisted.  The prophets rail against idolatry not because God is concerned with correct worship, but because the values embodied by the idols are contrary to the commands and instruction of God.

God’s vision of a just society is overthrown when people’s fundamental allegiance is to wealth and power, when the king is above the law, when profit matters more than human life, when we close our eyes and ears to the well-being of others.  So I will say again: the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

The troubling and tragic line in our first reading this morning is this: they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.”

The event being described by Luke is the martyrdom of Stephen.  The followers of Jesus in Jerusalem are portrayed to us by Luke as a single community united in the apostolic teaching and mutual care.  But there are signs in the narrative that divisions existed.  The biggest challenge was the language and cultural divide between those residents of Jerusalem who had roots across the empire but had come to live in Jerusalem, and those who we might think of as more “native born”.

The language of those from other parts of the empire was Greek.  The language of those from the region was Aramaic.  And with those different languages were different cultural values.  For example, the Aramaic speaking Judeans were more likely to retain the ancient traditions about food.  And this soon become a problem: How do you share table fellowship around communion if some are keeping kosher and others are not?

We know, also, that there were concerns about the way food was shared in the community.  In the sixth chapter of Acts, the Greek speaking Judeans complain that their widows were not being treated equally with others.  In Luke’s account, this leads to the appointment of seven deacons, all of whom have Greek names.  It’s clear that these seven were not just those who help with the distribution of food; they were the leaders of the Greek speaking believers.  And when trouble arises and Stephen is killed by an angry mob, it is only the Greek speaking believers who are persecuted and driven from Jerusalem.  It was these Greek speaking believers who would go on to welcome Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and Gentiles into the body of Christ.  It was these Greek speaking believers who sent Paul and Barnabas on their mission to spread the Gospel throughout the empire.  It was these Greek speaking Christians who made Christianity a world religion with doors open to all and not a tight-knit little club in Jerusalem.

The tragic line is that the crowd who heard Stephen speak covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.”

We live in a time when too many people close their ears and shout.  And too often it leads to violence.  When we are unable to hear, when we are unwilling to listen, when we shut our minds, closed hearts follow right behind.  Then the love of God is lost.  Then anger turns to hate, and hate turns to violence.  (They dragged Stephen “out of the city and began to stone him.” – Acts 7:58)

The attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.  So are closed minds and closed hearts.  The Christ before us has arms wide open.  He bids us live with hearts open, with minds open, with arms open.

I don’t have time to talk about the second reading this morning, but I would just remind you of its opening words: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.” (2 Peter 2:1-2).  When 2 Peter reminds us that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,” he makes clear that we are not chosen for privilege, but for God’s mission in the world: “that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (2:9)

The Gospel reading this morning begins with the familiar words:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

The words are familiar to us from many funerals where they can come as a sweet word of comfort in distressing times.  But there is something more than a sweet word of comfort here.  It is a call to remain faithful.

The word translated ‘hearts’ is actually in the singular.  It is not spoken to us as individuals; it is spoken to the community of Jesus’ followers.  It’s not about my personal distress, but our shared distress.

When we hear these words, it is the Last Supper.  Jesus has just informed his followers that Judas will betray him and Peter will disavow him.  These are stunning allegations, full of foreboding.  And Jesus has dropped these two bombshells on top of the radical act of washing their feet like the lowliest of slaves, and saying that his body will be broken like the bread (although, John’s Gospel does not include those words).

It is to a community at risk of coming apart that Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  It is to a community at risk of losing its identity as a community bound to Jesus and one another that Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  And the word ‘troubled’ here is used of water that is stirred up, or emotions that are overflowing.

Jesus needs his followers to remain faithful to God and himself.  Troubled times are about to crash over them, and Jesus wants them to remain faithful to himself and one another.  He has just given them the commandment to love one another and the example of bending to wash feet.  He is reminding them of who they are, and what they are to each other.

When Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” he is using a many-layered metaphor with allusions to the temple as the house of God, and to the grand estates of the time that could provide for very large households.  But the key word is ‘dwelling places.’  The Greek is from the word ‘to abide’ that has been used again and again in John’s Gospel to talk about the relationship of abiding in God and God abiding in us.

Jesus isn’t talking about what we typically think of as heaven.  Jesus isn’t setting out to make up the beds and put out the towels for all his guests.  Jesus is opening the way that we might dwell in God and God in us.

The way of the cross that Jesus is traveling will draw them into God’s presence like a branch to the vine.  It will connect them to God and one another and fill them with God’s spirit.  The Life of God will pulse through them bearing rich and abundant fruit.  The work of God in healing and reconciling the world will be at work in them and through them.

Jesus is saying, “Don’t lose your way.  Don’t be overcome with fear or confusion.  Continue to show allegiance to God and my teaching.  I am the way to the heart of God.  I am the truth of the heart of God.  I am the imperishable life at the heart of God.”

What seems like disaster is upon his followers, but Christ will come and stand in their midst and breathe his Spirit upon them, and we will be the living presence of Christ in the world.  We will be the open arms of Jesus that treasure every person.

There is a sweet and precious promise in this passage.  But there is so much more.  Christ dwells in us, in the community of Jesus’ followers, and through us Christ is present to the world.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not lose your way.  Remain faithful to God.  Remain faithful to me.  I am going to the Father, but I will come and abide in you and you in me.”

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shirakimine_Highland_-_panoramio.jpg   oaaioai on Panoramio / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

I am the way

File:Campion Hall Jesus.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 10, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 14:1

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Our hearts are troubled.  They are troubled by the fear of Covid-19.  They are troubled by the tears of those who have lost loved ones.  They are troubled by the cries of frustration from nurses and doctors.  They are troubled by the lies and incompetence of our leaders.  They are troubled by the injustices that weave through our land.  They are troubled by those who talk about freedom as the privilege to do as they please not the responsibility to do as they ought.  They are troubled that love of self seems to trump love of neighbor.

Our hearts are troubled.  And the words of Jesus seem weak to the task.  Should there not be prophetic outrage?  Should we not hear Jeremiah shouting: “They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds”! (14:14). Should we not tremble before the voice of God declaring “I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” (13:9)

Our hearts are troubled.  And what will the texts this Sunday speak?  Will we hear Stephen pray for his murderers as Jesus did?  Will we understand that Christ in us is to be Christ for the world?  Will we hear Peter say, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,” and take up the mantle as those who bear Christ to the world?  Will we hear the poet speak the words that Jesus recited upon the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” and entrust ourselves so fully into the hands of God?

Will we understand what Jesus means when he says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”?  Will we hear a triumphalist song of the superiority of our ‘team’ or the summons to walk the path Jesus walked?  Will we recognize that the way, the truth, and the life – the living face of God – is shown in the outstretched arms that bore the sins of the world and prayed that God would yet forgive a world so inured to the suffering and dying of others?  We are not gaining a privilege, but shouldering a cross.

Our hearts are troubled.  And maybe this is something we share with the disciples who sense something terrible is afoot with Jesus.  Some spectre haunts their night when Jesus will be betrayed and handed over.

Nothing is as it should be in this night.  But we are given words of assurance.  God is working in ways hidden but sure.  And we have work to do, a priestly people not called to privilege but sent as servants of our foot-washing, suffering, redeeming, teacher and Lord.

The Prayer for May 10, 2020

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.
Amen

The Texts for May 10, 2020

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.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Campion_Hall_Jesus.jpg Gownley at English Wikipedia / Public domain

Grace in the wilderness

A message from Easter morning

The Resurrection of Our Lord, year A

April 12, 2020

Jeremiah 31:1-6: At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
Thus says the LORD:
The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
….the LORD appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
….therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
….O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
….and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
….on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
….and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
….in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
….to the LORD our God.”
(NRSV)

Matthew 28:1-10: After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (NRSV)

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A note as we begin: Often, as I read the text, I notice things that I’d like to stop and point out.  One of these, this morning, is this word ‘greetings’.  The Greek word for ‘greetings’ is ‘rejoice’, and I have to think that might have been a better translation in this particular instance when the risen Lord greets the women as they run to tell the others. 

Matthew’s text is a wonderful accounting of the resurrection.  It conveys the earth-shattering nature of what has happened in Christ Jesus.  The earth quakes at Jesus’ death and, now, a shaking earth accompanies his resurrection.  That notion of the earth convulsing at the death and resurrection of Jesus, of all creation being changed, is a wonderful part of Matthew’s proclamation of the resurrection.

Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

The reading from Jeremiah, today, contains one of my favorite verses:

The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness.

There is much in this passage from Jeremiah that is sweet.  It is a promise of a future for the people when all seems lost.  But this verse, in particular, carries profound sweetness for me.  It is the simple promise that we will find grace in the wilderness.

Jeremiah spent much of his life preaching against the leadership of his nation.  God gave the prophet a task of warning the people they were heading towards disaster.  They had turned away from God’s fundamental commands to do justice and mercy.  Greed and power dominated the leadership of the country.  The leaders listened to house prophets who told them everything was great, the king was wonderful, that everything he did would prosper, and the only thing awaiting them was blessing.  These house prophets were fed at the king’s table.

The independent prophets God raised up, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were perceived as a thorn in the side of the king and an enemy of the country.  Jeremiah was called a traitor, people wanted to kill him and, at one point, was thrown into the mud at the bottom of an empty cistern.

When Jeremiah was banned from the temple courtyards, he had his secretary, Baruch, write down all the prophetic messages he had received from God, and had Baruch go read them.  There were faithful people in the palace who succeeded in getting the prophet’s message before the king but, as they read from the scroll Jeremiah had dictated, the king took his knife, sliced off each ‘page’ of the scroll as the reader finished, and tossed it into the fire burning next to him for warmth.

The nation was living on an illusion that nothing could hurt them.  The leadership had a vain and exalted image of themselves.  And the incompetence and folly of the king and leading wealthy families led ultimately to the destruction of the nation.

Perhaps, the most chilling story is that even after all that Jeremiah had warned came to pass, after the Babylonians had destroyed the temple and palace and carried off the ruling citizens in chains, there were zealots willing to murder the good and faithful person the Babylonians appointed as governor for being a collaborator.

In the chaos after the collapse of the nation, a group of refugees came to Jeremiah, acknowledging that they hadn’t listened to God’s warnings and promising that they would now do whatever God told him they should do.  Jeremiah went off in prayer and returned with a word from God that the people should stay in the land.  But they accused Jeremiah of lying and wanting to harm them.  Taking Jeremiah captive, they fled to Egypt as they had wanted to do.

Jeremiah watched his nation come apart, watched his people ignore all that God said to them about justice and mercy and care for those in need, watched the Babylonian armies come not once but twice – ultimately killing all the king’s sons, looting and destroying the temple, burning it to the ground, tearing down the city walls, and carting off thousands in chains as prisoners and slaves.

Caught up in their vanity and idolatry, the leadership of the nation failed profoundly and persistently.  They ignored God’s commands to keep sabbath, to care for the poor, to protect the vulnerable, to seek justice and live mercifully.  Filled with arrogant folly, they drove the nation off a cliff.

War came.  Marching armies and brutal siege brought devastating hunger followed by devastating slaughter and bottomless despair.  But when tragedy struck, God’s message turned to grace and hope, and “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness.”

There would yet be mercy for them.  There was hope.  There was a word from God that said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  Dancing will come again.  Vineyards will be planted and they will enjoy the fruit.  It will not be plundered by an enemy.  It will not be sucked dry by drought.  They will sing again and they will dance.

The scripture tells the human story without any varnish.  Years of piety tend to shine things up, but the scripture paints a pretty sad – and sometimes graphic – portrait of human folly and sin and the sufferings and desolation we can face.  Yet this book is also persistent in proclaiming that a new life will come.  We will find grace in the wilderness.

The hate and lies that dominate our public square will not endure.  The world doesn’t belong to tyrants and kings.  It doesn’t belong to emperors.  The world has its beginning in God and it will have its ending there.  The world that began in goodness and life will be brought back to goodness and life.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is part of this story of human folly and divine faithfulness.  We will find favor in the wilderness.  When everything seems lost, there God will be found gathering the dry bones and breathing into them new life.  There God will take hearts of stone and turn them into hearts of flesh.  There God will make a new covenant when we have broken the old.  There God will gather us to God’s table and set before us the finest banquet.

The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness.

God loves with an everlasting love.  God’s faithfulness abides.  The time of singing will come.  Tambourines await.

Whatever sorrows life may bring, Christ is risen.  Whatever wilderness we must traverse, Christ is risen.  Whatever fear and uncertainty we confront, Christ is risen.  Human greed and violence and sin and incompetence shall not prevail.  Death does not win.  Grace wins.  Goodness wins.  Life wins

The leadership of Jesus’ day may have called him a liar and a deceiver and a threat to the public good.  But God has overturned their decision.  God has proclaimed Jesus faithful and true.

What he taught is from God.  What he did is from God.  There is grace for the thief on the cross.  There is grace for the woman caught in adultery. There is grace for Zacchaeus the tax collector.  There is grace for the deranged man living among the dead.  There is grace for the synagogue ruler and blind Bartimaeus and the woman who reached through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe.  There is Grace for all.  And there is grace for you.

The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness.

Amen

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Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg,
(so named because it was built on the site where the Russian
Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881).
(a wide view of the previous image).

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© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.

Photos: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%9F%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%B7%D0%B0%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0.jpg  Timin Ilya / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) [cropped].

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:M25A9895.jpg   Timin Ilya / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Walking towards hope

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The Fourth Sunday of Easter, year A (Good Shepherd Sunday)

May 3, 2020

Sunday’s Readings:

Psalm 23 (NRSV):

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.

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.

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. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He   his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a strang, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.  7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (NRSV)

Sunday’s Prayer of the Day:

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

Sunday’s Message:

Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

The hymn at the end of our service this morning is simple, but very sweet:

Have no fear, little flock;
Have no fear, little flock,
For the Father has chosen
To give you the Kingdom;
Have no fear, little flock!

Have good cheer, little flock;
Have good cheer, little flock,
For the Father will keep you
In his love forever;
Have good cheer, little flock!

Praise the Lord high above;
Praise the Lord high above,
For he stoops down to heal you
Uplift and restore you;
Praise the Lord high above!

Thankful hearts raise to God;
Thankful hearts raise to God,
For he stays close beside you
In all things works with you;
Thankful hearts raise to God!

The hymn is full of tenderness and compassion and the living presence of God in our lives to comfort and sustain us.

Neither the hymn nor its author shows up in Wikipedia, nor in any of several reference books on hymns.  It doesn’t have the theology of sophisticated reflection or the music of great composition.  It is a simple song of faith – a faith that, in its simplicity, is, in fact, deep and profound.

Our readings this morning, and today’s theme of Christ as the Good Shepherd, take us to an odd place.  It brings us to a little oasis in a world that has become strange and fearful.  It takes us to a place where there are still waters and good pastures and a shepherd who knows our name.  It takes us to a safe place where we can lie down and sleep in peace.  It is tender and calm.  We are not locked in fear in the upper room but at home in a sheepfold with a good shepherd.

But even as it takes us there, David’s psalm speaks about sitting at table surrounded by enemies, and Jesus speaks of thieves and bandits who climb over the wall “to steal and kill and destroy.”

How we hold these two elements together is the challenge of the day.  We live in a dangerous world with corrupt leaders – but Christ is risen and in our midst, and Sin and Death lie beneath his feet.

There is a kind of sweet, innocent faith that has never been tested.  It speaks easily of God’s guidance and protection because it has never faced real danger.

There is also a kind of disillusionment when innocent faith is knocked down.  It may lead to feelings of abandonment and betrayal.  Or it may move towards cynicism and hardness of heart, even professions of unbelief and mockery of those who remain faithful.

And then there are those who have walked through the darkest valleys and crossed the wilderness into a deeper faith, a more profound trust.

I’ve heard all of these in the hospital and in funeral homes: Deep faith that knows the presence of God even in the midst of trial, naïve faith thrown down into bitterness because tragedy has come, and innocence that has not yet been challenged – or lives in a kind of determined denial.

And, of course, we see all of this in the scripture, too.  The Bible is very much a real and terribly honest book about the human spirit.

Pastors walk a tricky line.  Profound faith and naïve faith often sound the same, but they are very different creatures.

A friend and colleague in Michigan died from a medical mistake that turned an ordinary procedure into significant suffering and weeks in the hospital from which he never returned.  The text he wanted to hear from those who visited was Psalm 91:

1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
….who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
….my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
….and from the deadly pestilence;
4 he will cover you with his pinions,
….and under his wings you will find refuge;
….his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
….or the arrow that flies by day,
6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
….or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side,
….ten thousand at your right hand,
….but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
….and see the punishment of the wicked.

9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
….the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
….no scourge come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
….to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
….so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
….the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

14 Those who love me, I will deliver;
….I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them;
….I will be with them in trouble,
….I will rescue them and honor them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them,
….and show them my salvation. (NRSV)

As my friend neared the end, it was hard to read without tears.

Jim’s faith was not naïve.  He knew his condition was perilous and likely fatal.  But he heard in the words of this psalm something far more than a naïve promise that he would be protected from harm.  He heard in the text the profound awareness that, no matter what sorrows come, the hands of God hold him.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” says our psalm today, “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”

There is a reality greater than disease, suffering, and death.  None of us want to face any of these things.  But God will still be God.  And God’s promise abides.  Christ knows our name.  We know his voice.  He guides us toward good pasture.  He brings us to still waters.  Such faith may look naïve, but it is born in the crucible.

The language about shepherds in the scripture is about leadership and those who govern.   Jesus takes up the image of the good shepherd as he confronts the pharisees who hold positions of leadership but have showed themselves to be bad shepherds.  Jesus uses sharp and unmistakable words when he talks about thieves and bandits who come to steal, kill and destroy.  He is saying the leaders of his nation steal life rather than give it.  They bring sorrow and division rather than protection and peace.

Jesus had just healed a man who had been born blind, but the leaders turned out to be the ones who could not see.  They first denied that the man had been born blind.  Then they tried to force this man who had been healed to say Jesus was a sinner.  They said they didn’t know where he came from, implying – not so subtly – that Jesus was from the devil.  When the man responded that such an idea was amazing, since only someone from God could open they eyes of a man born blind, the leaders said he was born in utter sin and cast him out of the synagogue – which meant casting him out of the community. But Jesus found him and welcomed him.

In an exchange with these leaders, Jesus declares that they are the ones who cannot see and are bound in sin.  It leads to these words about thieves and bandits sneaking into the sheepfold – and about himself as the good shepherd who gives life rather than steals it, who lays down his life for the sheep.

As I began drafting this sermon on Friday, the number of people in the United States who have died from Covid-19 had grown by 11,000 since last Sunday.  As of Friday, the number (66,230) now exceeded the combined population of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and half of Cupertino.  By yesterday, 1,200 more had died, and the evidence is mounting that many more have died from this disease than have been counted.  80 more will perish while we are gathered here.  As the minutes pass, lives tick away because, when the wildfires began to burn, the fire chief said it would burn itself out and didn’t sound the alarm or call out the firefighters.

In three months, we have surpassed the total number of American dead in all 38 of the wars and military conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved since end of the Korean War.

I keep thinking about the monuments I saw in Europe constructed to petition God to deliver the people from the plague, or built in thanksgiving when the plague ended.  I keep thinking about the farmland that returned to forest and all the other consequences of the plague in the Medieval era.  I think about Luther who, when he went to join the monastery, was required to spend the first month in isolation to be sure he didn’t bring the plague into the community.  I think about the gripping account in Daniel Defoe’s novel, A journal of the Plague Year, about the London plague in 1665.  I think about Angel Island where we quarantined Chinese immigrants because of plague.  I think about my mother, as a child, who was quarantined with her family when her brother caught scarlet fever – and the church choir came and sang from the middle of the street.  And I remember lining up at school to get the sugar cube with the polio vaccine.

The human story is full of great sorrows.  And disease is only one small part of human suffering.  I have read John Hersey’s account of the suffering in his book, Hiroshima.  I have read Eli Wiesel’s narrative of the death camps in his book Night.  I have read Richard Wright and many others about the experience of being black in America.  I have stood and pondered the blood in the soil beneath my feet at Antietam, and walked through the Marietta National Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia, where lie the 10,000 Union dead from Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.  I have also walked through the other cemetery in Marietta, where Confederate flags still fly.

The human story is full of great sorrows.  And every life bears its own personal sorrows. Jesus’ death is witness to the cruelties of which human beings are capable.  He is also witness that God does not turn away from any of us in our time of shame or sorrow.

Indeed, from the grave comes life.

Jesus is the good shepherd.  He has walked every battlefield.  He has walked every death camp.  He has walked every lonely road on the fight for freedom.  He has walked with every grieving family.  He has held the hands of every patient dying alone.  And life is given in his touch.

Nothing about this is naïve faith.  It is a deeply profound one.  It has heard the agony.  It has looked upon the wounded hands.  It has seen the pierced side.  It has gazed into the empty tomb and dares to trust that Christ is risen and in our midst, and Sin and Death lie broken beneath his feet.

Such faith walks towards hope in the midst of despair.  It believes in joy even through tears.  It persists in kindness when kindness seems wasted.  It lives with open arms for it knows the open arms of the Good Shepherd.

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PikiWiki_Israel_30576_Wildlife_and_Plants_of_Israel.jpg
lehava nazareth  Pikiwiki Israel / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Thieves and bandits

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Watching for the Morning of May 3, 2020

Year A

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

It’s not hard to look at the leadership of our country, whether in politics or business, and see thieves and bandits.  Large corporations scooping up huge swaths of the federal Paycheck Protection Program’s forgivable loans is only the latest evidence that, too often, profit trumps decency.  Profiteering from personal protection equipment, profiteering from inside information of the pending collapse of the stock market, profiteering from friends in high places hawking your unproven medication, manipulation of public opinion for personal gain…thieves and bandits.  Only Jesus isn’t looking at Judea’s Roman overlords he is looking at synagogue leaders who insist the man born blind was conceived in utter sin and that his healer, too, is an obvious sinner.

The sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd, says Jesus.  The true shepherd is the one who doesn’t need to sneak into the sheepfold or come to plunder; the true shepherd enters through the gate and leads them to goodness.  The sheep follow him.  They know his voice.  He knows their names.

The fourth Sunday of Easter every year takes us to John 10 and Psalm 23.  It evokes songs and prayers about Jesus the Good Shepherd.  Pictures rise in our minds of lambs around the shoulders of Jesus, still waters, green meadows, and peace.  But Jesus is in a struggle with the leadership of the nation.  The grace and mercy of the Good Shepherd is true, but the text before us is more pointed.  Jesus is the gate – the door – to rich pastures; Jesus is the path to wholeness.  Jesus is the bringer of an overflowing life.  But all this is asserted in response to pharisees who claim to see, but see nothing.  All this is asserted when leaders have no love for the sheep, when leaders take life rather than lay it down for others.  When the man who now sees is cast out, Jesus is the open door to life.

Sunday we will hear about the life that follows in the train of Jesus as the book of Acts describes the community gathered around word and table, living in faithfulness to one another.  We will recite Psalm 23 with its portrait of the bountiful faithfulness of God even amidst the ruthless scheming of the royal court.  We will hear 1 Peter reminds us “you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls,” and we will ponder again the mystery of the true shepherd who is also the gate to a life awash in mercy, faithfulness, and joy.

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The Prayer for May 3, 2020

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.

The Texts for May 3, 2020

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 faithfulness and love.

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 portion 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.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sch%C3%A4ferei083.jpg Rainer Halama / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:S_Buckingham_Glass_1.JPG  Mjbhoney / Public domain

Stay with us

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Watching for the Morning of April 26, 2020

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

Jesus won’t stay.  He sits down for the breaking of the bread with the disciples at Emmaus, but then he is off.  There are others who need to see him.

That sense of mission persists in the resurrection narratives.  The work is not over.  There is a world in need of healing, a world in need of peace, a world that needs to be met by the risen Christ.  Sunday we will hear Peter finish his message to the crowds on Pentecost and they will ask to be washed in the Spirit of God.  From there they will gather around the broken bread and preached word.  The poet of the psalm will cry out to God for deliverance from a deadly disease.  Healed, he lifts up “the cup of salvation” and proclaims they mercy of God.  The letter of 1 Peter will speak of how they have been born anew “through the living and enduring word of God.”

Jesus has spent hours rooting his followers in the scriptures and explaining how his life, death, and resurrection embody the whole witness of scripture to a God who calls us forth into life and delivers us again and again when the future seems lost.  It is not just a few passages about a suffering servant and a promised Messiah that his followers must learn, but the message of a God who calls forth a good and beautiful world from the primal chaos, who protects our first parents when they have betrayed God and lost the garden, who delivers the creation at the time of Noah and blesses it anew, who gives Abraham and Sarah a child when the promise of blessing to the world seems hopeless, who delivers a people from bondage and leads them through the wilderness despite their faithlessness, who remains faithful even when Jerusalem and its temple falls.  When all hope fails, God is there to lead us back to God’s will and way.  Deserts bloom and a highway opens in the wilderness.  The stone is rolled away and the emptiness of the grave is seen.

In the word and the breaking of the bread Christ is present.  But then he is away.  There is a world to heal, a new creation to dawn.

The Prayer for April 26, 2020

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 Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for April 26, 2020

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-42 (appointed, 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.  Many respond and are baptized, joining the community around the word and breaking of the bread.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-14 (appointed: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19)
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” – a prayer of thanksgiving for healing.  The poet is delivered from death and feasts in the Lord’s presence.

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 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.

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I apologize to those who follow this blog for my absence during the last several months.  My time was taken up with daily devotions for Lent at our Holy Seasons site.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Road_to_Emmaus_-_WGA06821.jpg  Duccio di Buoninsegna / Public domain

We will go with him

 

Watching for the Morning of February 23, 2020

Year A

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Sunday is the last of the Alleluias.  By tradition, they are omitted during Lent; we do not sing them again until the cry goes out: “Christ is risen!” and the darkness turns to light in that night that dawns into Easter morning.

Sunday we are on the mountain peak.  The cloud of God’s presence surrounds Jesus and he is made radiant by God’s glory.  It is a vision that confirms the word spoken at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.”  It is a vindication of all that Jesus has said and will yet say.  “Listen to him,” the heavenly voice says.  Listen to him.  Dare to hear what he says about the cross and resurrection.  Dare to follow him to Jerusalem.  Dare to see the arms stretched wide and the blood outpoured.  Dare to trust the word of the women who will see the vision of angels and the empty tomb.  Dare to trust and live the redemption of the world that happens here where shame is suffered and mercy given.  Listen to him.

Sunday we are made ready for our Lenten journey.  In our first reading we are reminded of Moses ascending into the cloud of God’s presence at Sinai.  In the psalm, we hear the divine voice say of the king “You are my son; today I have begotten you,” words that gain their fullest meaning as they are spoken of the lamb who shall reign over a world made new.  We hear the author of 2 Peter testify to their vision: “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”  And we will hear Matthew’s account of that moment, and how Jesus came and touched Peter, James, and John, telling them not to be afraid.

There is a path ahead that is full of wonder and mystery that Jesus’ followers will not fully understand until the Spirit beats in every heart.  But we are made ready for the journey.  This is God’s beloved.  And we will go with him from death into life.

The Prayer for February 23, 2020

Holy and Wondrous God,
hidden in mystery yet revealed in your Son, Jesus,
of whom the law and prophets bear witness
and upon whom your splendor shines:
Help us to hear his voice
and see your glory in his outstretched arms;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for February 23, 2020

First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’” – God speaks to Moses from the cloud on Mt. Sinai.  Both the cloud as a symbol of God’s presence and the tradition that Moses’ face shone from speaking to God face to face lie in the background of today’s Gospel narrative of the transfiguration of Jesus.

Psalmody: Psalm 2
“Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” – A royal psalm that contains a declaration by God to the king “You are my son; today I have begotten you” similar to that spoken by God to Jesus in the story of the transfiguration.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21
“He received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
– The author of 2 Peter alludes to the events on the Mount of the Transfiguration.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
“He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” – After Peter has confessed Jesus as the Christ only to be told that the Messiah must suffer and be killed, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain where they have a visionary experience of Jesus transfigured by the radiant presence of God.

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Image: dkbonde

When the fire of love no longer burns brightly

File:Salt from Timbuktu.jpg

Watching for the Morning of February 9, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Three years ago, I wrote that Jesus spoke these words about being salt and light to the “poor”:

Jesus is talking to rural villagers, not the Jerusalem elite.  He is talking to those who are poor, mourning and hungering for the world to be set right.  He is talking to refugees in the camps when doors are shut.  He is talking to mothers and children scratching out their existence in the rubble of wars.  He is talking to those in fear of uniforms unrestrained by any law.  He is talking to those who know hunger and thirst.  “You are the salt that burns bright the fire of God.  You are the light that is set on a stand.”

I wonder, now, how those words should be heard among those on the other end of the social pyramid.  Is there grace here, or only judgment?  Is Jerusalem the city set on a hill that cannot be hid?  Is it from the judgment of God the governing authorities cannot hide?  Jerusalem was not a shining beacon of hope; it had become the center of an unjust and impoverishing rule.  Jesus’ scathingly condemns the governing elite in Matthew 23, weeping over the city before predicting its fall.  The authorities choose Rome over the promised kingdom of God and hand Jesus over as a terrorist.

The salt of which Jesus speaks is the salt slab used at the base of an earthen oven that burns dung as fuel.  Salt serves as a catalyst for the fire, letting it burn hot enough to bake the bread that sustains the poor.  Eventually, the slab loses its ability to catalyze the fire.  It doesn’t “lose its taste,” as our translation suggests.  The literal meaning of the Greek word means for the salt to become ‘foolish’.  We should translate it as ‘insipid’ or ‘worthless’, not ‘tasteless’.  A people in whom the fire of divine grace and mercy no longer burns brightly are useful for nothing but stepping stones in the mud.  Those who would hide the justice of God as a lamp beneath a basket are the truly foolish.

To call someone a fool is a serious charge in the biblical world.  It means they have ignored the fundamental truths of existence.  As someone who ignores gravity is a fool, so is the one who ignores the moral and spiritual realities of human life.

“The fool speaks folly, and his mind plots iniquity: to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the LORD, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.” (Isaiah 32:6)

When the psalmist says: “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’” (Psalm 53:1), the point has little to do with religious observances; it concerns the failure to recognize the divine imperative to do justice and mercy.  The ‘fool’ doesn’t ignore church but our essential humanity.

The ‘fool’ doesn’t see Lazarus at the gate.  The ‘fool’ builds bigger barns and stores up riches rather than sharing with those in need.  The ‘fool’ doesn’t care for the sick or feed the hungry or clothe the naked.

The ‘fool’ corrupts the courts.   The ‘fool’ chooses revenge.  The ‘fool’ embraces lies and deceit.  “Like one who binds the stone in the sling is he who gives honor to a fool,” says Proverbs 26:8.  Honoring a fool is like handing over a loaded gun.

What shall we say to the foolish who would hide the justice of God as a lamp beneath a basket?

The grieving parent recognizes the folly of war, the dispossessed the folly of greed, the abused the folly of injustice, the hungry the folly of hardened hearts.  All these understand that you don’t put a lamp under a bushel, and that there is no other place but the mud for a slab that does not help the fires of love burn brightly.

The Prayer for February 9, 2020

Gracious God,
you have appointed your people to be in the world
as the fire and light of your justice and mercy.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit,
and shape our lives by your Word,
that through lives of faith, hope, and love
we may bear witness to your reign;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 9, 2020

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” – In the hardscrabble life after the return from Exile, God confronts the complaint of the people that God has not answered their prayers by challenging the goal of those prayers.  They have sought advantage for themselves rather than to live God’s justice and mercy.

Psalmody: Psalm 112:1-10
“Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.” –  A description of the righteous who rest securely in God and the blessing they bring to the world, giving freely to the poor and conducting “their affairs with justice.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12
“Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom.” –
Having challenged the Corinthians desire for human eloquence and wisdom, Paul writes of the wisdom of God that is so different from the wisdom of this age – the truth of sacrificial love hidden in Christ crucified

Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16 (appointed: Matthew 5:13-20)
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” – Comparing his followers with salt and light, Jesus summons the community of Israel (and his disciples) back to their calling as the medium through which God brings blessing/healing to the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salt_from_Timbuktu.jpg Robin Elaine [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

He saw two brothers casting a net into the sea

File:COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Een visser uit Konga gereed voor het uitwerpen van zijn net TMnr 60007344.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 26, 2020

Year C

The Third Sunday after Epiphany:

John is arrested.  When Jesus hears, he moves from Nazareth to Capernaum.  His move ties him yet again to the prophetic word. “In the former times,” reads the text from Isaiah,

“the Lord brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”

Nazareth is in Zebulun; Capernaum in Naphtali.  These are the tribal regions that, in the time of Isaiah, first felt the tramping boots of the Assyrian army and were led away into exile beneath the smoke from the fires of war. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” writes the prophet.

Christ comes.

Then, walking along the shore, he summons four fishermen to come with him.

Demonstrations arise easily in that culture, and a complaint is strengthened by a crowd.  But Jesus isn’t on the march to redress some wrong.  Jesus is on the march to change the world.  Peter and Andrew, James and John, will still be fishermen, only now they are not hauling in nets of the captured, they are setting the world free: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”

Sunday we hear the familiar call story at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  But the story begins in Isaiah with the prophetic declaration “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  This is the season of light, of Christ made manifest to the nations.  The star and the magi linger.  So we will hear the prophet, and with the psalmist we will sing: “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” and Jesus will meet us at our nets and issue his summons to follow as God sets right the world.

And alongside this dawning light, alongside this call to join the movement, Paul will warn us about divisions and point us to the proclamation of the cross – a message that may look like foolishness but is “the power of God,” the healing of the world.

The Prayer for January 26, 2020

Gracious God,
you call us to follow your Son Jesus in lives of witness and love.
Form our hearts and minds by your Holy Spirit
that we may ever rejoice in the freedom of your grace
and be faithful in our calling as your voice and hands in the world.

The Texts for January 26, 2020

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” – In the aftermath of war, the prophet speaks to announce the dawning of a new day when “the rod of their oppressor” has been broken.

Psalmody: Psalm 27:1-6 (appointed:  Psalm 27:1, 4-9)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” – A song of confident trust in God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” –
Paul takes up the problem of a community divided into parties defined by various teachers, centering them instead in the message of the cross.

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” – Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum as a fulfillment of the Isaiah text for Sunday, then relates the summoning of Andrew, Peter, James and John.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Een_visser_uit_Konga_gereed_voor_het_uitwerpen_van_zijn_net_TMnr_60007344.jpg  Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D