Acts of courage

Saturday

Psalm 111

File:Auguste Bigand - Visage capuchonné.jpg

Auguste Bigand, Visage capuchonné (A cloaked figure)

1 Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

It’s not the most creative of the psalms. One study Bible I possess describes it as rather pedantic, as if it were a student’s exercise to write a brief acrostic that he then fills with conventional aphorisms. It doesn’t have the majesty of Psalm 145 or the indomitable will of the 176 verses of Psalm 119. It doesn’t have the passionate intensity of the acrostic poems of Lamentations or the imagery of Psalm 34.

And yet…

Artur Weiser, normally quite generous with his praise of the depth of faith in the psalms, describes the verses as “a string of unmatched pearls, in the form of general propositions, and without any very systematic arrangement.” (The Psalms: A Commentary, OTL, Philadelphia:Westminster, 1962, p. 698) He blames the form as “not conducive to a consistent thought-sequence.” But the problem is not the form.  Other poets – like the author of Lamentations – have mastered it brilliantly.

This is not brilliant. Any yet…

There are times that platitudes are no more than platitudes, cheap and easy slogans that require no effort and challenge little. But there are also times that such platitudes are the thin handholds of the desperate. “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” is a cheap knock-off when spoken by the well fed and well heeled. But it is a rock in a weary land to those who are at life’s edge.

So I will not dismiss this psalm so easily. I do not know whether the poet sat in a classroom or at the edge of desperation. I do know that simple phrases like “Praise the Lord!” are words not always easily spoken. They are, at times, acts of great courage.

 

Auguste Bigand [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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It is enough for God just to be God

For Friday

Psalm 111

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Aert de Gelder, Simeon’s Song of Praise (detail)

1 Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

“Praise the LORD.” In the Hebrew, this opening line comes into English as ‘Hallelujah’. There are several psalms that begin this way. Perhaps there is some ritual or liturgical significance to this opening line, some clue to the congregation or choir, some call to worship. Like the opening chords of a country western song, it tells us what kind of music is to come. But there is something profound about beginning with “Hallelujah”. It is one thing to sing God’s praise in response to something wonderful, to sing God’s praise for deliverance that has come, for healing that has come, for answered prayers. It is natural for praise to follow after the majesty of God has been acknowledged, or the great works of old – the deliverance form Egypt, the return from exile. It is natural even when pondering the thundering cataracts of the snow covered mountains or the mystery of sexual love. But the author starts with praise. He says “Hallelujah” before anything else has been said. As if it were enough for God just to be God.

Before we pray, before we petition, before we lament, before we chatter on about our weal or woe, the author simply says “Hallelujah”. This is the word that lies in his heart day and night. This is the first word in the morning and the last word at night. This is the air he or she breathes.

Hallelujah.
I will extol the LORD with all my heart. (NIV1984)

With all his heart, with every breath, with the core of his being, he praises the LORD. No matter what fortune favors or befalls, he will praise the LORD – not in denial of his circumstance, but in deeper affirmation of God’s essential goodness.

I will extol the LORD with all my heart
in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

This is a public witness. It is not a private cheerfulness, a personal optimism; it is a public confession of God’s goodness. God is to be praised, and he is not afraid to give God thanks and praise:

2 Great are the works of the LORD;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.

 

Image: Aert de Gelder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Child sacrifice, divination, and the God who speaks

Thursday

Deuteronomy 18:9-20

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Child in a rebel camp in the north-eastern Central African Republic

15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

I decided to add the preceding verses, 9 -14, to the reading from Deuteronomy this coming Sunday. Moses is speaking to the people at the end of their long journey through the wilderness, as they are about to enter the land of the Canaanites. He warns them:

9When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. 10No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, 11or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. 12For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13You must remain completely loyal to the Lord your God. 14Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so.

It’s not the kind of thing we normally read in worship. A little too dark. A little too judgmental. It reminds us a little too much that these readings come from far away in time and culture.

But it’s important to be reminded.

Scholars debate whether the Canaanites actually practiced child sacrifice or whether this reference to passing through the fire refers to some ritual that does only that: a wave offering rather than an actual holocaust. My hunch is that these were real sacrifices – perhaps not routinely, but real nonetheless. Otherwise, why is Abraham on the mountain with his son and a knife? And why does Hiel of Bethel found the gates of Jericho on the sacrificed bodies of his sons Abiram and Segub?

Such a sacrifice is unthinkable to us – though we can cognitively understand the strange logic of giving to the gods your most precious possession to show them the depth of your devotion in hopes of gaining their favor.

But lest we think we are morally superior, we should consider how easily we also sacrifice our children. There are bodies of our young men being flown home from wars. There are children sacrificed to the sexual desires of their parents. There are children laying dead at the hands of a murder-suicide, children who crack under the pressure of success, children who wither while parents pursue wealth and power. We sacrifice our children on the altar of our parental happiness (You’ve heard it said about divorce: “the children will be happy if the parents are happy”. Really? We say that without blushing? Have you ever heard a child say that? We are not talking about violence in a home, mind you, or abuse, or such for which children would readily vote. And we’re not even talking about the painful, wrenching decision to divorce – just the way we rationalize it as a culture, as if happiness were the god we served.)

So we survey the bombed out villages, the refugee camps, the abused and abandoned children, and we have no claim to moral indignation at the ancient practice.

But God who revealed his name as LORD does. It was Pharaoh’s murderous plot against the infant sons of Israel that started the crisis in Egypt that led ultimately to the death of Pharaoh’s own child – a child sacrificed on the altar of the right to keep slaves.

Our country paid dearly on that altar, too.

This matter of child sacrifice is in a passage about divination, about the ways in which we try to gain secret knowledge and power from the gods. It is leading to this promise that God will not leave Israel without a prophetic voice.

Moses’ attacks the myriad ways in which we want to read the tea leaves, to access hidden and divine information to know what the future will bring, to know what we can do to guarantee success or to ensure a bountiful harvest. The Farmer’s Almanac does the same thing reading the coats of wooly caterpillars – and we have that wonderful little ritual every February to see whether the sun is shining on a rodent in Punxsutawney. We joke about these ‘divinations’, but we know the drill. If I could know which lottery numbers to pick – as vainly promised by my fortune cookies – if I could know what tomorrow brings, then I would be king.

But God is king.

It is our desire to be king, our desire to control, to conquer, to rule, to grasp the fruit from the tree, to be as gods, that leads to the death of children.

God is king.

And God does not deal with us by omens and tea leaves. He speaks. He reveals. And we are meant to hear, to receive, to trust.

This is the sweetness in this promise of a prophet: God will not stop speaking to us. God will not leave us without knowledge of him or his will. He will continue, day after day, Sunday after Sunday, to reveal himself, to encounter us, to proclaim his grace and love, to call us to fidelity to God and neighbor, to summon us to lives that mirror his faithfulness and compassion.

God will speak. And in case we have trouble hearing, he makes his word visible in water and in bread and wine. For you. For the world. For the lifting away of every debt of shame and sin. For the granting of grace and life. For the birth from above, the breath of his Spirit. Moses may be gone, and Isaiah, Jeremiah and David – but their words remain and God still speaks to us through them. God will not leave us desolate. He will speak.

As Jesus kept saying, “Let the one who has ears to hear, listen.”

 

Photo: By Credits: Pierre Holtz / UNICEF CAR / hdptcar.net at hdptcar [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A stunning display

Wednesday

Mark 1

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Salvator Mundi, unknown artist and date

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.

Jesus, we know, is a ‘tekton’, a construction worker, a builder – perhaps a carpenter, perhaps a stone mason, perhaps both. There was a city going up near Nazareth, so there was work, but who knows what happened to drive him out to John the Baptist at the Jordan River. Perhaps it was the new city, a Greek city, built on the Greek model, built by and for the ‘Hellenized’, those who had acculturated to the then modern world.

It was happening all over the ancient lands of Israel. Gymnasia and theaters and forums. Arenas. Hippodromes. Places for the games celebrated in the cultured world. A changing world. Changing values. And the people, the peasant class, increasingly left behind. “Galilee of the Gentiles”.

Is this the life to which God called them? John said, “No.” And Jesus went to join him.

The Gospels never mention Sepphoris, the city being built near Nazareth. Jesus’ journeys take him through the villages and towns of Israel. It is, in some ways, a conservative movement, going back to the ancient ways.

But it was not conservative. The ancient ways were radical. A deep and abiding concern for the poor. A passion for justice. A provision for those in need. A provision that land was a gift from God to each family, not to be sold as if mere property.

This is the ancient faith of Israel, says Jesus, not the rituals and marketplace of their new wonder-of-the-world temple. Not the tithing of mint and cumin, not the manipulations of the law that allow you to leave a parent destitute, not the bleeding of widows.

Who knows for sure what happened to him in the waters of baptism. But power came on him. The Spirit descended. And who knows what happened to him out in the wilderness, where he was tested to the core and angels ministered unto him. But when he comes back, when he walks by his fellows by the sea he says “Now’s the time. Follow me.” And when Sabbath comes he lays claim to the teachers chair in the synagogue. Not like the teachers of the law, not by citing rabbi after rabbi, but declaring himself what it is that God commands.

He is a ‘tekton’, a construction guy. What is he doing preaching?! People were supposed to keep within their station in life. But Jesus is far beyond his station. He is speaking with the voice of God. And suddenly a demon cries out in recognition: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

The translation should end with exclamations points.

Jesus has arisen to destroy the demonic. He has arisen to cast out the unclean spirits, the spirits unable and unwilling to serve the God of Israel, the God of exodus, Sinai and the Promised Land, the God who is the defender of widows and orphans, the God who would destroy his own house rather than have it corrupted, sell his own people into slavery rather than bless slavery. He has come to destroy – to destroy what binds and corrupts and devours. To set free a people from lies and illusions. To call the nation back to their lost way.

And the one who teaches with authority commands the demon and with great cries the unclean spirit must obey.

A stunning out-of-station display by a ‘tekton’ of questionable birth, Jesus the son of Mary.

And how will the community respond?

How will we respond?

Drama in Capernaum

Watching for the morning of February 1

Year B

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

File:THE ANCIENT SYNAGOGUE IN CAPERNAUM IMG 2931 ITAMAR GRINBERG IMOT (14475139241).jpg

The remains of the synagogue in Capernaum that dates to the time of Jesus.

Sunday our readings begin with Moses promising that God will provide “a prophet like me from among your own people.” It is a promise that God will not leave the people without a witness to God’s voice – the voice they did not want to hear at Sinai. But the promise of a prophet like Moses becomes a hint of a prophet to come who will speak with the authority and power of Moses.

Against this backdrop, Jesus enters Capernaum with his new disciples in tow. Rising in the synagogue on the Sabbath he teaches with an astonishing authority – an authority that is shown to extend over the unseen realm as a man with an evil spirit cries out against him but is powerless before him. And with the psalmist we sing of the wonder and grace of God’s works.

“What is this?” asks the crowd. And the answer that has been proclaimed by Paul, that this Jesus is the Christ of God, is applied to a concrete question in the faith community: If the gods worshipped by the pagans are mere idols, what does it matter if we eat meat from their temples? It matters, says Paul, because you are the body of Christ. It matters because your sisters and brothers matter, and our freedom in Christ does not release us from the bonds of love.

The Prayer for February 01, 2015

Almighty God,
who by your word called forth the world
and summons us to life in you;
deliver us from every falsehood and deceit,
that we may praise your name,
and live each day to your glory;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 01, 2015

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” – Moses addresses the people after their forty-year journey through the wilderness, just before they enter the land, warning them not to imitate the religious practices of the Canaanites. Then, in a passage that will come to be heard as a promise of the Messiah, declares that God will raise up a prophet for them.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.”
– A psalm of praise that exalts the faithfulness and mighty deeds of God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – Paul continues to attack the distorted notion of freedom in the Corinthian congregation that fails to recognize the obligations of the members of the congregation to one another as the body of Christ.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’”
– Having summoned Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus enters the town and begins to teach in the synagogue, astounding the community with his authority to teach and to command the spirits.

 

Photo: By Israel_photo_gallery [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Extortion and robbery

Sunday Evening

Psalm 62

File:Chocolate Eggs.jpg10 Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery.”

Perhaps it’s because I was one of those kids that is timid about departing too far from the rules, but I have a hard time imaging that someone would put their “confidence in extortion” and their “hopes on robbery.”

But maybe extortion is too big a word, for there are all kinds of ways that we pressure one another to do or say something that benefits us rather than the one so pressured. I learned this lesson the hard way at nine when my fourteen-year-old brother persuaded me that trading my small speckled Easter eggs for his large brightly colored ones was a great deal. They were so much bigger in size he was doing me a favor – at two of mine for one of his. It turned out these big ones were disgusting and those little ones the real prize in our baskets. It’s not exactly extortion or robbery, but it does reveal how early and easily we learn to use one another to gain for ourselves.

“Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery.”

We have a notion that the free market means that we are trading fairly with one another, but the truth is darker. There are plenty of products cheaply made in order to gain our money – and plenty of employee behaviors taking advantage of their employers. I had a part-time job during seminary where they rounded your time card to the nearest quarter hour. My associates there showed me how to linger on the way to the time clock in order to punch out at 8 minutes after the hour rather than 7 and gain the extra fifteen minutes’ pay.

“Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery.”

The truth is we put a great deal of confidence in taking advantage of others. It’s a path to success. It’s a secret to wealth. Buy low, sell high. A little shoe polish makes the photo of the hamburger look all that more delicious. There’s a reason they hire attractive women in shiny dresses to stand by the shiny cars at the Detroit Auto Show.

We don’t have to be thugs on the street to use power to our advantage. This is the heart of K Street and the corruption of our political system. It is why the scripture looks so negatively on wealth/riches – wealth that is not from God in the form of abundant harvests, but gained at the expense of others. There are harsh warnings about buying and selling with false weights. There would be no need for such warnings if it didn’t come naturally to us.

So maybe the injunction in this psalm isn’t so odd.

The psalm is both an expression of faith and a warning: the poet declaring his confidence in God and warning his opponents of the danger of trusting their power.

11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all according to their work.

There are consequences depending on in whom – or what – we place our trust and hope.

Yet another reason to seek out the God of mercy, and to follow when he calls.

 

Photo: By Kris de Curtis from Maddaloni, Italy (and Now .. Chocolate Eggs to Everyone!) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Jonah

Saturday

Jonah 3

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Prophet Jonas in Augsburg Cathedral, stained glass window, early 12th century

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

It was incomprehensible to Jonah that God could pardon Nineveh. Nineveh was the city at the heart of the Assyrian Empire. Nineveh was the city that sent its armies to smash the northern kingdom of Israel and subject Judah. Nineveh was the city whose policy was the extermination of subject peoples: the people of Israel were scattered across the empire and others brought in to take their place. It is because of Nineveh that there are ten lost tribes of Israel, lost to history, lost among the nations. Nineveh was renowned in the ancient world for their cruelty and brutality – rare fame in a cruel and brutal era.

It was unthinkable that they could be forgiven. And yet Jonah knew God would – if they repented, if they turned and changed. It’s why Jonah would rather leave his home and people and flee to the furthest most end of the earth than deliver God’s warning to Nineveh. And it is why Jonah would rather be tossed into the sea than go back to deliver God’s message.

But God, in this beloved and delightful tale, does his fish trick and three days later Jonah is vomited onto the land. Three days and life is given, again. Jesus will talk about the sign of Jonah. But there, in the muck on the shore, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” God is determined.

When Jesus talks about loving our enemies, it’s not a new thought in the Biblical tradition. It’s not like hate and violence were okay and then God changed his mind. God reasoned with Cain before he murdered his brother – and God guarded Cain’s life from the threat of revenge after his fearful deed. Vengeance was not permitted to Israel – it was God’s to avenge. Tubal-cain, the father of modern weapons, is not a hero of the text. The prophet speaks of swords beaten into plowshares because we were not created for swords. David is forbidden to build the temple because he was a man of blood – necessary blood, the blood of those who sought to destroy Israel – but still blood. Before Israel entered into its struggle against the corrupt cities of Canaan, every man had to make an offering, a sacrifice. Even though they were on a divinely authorized mission – they needed to atone for the violence they were to commit. It was not until Noah that God even conceded to humanity the right to kill animals for food – but with that concession, he still required that humans not eat the blood, the life. They must pour it on the ground, a gesture to acknowledge that only God has the right to take life – even when he permits it of us.

Jonah is afraid that God will show love to the Ninevites. And he is right. What he fears comes to pass: the unforgiveable enemy turns and is forgiven.

We are not far from Jonah. We all have enemies we will not forgive. It is why God says through the prophet “My ways are not your ways.” God will do what we will not. For God’s work in the world is the redemption of the human community, not the defense of ‘his people’. ‘His people’ are the voice like the prophet, instruments to bear witness to God’s redemption of the earth. We are Jonah.

And we are like Jonah. The teacher who hurt us, the boss who ruined us, the friend who violated us, the spouse who betrayed us, the enemy from forgotten wars, the terrorist with a bomb, there are plenty of people we have good reason to hate. But God does not share our passions. His passion, his suffering, is for all, to be reunited with all, to reclaim his lost planet hurtling through hate and greed towards destruction. We made a bomb by splitting the atom, for heaven’s sake, a bomb that poisons the sea and air and land, and twists the genes in those who survive to kill them later. Whether it was necessary is not the point; the existence of such weapons of unspeakable violence points to the dark reality of the human heart.

But, truthfully, we don’t want the god made in our own image, the god Jonah wants, the god who fights on our side. We need the God who loves the whole world – even those we must fight, even those we don’t and ought not trust. We need the God who loves them all, because otherwise we have only endless war: us and our god against you and your god. To this there is no happy end. It is the world of Tubal-cain who exults: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, I am avenged seventy-seven fold.”

Jonah cannot stand the thought that God would do anything but destroy Nineveh. We have all prayed those prayers. Thankfully, God does not answer them they way we desire.

And the story of Jonah, delightfully and teasingly told, now haunts us with the truth that we are the called and sent messengers of the God who loves all, the God who would forgive all.

Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.”

 

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

Mrs. Boone’s Dance Academy

Friday

Mark 1

File:La Barca de la Fé, Templo Parroquial de San Andrés Buenavista, Tlaxco, Tlaxcala, México 06.jpg

La Barca de la Fé, Templo Parroquial de San Andrés Buenavista, Tlaxco, Tlaxcala, México

17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

I understand that we can’t translate this as “fishers of men” anymore. But it sounds wrong to me when we change from a noun to a verb. “I will make you a painter” is a different thing than “I will make you paint.” The first is a about my transformation into an artist; the second sounds like an obligation. A painter finds his or her identity in painting; making me paint is a task I end up doing because someone else thought the room needed a fresh look.

God is making us musicians; he’s not making us sing. God is making us dancers; he’s not making us dance. With all due respect to Mrs. Boone’s Dance Academy in ninth grade, I learned the steps to the waltz and the fox trot – and how to properly escort a girl and hold my pinkie when drinking punch from a teacup – but it didn’t make me a dancer. Mrs. Boone was a dancer. When she and her husband took the floor we might have thought it silly (we were new and awkward adolescents), but we were watching someone express the very core of her being. No one was making her dance; she needed to dance. She loved dancing.

I don’t think Jesus makes his followers fulfill an obligation to gather others into the reality of God’s grace and life. I think that in their encounter with him they become fishers of people.

Visit a fly fisherman and you will know what I am talking about. They love their flies. They love their little containers. Those who don’t tie their own wish they could. They long to find new rivers and lakes and watch their line cast out and curl gently down to light their fly upon the waters. It fills them with joy and satisfaction even if they land nothing.

Every congregation I have served had an “evangelism committee,” a group assigned the unenviable task of persuading others to do their duty of sharing the faith. Jesus had no “evangelism committee”; he had a gospel. An evangel. A proclamation of grace and hope. A word that gathered people into the reality of God’s reign. And you can’t drink that water without wanting to share it. You can’t see that sunset without going in the house to tell everyone else.

My mother came home one October day when I was maybe 10 – this is a California story – and piled all the kids in the car and drove us to see a maple tree that had turned a glorious red. The beauty was too exquisite not to share. She had been captured by its glory.

Jesus is making fishermen. His followers are being captured by the glory of God. They are becoming a community of people who can’t help but cast wide the net that gathers all into God’s embrace.

 

Image: By Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The form of this world is passing away.”

Thursday

1 Corinthians 7

Wyoming escarpment29Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

“The present form of this world is passing away.”

I don’t want to let go of the world. I don’t want to let go of Yosemite Valley. I don’t want to let go of the vast dry emptiness of the Great Basin. I don’t want to let go of the brilliant striated rocks of Wyoming’s high desert. I don’t want to let go of the soaring redwoods, the lap of water along the side of a kayak, the exquisite crunch of the first potato chip, the aroma of good coffee, the smooth silk of chocolate melting in your mouth. I don’t want to let go of laughter with friends, triumph in play, the warmth of a partner on the couch beside you.

I don’t want to let go of lying snug beneath the covers on a cold winter morning. I don’t want to let go of the crunch of fresh snow, the savor of good soup, the tactile delight of a good book, the crackle of a fire.

I don’t want to let go of the memory of the scent of my infant daughters, or the delight of peek-a-boo or even the gummy cheerios they offered to share.

“The present form of this world is passing away,” says Paul, and I am in no hurry. I am not one of those who thrills with excitement at the prospect of the catastrophic end of all things. Not anymore. Not for a long time.

But I am ready to let go of sorrow, of loneliness, of the violence that afflicts our world, of the drivers who run red lights – or drink and drive – never considering the cost in grief to those who lose loved ones to such impatience. I am ready to let go of the deceitfulness of Washington, the bigotry of some, the hate of others. I am ready to let go of spilled oil and barrel bombs and haunting threat of the unexpected and unforeseen. I am ready to let go of stiff joints, lost memory, encrusted minds and calcified hearts. I am willing to let go of the brokenness around me and the brokenness within me.

It is the fallen form of the world I’d like to see pass away.

So what does Paul mean? Is the world coming to a spectacular and catastrophic end where we will pass from the realm of matter to a realm of spirit? Or is it something else we await?

We misunderstand him in 1 Thessalonians when he speaks about meeting the Lord in the air. We are not staying in the air. The metaphor is of an ancient city where the population leaves their city to greet the arriving emperor/king as he draws near. They welcome him with joy and escort him through the city gates into their midst.

This I am ready to do. Ready to greet the Lord and welcome him back to this wondrous creation of God. Ready to greet the earth’s true Lord, and turn it to his life-giving hands. Ready to let go our stranglehold on this priceless planet and let him bring it to the fullness of life. And let him bring me to the fullness of life.

More than ready.

So “let even those who have wives be as though they had none,” doesn’t mean that I detach myself from the bonds of life. It means I detach myself from the notion that the-world-as-it-is is all there is. Detach myself from the notion that the-world-as-it-is is the world in its fullness. Detach myself from the notion that the preoccupations of this life – food, water, shelter, sex, money, honor, pride – are the ultimate realities. For it is the world restored, the world made whole, the world free from its bondage to sin and death, that is the purpose of God. God wants his creation back, not torn and broken but whole and complete. A world where innocence and love prevail.

I am ready. Come, Lord Jesus.

…Except this is a journey God would begin with me now – for the old to pass away and the new be born – and for that I am not so ready.

Nevertheless, I pray: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Photocredit: dkbonde

Nets not fishing poles

Wednesday

Mark 1

File:Large lift net (In Bengali-Veshal jal).jpg17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Nets. Not a fishing pole. Nets.

We think of Peter and Andrew, James and John as rugged individuals providing for themselves and their families, fishermen on the sea. We see independence, self-reliance, all those wonderful American virtues. And so we subconsciously translate “fishing for people” as each of us out there throwing out the line to bring someone in to Jesus. We think of salvation as personal. We tend to think in terms of individual salvation. A fishing pole.

A colleague of mine years ago hauled his bass boat into the center aisle of his sanctuary and gave his sermon with rod in hand, casting a bob down the aisle. You can’t push that metaphor very far without troubling questions about fake bait and barbed hooks.

But they fished with nets. They caught whole shoals. They were starting a movement. They were gathering crowds. Peter’s Pentecost message gathered 3,000 people ready for God to come and reign among them. In that wonderful story at the end of John there are 153 fish in a net bursting to contain them. But let’s be clear, bursting nets doesn’t mean there are too many people for the seats in church; it means three million people in the streets declaring “Je Suis Charlie.” – Or, in this case, “I follow Jesus.” “I choose the reign of God over the dominions of men.” “I choose the reign of mercy and justice over the tyrannies of power.” “I choose the governance of God’s Spirit over the governance of social convention.” “I choose generosity over greed, service over power, compassion over hardness of heart.” “I choose courage in the face of hate and fear, rather than more hate and fear.” “I choose boldness for the truth over silent consent to what is false.” “I choose forgiveness over revenge, even seventy-seven times.”  “I choose a shared table.”

When Jesus walks along the shore and summons Peter, Andrew, James and John, he is summoning them away from an imperial system where the right to fish was granted by the empire for something that worked much more like a bribe than a fee for the protection of the fishing stocks. They were licensed to fish, but the fish didn’t go to the market or their own table, it went to a middleman who carried it to a factory where it was converted into fish sauce, a delicacy for the Roman elite (and the Judean elite who shared their table, their values, their allegiances to Roman Imperium.)

It was time for change. The social compact was no longer justice and mercy but wealth and power. So Jesus gathers his friends and sets off to change the world, to call the people of God back to the path of God, to bring God’s spirit to reign in their hearts and their world.

It is the beginning of the March on Washington. The beginning of the Freedom Riders. It is the beginning of Non-Violent Resistance Training and the decision to not participate in a corrupt system. Jesus doesn’t move to the back of the bus. They head to Jerusalem, bearing witness along the way to the true generosity of God, the work of reconciliation, the healing of lives, the raising of the dead. Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of what is right and faithful. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – the right and proper observance of our obligations to one another (Matthew 5:1-12).

At the center of all this is a man of extraordinary spiritual power, a man anointed of God, a man who faced demons in the wilderness and will face pain and betrayal in Jerusalem. But from that sorrow the world is born anew; from that grave the world is born from above.

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