A torn world made whole

File:Frankfurt Liebfrauenkirche Innenhof Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg

Watching for the Morning of October 4, 2015

Year B

The Commemoration of St. Francis and The Blessing of the Animals

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 22 / Lectionary 27

File:Nicolaes Maes - Christ Blessing the Children - WGA13814.jpgDivorce. St. Francis. Jesus blessing children. The blessing of the animals. The praise of God who is the author of all. Eden and the creation of a good and perfect partner equal to the first human. All the readings and elements of our worship on Sunday actually fit together rather nicely – though you wouldn’t expect it. Why preach about divorce on the day you invite friends and neighbor to have their pets blessed? Because we are a people created for Eden and living outside it. Because Christ has come to restore the lost harmony, the lost grace, the lost fidelity, the lost joy and life of the world.

Christ is not come to give us a new and stricter rule about divorce. It just sounds like it if you are not listening carefully. Jesus changes the conversation, steering us away from the commands in the law to the gift in creation. Jesus changes the conversation from what rules we have to follow to what does righteousness look like and where does it come from? How do we find our way to the life for which we were created?   How do we find our way to innocence and joy? How do we find our way from the broken world after humanity turns from God when “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you,” back to the original exultation: “this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”? How do we find our way from the curse to the blessing?

The Pharisees are on the attack trying to trap Jesus with a politically explosive question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The king, Herod Antipas, (technically a tetrarch) has divorced his wife, Phasaelis, and the country is now at war the with the spurned wife’s father (the king of Nabataea). The Queen, Herodias, has divorced her first husband Herod II (called Philip in Mark) to marry Herod Antipas, Philip’s brother. John the Baptist has attacked the marriage as a violation of the Law – and, as a consequence, he has been beheaded. So when the hostile Pharisees ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”, it’s a very dangerous question.

It’s a dangerous world, far from the goodness for which God created us. And it’s a wounded world, where humanity tried to kill the wolves rather than preach to them. Where humanity neglected the poor rather than cared for them. Where the crows were hated rather than beloved. Where we did not see the earth as brother and the moon as sister and all creation joined in a great song of praise, as St. Francis expresses in that great hymn we will sing: “All Creatures of Our God and King”

We live in a world of rent relationships. And the answer is not a strict enforcement of a stricter law. The answer is that Christ has come to heal the creation’s wounds, to restore the world’s lost grace, to reconcile all things to God and one another. Christ has come to open the way to the tree of life.

Christ has come to be the tree of life.

And so this Sunday we will hear of the gift of a partner to the first human and our need to live in relationship with others, with God and the creation. We will sing the psalms praising God for God’s wondrous creation. We will hear the promise of the world made new. And we will rejoice in the blessing that has been spoken, and the blessing that is come and the blessing that will be.

The Prayer for October 4, 2015

Holy Father,
who holds all creation in your loving arms,
guard and keep us, that we may not rend what you unite,
nor reject whom you receive;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 4, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 2:15, 18-24 (appointed: Genesis 2:18-24)
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” – When all the animals of the world will not do, God creates an equal to the first human.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
– The psalm sings of the wonder of creation and the mystery of humanity’s place as those “a little lower than the heavenly beings” into whose care the world is given.

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-3a (appointed: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12)
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”
– We begin to read from Hebrews where the author assembles a rich witness to Christ from the Hebrew scriptures.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-16 (appointed: Mark 10:2-16)
“Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – Jesus is back in public, teaching, when he is faced with a challenge from the Pharisees and turns the table from what is allowed in scripture because of our hardness of hearts to what God will create in us.

Texts in the liturgy for the Blessing of the Animals:

Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.”
– The poet calls all heaven and earth to join in praise of God

Isaiah 11:6-9
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.’” – Isaiah’s vision of the earth healed and restored to the innocence of Eden, when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frankfurt_Liebfrauenkirche_Innenhof_Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg  By Sr. Maria Ludgera Haberstroh  Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolaes Maes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,
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Salt, Millstones and unquenchable fire

Watching for the Morning of September 27, 2015

Year B

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 21 / Lectionary 26

File:Laesoe Saltsyderi 2011 ubt-3.JPGAs you read through the collection of thoughts in the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday they begin to tumble together leaving us a little dazed and confused. It seems to make sense – however troubling the statements of Jesus might be – but pretty soon Jesus is talking about having “salt in yourselves” and you are not sure what he’s talking about anymore. But Mark isn’t just throwing together some leftover sermon bits; he (and his community) understands how all these apothegms connect.

Jesus is talking to us about what it means to live in the community of disciples, to be citizens of the dawning reign of God. The language of salt and millstones and the unquenchable fire is meant to alert us to the dramatic significance of what is happening in Jesus.

God has come to reign. God has come to drive out the power of evil and bring that day when all things are made new. That’s why Jesus will not silence someone who has co-opted the name of Jesus for use in exorcism. The demonic is being driven out. And those who use the name of Jesus in such a way will find themselves unable and unwilling to later turn against him.

The thoughts are continuing from last week when the disciples argued about who was most important. Jesus upset the applecart by placing a child in their midst. What is happening is not modeled on the kingdoms of this world; God is transforming the world. Greatness is in service. Honor is accorded to the least. The power present in the world through the name of Jesus isn’t the possession of a few but is rippling out to touch all lives.

So those who show the simplest kindness – even a cup of cold water – shall inherit their just share of the kingdom. And if any would block someone’s participation in the reign of God, it would be better for them to tie a millstone to their neck and perish at the bottom of the sea. Indeed, if your words or deeds inhibit you from participating in God’s dawning reign, be bold. Act decisively. Better to enter the dawning age of life maimed than to celebrate your wholeness on the smoldering dump of cursed idols.

And so we come to salt. Sharing salt is like sharing bread. It is the symbol of a common bond, of friendship, of covenant, of mutual aid and protection, of peace with one another. When salt has lost its saltiness – when the ties of our mutual participation in the reign of God, our fellowship in the covenant of peace – when those ties are ruptured, what good remains? Be at peace with one another. Inhabit the realm of peace. Inhabit the realm of God that is come to us in Christ. Inhabit the realm that is defined by the cross and resurrection.

This Sunday we will hear Moses, like Jesus, reject the attempt to control the Holy Spirit, sighing: “If only all God’s people were possessed of God’s spirit.” The psalmist will sing of the goodness of God’s Torah – God’s teaching for life. And James will urge us to care for one another in a mutual ministry of prayer and healing. But it is the word of Jesus that will linger, setting before us the urgency of complete allegiance to the mission of Jesus.

The Prayer for September 27, 2015

Holy and Gracious God,
before whom the least of your children bear an eternal name,
season us with your Spirit
that we may never drive away those whom you call near;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 27, 2015

First Reading: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.” – Moses cries out to God about the burden of caring for this rebellious people, and God puts his Spirit upon seventy elders to share the leadership. But two, Eldad and Medad, are not present with the others and begin prophesying in the camp. When word comes, Joshua would have Moses silence them.

Psalmody: Psalm 19:7-14
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.”
– The psalm sings of God’s wondrous ordering of the world, beginning with the majesty of creation, and then the gift of God’s law.

Second Reading: James 5:13-20
“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them.”
– The author urges the Christian community to mutual care and absolution.

Gospel: Mark 9:38-50
“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” – The disciples show their failure to understand the reign of God present in Jesus and he summons them to the radical commitment that the reign of God requires: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

 

Photo: By © 2011 by Tomasz Sienicki [user: tsca, mail: tomasz.sienicki at gmail.com] (Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki (Own work)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Come, Lord Jesus

For last Thursday

I wrote this post after the funeral last Thursday, but waited to get approval from the family before posting it. The sermon from that day, “We have seen the chariots of fire”, is posted at my site for occasional reflections: Jacob Limping (named from Jacob’s encounter with God that ends with him limping toward the promised land – wounded yet blessed).

I didn’t get the posting for Wednesday done on time yesterday; my heart and mind was on the sermon for today. We buried a child of the congregation. 26. Bright. Talented. Loved. Addicted. Somewhere there is a drug lord prospering from selling tainted heroin. In our parish we weep.

The church was beyond full. People squeezed together into the pews, filled the balcony, brought chairs from the fellowship hall, and then stood in the back. There was so much we wanted to say. And words were so hard to find. We wanted to say how great he was. And we wanted to say how angry we were. Angry at him. Angry at the world. Angry at God. Frustrated. Wounded. Seven times he had been in treatment. Seven times he had slipped. Not because he was weak. By no means. Perhaps because he was so talented, so smart, so much a winner, he thought he could control it. Perhaps because the dragon is so deceptive.

Perhaps because the disease is so virulent.

So words fail. How do you capture the sweet boy working our Bible school, idolized by the kids, and the betrayer of friends he ditched to go buy drugs? How do you capture the acolyte bearing the cross with the young man bearing a terrible cross. How do you speak of the talented young man with a bright, bright future and the lifeless body on the floor of his apartment bedroom?

How do you speak of the charming, sincere smile and the stormy conflicts that must have occurred in the home? You can’t say all that. So the remembrances were more of a choked tears than joyful celebration. But there was the boy we loved. The young man we loved. And the tragedy we all felt.

Come Lord Jesus. It is the most ancient prayer of the church. Come, Lord Jesus. Come set right our world. Come heal the wounded, free the bound, raise the dead. Come bring that perfect reign of light and life. Come raise the world from its brokenness into your perfect light. Come.

And come to the family. Bear their burden – you who have borne the burdens of all. Surround them with grace, as you have brought grace to all. Heal their hearts, as you will heal the hearts of all. Take us back through the eastern gate, past the flaming sword, that we may eat again of the tree of life and dwell in your perfect garden.

The Red Wings, the Avalanche and Jesus

Friday

Mark 9:30-37

File:IginlaDraperFaceoff.jpg37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

This word ‘welcome’ represents much more than a smile at the door should they show up at church. It means to extend hospitality, to take someone under your protection.

It is used especially with respect to travelers. It is dangerous business being in a place where you are a stranger. Ties of family and kinship are the guarantees of safety. If a member of your clan hurts me, my family will avenge. They will come hurt a member of your clan.

It’s why there are enforcers on ice hockey teams. You come after our star player and there will be consequences beyond two minutes in the box. It keeps the game relatively even. And a big hurt will be remembered even from one season to the next. Ask any veteran Red Wings fan about the war with the Colorado Avalanche over the cheap shot that broke Kris Draper’s jaw.

It’s hard for the fans when former enemies become members of your team, but once they join, they come under the team’s protection.

To ‘welcome’ is to extend the circle of your clan’s protection around a vulnerable person. And in an honor-based society, the payoff for the one who extends such hospitality is that the recipient will sing your praises wherever he goes. To show hospitality increases your own honor and standing in the community.

But what is to be gained by showing hospitality to a child? It doesn’t really make sense in the quid pro quo world.

Unless the child belongs to someone important.

+   +   +

I would prefer to stop right there and let you recognize the crucial conclusion. But, sometimes we need it spelled out for us: the child belongs to someone important. The child, the weak, the vulnerable, those on the bottom of the social hierarchy, those without power or influence – these are members of Jesus’ household. To receive even the least, is to receive Jesus. To fail to extend your care and protection for the lowliest slave in the king’s household is to betray your king.

We can argue about our relative importance in the pecking order all we want – as the disciples were doing – but the least member of the royal house is to be honored above us all.

 

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

At the high table

For Wednesday

Mark 9:30-37

File:Carl Bloch - Christ and Child.jpg37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

It’s hard to convey the magnitude of this action of Jesus. Maybe it would have some of the correct emotional power if we saw Jesus take a homeless drunk in his arms, look his followers in the eye, and say, “Whoever welcomes him welcomes me.” Or perhaps if Jesus had taken that large, swaggering and apparently thieving young black man from Ferguson into his arms. Or the drowned child lying in the surf in Turkey with the red shirt and blue pants.

When we think of this child in Jesus’ arms, he or she is inevitably sweet and innocent. But that is not the point Jesus is making. In the realm of God, greatness is in showing regard for the least.  It’s not that children aren’t loved in the ancient world; it’s that they have no status.

Jesus is trying to talk clearly and plainly to his followers about what awaits him in Jerusalem. Jesus is not talking in parables here. There is no hidden meaning. He will be rejected and crucified. And on the third day be raised. But this has no meaning to his hearers. They know no narrative of a messiah who dies. Messiahs reign. Messiahs reestablish the Davidic monarchy and deliver the nation from all its enemies. Messiahs purify the temple. Messiahs bring justice and righteousness. Messiahs lead heavenly armies and even cosmic battles against evil. But they do not die. There is nothing in their previous experience to comprehend Jesus dying.

And resurrection – this is something that happens at the climax of human history not in the middle. It happens to all, not to one. The dead are raised. The books are opened. The wicked are judged. The oppressed are vindicated. All things are set right. No, this word of Jesus doesn’t make any sense to his followers. So they go back to what they know. We are headed to Jerusalem. Jesus will deliver us from Rome. We will sit at his right and left hand. Who is the top dog? How does the pecking order go? Someone gets to sit at the high table, who will it be?

And then there is Jesus with this darn child as if the child gets to sit at the high table.

Exactly.

 

Image: Carl Heinrich Bloch, Christ and Child,  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carl_Bloch_-_Christ_and_Child.jpg

Religious violence

Watching for the Morning of September 20, 2015

Year B

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 20 / Lectionary 25

treasuryx-largeMurder is in the air in the readings for Sunday. The people from Jeremiah’s hometown – a priestly community – are out to kill him for his message. The writer of Sunday’s psalm is also battling murderous enemies, calling out to God for deliverance. Jesus is talking about his pending death in Jerusalem. And even our reading from James speaks of the conflicts that derive from our warring passions.

It’s not what we hope for from religion. We hope for peace. We hope for comfort. We dope for strength and courage for the coming week. But we are reading about tough realities – and the passions that drive them.

Jeremiah’s message that God is ready to judge the nation, even to destroying the temple, sounds to his countrymen like heresy and treason. In righteous rage they are prepared to defend God and country with religiously cloaked violence. God has revealed their plot to his prophet, but the prophet does not respond in kind; he puts his trust in God’s judgment.

The poet also entrusts his cause to God: “He will repay my enemies for their evil.” Nor does Jesus call his followers to arms; he is teaching the way of the cross. And when his followers argue about greatness, he puts a child in their midst. We are servants not masters. Our relationship to Jesus is revealed by the way we treat the least in our midst.

The Prayer for September 20, 2015

You see, O God, the struggle of the human heart for privilege and honor
and set before us the betrayed and crucified body of your Son.
May he who was servant of all teach us his way;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 20, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 11:18-20
“I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” – The prophet Jeremiah discovers a plot against his life by members of his own priestly clan who want to silence his message.

Psalmody: Psalm 54
“Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might.”
– The poet prays for deliverance from murderous enemies.

Second Reading: James 3:13-4:8a (appointed: James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a)
“Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”
– The author speaks to the Christian community about the chaos that comes from their passions and desires, urging them to “resist the devil” and submit themselves to God.

Gospel: Mark 9:30-37
“On the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.” – Jesus is again teaching his disciples about his coming death and resurrection in Jerusalem, but they are arguing who will get the seats of power when they get to Jerusalem.

Image: Cloisters Cross, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55094 [retrieved September 14, 2015]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterjr1961/4124100780/.

Only one pedigree

Friday

Mark 8:22-38

File:Nave of Salisbury Cathedral, with Sibirica Minor II in foreground - geograph.org.uk - 188287.jpg34“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

The adult leaders of our youth group wrote this verse in a small Bible they gave to me as I went off to college. It was one of those words that haunts – a word that continues to return, helping to shape your life at many points along the way.

It is by no means the only reason I accepted a call to an inner city parish in Detroit, but it was part of it, this notion that the Christian life is not what you can gain but what you can give, that courageous faith is willing to take great risks, that Christian faith is about radical discipleship.

But this word of Jesus isn’t really about individual, heroic faith. Nor is it about self-denial in the way we might imagine personal sacrifice. It is about the community we dare to choose.

In the world of the scriptures, a person is defined by the facts of their birth – by family and clan, by their village, by their people. When invited to meet Jesus, Nathanael says: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? and everyone in that day would have understood that the answer was “No.” Matthew and Luke go to some length to explain that Jesus is really from Bethlehem, the city of David, and not from Nazareth – because royalty comes from Bethlehem, but nothing good from Nazareth. When his opponents want to dismiss Jesus they say, Isn’t this Joseph’s son? He is a carpenter, nothing more.

To deny yourself is to turn away from the social fabric that gives you your identity and take up a new identity in a new community, a new household, a new family, a new people.

Once you were no people,” writes the author of 1 Peter, “but now you are God’s people.” To deny yourself is to deny your social identity and receive a new one as a citizen of the kingdom of God, as a member of the community that follows Jesus.

When Ananias and Sapphira bring only part of their offering, the problem is not that they gave only half, or that they lied about their gift, but that they were unwilling to “deny themselves”, unwilling to let go of their old identity and enter fully and unreservedly into the community of disciples.

It is an interesting question for us who tend to derive our identity from our accomplishments, our work, our children, our possessions. Jesus is not saying that you must let all that go. He is saying that our identity, our sense of self, our commitment and belonging, is in Christ and his band of followers. We are citizens of the City of God not citizens of Rome or any of its lookalikes.

This is why Jesus talks about hating mother and father. This is why he says you cannot serve God and possessions.” This is why No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is is fit for the kingdom of God. We can have only one pedigree: either the one that comes from the world around us, or the one that bears the name of Jesus.

 

Image: font and nave of Salisbury Cathedral.  Peter Facey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Answered and unanswered prayer: Two thoughts on Psalm 116

Wednesday

Psalm 116:1-9

File:What will the day bring? (5124379114).jpg1 I love the Lord,
because he has heard my voice
and my supplications.

There are many for whom there is no deliverance. Many whose loved ones perish. Many whose pleas fall to the ground. Many whose days are spent in want. Many whose nights are spent in darkness. This is the problem with answered prayer. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those whose prayer has not been answered.

It is bittersweet when the friends of the childless become pregnant. It is bittersweet when the unloved see couples kiss. It is bittersweet when the abandoned see others embraced.

Perhaps bittersweet is all we can hope for, trapped as we in a broken world, trapped as we tend to be inside our own selves. “I am glad for you” even as I feel the pang of my own disappointment. Maybe this is why we find it easier to speak our needs in church rather than our thanksgivings; we don’t want anyone to feel badly when the prayers of another are answered.

But isn’t this what the rite of confession means when it says, “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves”? We are prisoners to our selves. I filter your good news through my own bad news, and it robs you of your joy and God of the glory due his name.

Grace happens. Some prayers do get answered. Some are healed. Some are saved. Some are given work and families and joy.

And to whom shall we give credit? Luck? Fortune? Chance? Is God not the author of all grace? Is it right to be silent when such a gift is given? Is it right not to praise the one who is the author of such sweetness?

No, the problem is mine, that I am trapped within myself. I need a deliverer to call me out of myself into the joy of God wherever the world is touched by the life and grace of God.

Psalm 116:1-9

3The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

I don’t know whether this translation carries enough emotional power for the poet’s complaint. ‘Snares’ and ‘pangs’ and ‘Sheol’ make it all seem a little distant, a little abstract, a little theoretical. I wonder if we shouldn’t be talking about the bony hand of death dragging us down. The fearful shadows swallowing all hope. Drowning in despair.

There are moments when you get tired of fighting, when you are ready to surrender, ready to give up and slip beneath the waves. And then comes the fear, the fight, the will to live, the desperate prayer for help, and the hand plunging beneath the water to haul you up again into the air.

The poet’s song is a deep and profound praise. God is not a god who helps those who help themselves; God is the LORD who reaches down to snatch us back from the grave. God is not the patron of the privileged who do not have to wrestle with demons; God is the LORD who joins us in battle. God is light – not so much the radiant peace as the flaming sword to deliver us from the eternal night.

There are people who fight terrible spiritual battles. Some survive. Some do not. But all are saved. And if some did not survive to give God the praise, then we would not know this God who empties the grave, this God who yanks us back from the realm of sorrow into joy, from the realm of shame into grace, from the realm of death into life.

It is because of the testimony of some, like this psalmist, that we can see light upon our path and the joy of surprising grace. It is because of those whose prayers are answered that we know that all such prayers shall ultimately be answered. Healing awaits us.

 

Photocredit: By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia (What will the day bring?  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A more profound revolution

Watching for the Morning of September 13, 2015

Year B

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 19 / Lectionary 24

File:Christ Sculpture, Cambridge (7063878723).jpgWe have reached the turning point in Mark’s Gospel. Now Jesus begins to talk about his destiny in Jerusalem – to be crucified and raised.

It’s not hard to foresee that he will be crucified. He is challenging Rome’s claim to dominion over human life. He is denying that Caesar is the savior of humankind. He is announcing the dawning reign of God – and even his followers think of the kingdom of God in terms of the restoration of the Davidic monarchy and the nation’s deliverance from all foreign oppression. Rome meets all such claimants with the torture and shame of the cross.

But Jesus has a much more profound revolution in mind.

The prophet, in the reading from Isaiah on Sunday, is rejected by his community – but the LORD is the one who has given him the message to speak and will be his vindication. It is an appropriate choice for Jesus who will also be rejected by the leadership of the nation but vindicated by God.

The psalmist sings of God’s deliverance and uses words in which the Christian community finds hints of resurrection: “you have delivered my soul from death…I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Though the disciples do not yet grasp what Jesus is talking about – though they do not yet see fully – the hints of God’s remarkable work are sprinkled like Easter eggs through the Old Testament for those with eyes to see.

So we begin our Gospel reading on Sunday with the story of the blind man. Jesus heals his eyes but, when asked, he says “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” It takes a second act of healing to help him see clearly. So it is when Jesus speaks with his disciples – they can see that he is the anointed, the Christ/Messiah, but they do not yet see clearly. They do not understand the cross and resurrection.

The prophets like Elijah or John boldly challenged the evil they saw in their society, but Jesus is more than a prophet. Jesus is on a mission not to combat evil but defeat it forever.

The Prayer for September 13, 2015

Like Peter, O God,
we recognize Jesus as your anointed
but stumble over the mystery of the cross.
Grant us your Holy Spirit
that we might not seek to gain the world,
but to be found in your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 13, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a
“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard.” – The prophet is rejected by his community but it is God who has called him and will deliver him.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-9
“The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’”
– The poet praises the LORD who delivered him from death.

Second Reading: James 3:1-12
“No one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”
– The author warns the community about the power of the tongue and reminds them that we cannot bless God and curse others.

Gospel: Mark 8:22-38 (appointed: 27-38)
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” – Jesus begins to teach his followers about his destiny in Jerusalem and calls for them to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow.”

 

Image: By Steve Evans from Citizen of the World (Christ Sculpture, Cambridge  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In the arms of the Syrophoenician woman

Saturday

Psalm 146

Syrophoenecian woman.cropped8The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down…
9
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow…

Maybe it’s all right that the sea lapped gently at the body of Alan Kurdi, the child in the red shirt and blue shorts. Though the sea should have raged at this innocent’s death, it would have been unkind for the surf to pound his poor body.

In the morning, Sunday morning, we will gather at the table.

It is a table to which we are invited by Jesus.

It is an invitation that is made to each of us and to all.

It is an invitation that does not depend upon our deserving, but God’s generosity.

It is a table that remembers all the bounty of creation, the joy of community, the goodness of shared bread.

It is a table that remembers that we are a single human family with one heavenly father.

It is a table that remembers Jesus’ sacrifice – “This is my body, broken for you.”

It is a table that shares in the promise of human lives and human hearts and all creation made new.

It is a table that shares in the empty tomb.

It is a table that transcends time and space and unites us with the whole host of heaven.

Aylan will be there. He will be there in the arms of the Syrophoenician woman – and the man from the Decapolis will make faces with him and join in his laughter. He will be there not because he is a Christian or because he was baptized, or because he was an innocent child, but because it is the nature of God to stand with the forsaken, because it is the nature of God to provide a home for the homeless, because it is the nature of God to give life to the lifeless.

Hopefully, we who gather will see and remember and put our trust in all this.

 

Jesus and the Canaanite woman, folio from Walters manuscript W.592  Credit: Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons