Fruitless

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Saturday

Luke 13:1-9

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.

Several years ago when I was serving an inner city parish in Detroit, I was on a committee that had to decide what to do with one of the other parishes in the city. Partly this was about the allocation of mission dollars: should we continue to support this parish or let it die?

I was pretty passionate about the closing city parishes. Detroit at the time was in the midst of a terrible recession. The Lutheran church had once had many thriving parishes in the city, but as white flight occurred in the 60’s and 70’s, congregations moved – or closed up shop as their people moved. One congregation went from 1,500 to 500 members in the single year of 1967.

Detroit was dotted with buildings that had once been Lutheran congregations. My local precinct was one of “ours” that had closed up and sold its building to a Baptist church. I drove by another every time I came off the freeway. There was a former Danish church I passed regularly whose distinctive Danish architecture was a painful reminder every time I saw it. I read somewhere that the old Roman rite for closing a parish required the bishop to take an ax to the altar and thought were should make our bishop do the same every time he or she closed a parish – to make visible the wound to the body of Christ and its ministry in that place.

But then there was this parish we were examining. We recognized the blow to the ministry of this congregation when half the homes in its parish were bulldozed to create a freeway, but that was not the only problem. As we examined the life of the congregation itself, we came to the simple realization that “there were no fruits of the Spirit there.” There were a few people (bickering people), and regular worship, but no love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” no feeding of the hungry and clothing of the naked and care for the sick.

“For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’”

We closed the parish. It was the right decision…just painful to admit.

Jesus is looking at the leadership of the nation – a fig tree sucking up the nutrients from the soil of God’s vineyard and giving back nothing. Jesus could see the future of a city that failed to live God’s reign, that failed to do justice and mercy, to show fidelity to God and one another. He could see that Rome would come and blood would flow in the temple, even as the Galileans had been struck down. He could see that the towers would fall when Rome breached the walls and thousands would perish. He weeps for a city that rejects God’s voice.

God looks for fruit from his fig tree. God looks for fruit from his vineyard. God looks for his harvest from the tenants of his vineyard. God looks for justice and mercy from his church. God looks for justice and mercy from all people.

The warning that Jesus gave to Jerusalem abides. Those who take up the soil without returning fruit abide on dangerous ground. Jesus our gardener, pleads for more time, but now is the time to turn to the life where God’s Spirit rules.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_fig_tree.JPG#file
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Come

 

Ashenda_Girl,_Tigray,_Ethiopia_(15363919671) cropped

Thursday

Isaiah 55:1-9

1Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat! …
3Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.

Every now and then I see a character on a television show I am watching start to do something they shouldn’t – because it is stupid or unkind or bound to lead to disaster. I can’t stand to see what I think is coming so I hit the pause button and go empty the dishwasher or do some work or just shut the darn thing off.

I imagine God must wish he had a pause button.

What is wondrous about God is God’s willingness to bear the pain of our stupidity. The suffering of God is not limited to Christ on the cross; it is only manifest there. God suffers wherever one of his little ones are crucified: where floods sweep away the vulnerable, where cruelty sweeps away the kind, where deceit sweeps away the truthful. God suffers wherever one of his little ones are crucified, be they in refugee camps or war zones or broken households. God suffers with the despairing, the pained, the sorrowful. God suffers at the cries of hungry children and weeping parents. God suffers over hearts grown cold and compassion grown weary.

And there is no pause button, only a heart continually open and a voice continually calling for us to turn towards home.

3Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAshenda_Girl%2C_Tigray%2C_Ethiopia_(15363919671).jpg (cropped)  By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia (Ashenda Girl, Tigray, Ethiopia) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Not like us

File:Bieszczady - sunrise from Chatka Puchatka (2).jpg

Wednesday

Isaiah 55:1-9

9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

It is important to recognize that the prophet is not speaking about the inscrutable reasons behind life’s vicissitudes; he is speaking about why God should choose to forgive.

Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us. Say what you want about the innocence of children, as soon as we can swing our arms we will answer hurt for hurt. And we do not limit ourselves to an eye for an eye. We escalate quickly: “Hurt me and I will hurt you more.” Even when we profess our retaliation to be equal, the table slants in our favor.

Why did my mother create the rule than one person cuts the last of the cake in two and the other person gets to choose the piece they want? Because what we claim as equal won’t be. We are looking for the slightly bigger piece. We want more than one eye for an eye.

Why did my big brother throw the dog’s ball so that the dog would rush by and knock down my house of cards? And why did I respond with a fist? And why did I end up crying? Our ways are not God’s ways.

We have grown used to the idea that God forgives – though I suspect most of us are consciously or unconsciously harboring the thought that God simply does not see or care – so we are not shocked by the prophet’s words. But they are worth pondering deeply. God is not like we are.

The invitation for the wicked to forsake their ways is not so much a call for them to clean up their act as it is an invitation for us all to come live this strange and surprising grace and mercy of God.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABieszczady_-_sunrise_from_Chatka_Puchatka_(2).jpg.  By Pudelek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Now is the time

Clocktower

Watching for the Morning of February 28, 2016

Year C

The Third Sunday in Lent

Repentance, turning and showing allegiance to God, is the center of the readings this coming Sunday.

The prophet cries out in the marketplace like a merchant hawking his wares – except the prophet is offering food for free, the rich fare of God’s word. The promise once spoken to David of an everlasting covenant is extended to all the people and they are invited to return to God who will forgive – for his ways are higher than our ways.

Paul warns his congregation to watch out lest they fall and reminds them that those who passed through the Red Sea turned from God and perished in the desert.

And Jesus calls for his hearers to take heed lest they perish like the Galileans slaughtered by the Romans or those who were crushed beneath broken walls. God is looking for fruit like a landowner from his fig tree and the days for repentance are growing short.

It is the psalmist who provides the counterpoint, yearning to see God, yearning to stand in God’s presence in the sanctuary, finding God’s steadfast love better than life.

We are not used to such cries of urgency. We imagine there is always time to return home to God. But that is not the nature of things. The chance to do mercy comes and goes and can’t be reclaimed if missed. Now is the time to turn and show allegiance to the kingdom of God. Now is the time to live God’s mercy and grace.

Called

HeQi_017-largeThis week we are continuing our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He has purchased and freed me from all sins.” This week we come to the third article of the creed and the line from the Catechism: “He has called me through the Gospel.”

There are two accents in this line: first, that we are called. We are summoned. God is not the goal of our spiritual search; God is the one who speaks, who encounters us, who calls us to paths untrod. Secondly, it is the word of grace that beckons us, the gospel, the news from the battlefield that our defender’s forces have been victorious and our city delivered: Death is dead and Life summons us to joy. The author of life, the redeemer, the sanctifier, bids us come and dance the holy dance.

The Prayer for February 28, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you have called us by your word of grace
to lives that are holy and true.
Grant us ears ever open and hearts ever willing to hear your voice,
that your word may bear fruit in our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 28, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” – The prophet calls out in the marketplace like a merchant hawking his wares – only the prophet’s food is free.

Psalmody: Psalm 63:1-8
“O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land”
– The poet yearns for, and gives expression to, his intimate communion with God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength.” – Paul warns the congregation in Corinth to resist the temptations before them, citing the example of Israel in the wilderness when the rebellious perished without reaching the Promised Land.

Gospel: Luke 13:1-9
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.”
– Jesus is challenged to declare himself for or against Rome when the rumor of a slaughter in the temple is put to him. He deftly turns the question back on his challengers, summoning all to turn and show allegiance to the reign of God. With the parable of the fig tree he challenges the Jerusalem leadership and warns that the time for repentance is short.

Called: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the meaning of the second article of the creed and our theme for week 2: He has purchased and freed me from all sins.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Top Photo credit: C Kittle.
Second image: He, Qi. Calling Disciples, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46099 [retrieved February 23, 2016]. Original source: heqigallery.com.

Righteousness

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He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

Friday

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

1After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Abraham was 75 when he left Haran, taking his wife, Sarah, and nephew, Lot, and leaving his father behind. He left, according to the narrative, in obedience to God who promised he would be the father of a great nation through which all families on earth would be blessed.

He went to Shechem, then to Bethel, then by stages to the Negev. During a famine he went down into Egypt and eventually returned, moving again in stages from the Negev back to Bethel. Tension between his household and the household of Lot caused them to separate, and Lot to move into the Jordan Valley and took up his fateful residence in Sodom. Lot became the victim of a war between the “kings” (chieftains of city-states) of the region and Abraham went to rescue him. After all this, “some time later” according to the text, we find him still childless.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Three times he has heard the promise of descendants, and three times nothing has happened but the ongoing vicissitudes of life.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

I appreciate the frankness of his conversation. He can see no future but that his steward will end up with the estate. God, however, explains nothing. What God does is simply repeat the promise. And Abraham trusts it.

Trust is not a substitute for righteousness. Righteousness means fidelity to God and to others. Abraham has shown fidelity to Lot. Now he shows fidelity to God. He accepts God’s word.

Few of us have a vision such as Abraham’s. What we have is the promise of God mediated to us through the text of scripture and embodied in the water of baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion. They are the equivalent of the smoking pots: God’s covenantal promise made visible: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood…shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.”

We don’t know how we will get to the fullness of the promise of the world brought into the blessing of God. But we accept and live by the promise. And it is righteousness.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHeavens_Above_Her.jpg By Ian Norman (http://www.lonelyspeck.com) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The God who promises

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Thursday

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

5“Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

We are a people who live by a promise. It means our faces are fundamentally turned towards the future, for a promise, by nature, is about what I will do not what I have done.

The genesis of human religious practices is the desire to maintain the world: to be sure that the sun comes back after the winter solstice, to be sure the rains come in the spring, to validate and sustain the values and structures of the past – to keep things the same. Kings and priests go together.

Prophets, on the other hand, are about the present and future. What God is doing, what God will do, where the people should go – where they must go lest tragedy overtake them. And, when ruin comes, the prophets speak of grace to come, God’s promise of new beginnings.

We are a people who live by a promise. We are not a people upholding conventional morality; we are a people speaking a new morality: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.”

We are not a people defending the monarchy’s divine right; we proclaim a new kingdom, the reign of God.

We are a people who tell of a God who overthrows the established social order of Egypt to set slaves free. We are a people who tell of a God who overthrows his own king and temple in the name of justice and care for the poor. We are a people who tell of a God who overthrows death itself.

We are a people who live by a promise, whose eyes are toward the future. We do not forget the past. The past is our witness to this God of the future. The scriptures and practices and traditions of the past keep us pointed toward this God of promise. But the God we worship, the Lord we follow, is a God who leads us into the future.

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

And it is the courage to trust that promise that represents true ‘righteousness’ – true fidelity to God and others.

 

Photo: © Dietmar Rabich, rabich.de [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally made whole

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Wednesday

Philippians 3:17-4:1

21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

One of my early experiences in ministry was with a woman who died of cancer. I remember few details now, only that it eventually spread to her brain. She was a lovely young woman with children at the end of high school and beginning of college.

I watched as she slowly deteriorated, and knew that the end was drawing near. But the doctors in those days were all geared to keeping spirits up rather than telling the truth, and she slipped into a coma before her parents or children could make their goodbyes. I alone had that chance.

There have been children in my parish who struggled with cancer, an infant who died from a ruptured appendix, many who have struggled with deteriorating joints, failing hearts, livers and lungs. And then there are those who struggled with dementia and mental illness. I can still feel the distress of one woman in a nursing home who begged me to help her escape, certain she had been kidnapped, and others for whom the room swirled with voices.

Paul lives in a world without any of the benefits of modern medicine. The bones of archaeological digs show people suffering from numerous afflictions. Life was painful and short. But even though physicians can now do wondrous things, our bodies are frail, limited, failing.

It sounds fanciful, perhaps even delusional, to say that Christ “will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory,” that our frail bodies, lying under the sentence of death, shall be transformed into resurrected bodies like that of Christ Jesus. But you cannot deny the power of such a hope.

We tend to settle for a kind death and an end to the pain. And/or we adopt the Greek notion of an immortal soul free from a body altogether. But Christian faith persists in the notion that the world was not intended to be suffering and sorrow and that the author of the universe will fulfill the promise of delivering his creation from death’s dominion. I cannot conceive what this means except by metaphor. It’s why I appreciate the remark by the elder in 1 John: Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

I don’t know what we shall be, but I live in the light of the promise that the work is begun in us and shall be brought to completion, that we shall be like Christ risen: finally made whole, finally made fully and truly alive.

 

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

Threats and sorrows and joy

File:Wankie Christ on the Cross.jpg

Watching for the Morning of February 21, 2016

Year C

The Second Sunday in Lent

Last Sunday showed us Jesus in the wilderness tested – attacked – by the devil. This Sunday he is under attack from the political powers in Galilee. But Jesus is not moved. He will fulfill his mission. And prophets don’t perish anywhere but in Jerusalem.

Are the Pharisees hoping to scare Jesus out of their neighborhood? Or are they concerned for him because they like Herod Antipas even less? Herod is in power only because of the arrangement of his ruthless father, Herod the Great, and his alliance with Rome. But there is no reason to think that Herod’s threat isn’t real, for any talk of God’s kingdom is a threat to the kings of this world.

There is a shadow over this Sunday. Abraham has an encounter with God that is both full of promise and “a deep and terrifying darkness”. The psalmist sings that “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” and then speaks of evildoers who “assail me to devour my flesh.” Paul writes to warn the members of his congregation in Philippi to watch out for false teachers whose “god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame,” yet reminds them that Christ will come: “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory”

There are foxes attacking the henhouse. Fire is coming that will destroy the city and temple. But, there is protection under the wings of the hen – in trust and allegiance to the kingdom Christ brings – but God’s people will not come. And so Jesus laments. Their ‘house’ is abandoned, the temple desecrated and burned, and they will not find the kingdom until they turn to welcome God’s reign and the one “who comes in the name of the LORD.”

Redeemed

File:Dmitrienko-Golgotha-1954-97X130.jpgLast week we began our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Our focus last Sunday was a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism “He has created me and all that exists.” This week we look at the second article of the creed and the line from the Catechism: “He has purchased and freed me from all sins.”

Between “Created” and “Redeemed” stands the rubble of Syria, the poverty of the slums of Mumbai, the machetes of Rwanda, the distended bellies of the Sudan, the tyranny of North Korea, the flooded homes of the 9th Ward, the tainted forests of Chernobyl, the polluted waters of the Cuyahoga, the toxic air of Beijing, the scarred lands of West Virginia, the rising seas, the rapid pace of extinctions, the long human history of oppression and violence, not to mention the very personal violence of home and street.

We are created in the image of God, given to the world as icons of God’s grace and love, entrusted with the care of the planet and one another. But we have lost our way, lost the garden, lost our souls. But the human story doesn’t end in dismay. It has its goal in Christ.

The story of redemption takes us to the crucifixion. In the mystery of this sacrifice something happens that changes everything. Our fate is no longer tied to our sins and brokenness but to Christ. Though the path to the garden was blocked, the path into the new creation has been opened. The gates of hell have not prevailed. Christ has set sin’s prisoners free.

The Prayer for February 21, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you came to us in your Son, Jesus
and by his sacrifice delivered us from death’s dominion.
Make us ever mindful of the depth of your love
and the price of our redemption
that we may live your grace and life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 21, 2016

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
“‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” – Abram (Abraham) has trusted God’s promise and journeyed to the land of Canaan – yet he and Sarai remain childless. God renews the promise of many descendants and confirms it with an ancient covenant ceremony.

Psalmody: Psalm 27
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
– The psalmist expresses his trust in God’s faithfulness and seeks God’s deliverance.

Second Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.” – Paul warns his beloved congregation about false teachers who put their confidence in the outward marks of circumcision rather than the grace of God in Christ who will bring to us the fullness of God’s reign.

Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
– Jesus is warned about Herod’s threat on his life, but he is not dissuaded from his ministry knowing that his destiny lies in Jerusalem – and over Jerusalem he laments, for they refuse God’s reign.

Redeemed: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the meaning of the first article of the creed and our theme for week 1: “He has created me and all that exists”. We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

First image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWankie_Christ_on_the_Cross.jpg by Creator:Władysław Wankie (cyfrowe.mnw.art.pl) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Second image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADmitrienko-Golgotha-1954-97X130.jpg by Rurik Dmitrienko – Pierre Dmitrienkko (Dmitrienko-Archives) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tested

File:Briton Rivière - The Temptation in the Wilderness.jpg

Watching for the Morning of February 14, 2016

Year C

The First Sunday in Lent

We are reading Luke out of order now that we have entered the festal season of Lent, going back and jumping forward (and even adding a Sunday from John) to capture themes for this season that leads us to the three days from the Last Supper on the evening of Maundy Thursday through the cross and resurrection. So where we had been reading about Jesus in Nazareth, we jumped forward to the Transfiguration last Sunday (to match the words from Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of the previous season) and now, on this first Sunday in Lent, we are looking back to the narrative of Jesus tested in the wilderness.

It’s a little disorienting and leads to the perception that the Gospels are like bags of marbles rather than dramas with a beginning, middle and end that bear a message for a time and a place. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is not a collection of sayings from the time of the Salem Witch Trials; it is a narrative for a nation in the midst of the anticommunist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era.  It intends to help us see ourselves and our time.  It intends to change our hearts – and so, too, the Gospels.

So as we hear the Gospel read on Sunday we need to remember where we are in the story: We’ve heard of the wondrous birth of John, the angel’s message to Mary, the promise of a kingdom without end, Mary’s song of the righting of the world, John’s exhortation to begin now to live the life of the coming kingdom, and Jesus, baptized, anointed with the Spirit, with the voice from heaven declaring: “You are my son.” It is a claim that must be tested, and tested it is. The devil comes to urge him to be less than he is – to be like God’s people who clamored for bread, bowed down before the golden calf, and tested God in the wilderness.

But Jesus proves true. He does not break faith. He trusts fully in God’s word.

Created

File:Heavens Above Her.jpgDuring Lent each year our parish focuses upon one portion of the catechism – this year, the Apostles’ Creed. The themes of the coming five Sundays are: Created, Redeemed, Called, Gathered, Enlightened.

“God has created me and all that exists” is the line from Luther’s Small Catechism that guides our first week. The genius in Luther’s brief explanation to the first article of the creed is the word ‘me’. The creed does not set out a doctrine of God; it is proclaims a relationship. God has created me. God has surrounded me with all the bounty of creation. God provides me with all I need for no reason other than God’s goodness. It is all gift – and that proclamation leads to the recognition: “Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey him.”

It misses the point to argue creation versus evolution. What the faith confesses is not a theory of origins; the faith confesses a loving presence to whom I belong, to whom I owe fealty, to whom I owe praise and thanksgiving.

The Prayer for February 14, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you called forth the world
and formed us from the dust of the earth and the breath of your Spirit.
In the wonder of your Son, Jesus,
you show the pattern of true faithfulness.
Make us ever true to your Word
and confident of your mercy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 14, 2016

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…” – When Israel enters into the land, they are to bring an offering of the first fruits, recite the story of what God has done for them, and celebrate God’s goodness.

Psalmody: Psalm 91 (appointed: 91:1-2, 9-16)
“You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
– The psalmist proclaims the protective love of God (a psalm the devil quotes in testing Jesus).

Second Reading: Romans 10:8b-13
“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Paul is arguing that we are restored to a right relationship with God not by outward acts of obedience to the law, but by trusting allegiance to God’s promise.

Gospel: Luke 4:1-13
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”
– Following the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon Jesus and the declaration from God “This is my Son”, the devil tests Jesus, seeking to show him unworthy of such a title.

 

Image: Briton Rivière – The Temptation in the Wilderness [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHeavens_Above_Her.jpg  By Ian Norman (http://www.lonelyspeck.com) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Changing direction

Watching for Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016

File:Spoilt for Choice^ - geograph.org.uk - 640101.jpgAsh Wednesday takes us into territory that we, as Americans, don’t travel much. It is a season of repentance. We have a hard time acknowledging our sins, much less feeling bad about it. Nor do we like to think about our mortality and the frailty of life. But there is no wisdom without these.

Our instinctive national answer to the tragedy in the Middle East is to blame and send more troops, not to ask how we ended up here and whether there is another path we should take. We do not like to consider whether there are stains on our hands.

There is something to be said for the forward view of American culture. We are a people who do not feel bound by the past. Its blessing is our inventiveness. Its curse is that we do not learn well from the past.

We do not have time for navel-gazing; there are things to do. We do not believe in abstinence; the economy depends upon impulse purchases. Even Santa, after all, we now know, ditches his sleigh for the much more pleasurable experiences of delivering present in his bright red Mercedes.

Ash Wednesday tells us to be still. To remember we are mortal. To consider the realm of the spirit. To let go of some generally simple pleasures (that we imagine we cannot live without) and turn our attention to those who are in need of life’s most basic necessities like food and shelter. Or friendship. Or kindness. Or a listening ear.

So Wednesday we will hear the traditional texts from Joel calling us to return to the LORD, and the David’s psalm crying out to God after being confronted with the abuse of his royal power to take Bathsheba and rob Uriah of his life. We will hear Paul urge us to be reconciled with God. And we will hear Jesus talk about the difference between acts of public piety and a life that embodies the mercy of God.

Forty days is much to long to feel sad about our sins. But both the Greek and Hebrew words translated as repentance mean changing our direction, not feeling guilty.

We need occasionally to stop, and look, and turn away from the well-worn path into that other path that is true life.

We call it Lent.

It takes us to Easter.

The Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty God, Holy and Immortal,
who knows the secrets of every heart
and brings all things to the light of your grace.
Root us ever in your promised mercy
that, freed from every sin and shame,
we may walk the paths of your truth and love.

The Texts for Ash Wednesday

First Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.” – Facing a terrible plague of locusts, the prophet calls for the people to turn to God, marking themselves with dust and ashes and rent hearts that God may see their desperate plight and come to their aid.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:8-14
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.” – In our parish, we use the appointed Psalm 51 (the famous cry of repentance by David after he has been confronted by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah and the taking of Bathsheba ) in the confession at the beginning of our liturgy. When we come to the time for the psalm we hear the poet speak of the tender love and faithfulness of God who has “removed our sins from us” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1 (Appointed: 5:20b-6:10)
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
– Paul calls his troubled congregation to live within the reconciling work of God in Christ.

Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Jesus declares at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that, in order to enter into God’s dawning reign, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now, having spoken about the meaning of the commandments (in contrast to the way they are taught by the scribes) Jesus turns to the acts of piety for which the Pharisees were known. Our prayer, fasting and charity must be done not for public acclaim but to please God.

 

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