Stirred not shaken

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The Seventy

Watching for the Morning of July 3, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

I watched a James Bond move last week and learned that the designation ‘00’ was given to agents after two kills – when they have proved their hardness of heart. Maybe we need a designation for agents who have brought God’s healing to two lives and proved their tenderness of heart. Stirred, not shaken.

Sunday centers on Luke’s account of the sending of the seventy. Earlier, Luke had recorded Jesus sending the twelve ahead of him to heal and proclaim the reign of God. Now Jesus sends “seventy others.” The reading contains Jesus’ familiar phrase that “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, and the injunction that they are sent “like lambs into the midst of wolves.” The mission is urgent (don’t pack a bag) but God will provide through the hospitality of those who are “sons [and daughters] of peace.” Where they are welcomed, they should heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” And where they are not welcomed, they should “shake off the dust” as a warning of God’s judgment for “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me.”

As a new king coming to claim the land sends out representatives to prepare for his arrival, dispensing his benefactions and warning those who resist – so the followers of Jesus are sent. And they return with joy. The realm of Satan was falling.

Our other readings on Sunday pick up the themes of deliverance and joy. The text from Isaiah contains a promise of that day when Jerusalem is restored and the world brought to peace. The psalmist sings God’s praise for his work of deliverance in the exodus from Egypt. And our reading in Galatians comes to its final chapter where Paul urges the community to remember that we will reap what we sow – urging them to sow to the Spirit (the new creation, the reign of God) and not to our “flesh” (the passions and desires of our fallen nature).

The mission of the seventy is not just for the seventy. It is the mission of the church, of the people, of each and all of us. Having gifts that differ we are sent as heralds of the kingdom, bearing the gifts of the kingdom. There are plenty of contentious, divisive, and angry voices rending lives and the body politic. But Christ has his agents, bringing healing and life.

The Prayer for July 3, 2016

Eternal Father,
whose heart is ever searching
to gather your world to yourself,
help us dwell in your mercy
and make us faithful in our calling to bear witness to your love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 3, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” –
A song of Salvation containing the promise that the nation, broken by war and exile, will be restored.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:1-8
“Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth” – a song of joy at God’s deliverance, recalling the exodus from Egypt.

Second Reading: Galatians 6:1-16
“Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.” – Exhortations from the closing section of Paul’s letter contrasting those things “sown to the flesh” (our “fallen” nature, our innate self-centeredness) with what is sown to the Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
“”The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
– Jesus sends out seventy as heralds of the reign of God and instructs them about their mission.


Image:  By anonimus ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Cost of Discipleship

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Sunday Evening

Psalm 16

4 Those who choose another god
multiply their sorrows.

When I was 17, I found a book in a local bookstore entitled The Cost of Discipleship. I hadn’t yet heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I didn’t know anything of his context in Germany before and during the Nazi era. I didn’t know about his work teaching catechism in the inner city. I didn’t know about his ecumenical work. I didn’t yet know about the underground seminary in which he taught when the Nazi’s took over the state church. I didn’t know that he consciously chose to leave the United States in 1939 and return to Germany to suffer with his nation the woes that were upon them. I didn’t yet know he had been martyred by the Nazis. I was simply gripped by the title and content of the book. Its thesis was pretty simple: Jesus meant what he said.

Bonhoeffer contrasted “cheap grace” and “costly grace”. Cheap grace was a love that asked nothing in return, it asked no sacrifice, no commitment, no discipleship. Cheap grace allowed us to return home unchanged. It was a pointed critique of most church life. It had a dramatic effect on my young life.

I had been raised in a context that tended to look upon the teaching of Jesus as a noble ideal rather than a real expectation. It was good to forgive those who sin against you, but God would forgive us if we didn’t. It was good not to judge, but God would still love us if we did. It was good to share the love of God, but we had an evangelism committee and the pastor for that purpose.

The Christianity I experienced as an adolescent was about comfort in our struggles and encouragement to be nice. And then I read Bonhoeffer: “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” Radical discipleship. It was thrilling and challenging to think about taking Jesus seriously.

Since then I have met people whose allegiance to Jesus caused them to be tortured – beatings, cigarette burns, electric shocks, the whole deal. What infuriated their captors most was they could not turn their victims to hate. I have known others who were missionaries in places where becoming a Christian was a crime. There is something about great sacrifice that seems noble and heroic to a young man. Later on in life, it looses its romance. But I also came to understand that the cost of discipleship is not the one, big, heroic thing; it is the many small heroic things – acts of kindness, generosity, sacrifice, service. It is shoveling the snow from the sidewalk of a neighbor whose mobility is limited. It is showing up with food in time of grief. It is choosing to silence gossip, or reaching out to those on the margins. It is choosing to put the best construction on the words and deeds of others and to hold one’s tongue rather than vent one’s anger. It is the courage to acknowledge ones faults rather than justify one’s actions. It is the commitment to make amends and to choose reconciliation. All of which sounds like “nice” – but is, in fact, far more than nice. It is the choice to live the reign of God rather than the way of the world.

There are people I knew who came to clean the church bathrooms when we could not afford a janitor. It is not something pleasurable or intrinsically rewarding; it is something one gives for the sake of others. Bonhoeffer will always be something of a hero to me – but so are the people who made some eighty sandwiches every Wednesday and took them to the street people on Cass Avenue in downtown Detroit. So is the couple who opened their home for a weekly Sunday night Bible Study – who saw their home as a tool for Gods purpose rather than a private sanctuary for themselves (or an investment for their future). So are the people who lived gracefully in pain rather than inflicting it on others. So is the woman who brought a remarkable cheerfulness to her nursing home when she could not longer stay in her home.

The cost of discipleship is not only seen the in the family who quit their jobs, sold their home, and became missionaries to Papua New Guinea. It is seen in the guy you could always find washing dishes after a church event, or the one who showed up to fix whatever he heard was broken. Or the guys who took a troubled teen under their wing and showed him what a good man could be. Or those who gave up their Saturday morning to prepare the altar for Sunday. All of which looks a lot like “nice”, but is in fact a choice to be a healing and life-giving presence in the world, to be a witness to the love of God, to show allegiance to this Jesus who told us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

And what I know of most of these – including the man who was tortured – is that they didn’t consider their discipleship a cost but a privilege from which they received far more than they gave. But it was a choice. A choice to follow this Jesus. A decision to choose the kingdom because of the one who chose them.

And so we come back to the verse from our psalm this morning: “Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows.”

There is a cost to worshipping other gods. It is a cost in sorrows. There is a price to pay to serve money, wealth or power. The gods of beauty and fame exact terrible sacrifices. And they do not give back. Their rewards are fickle and fleeting and perish in the grave. But the life God gives is eternal – both now and in the age to come.


Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0211-316 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (, via Wikimedia Commons

The noble



Psalm 16

3 As for the holy ones in the land,
they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

Noble, lofty, majestic, glorious – even ‘famous’ – the underlying Hebrew word is like the English word ‘noble’. It can refer to someone who is honorable or to the elite members of society, the nobility.

Every culture has its ‘nobility’, those who by virtue of their wealth, family or fame occupy the upper echelons. These are the ones who govern, who set fashion, who occupy the big homes and public airwaves. These are the ones around whom the world seems to revolve. They run the central institutions of their time. And they are the ones the structures of society tend to serve. Laws favor them. They are the 1% – or the .1%.

In the modern west, the elite are a diverse lot. Some are artists who dominate the media. Some are the graduates of elite universities who occupy the elite corporate positions. Some become famous by chance. Some because of their skill at sport. Some because of their skill at politics. Some who are famous for being famous.

We buy their tennis shoes, listen to them on the talk shows, watch them on late night television. We follow them online. We name our children after them. We treat some of them as gods.

So who is it that our psalmist lifts up as the true nobility? “The holy ones.” The faithful. The pious. Those whose allegiance is to the God of the Exodus and Sinai. Those who observe the commands to care for the poor and honor parents. These are the ones with honest weights in the market and respect for the land and its creatures. They do not leave a donkey fallen under its load. They take a wandering animal back to its owner. They protect the livelihood of their neighbor and the integrity of their neighbor’s marriage and family. They do not cut down the fruit trees in time of war. They do not gather in the high places to worship gods of fertility and prosperity. They do not sacrifice their children to the hungers of the gods. They do not put their hope in fetishes, but in the promise of God. They honor the vows they speak. They bring their first and best to the LORD.

These are the true nobility of a country. Not those who are standing shirtless in their victory parade. Not those whose sex tapes burn up the internet. Not those whose charity is trumpeted for all to hear. But those who show faithfulness to God and neighbor. Those who do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

These are the ones we should honor. These are the ones we should treasure.

3 As for the holy ones in the land,
they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

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Top image: By [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bottom image:  By Srinivasan Mandadi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The birds of the air have nests

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Luke 9:51-62

57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

There is something restless about Christian faith. We are not at peace with the world as it is; we are anticipating its redemption.

Jesus, of course, is speaking to a would-be follower who hasn’t considered the fundamental shift that has taken place with Christ. Before Christ, a person’s fundamental allegiance was to their family of origin. In Christ, one’s fundamental commitment is to the kingdom of God, the age to come, the new creation, the world made whole again.

Before Christ, existence revolved around your kin group. They were your identity, your support, your safety. Their ability to avenge a wrong kept others from harming you. Their status in the community provided your status. The food from their land was your food. But this would-be follower hasn’t counted the cost of making Christ his fundamental allegiance.

Christ calls his followers to “leave the dead to bury their dead,” refusing to play second fiddle to the culture when a man responds to Jesus’ summons by asking to first fulfill his filial obligation to his parents.

Jesus rejects the claim of his own family who come to “take him home” when his strange behavior begins to raise suspicions that he is possessed. He declares that the members of his kin group are those who do the will of God. Jesus says families will be divided two against three, and some will be killed by their own people.

This is a kind of all or nothing moment. Either you are with Jesus and God’s healing of the world or you are with the world and its brokenness. Either you take up the cross, the hostility of the world as it is, or you pick up stones to stone him. Either the new creation is dawning or we stake our claim on the old one – or, perhaps better, it stakes its claim on us.

Either you show allegiance to your enemies (love them) or you take no thought for them (hate them). Either you forgive those who sin against you or take your revenge. Either you share your abundance or build bigger barns. Either you are sons and daughters of the light or sons and daughters of the darkness.

This isn’t about professed religion or church membership; this is about allegiance to God’s healing of the world or allegiance to the world as is. Some of us are doing quite nicely in the world as it is. That’s why Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. We have to let go of the world as it is to take hold of the world that will be. We have to let go of injustice to lay hold of justice. We have to let go of violence to peacemakers. We have to let go of what Paul calls “the works of the flesh” (the deeds rooted in our fallen nature) to bear the fruit of the Spirit.” “The night is far gone, the day is near;” “the hour has come” to wake from our slumber, to “put on the Lord Jesus,” to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

So we are not nestled down in the world. But neither are we waiting to escape it for the next. We are restless for the world to be made whole. We are restless for our hearts to be made whole. We are hungry for the banquet of heaven. We are seeking the reign of God. We are living its values, following its path, sowing its seed. We are agents of its healing, witnesses to its mercy, participants in its joy. We are shareholders in the new creation.


Image:  By GuoJunjun (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 no (, via Wikimedia Commons

Fire from heaven

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Luke 9:51-62

54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Personally I am not interested in the LeBron James, muscular, slam-dunk, in-your-face, power basketball. I like the grace of the high arching shot of Steph Curry. I choose David over Goliath. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want my teams to crush certain opponents. If next year’s Michigan-Ohio State score is 55-0 Michigan, I will enjoy every minute. We have endured their superior attitude too long (OSU has won four straight and 13 of the last 15 in this most intense of football rivalries, first played in 1897).

There is something of an innate thrill at the obliteration of your enemies. I understand why James and John wanted their journey to Jerusalem to be a victory march. God’s anointed is coming to the holy city to set the world right, and we could do with a little slam-dunk lightning against those who stand in God’s way. Make those Romans quake in their boots. Give em a taste of their own medicine.

It seems it’s always the innocent who get struck down by lightning. Orlando. San Bernadino. Sandy Hook. Syria beneath barrel bombs. The Janjaweed striking with impunity in Darfur. The devastation done with machetes in Rwanda and with gas in Nazi occupied Poland.

Maybe that’s why we love the David story: a giant finally got knocked down. We could use some well-placed lightning in the world.

But who will be the one to call the targets?

For all that James and John have seen, for all they have heard, despite their call to be fishermen gathering people into the net of God’s embrace, they want lightning against God’s enemies.

They don’t get what they want. We don’t get what we want. In fact, it is the anointed one, the Messiah/Christ, who will take the lightning strike that should fall on us.

The disciples have seen great acts of mercy. They have already been sent out on a mission to announce the dawning reign of God and bring God’s healing. They have returned to witness a remarkable meal, five thousand seated together in peace. But they haven’t quite figured out that the kingdom doesn’t come with thunderbolts; it comes with mercy and truth and the opening of graves.


Image: Public domain

Something more than all

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Watching for the Morning of June 26, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 8 / Lectionary 13

Jerusalem. The city that slays the prophets. Jesus sets his face for the holy city and his destiny there. But Jesus does not follow the normal route from Galilee, going down to the Jordan River, traveling south around Samaria, then back up to Jerusalem. Jesus goes straight through Samaria, hostile country though it be. He has set his face.

He is not received in Samaria. He is a pilgrim going to Jerusalem – why should they help? Jesus and his followers are not part of their family, tribe or community. No hospitality is required of enemies – though hospitality would be required for God’s anointed. For this affront, the disciples are ready to call down fire. Like Elijah on the hill when soldiers came to seize him. Like wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

How far the disciples still are from the reign of God. How far from the peace of God that silences the wind and waves and warring of the human heart. And from Jesus we hear not only rebuke, but the uncompromising demand of discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” There is a message to be proclaimed. There is healing to be brought to the world. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

So Sunday we hear of Elijah summoning Elisha to follow – Elisha slaughters his oxen and sacrifices them, using the wood of the plow for the fire. He leaves all to follow his new master. We hear the psalmist declaring his complete allegiance, refusing to participate in the sacrifices to any other God. And we hear the apostle Paul summoning the Galatians to live by the Spirit and not the desires of our fallen nature.

We tend to be uncomfortable with Jesus speaking in such uncompromising terms. We expect “welcome for the sinner, and a promised grace made good.” And while there is, indeed, grace for the sinner, for the disciple there is a mission. “‘Tis not all we owe to Jesus; It is something more than all.”*

The Prayer for June 26, 2016

Heavenly Father, Lord of All,
you call people of every age to walk in your paths and herald your kingdom.
Grant us courage to follow where you lead,
go where we are sent,
and bear witness to your love,
that all may know your reign of grace and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 26, 2016

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
“So [Elijah] set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing.” –
Elijah is commissioned to anoint Elisha as his successor and summons him to follow. Elisha sacrifices his oxen, using the wood of the plow for the fire, and goes to serve Elijah.

Psalmody: Psalm 16
“I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” – The poet declares his allegiance to the LORD and his refusal to partake in offerings to any other god.

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” – Paul calls the community to live by the Spirit and contrasts the works of our fallen nature (the ‘flesh’) with with the fruit of the Spirit

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
– Passing through Samaria with his face set towards Jerusalem, Jesus is refused hospitality by a Samaritan town and James and John are ready to call down the fire of God’s judgment. This is coupled with three sayings on the radical requirements of discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”


*quoted from the hymn: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

Image: By Janericloebe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Leave us alone, Jesus

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A look back to Sunday

Luke 8:26-39

37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

It was a simple thing we did on Sunday. I printed 49 copies of a list of the names of those who were killed in Orlando, and went through the list highlighting a first name on each list. I then passed the lists out at the end of the sermon asking each person in the congregation to take one and, in the prayers of the people, name the name that was highlighted on their list.

It was simple and moving to hear these names rise up from many different voices in the congregation. It is customary for us to offer individual prayers from the congregation when the assisting minister has finished the more general prayers he or she has prepared for those people and concerns that are on the heart of the whole congregation. Typically, there are individuals named who are dealing with illness or grief – and an occasional prayer of thanks. Having different people in the congregation each lift up a name had the effect of making audible that the people we named each have their own families and networks of friends.

These are not the only ones whose lives have been cut down by violence this last week. The world is too full of sorrow from the hates and callousness that divide us. I do not know what the answer is. I do believe it has something to do with this Jesus who went to the region of Gerasa, where even now violence bears its terrible fruit, and there delivered a man from the legacy of rage and despair.

When the townspeople see the man restored to his right mind, they are filled with fear and ask Jesus to leave them alone. There is a terrible truth in their request: we have lived with our demons so long, we choose the familiar and the known over the possibility of true healing.

So go away from us, Jesus. Don’t ask us to surrender our hates and fears, our passions and desires. Don’t ask us to surrender the sweet satisfaction of self-righteousness. Don’t ask us to consider why we are alienated from others or ourselves.

Don’t ask us to see the hungry at our gate or the wounded at the side of the road. Don’t ask us to see the log in our own eye. Don’t ask us to sell our possessions and give alms. Don’t ask us to bless those who curse us or forgive those who sin against us. Don’t ask us to beat our swords into plowshares. Go away from us Jesus. We choose what we know. Egypt is fine. There are melons and leeks.

The healed man begs to go with Jesus. But Jesus sends him home. Home to all those he has cursed and wounded. Home to make his confessions and mend his relationships. Home to tell what God has done. Home to live the peace of Christ.


Image:  Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

He did not despise


Psalm 22:1, 16-28

File:Peter Paul Rubens The Three Crosses.jpg24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.

There is a deep underlying tension between our human religiousness and the God of the exodus and Calvary. Our religious impulse is towards what is pure and perfect. Temples and cathedrals of every land are works of extraordinary beauty. We set rules for who is worthy to enter, who is considered pure enough, sacred enough, to come into the presence of the divine.

Every culture needs its rules of purity. They create a measure of social cohesion and identity. They define boundaries. They give a measure of order to the world.

We eat turkeys but not vultures (who feed on the dead) or eagles (who symbolize the nation). Fish eat worms. We eat fish. It is the order of things. (It is what made Chinatown so interesting to me as a child, for there were things hanging in the market windows I never saw in my town’s grocery.)

Fish are “clean” (when they have been cleaned) and worms are “dirty” and belong in the dirt. And what is true of everyday things is true especially of religious things. As children we took baths every Saturday night and wore our “Sunday best” to church.

We have an attraction, as human beings, to what is perfect and pure. An ice skater is “pure grace”. A runner “pure speed”. We exult in the “perfect game”. We are drawn to the beautiful, the pure, the innocent, the brilliant, the exceptional. We turn away from what is corrupt, ignoble, defeated. And we think the heavens must think as we think.

But what, then, shall we do with Jesus? He started so well and ended in such disgrace: bloody, broken, stripped, shamed, mocked, despised. Ugly. Unholy. Defeated. Defiled.

He doesn’t match our human religious impulse. The only way we can hold on to him is by transforming the cross into an act of heroic courage or stripping the body from the cross and focusing on resurrection – ultimate victory!

But it was the crucified who was raised. The shamed who was honored. The debased who was exalted. We see him now through the radiance of the resurrection and the glory of Easter, but on that Friday when the disciples fled, God “did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.”

Jesus embodied this truth of God. He did not despise the leper he touched and healed. He did not despise the bleeding woman who touched him through the crowd. He did not despise the despised woman at the well. He did not despise Matthew, the tax collector or Simon, the Pharisee. He did not despise the widow’s dead son. He did not despise the thief on the cross. He did not despise his disciples who denied him.

Our human religious impulse clashes with this God of slaves and the crucified. But in the day of our need, we find a life-saving mercy. He does not “despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.” He does not despise the sick or the lost. He does not despise the broken or the bitter. He does not despise the saint or the sinner.

Our hearts may be turned to love what is pure and holy, but the heart of God is turned to love us. And hopefully, we will learn to follow the command to love as he loves.

+   +   +

For other reflections on the texts for this Sunday from this and previous years, follow this link Lectionary C 12, or Proper C 7


Image:  by Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The poor shall eat and be satisfied

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Psalm 22:1, 16-28

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.

It is because of God’s deliverance that the poet sings God’s praise (“From you comes my praise”). And because the poet survived his desperate illness, he is able to complete the vows he made on his sick bed. These are sacrifices made “in the great congregation”, at the temple in the presence of Israel’s faithful (“before those who fear him”).

The sacrifices the psalmist offers are sacrifices, thanksgiving sacrifices and fellowship offerings that provide a banquet not just for the man and his family, but for the poor of the city: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.” It is the nature of the sacrificial meal. When David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the sacrifices provide food for all.

The gifts we give to God are not for ourselves alone. They are shared that all may rejoice. The joy of the healed poet becomes joy for many. The grace of his healing becomes grace for others.

In my first parish, the people referred to their offerings as their dues. But we are not members of a club who must each pay our share to keep the club going. We are recipients of God’s mercy who bring our offerings that others might share the joy.

Yes, there are bills to pay. Heat and lights and water. The cost of musicians and secretary and staff. The pastor’s time and training not only to preach and teach but to visit the sick and comfort the grieving. There are bills to pay, everything from the wine for communion to the coffee for coffee hour. But the gifts are not dues. They are tithes and offerings given that all might share in the joy of God’s love.

It’s easier to understand dues. But ‘dues’ makes it about me, about what I get from the church and what I must pay to continue to receive it? The much more profound questions is what do I receive from God? And how do I pay it forward?

What is the offering appropriate for the sunrise? What is the gift that matches the gift of the world around us? What sacrifice can possibly reflect the sacrifice Jesus made? Whatever that gift is, it must be a gift that brings some measure of mercy and grace to the world. It must be a gift through which “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.”


Image: [CC BY-SA 3.0 us (, via Wikimedia Commons

The warring drums are silenced


Watching for the Morning of June 12, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 7 / Lectionary 12

It is hard to hear the Gospel reading appointed for this Sunday of the man consumed with rage, alienated from civic life, and dwelling in death’s shadow, and not think of those young men who have taken up assault rifles and become servants of death. Jesus has just calmed the storm at sea (an assault by spiritual powers) and now he calms the storm within this anguished man among the tombs.

There is irony, even mockery, in the story. The demons do not wish to be sent into the abyss so they beg to be sent into a nearby herd of swine. But what they fear, they find – for the pigs plunge themselves into the deep.

The story is set against the background of warring armies, the rage of earthly kingdoms. Gerasa was founded by Alexander the Great on his march to conquer the world. And the demons are legion – as in the legions of the Roman Empire that enforce the Emperor’s will on a captive people. But the oppression and chaos endemic to the rulers of this world are cast out by the command of Jesus who brings the peace and reconciliation of God’s reign.

Sadly, the people of Gerasa choose the familiar world of violence and beg Jesus to leave.

The cry for deliverance – and the cry of God to a people who will not receive it – occupy our readings this Sunday. In the first reading from Isaiah, God reaches out to a people who will not draw near and perish in their idolatries. The psalm is the familiar cry for deliverance uttered by Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a cry God answers. The possessed man among the tombs cries in anguish as the evil within is confronted with the presence of God in Christ, but deliverance comes. And in Galatians we hear Paul exulting in the new creation that has come in Christ: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

There is a battle raging in the world – not the battle between competing human empires or ideologies, but the battle between humanity’s wars of domination and God’s work of liberation, between our rage and God’s peace, between the forces of chaos and the grasping passions of the human heart, and the passion of God who suffers for the redemption of the world. For those who come together to hear these stories on Sunday, the warring drums are silenced, and we are brought together in peace at God’s table.

The Prayer for June 19, 2016

Gracious God,
like the man who lived among the tombs,
we are bound by our fears and wounds, sins and failings.
Restore and renew us by your word of Grace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 19, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9
“I was ready to be found by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.” –
Through the prophet God cries out against a rebellious and idolatrous people.

Psalmody: Psalm 22:1, 16-28 (appointed, Psalm 22:19-28)
“For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”
– This psalm associated with the passion of Jesus, that begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” cries out to God for deliverance form affliction and becomes a song of thanksgiving.

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-29
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” – Paul describes the Mosaic law as the servant/slave charged with escorting a child to school and correcting him with a rod, but now in Christ we have entered God’s new reality

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
“Then Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him.”
– A man possessed by a legion of demons (as in the Roman legions) – consumed by rage, cut off from society, and dwelling among the dead – is restored by the dawning reign of God in Jesus.


Image: Master of the Furies [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons