Bold to command?

File:100409-N-3090M-459 Capt. Michael Bernacchi, Commander Submarine Squadron 4, departs.JPG

Wednesday

Philemon 1-21

8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love

I am not bold enough, in Christ or out of Christ, to command anyone to do anything – though I think about it, though I sometimes wish I were.

I wish I were bold enough to tell any who come to share in the Lord’s Table that they can no longer forward tweets and emails that are (pick one or more) false, ignorant, bigoted, racist. I wish I were daring enough to command them not to gossip or to give as they should give. I wish I could command them to love their neighbor as themselves.

I’m not.

I’m not sure it would be good were I so bold. My job is actually a tougher one, like being sent from the kitchen into the living room to give instructions to my siblings: “Mom says, ‘Turn off the TV.’”

I’m not making up this stuff about loving your neighbor. God told it first to Moses in Leviticus and Jesus said this little commandment was the chief thing – and the same thing as loving God. He also told us that everyone is our neighbor. But it’s not my authority to command; the obligation falls upon my siblings not to mock me but to obey Mom.

There are no consequences for ignoring me. There are, however, consequences for ignoring Mom. And if Mom really has sent me…

But the Apostle Paul doesn’t just want the grudging, gripping, bitter obedience that turns off the television with whining and annoyance. Paul wants Philemon to understand the love of God that must manifest itself as love for Onesimus. Onesimus is a runaway slave. Onesimus has placed himself in that category with all those who would undermine the established order of ancient Roman life. The owner has an obligation to make an example of a runaway. The owner has the right to punish him in any way he pleases – including crucifixion. But Paul says to Philemon that Christ obligates him to receive Onesimus as brother, to welcome him in love. “I could command you. But I want more from you. I want you to live love.”

So I could try to command those who mutter callous and, perhaps, unreflective bitterness about Muslims, Jews, African-Americans, Gays, Chinese, Obama, the Republicans, or the poor (though I doubt it would do any good since I lack all the gravitas of Paul and live in a very different world where people take offense and go to a different congregation), but what I want, what I hope for, what I pray for, is that the love of God may encompass them. That they may grasp and be grasped by “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ and so be filled with all the fullness of God.”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A100409-N-3090M-459_Capt._Michael_Bernacchi%2C_Commander_Submarine_Squadron_4%2C_departs.JPG By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Steven Myers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Counting the Cost

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Watching for the Morning of September 4, 2016

Year C

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 18 / Lectionary 23

Jesus’ relentless challenge of the social order continues this week as he spells out to the crowd the consequences of enjoining the privileged to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to their banquets. Banquets functioned to maintain the social fabric through ties of kinship and friendship and by reinforcing the honor status of the host and guests. Jesus’ teaching to invite those on society’s margins jeopardized the safety and security of the family by bringing shame on the family, undermining their position in society and incurring the hostility of their social class.   ‘Love’ and ‘hate’ are words expressing attachment and detachment. Those who would follow Jesus must detach from the social system of this world in order to show allegiance to the new order that is dawning in Christ. The reign of God welcomes all, feeds all, forgives all. One cannot live the kingdom and yet maintain the ties of security through family position and wealth. “Count the cost,” Jesus says, “Count the cost.”

With this radical challenge comes the preaching of Moses declaring that God’s way is not too hard for you,” but is in fact the way of life. We hear the psalmist describe the one who shows fidelity to God (and neighbor) as a tree planted by streams of water,” drawing in the water of life in contrast to “the wicked” (those who lack fidelity to God and neighbor) who are “like chaff that the wind drives away.” And we hear Paul writing to Philemon, setting before him the need to welcome his runaway slave, Onesimus, (whom Philemon had the legal right to punish even to death) as a brother in Christ.

The world will staunchly defend the social order, but Jesus calls us to be a new creation, citizens of the age to come when all creation is reconciled to the Lord and Giver of Life. There is a cost to discipleship – but a greater cost for ignoring so great a salvation.”

The Prayer for September 4, 2016

Lord to whom our lives belong,
grant us courage to follow where you lead,
bearing the burdens of a broken world,
daring to speak the word of hope,
and living the love that lays down its life
for the sake of the world.

The Texts for September 4, 2016

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:11-20
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
– In a sermon set in the mouth of Moses, speaking to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the promised land, the preacher sets before them the choice of faithfulness and life or disobedience and all its consequences.

Psalmody: Psalm 1
“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season.” –With this psalm that opens the psalter, the poet speaks of the enduring quality of the righteous (those faithful to God and neighbor) in contrast to the ephemeral existence of the wicked who are like chaff swept away by the wind.

Second Reading: Philemon 1-21
“Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love.”
– Paul writes to Philemon on behalf of a runaway slave who has come to Paul and become a follower of Christ. Paul is sending him back to his master with instructions for Philemon to receive him as a brother.

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” – The words love and hate convey a different sense to the first century than to ours, but the words were shocking then as now. The kingdom of God, the reign of grace, requires our ultimate allegiance. We should count the cost.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWTC_Hub_July_2014_vc.jpg By JasonParis from Toronto, Canada [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The river of life

File:Río Dynjandisá, Vestfirðir, Islandia, 2014-08-14, DD 118-120 HDR.JPG

Watching for the Morning of August 21, 2016

Year C

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 16 / Lectionary 21

How arid has faith become when you resent a person being healed on the Sabbath? How barren when we are so committed to the form of religion that we have lost its life breath?

And do not think this is a problem of those archenemies, the Pharisees. It is the problem of every religious tradition.

We have all been in that place where we resent the attention someone is getting, when we can feel the ground of our position, authority or respect weakened. Our innate tendency in such moments is to see the other’s faults – and point them out. We diminish the other in whatever way is available to us. We mark their errors. We minimize their accomplishments. We sneer and snicker, gripe and complain. We murmur. On a human level, we understand the Pharisees.

But however understandable it may be, humanly speaking, it is dark and haunted spiritually. Before us stands the anointed of God dispensing the gifts of that ultimate Sabbath rest when all heaven and earth are united in peace, when God’s spirit of grace and life governs every heart, and all that has gone wrong since Eden has been left behind with the grave clothes in the tomb.

Before us stands a foretaste of the final Sabbath – and in our resentment we see instead some upstart, untrained, Nazarene who should be working the construction site not presuming to speak for God. We don’t see healing; we see work that could have waited a day. We don’t see deliverance; we see doctoring. We don’t see salvation manifesting itself in our midst; we see the mundane. We miss the wondrous and dwell in the ordinary. Without realizing it, we have abandoned the rich green land of promise for the dry grass of a spiritual desert.

This Sunday, through the prophet, the poet, the author of Hebrews and by the voice of Jesus, God calls us to renewal: to reenter the promised land, to drink again from the river of the water of life, to feast on the bread of heaven and sing anew: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”

The Prayer for August 21, 2016

God of healing,
bring your reign of light and life
to all who are broken or bound,
touching us with foretaste of that feast where all are fed,
every wound healed
and every tear wiped away.

The Texts for August 21, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14
“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” – In the difficult years after the return from exile in Babylon, when Jerusalem still lay in ruins and faith had grown lackluster before the trials of daily existence, the prophet calls the people to renewed faithfulness.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:1-8
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” – A hymn of praise, celebrating God’s abundant mercies.

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”
– Having concluded his great recital of those who put their trust in the promise of God, the author contrasts the threats and fear experienced with the giving of the Law at Sinai with the promise and grace of life in Christ – urging us not to miss such a gift.

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17
“Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” – Jesus frees a bound woman on the Sabbath, incurring the hostility of the religious leaders. But Jesus was not “doctoring” on the Sabbath; he was bringing the Sabbath rest of God.

 

Reflection adapted from 2013. Follow this link for other reflections on the texts for this Sunday.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AR%C3%ADo_Dynjandis%C3%A1%2C_Vestfir%C3%B0ir%2C_Islandia%2C_2014-08-14%2C_DD_118-120_HDR.JPG by Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

God sees

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Thursday

Jeremiah 23:23-32

23Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off?

It is a question that will have great power in the years that follow Jeremiah’s preaching, when Jerusalem has been destroyed and its citizens carried off in chains to exile in Babylon.

Is God with them in this far off land? Or do they now inhabit another’s realm? Can we end up so far from home that God is not with us? When we are broken, is God present? Or is God a god who prefers greatness, who stands with those on the victory platform?

It seems that way, sometimes. The stories of some Christian communities are so filled with success and answered prayers that those who walk through the valley imagine God walks only with others.

But the Biblical story is that God is god even in exile, even in Egypt, even in the wilderness. The shining light at the heart of Christianity is a cross: Christ among the degraded, Christ among the broken. God among the exiles.

Yes, God is present.

But Jeremiah’s challenge is spoken to a nation and a leadership enamored with the voices of prophets who speak their own thoughts and passions and dreams: “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name,” says the LORD.

Yes, God is present in the valley. But God is also present on the stage where the name of Jesus is whipped around in support of ideologies and bigotries and zealous agendas. God is present where nations are led to the adoration of might and away from the adoration of the true. God is present where peoples are led to the worship of success and not to the honoring of mercy, where people are enamored with promises of glory and not justice. God is present – to judge, as the divine representatives of the nations gathered before God in the psalm will hear.

23 “Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” says the Lord.

God sees.

The word is comfort to the fallen, great comfort. But the word is danger to our idolatries.

God sees.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJakarta_slumhome_2.jpg By Jonathan McIntosh (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A crimson cord

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Wednesday

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

Her life hung by a thread, a length of crimson cord.

Joshua sent two spies into Jericho. The text says they took lodging at the house of Rahab, a prostitute – presumably the line between a public house and a brothel was thin in those days as in many others. When the king of the city learned of their presence, he sent word demanding Rahab bring them out, but she hid the spies and sent the soldiers on a chase saying the men had already left the city. Her house was built into the city wall and in the night she let the men down by a rope, having asked for them to reciprocate her loyalty. They told her to gather her people into the house and mark it with a crimson cord. When the city was taken and sacked, it would be her protection.

The brutality of the slaughter is for another time. What haunts me is that in the midst of the cries of chaos and confusion, the screams and blood, all her hope rests on a promise made visible by a crimson cord.

When Abraham went out from Haran he left with nothing more than a promise. When Joseph languishes in prison, he is sustained by nothing more than the promise given by God in dreams he received in his youth. Amidst the wails and sorrows of that night when death struck Egypt, the hope of the Israelites rested on a promise made visible by the blood of a lamb upon the doorpost.

Faith is not my own inner conviction; it is clinging to the promise we have received. Amidst the cries and cruelties of our broken world, all our hope is in a crimson cord and a promise: a splash of water and the promise that our death is taken by Christ and his life given to us.

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab – this great litany of saints – are lifted up to us by the author of Hebrews as examples not for their great deeds or holiness, but because they entrust their lives to the promise of God.

We who gather at the table of the Lord trust our lives to the promise incarnate in a bit of bread that all debts are lifted. We trust our lives to promise that the world belongs to the God who rescues the enslaved and opens the grave. We trust our lives to the God who promises that mercy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness are the destiny of the world.

All our hope is in a crimson cord and a promise, in a lamb slain who lives and shares his imperishable life with us.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

This reflection is slightly edited from that for Propers C 15 in 2013.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARed_thread.jpg By Saurabh R. Patil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

“I have come to bring fire”

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Watching for the Morning of August 14, 2016

Year C

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 15 / Lectionary 20

It hardly seems like the world needs more fire as cities like Aleppo crumble and drought stricken regions in the west are ablaze. Fiery rhetoric incites political violence. Weapons fire echoes through our cities and nations.   We need Jesus to say he is bringing peace, not more conflict. But here are the words: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

There is challenge in the texts for this Sunday: Jeremiah cries out against false prophets. In the psalm, God sits in judgment of the nations for their failure to do justice. Hebrews bears witness to those faithful who “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment,” calling us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” And Jesus declares “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”  The most important social bonds of the ancient world will be torn asunder because of Jesus.

But we need peace and reconciliation. We need an end to war and division. We need words that heal and bind up not rend and tear. So what can you possibly mean, Jesus?

File:Diwali Festival.jpgJesus is talking about discipleship, about living the kingdom in a world that is not yet redeemed, about being agents of peace in a decidedly unpeaceful world. Those who take up the cause of peace will be cannon fodder. Those who work mercy may well inherit cruelty. In a world scrambling for the seats of honor, those who invite the lame and the poor to their banquets are betrayers of their social class, breaking barriers the elite do not want to see broken.

The world will divide over this Jesus. But the hate of the world will not last. Read the signs. The empty tomb is on the horizon. The one who “endured the cross, disregarding its shame…has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The Prayer for August 14, 2016

You call us to faithfulness, O God,
in times of trial and in times of peace.
Grant us courage to speak your word boldly
and to live with daring your teaching,
until that day when all the earth is ablaze
with the fire of your Holy Spirit.

The Texts for August 14, 2016

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:23-32
“Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off?” – God challenges the false prophets who claim to speak for God but speak only their own hopes and dreams.

Psalmody: Psalm 82
“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” – God gathers the ‘gods’ of the nations and speaks judgment for they have failed to protect the weak and the needy.

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:29-12:2
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
– The conclusion of the great recital of those who put their trust in the promise of God and the call to model their faithfulness

Gospel: Luke 12:49-56
“”I came to bring fire to the earth.” – The message of Jesus will provoke division, even within families.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADeerfire_high_res_edit.jpg By John McColgan – Edited by Fir0002 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADiwali_Festival.jpg By Khokarahman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

With eyes raised

File:'Looking Up' at Withybush Hospital - geograph.org.uk - 925250.jpg

Watching for the Morning of August 7, 2016

Year C

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 14 / Lectionary 19

Sunday’s Gospel contains a stunning and unexpected reversal. The servants who are “dressed for action” with “lamps lit” waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet are suddenly brought into the joy of the wedding feast. Instead of serving their master when he comes, they become the recipients of his banquet.

The readings Sunday are filled with promise and joy. Abraham is brought outside and promised descendants like the stars for number. The psalm sings of the providential care of God and the joy of those for whom the LORD is their watchful, caring god. Hebrews sings of Abraham’s trust in God’s promise – a trust, the first reading tells us, God acknowledged as true righteousness (fidelity). And Jesus’ followers are assured that God delights to give them the kingdom. God’s reign, God’s new creation, God’s healing of the world does not have to be extracted from him as justice wrested from reluctant politicians; God is eager to give his Spirit. God is eager to breathe upon us his grace and life.

We live in eager expectation not just for that final day when the trumpet sounds heralding the coming of the king, but for every taste of the banquet to come, for the breath of the Spirit, for surprising mercies, for stunning majesties and every small and unexpected act of kindness. We live in expectation that kindness shall prevail, hate shall perish, and reconciliation triumph. We live with open hands and generous hearts. We live with lamps lit and eyes raised. The master is bringing the joy that has no end.

The Prayer for August 7, 2016

Gracious God,
you promised to Abraham and his children a wondrous inheritance
and called them to live trusting in your word.
Grant us confidence in your promises
and courage to live as children of your kingdom;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 7, 2016

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-6
“And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” – God renews the promise of descendants to Abraham and his trust in God’s promise is recognized as righteousness.

Psalmody: Psalm 33:12-22
“Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,” – A hymn of praise at the providential care of God.

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” –
For whatever reason, the reading of Hebrews is divided between the end of year B and August of year C in the lectionary, so this Sunday we resume readings from Hebrews, beginning with the great recital of those who put their trust in the promise of God (whose fulfillment we await with confidence).

Gospel: Luke 12:32-40
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” – Our reading continues Jesus’ teaching on wealth/possessions from last Sunday, calling us to live for and trust in God’s dawning reign of grace and life.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A’Looking_Up’_at_Withybush_Hospital_-_geograph.org.uk_-_925250.jpg ceridwen [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons