Joy

File:Native home. 'No room at the Inn' LOC matpc.10504.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 16, 2018

Year C

The Third Sunday of Advent

The news this morning told of a seven-year-old girl who died in custody after she and her father crossed into this country and presented themselves to agents as refugees. She was separated from her father and six hours later was dead.

From dehydration.

“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water…”

There will be a seven-year-old girl in our Christmas pageant this Sunday. Her eyes will be bright with delight in her role as Mary. She and Joseph will knock on the door of the inn looking for shelter and will be turned away.

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…”

We sing the Magnificat this Sunday, the Song of Mary that exults in God’s righting of the world. The wheel will turn. The mighty will be cast down and the lowly lifted up. The refugees will find refuge. We will hear Paul write to the believers in Philippi saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” And we will hear of the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaping for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice – and the presence in her womb of the one for whom the world waits.

The theme of this Sunday is the Journey towards Joy. We journey towards that day when every little girl’s eyes will be bright with delight, when no travelers are turned away, when no children are born in the cold of a stable.

And, yes, I know that the nativity story is not about an inn and a stable, but about a peasant home where the store room that functions as a guest room was filled with family of higher rank. So the child is born inside the home, into which the animals are brought to spend the night, adding their warmth into the darkness. But the tradition we have inherited (on a misleading translation about an ‘inn’ rather than a ‘guest room’) about a family dislocated by imperial power and unable to find shelter tells a great truth about the human heart, the human experience, where God chooses to dwell, and God’s determination to set all things right.

Our joy rests in the promise. And its true delights come to us in those moments when we live by the promise. Our journey towards God is a journey towards our neighbor – and in the journey towards our neighbor is the path to God. There we also find the way towards joy.

The Prayer for December 16, 2018

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Bring the desert to full bloom,
and fill with joy our path to you;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 16, 2018

(Because of the Children’s Christmas Program this Sunday, our parish has adjusted the readings during this season. We also try to retain the practice of singing the Magnificat on the third Sunday of Advent. So we will read The Visitation as our Gospel this morning and sing the Magnificat. We included the preaching of John (Luke 3:7-18) in the Gospel reading for last Sunday.)

First Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
– Though Paul is in prison facing the possibility of death, he urges his community to abide in joy.

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55, the Song of Mary (the Magnificat)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – In response to her encounter with Elizabeth, Mary sings with joy of God’s coming to set right the world.

Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
“As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” –Having heard from the angel Gabriel that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, is also wondrously with child, Mary comes to greet her. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit, and the child in her womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy.

The texts as appointed for 3 Advent C

First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” – though the prophetic book speaks in cataclysmic terms of the judgment coming upon the nation, it nevertheless ends with a song of joy. The prophet calls the nation to rejoice for God shall come to reign over his people.

Psalmody: Isaiah 12:2-6,
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” – the prophet sings a song of thanksgiving, anticipating the day of God’s redemption.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” – Though Paul is in prison facing the possibility of death, he urges his community to abide in joy.

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” – John summons the crowd to show their allegiance to the dawning reign of God in acts of justice and mercy.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Native_home._%27No_room_at_the_Inn%27_LOC_matpc.10504.jpg Matson Collection [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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The journey towards the neighbor

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The Gospel from last Sunday, the 2nd Sunday in Advent in 2018, was Luke 3:1-18, combining the Gospel readings for both the second and third Sundays in Advent. For an introduction to this Sunday see the post “And us? What should we do?

I want us to keep in mind, this morning, where we are in Luke’s Gospel. The passage we just read is from chapter three when John and Jesus are now adults. It begins the main section of Luke’s account of God’s work in Jesus.

I would remind you that Luke didn’t write his work in chapters. The chapter breaks were added at the beginning of the 13th century and the verse numbers don’t appear until the 16th century. For Luke this is one continuous account. It was meant to be read as a whole and not cut up into little pieces like we tend to do.

Reading the Gospels in these little fragments needs to be like an old movie you have watched again and again. When you know a movie so well, it’s possible to talk about just one scene, because you know where we are in the whole movie. If you don’t know the movie, the scene may be compelling, but we don’t understand all that it means.

I like the image of saying that somewhere along the way, we broke up the pearl necklace of the gospel into a box of pearls and lost track of its overall beauty. To make matters worse, we had four beautiful necklaces and lumped all the pearls and precious stones into one big box. The problem with the metaphor, of course, is that it still tends to look at the gospel stories as separate pieces when they are better understood as part of a whole – like scenes in a movie.

Because we have four “movies” of Jesus, when we talk about one of these individual scenes we sometimes loose track of which movie we are talking about. So I want to remind you where we are now in Luke’s “movie”. Luke’s story is the one with Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. It tells the story of the shepherds and all heaven singing (it doesn’t tell us the story of the magi, the wise men). Luke is the Gospel with the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s in Luke that Jesus tells us the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s in Luke we hear about the rich man who ignored Lazarus at his gate. Luke is the Gospel where Jesus on the cross prays for the soldiers saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” It’s Luke who tells us about the women who followed Jesus. And it’s Luke who tells us not only about the mission of the twelve during the life of Jesus, but the mission of the seventy.

And Luke’s story doesn’t stop with the resurrection; he tells us of the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the mission of those first followers. He tells us about the baptism of Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. He tells us how Paul participated in the murder of Stephen for blasphemy, and was then met by the risen Lord on his way to Damascus. It tells the story of Paul’s journeys to spread the message about Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world, and his eventual arrest in Jerusalem and transfer to Rome to have his case heard by the emperor

This is the movie we are talking about. It’s a powerful movie. And I want to emphasize again that it’s in this movie from Luke that we get the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and Lazarus and the Rich Man. It’s also here we get this message from John when his listeners ask him “What then shall we do?” and John says: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

As I wrote in the blog post at Watching for the Morning earlier this week, “The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.”

So, where are we are we, today, in Luke’s Gospel? Luke has opened his narrative with the account of the wondrous events that reveal God’s hand in the birth of Jesus. Zechariah is a priest who is chosen by lot to go into the temple and tend the candles and the incense. In the scriptures, things that happen through the religious practice known as casting lots are understood to have been directed by God. So Zechariah is chosen by God to go into the interior of the temple. There he is met by the heavenly messenger, Gabriel, who tells him that his wife, Elizabeth, will have a child. This is a wondrous thing, because Zechariah and his wife are old and barren – and so Luke’s story begins like the Old Testament with the story Abraham and Sarah and the promise of a child. The story of Jesus is going to fulfill the story of Israel. And this is one of the deep themes of the scripture: When it seems like there is no future, God creates a future.

Zechariah, however, doesn’t trust the message of the angel and asks for a sign. The sign the angel gives him is that he will not be able to speak until the child is born. (The song we sang today, by the way, are those first words Zechariah said after the child is born and Zechariah obeys the angel by naming him John.)

Six months after Elizabeth gets pregnant, Gabriel comes again – this time to Mary and announces that she will have a child and she is to name him Jesus. “He will be great,” says the angel, “and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary trusts the angel’s message an offers herself to God’s service.

Gabriel also tells Mary that Elizabeth is pregnant and Mary goes to visit her. At their encounter, Elizabeth’s child leaps for joy in her womb, and Mary sings that beautiful song we know as the Magnificat (that’s the song we will sing next week). In that song, Mary talks about God’s righting of the world. The powerful will be cast down from their thrones and the poor lifted up. The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich elites sent away empty.

After this, John is born and Zechariah sings his prophetic song. (Poetry in the ancient world was understood to be divinely inspired.) Then Jesus is born and the heavens sing and the good news is proclaimed to lowly shepherds. This child is for the poor.

Mary and Joseph go up to the temple to keep their religious obligations after the birth of Jesus. When they arrive, Simeon is guided to them by the Holy Spirit and he sings a song: “Lord, now let you servant go in peace according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” This child is for the whole world.

The 84-year-old prophetess, Anna, sees the child and begins “to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” That word redemption is important. It says the city and nation have become prisoner to greed, wealth and power – and God will buy it back, God will gain it’s freedom, God will make it God’s own again. Indeed it is the whole world that God has come to reclaim.

The child, Jesus, grows “full of wisdom and the favor of God,” and we get one story that gives evidence of Jesus’ destiny: at the age of twelve, Jesus travels with the family to Jerusalem for Passover (remember it’s at Passover when Jesus is crucified and raised). When the village caravan leaves, Jesus is left behind. His parents go back to find him, and they find him after three days! Jesus is in the temple among the teachers, and he answers his parent’s fear and anxiety by saying: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The whole narrative to this point is filled with anticipation, with signs from God, with prophetic words, with grace to the poor and promises of the healing and transformation of the world. And then we hear our text for this morning: Into this world ruled by Imperial Rome and its client kings, priests, and rulers, God’s mighty, transformative Word comes to John in the wilderness. Beyond the Jordan, in the wilderness where long ago Israel had been made ready to enter the Promised Land, John calls the people to a new allegiance to God’s reign.

I was tempted to talk about who all these people are and what these names represent to Luke’s hearers – but it’s enough to just say this: Luke’s people live in the aftermath of the Judean war with Rome and these names all represent the people and powers that led them to destruction. Rome is not the great and glorious empire; it is the oppressive regime that crushed the nation. Annas and Caiaphas are not great spiritual leaders, but the high priests who were in bed with Rome and held a vice grip on power and wealth in Jerusalem for half a century. Into this broken world the Word of God comes to announce the dawning of a new governance.

John announces “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” a washing in the river Jordan to signify a new beginning for Israel. It is a baptism of ‘repentance’ meaning a washing that signifies a new allegiance to God. And it is a baptism for ‘the forgiveness of sins’ meaning that God foregoes God’s right to seek satisfaction for all their offenses against God.

The imagery is of Israel starting over, going out into the wilderness and coming anew into the promised land. But with this new beginning, John warns the people to bear the fruit that is appropriate to God’s reign.

These words of John are not just about John and the people out there at the Jordan River. These are words for all of us. This is what it means to show allegiance to God’s transformation of the world. This is what it means to be ready for the Christ. “The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.”

And the journey toward the neighbor is not only sharing bread; it is about love of neighbor. It is about seeing others as members of your own household. It is about seeing their humanity, about seeing your connection with one another and living out that connection.

I want to tell you again a story about two soup kitchens in Detroit. One was at a large, beautiful old church on Jefferson Avenue on the East Side of Detroit. It was a very blighted area at the time, yet right on the edge of a very wealthy suburb called Grosse Pointe.

The members of that congregation wanted to serve their community so they set up a soup kitchen. The members of the congregation were all white; the people they were feeding were all African–Americans. The doors of the building were locked while they cooked the food and set the tables. At the appointed time they opened the doors and the people filed in down the stairs into the basement. White folks stood behind the counter and dished out the food. The black folks sat down at the tables, ate it, and filed out.

It was important; people were getting fed. But on the other side of town there was another soup kitchen where they opened the doors in the afternoon when the first person arrived to start cooking. People from the neighborhood would drift in and help in the kitchen and set up chairs and tables, and have coffee as others came. When it was time to eat everyone sat down together and ate as one community. The second soup kitchen was a community meal where they knew each other’s names – or had the chance to learn them.

The journey to God is a journey to the neighbor. And the journey to the neighbor is not just an outward act of care; it is about seeing all others as members of your own household. It is about knowing that people have names and a story that matters.

There was a third soup kitchen in Detroit. The woman who was the heart of this soup kitchen was virtually blind. She was in the kitchen in the church basement preparing that night’s soup when she heard a terrific roar. The roof of the church had collapsed in on the sanctuary above her. After they dug her out, she said, “I knew something happened and figured you’d find me, so I just kept making soup.” They hauled out the tables from the basement and served soup for the community on the sidewalk. And in the days after they continued to cook in the basement and eat out on the sidewalk.

“The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.” The woes of the world are many, but we just keep making soup.

Amen

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If you’d like to know or follow up on some of the references in the message from Sunday, here are some of the links:

Because we have four “movies” of Jesus, when we talk about one of these individual scenes we sometimes loose track of which movie we are talking about. So I want to remind you where we are now in Luke’s “movie”. Luke’s story is the one with Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. It tells the story of the shepherds and all heaven singing (it doesn’t tell us the story of the magi, the wise men). Luke is the Gospel with the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s in Luke that Jesus tells us the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s in Luke we hear about the rich man who ignored Lazarus at his gate. Luke is the Gospel where Jesus on the cross prays for the soldiers saying, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” It’s Luke who tells us about the women who followed Jesus. And it’s Luke who tells us not only about the mission of the twelve during the life of Jesus, but the mission of the seventy.

And Luke’s story doesn’t stop with the resurrection; he tells us of the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the mission of those first followers. He tells us about the baptism of Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. He tells us how Paul participated in the murder of Stephen for blasphemy, and was then met by the risen Lord on his way to Damascus. It tells the story of Paul’s journeys to spread the message about Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world, and his eventual arrest in Jerusalem and transfer to Rome to have his case heard by the emperor.

This is the movie we are talking about. It’s a powerful movie. And I want to emphasize again that it’s in this movie from Luke that we get the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and Lazarus and the Rich Man. It’s also here we get this message from John when his listeners ask him “What then shall we do?” and John says: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

As I wrote in the blog post at Watching for the Morning earlier this week, “The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.”

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maximilien_Luce_-_Le_bon_samaritain.jpg Maximilien Luce [Public domain]

 

And us? What should we do?

File:Humanitarian aid OCPA-2005-10-28-090517a.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 9, 2018

Year C

The Second Sunday of Advent

Sunday we combine the assigned Gospel texts for the next two weeks because of the children’s Christmas program on the 16th. This gives us the chance to hear Luke’s account of the ministry of John the Baptizer in a single reading: The word of God comes into the brutal world of Rome and its client kings, announcing God’s righting of the world and the coming of the one who will wash the world in a holy Spirit. And what does it mean to prepare for this wondrous act of God? It is to bear fruit befitting God’s reign: to share your bread with the hungry and your clothes with the naked, to show faithfulness to others rather than plundering them to your benefit.

The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor.

The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.

So there are warnings on Sunday, the ax poised to strike the fruitless tree, and the winnowing fork sifting the chaff for the fire; heritage doesn’t count for anything, only fidelity. But there is also promise of a dawning salvation: a world set right and a human community awash in the Spirit. It is time, says John, to take sides. Choose the one to whom you will show allegiance: the world of rulers and empire, or the reign of grace.

Sunday we will hear the prophet Malachi speak of God’s messenger who prepares the way for God to come to his temple. His task is to purify the priestly clan of Levi, that their offerings may please rather than offend God. And in this warning of a refiner’s fire we will recognize that it is not only the preachers and priests who must have the dross burned away, but a people who must become faithful.

In the shadow of that warning we will sing the prophetic song of Zechariah that rejoices in God’s favor and the fulfillment of God’s promises, describing the mission of his son, John, to “Go before the Lord to prepare his way.” There are barriers of heart and mind that must be torn down. There are hearts that must be changed, relationships to be reconciled, wounds to be healed, love to be lived.

And we will hear Paul exhort his beloved congregation to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” in the promise that “it is God who is at work in you.”

It is a season of hope, but also a season for living the kingdom.

The Prayer for December 9, 2018

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Lead us in the way of your kingdom
that we may walk in paths of faith, hope and love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 9, 2018

First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
“I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.”
– The prophet known as Malachi spoke to a people who complained of God’s absence, but neglected their offerings and worship of God. He declares that God will come to this people, but warns he will come as a purifying fire.

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” – On this Sunday when we hear of the ministry of John the Baptist, we sing the song known as the Benedictus (from its first words in Latin). This prophecy is sung by Zechariah when he regains his voice after following the divine command to name his son John. He glorifies God for God’s work of deliverance and declares that John “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:12-16 (appointed: Philippians 1:3-11)
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” –Paul writes from prison, urging his beloved congregation to faithfulness in their life together. (Our congregation read Philippians 1:3-11 last week.)

Gospel: Luke 3:1-18 (appointed: Luke 3:1-6)
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” – We combine the Gospel readings for 2 and 3 Advent this Sunday where John is located in the midst of the ruling powers but speaks of the ruler to come – and calls the community to a life in keeping with the dawning reign of God.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Humanitarian_aid_OCPA-2005-10-28-090517a.jpg Technical Sergeant Mike Buytas of the United States Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Journey towards God

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From last Sunday

The First Sunday of Advent, 2018, Year C

The children were given binoculars on Sunday – as we look on this Sunday to the horizon of history. The theme for the day was “A Journey towards God,” and the texts for Sunday can be found with the post: “The season of hope.” These are a few passages from the day’s sermon. The full message can be found here.

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When we describe this first Sunday in Advent as being about our Journey towards God, we aren’t just talking about my individual spiritual journey, but the journey of the whole world to its re-creation.

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We are moving towards a creation made new. We are moving towards the day when the Spirit of God reigns in every heart. This means we are fundamentally and profoundly people of hope. We don’t look on the sorrows of the world around us with despair. We don’t lay our dead in the ground imagining this is the end. We don’t see the triumph of lies and deceptions and hate as the end of civilization.   It may be the end of our civilization, but it is not the end of God’s work with the world. It’s not the end of the human story.

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What is present to us in Jesus is a new birth of the world. And the followers of Jesus are the messengers of Jesus carrying that new birth to the world.

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We are not waiting with dark pleasure at the thought that the wicked are finally going to get their due. We are rejoicing in the rebirth and transformation of the world. We are sowing the seeds of mercy and light. We are living our reconciliation. We are bearing witness to the mercy of God. We are bold in the face of death, for death has lost its sting. We belong to God. The world belongs to God. And we are headed toward life. Even if it were possible for heaven and earth to pass away, says Jesus, his promise will not pass away.

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The shaking of the powers of the heavens doesn’t mean literal changes to the physical universe – the reference is to the governing powers that oppress human life. The powers that are shaken are hate and fear and racism. The powers that are shaken are tribalism, greed and falsehood. The powers that are shaken are all the tyrants that rule – because a new king is coming: one who reigns in justice and righteousness, one who fills all creation with faithfulness to God and one another, one who sets right the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2014041_465556_21255545_161244.jpg Suvendra.nath [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

“The best day ever!”

Sunday Evening
The First Sunday of Advent

Mark 10:15-16

15“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

“This is the best day ever!” she said emphatically and repeatedly at the end of our day today. Worship had been followed by the “Hanging of the Greens” as we set up and decorated the Christmas trees in the sanctuary, a “family” Christmas tree in the entryway (with ornaments from every family), and decorated the campus of the church with large ornaments hanging from the trees.

At the children’s sermon they had come forward and stood before a large mural of Mary and Joseph journeying towards Bethlehem, and discovered that it was a large Advent calendar. It’s only December 2nd, so there were only two doors to open, but the second contained a gift for the children – small binoculars because on this first Sunday in Advent we look towards the horizon of human history and a world made new, when Christ reigns in every heart.

I’m not sure they got the message. They were too excited looking for the numbers and getting the packages open to use their binoculars.

Their joy and enthusiasm is a healing balm and delight for a congregation. Children have the very important ministry among us of being children – even the sad child who came to the altar rail at communion with tear stained cheeks. I don’t know the source of distress, but I appreciated the child’s sad and yearning look into my eyes as I placed my hand and gave a blessing. We all need to feel the hand of blessing at times.

So Advent is come. Christmas draws near, but this is the season of waiting and hope, of expectation and joy. For the child of the manger is the one who comes at the fulfillment of the human story, and his hand is a hand of blessing.

The season of hope

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Watching for the Morning of December 2, 2018

Year C

The First Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah survived the Babylonian attack on the city of Jerusalem. He watched as the defenders tore down the houses of its wealthy inhabitant to buttress the walls against the Babylonian siege works. He watch starvation take the city. He saw young and old perish in the streets. He saw the plundering, raping soldiers and the burning fires. He saw the holy treasures of the temple carried off to the royal treasury of Babylon. He saw it all.

And he saw it coming. But his cries for the nation to change its course went unheeded. His prophetic words dismissed as treason. He was arrested and thrown into a cistern.

Jeremiah saw it all. But he also saw into the heart of God. He heard God’s rage at the corruption and injustice, idolatry and faithlessness of his time. But he also heard God’s determination. God would not forsake this people. God would not forsake this world. God would redeem it. God would fulfill God’s promises. And so Jeremiah stood in the rubble of the abandoned city and saw happy brides and feasting families. He surveyed the desolation and heard the song of temple singers rising in praise. He heard laughter and joy. He saw abundance. He saw flocks adorning the hillsides. He saw a just king and faithful priests and a faithful people. Where others saw only destruction and despair, Jeremiah saw the creative and redeeming hand of God bring the broken city to new life.

It doesn’t take great prophetic insight to see a nation careening towards catastrophe. But it takes great sight to see beyond the sorrow. And it takes great courage to speak it. Who should believe such words amidst the rubble? They sound like fantasy. Vain imagination. Denial.

Who could foresee resurrection? In the broken body of Jesus, stripped and shamed, beaten and bloody, who could foresee the creative act of God to make all things new?

It is God’s work to redeem the world, to bring it to new birth. So evn as we read the texts of the apocalyptic woes – the death throes of a fallen world – Jesus summons us to raise our heads. To look, for “your redemption is drawing near.” He urges us to remain faithful. To continue to gather the outcast and forgive the sinner and welcome the stranger. To continue to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. To continue to love God and neighbor as ourselves. To continue to sing God’s praise and gather at God’s table. For the day we await is an empty tomb, a world made new, a creation resurrected.

Sunday’s texts are from Jeremiah promising “a righteous Branch to spring up” from the fallen line of David and from Isaiah 51 promising justice to the nations. Paul will speak of his confidence “that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” And Jesus will tell us to raise our heads, “because your redemption is drawing near.” It is Advent. The season of hope.

The Prayer for December 2, 2018

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Make us ever mindful that our lives move towards your Grace,
that we might be faithful children of hope;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 2, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
– In the aftermath of the national catastrophe, when Babylon’s armies came and crushed the nation, destroying Jerusalem and the temple of its God, the prophet rises, daring to declare that the LORD’s promise to Israel is not voided. That God will yet fulfill his promise under the banner of a true and faithful king.

Psalmody: Isaiah 51:4-11 (appointed: Psalm 25:1-10)
“The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads, sorrow and sighing will flee away.” – In place of the appointed psalm, our parish sings the song of salvation from Isaiah 51 where the prophet declares that the faithfulness of God is more enduring than earth and sea and heralds the return from exile in “everlasting joy.”

Second Reading: Philippians 1:3-11 (appointed: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)
“This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more… so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless.” – Though Paul writes from prison, his eyes are on the fulfillment of God’s promise to establish his reign of grace and life and writes his beloved congregation, rejoicing in their faith and urging them to faithfulness.

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” – Reading now in Luke at the beginning of a new church year, we start with eyes turned toward the horizon of human history and the promise of the ultimate dawning of God’s reign over all creation.

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Devotional verses and reflections for the Advent season can be found at Holy Seasons

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LA2_juleljus.jpg LA2 [CC SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/sa/1.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

“Is Jesus a monster?”

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Sunday Evening

Christ the King / Reign of Christ 2018

“Is Jesus a monster?” she asked with the rising inflection that indicates both surprise and a struggle to understand. I had brought to the children’s sermon an icon of Jesus and asked them who it was. When we settled on Jesus, one little boy announced “Jesus is dead.” I answered “Yes, Jesus died, but God made Jesus alive again.” When he then asked if Jesus would die again, I said “No, God made Jesus alive in a way that would never die.” That’s when the eyes of the little girl grew puzzled as she confronted the thought that Jesus was a zombie.

I hadn’t intended to talk about the resurrection. Last Sunday was the final Sunday of the church year celebrated in our tradition as Christ the King. I was showing the children a famous icon of Jesus where one half of his face doesn’t match the other. Two faces have been painted together. It has an interesting effect as you look at it. You see one face, but it gives you this strange experience that there is more here. And so it is with Jesus. He is fully and completely human, yet we sense there is more here. The face of God is present here with this human face. The hands of God with these human hands. The voice of God in these human words.

File:Composite christ pantocrator.pngAll I wanted to talk about was that sense of something more in Jesus. Something of God comes to us in him. But then the little boy said Jesus was dead, and now we were speaking of an even greater mystery than the incarnation. Now it is Easter without the bunnies and flowers. Now it was just the raw, unvarnished mystery that he who died is not dead, and the promise that we too shall live in God. Hard concepts for children. Even harder for adults.

I tried to rescue the conversation by talking about how much they love their parents and their parents love them. Their parents would never want to be separated from them. In the same way God loves us so much that God never wants to be separated from us. It’s a mystery how this happens, but the love of God is sure.

I don’t know whether it worked. But I tried.

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Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_Icon_Sinai_6th_century.jpg Saint Catherine’s Monastery [Public domain]

Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Composite_christ_pantocrator.png JustinGBX (me) created the composite. “anonimus” uploaded the original photograph. Painter is from the 6th century so clearly public domain. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tears shared and wiped away

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Resurrection of Lazarus by Mauricio García Vega

Watching for the Morning of November 4, 2018

Year B

All Saints Sunday

Sunday gives us the famous Biblical verse composed of two words: “Jesus wept” – though for some reason I cannot understand our translation changes it from its simple aspect to a continuous one: “Jesus began to weep.” Perhaps that decision was driven by the context, but I hate to mess with the Biblical text. And there is something true and important about a more timeless recognition that Jesus wept. Jesus knows tears. He does not walk above the sorrows of the world but in them. Whatever theological points we wish to make about him as the incarnation of the divine, he shares our humanity. He wept.

Isaiah will also speak to us about tears. We will hear of the banquet God will prepare “for all peoples” when death is swallowed up and God “will wipe away the tears from all faces.” And John of Revelation will convey to us the vision of “a new heaven and a new earth,” when “death will be no more,” and we are released from all “mourning and crying and pain”.

These are appropriate texts for the day we remember those who have gone before us, who wait with us for that day when the graves give back their dead and the world rises into the fullness of life. And these texts are full of grace for us in days when we see too many tears and wonder what future awaits us. We live by a promise that God’s work is to heal the world: to unite what is divided, to build up what is torn down, to free what is bound, to open eyes that do not see, to grant us hearts of flesh not stone, to call us to come forth from the dominion of death into the realm of grace and life.

The Prayer for November 4, 2018 (for the observance of All Saints)

Almighty God, Lord of Life,
as Jesus summoned Lazarus
you call us forth from the grave
that in you we should find that life that shall not perish.
Unbind us from every shroud of death
that, freed from its shadow,
we might live now in the joy of the banquet to come.

The texts for November 4, 2018 (for the observance of All Saints)

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”
– The prophet announces to a war torn people that God shall gather all nations to one table and wipe away every tear.

Psalmody: Psalm 24
“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.” – Words from an ancient liturgy in which God is received as king, perhaps when the Ark of the Covenant is brought to the temple.

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6a
“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” – John of Patmos reaches his great concluding vision of a world restored to God, where the heavenly counterpart to the earthly city of Jerusalem comes to earth and God dwells among us in a world made new.

Gospel: John 11:17-44
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’” – Jesus comes to raise Lazarus from the grave.

Sunday we will also make reference to the assigned Gospel for the Sunday from October 30 to November 5:

Appointed Gospel for Proper 26 B: Mark 12:28-34
“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” – When asked which commandment governs all the rest, Jesus cites Deuteronomy and Leviticus – to love God with all our heart and soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

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Follow these links for other posts on All Saints or All Saints in year B.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:001Resurrecci%C3%B3n_de_L%C3%A1zaro.jpg By Mauricio García Vega (Painting and photograph of Mauricio García Vega) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Once again

File:Jozefow Chrystus H Macik.JPGYesterday was a festival day in our church, but as I put on my red chasuble for the service it felt like I should be dressing myself in black for mourning. I shared that sentiment with the congregation before the beginning of our service and, indicating I had divided the sermon into two parts, began with these remarks.

This morning we gather once again in the aftermath of troubling news. It would have been troubling enough if our only concern were the bombs sent through the mail to those who were perceived to be political enemies of the president, but now we are dealing with the violent attack upon a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

I want very much to write this off as an aberration, the demented actions of a troubled and misguided man, but the statistics are troubling. As you may have heard by now, FBI statistics show that hate crimes rose 5% in 2016 and 10% since 2014. The FBI identified 1,273 of these crimes as motivated by religious hatred, about 20 percent of the total. Half of these were against Jews.

The Anti-Defamation League reports that there were 1,986 reported anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, including acts of vandalism as well as physical violence. The number of these incidents increased by 35% from 2015 to 2016, and by 57% from 2016 to 2017.

We saw the young men marching with torches and chanting Nazi slogans in Charlottesville. You remember them: “Blood and soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!” The gunman yesterday reportedly said, “All Jews must die,” and had written online that “Jews are the children of Satan.”

Something is wrong in us. Fear, despair, hate, anger, prejudice, hardness of heart, seem to be loose among us.

Dylan Roof said he hoped to start a race war when he murdered the members of a Bible study at Emanuel Church in Charleston, North Carolina. In the journal he wrote in prison, that was read into the record at his trial, he wrote, “I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did,” and “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”

Such events are nothing like the millions killed by official state policy under Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot; those marched to their deaths by the Turks or Andrew Jackson; or those slaughtered with machetes in Rwanda. But what is happening in our country is still deeply troubling. On the weekend when Matthew Shepard’s ashes were relocated to the National Cathedral we are reminded that hate has no bounds.

We want to think our country is better than this. But the history of ugliness and hate is deep and long. And such ugliness and hate are deep not just in our country but in the whole human experience. There is a reason the first story scripture tells us after humanity is given a good and perfect world only to turn from God and lose the garden is the story of one brother murdering the other. All those early stories in Genesis testify to the spread of violence through the creation. And the pivotal story for us as Christians tells of the torture and murder of the one who came to us as the embodiment of God’s love.

We want to deny the reality of sin, but we cannot. It is a deeply broken world. And the human heart is profoundly bent out of shape. We are capable of things that should be unimaginable.

When First John writes that “God is love,” those words are not a cheap sentimentality. They are the daring proposition that despite all we see around us, the power at the heart of all things is love and faithfulness and compassion and mercy and care for the other. God is love, and looks upon a world as sorrowful as ours and chooses to love.

We come together as a Christian community – indeed we exist as a Christian community – to proclaim that message, and to let that message work in our hearts that we might be people who live for the healing of the world rather than its division.

We dare to say with John and Jesus and the whole witness of scripture that there is a power and presence at the heart of all things that is faithfulness, compassion, mercy, and life. At the heart of all things is a God who is able to free the bound, heal the broken, and raise the dead. At the heart of all things is a God who takes upon himself the sorrows of the world and frees us to live his love.

This is why we begin our worship with confession and forgiveness. Our first act is to acknowledge our brokenness and the brokenness of the world, and hear God’s word of mercy and life. It is a moment and a message that is meant to bring us again from the world of hate, violence and revenge into the realm of God. It is a moment and a message that is meant to release us from our brokenness and gather us to the table of God. It is a moment and a message that gives us a taste of the resurrection and the world where the lion lies down with the lamb. It is a moment and a message that prepares us to hear God’s voice and receive God’s gifts. It is a moment and a message that frees us to sing God’s praise.

In our confession we bring before God the crucified bodies of the eleven killed yesterday and the twisted hearts of the shooter and bomber. We bring before God the refugees fleeing violence across our world and the twisted hearts of those who would deny their humanity. We bring before God our own sins and sorrows and hear the promise that Christ has freed us to come and live in God’s presence.

Amen

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jozefow_Chrystus_H_Macik.JPG By Hubert Mącik [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

With arms wide open

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Watching for the Morning of October 28, 2018

Reformation Sunday

The name ‘Lutheran’ was originally a slur cast by Luther’s opponents against those who were persuaded by Luther’s profound insight into the scriptures and the central truth of Christian faith.

Perhaps some heard only a call for the reform of the church’s life. Perhaps some saw the possibility of personal advancement or enrichment. But I suspect these came later. In the beginning there was only a compelling explosiveness to Luther’s teaching that the favor of God is freely given not earned.

Their opponents called them ‘Lutherans’. The name implied they were something separate from the Christian community, followers of a heretical and sectarian leader rather than of Christ and Christ’s church. Luther insisted that ‘Christian’ was the correct term; they were followers of Christ. He also accepted the term ‘evangelisch’.

The German word ‘evangelisch’ translates as ‘evangelical’, from the Greek word for ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’. Though ‘evangelical’ has come to have a different meaning in the modern American context, it was powerful and accurate for Luther and his movement. They believed that God had revealed anew the ‘evangel’, the news of a victory won for us over sin, death and the devil. We are not soldiers on the moral battlefield of life; we are hostages rescued and set free. We do not have to become holy; Christ has enveloped us in his holiness. Where we see too well our sins and failings; God sees only the image of his beloved son with arms stretched wide.

Yes, wrapped in Christ, graced by God’s spirit, there is a path to follow, a new creation to be. But the favor of God does not depend on us but on Christ. We are free from rites and rituals thought to appease God so that we can be about those things that truly please God – loving and serving our neighbor.

The celebration of the Reformation on this coming Sunday is not about the Lutheran church or the protestant communion. It poses no cheers for ancient heroes or the teams that now bear their names. It speaks to us of this Gospel, this fundamental truth that lies at the heart of our life together: our hope is not in ourselves and our accomplishments, but in this God who forgives sins and raises the dead, not because we deserve it – for we surely do not – but because God delights to give.

Church bodies shaped by such an insight cannot be self-righteous or judgmental; they can only be communities with arms wide open and feet ready to walk with those in need.

The Prayer for October 28, 2018 (for Reformation Day)

Gracious and eternal God,
who by your Word called all things into being,
and by your Spirit sustains and renews the earth,
send forth your Word and your Spirit upon your church,
that ever renewed they may bear faithful witness to your grace and life.

The texts for October 28, 2018 (assigned for Reformation Day)

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
– Though the covenant formed between God and the people at Sinai lies broken (what God’s people promised they have failed to do and kingship and temple have perished) God’s promise abides and God will establish a new covenant where God’s teaching/commands are written on the heart.

Psalmody: Psalm 46
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A hymn proclaiming the power of God to protect and preserve the people and expressing their confident trust in God’s saving work. It provided the inspiration for Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” – Paul’s classic expression of his understanding of the function of law and gospel and the idea that we are brought into a right relationship with God (justified) not by the law, but by the free gift of God (by grace) apprehended by our trust in that gift (through faith). This phrase “Justification by grace through faith” becomes a summary statement of the 16th century reforming movement and subsequent Lutheran churches.

Gospel: John 8:31-36
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – This promise of freedom in Christ – freedom from authorities or powers that would prevent their living in service of God – is spoken to followers who do not abide in Jesus’ teaching, and his challenge will reveal their true heart.

Sunday we will also make use of the assigned Gospel for the Sunday from October 23 to October 29:

Appointed Gospel for Proper 25 B: Mark 10:46-52
“As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.” – Once again in Mark’s Gospel opening blind eyes follows an account of the disciples failing to understand Jesus and his mission.

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Follow these links for other posts on Reformation Sunday.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luther-Predigt-LC-WB.jpg Attributed to Lucas Cranach the Younger [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons