The invitation stands

File:The water transfer.jpgWatching for the Morning of July 5, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

It’s hard to get away from the language of kingship in the scriptures.  This was the governing reality of the time.  People are always under the dominion of some reigning ruler (and only very rarely a queen).  If God is to govern the world, if the Spirit is to direct every heart, if the creation redeemed shall flower, the people can only imagine it as the arrival of a just and righteous king.  It is imagery that still resonates with us, though our experience of kingship and rulers is so often bitter.  Though our rulers falter, we still imagine things could be truly good if only we had the right person to lead us.

In the grey days of Judah’s life under Persian dominion, Zechariah bears witness to the light of a new day when one shall ride up from the Jordan river valley upon a donkey like kings of old – a bringer of peace not conquest.  “His dominion shall be from sea to sea,” and “he shall command peace to the nations.”

The poet sings of a world governed by God, shaped by God’s faithfulness and compassion.  It is a world where “The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.”

The promise of the psalm echoes in the Gospel where we hear Jesus’ tender and challenging words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  He is speaking of a yoke.  It is an image of kingship, as Jeremiah spoke of Judah taking up the yoke of Babylon, submitting to its rule (a yoke they rejected, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and its holy site of encounter with the divine).  But this king is “gentle and humble in heart;” his “yoke” brings life not sucks it away.

There is some sadness and regret in Jesus’ voice; the nation has not welcomed this dawning reign of grace.  We are too full of ourselves.  But the arms remain open.  The invitation stands.

The Prayer for July 5, 2020

Gracious God,
in Christ Jesus you invite all people
into the path of your teaching and life.
By your Holy Spirit,
open our hearts and lives to your message
that, following your Son, we may find true rest for our souls.

The Texts for July 5, 2020

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – In the weary years after Babylon has fallen and Judah is but a poor backwater of the Persian empire, comes a prophetic message from the book of Zechariah promising a king who shall arrive like the kings of old and command peace to the nations,” reigning “from sea to sea.”

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-14
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” – A hymn of praise to God who reigns as earth’s just and faithful king.

Second Reading: Romans 7:21-25a (appointed: Romans 7:14-25)
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Paul uses the image of possession (compelled to act against our own will) to expound his notion that the death of Christ has freed us from our bond-service to sin and made us servants of God.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus rebukes the fickle crowd (who criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for being a libertine) and praises God for opening the eyes of the poor and marginalized to see and take up the yoke of God’s reign of grace and life.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_water_transfer.jpg
Mikhail Kapychka / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© David K Bonde, 2020

Oops

Saturday

My mistake!  I included the wrong texts in my post this week.  Below are the correct ones for this Sunday.  And to make up for my mistake, here is a repost from another year:

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Matthew 10:34

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

File:Musée Cinquantenaire Roman dagger.jpgEverything depends upon hearing a text in its right context.  Cut this verse away from its place in Matthew’s Gospel, cut it away from the life and ministry of Jesus, cut it away from the Biblical witness as a whole, and we have justification for violence.  Or, if not violence, justification for whatever commotion causing things we want to do.  Place this word of Jesus on their march up to Jerusalem, with Jesus astride a donkey and the people waving palm fronds (symbols of kingship) and you have a very different message than its place here in the missionary discourse.  We have to be careful about the way we use scripture.  Indeed, the central question is always, “Are we using scripture or is scripture using us?” It’s not an easy question to answer.  It takes a continual listening.  There is a reason Jesus talks about abiding in his word.

So Jesus brings a sword, but this cannot be a sword of armed struggle; after all, Jesus rebukes his followers saying, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” And how should we love our enemies and take up the sword at the same time?  This is not the sword born by gladiators; this is the knife that divides.  It is not the long sword used by troops in combat; it is the short sword, the dagger, used for everything from personal protection to cooking.  It is the boning knife used in Hebrews for the Word of God that “divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow.” It is the priestly knife used in sacrifice.

How differently we would hear this verse if we translated it, “I have not come to bring peace, but a scalpel.”  Jesus is, after all, in the business of heart surgery.  Only his surgery is not just on the individual human heart; he comes to operate on the whole human community.  There is surgery to be done.  The warlords and drug lords and patrons of young victims of human trafficking.  The abusive parents and abusive governments.  The active and passive participants is communal violence.  There is surgery to be done.  And we should not imagine than when power is challenged, when individuals and “businesses” that profit from evils are confronted, there will not be resistance.  Fierce resistance.  Many miners were beaten and killed in their attempt to stand up to the coal companies.  Many young men and women were assaulted, slandered and murdered for their resistance to Jim Crow – even some children.  There is heart surgery to be done.  There is truth to be spoken.  There is compassion to be waged.  Neighbors oppose the building of churches and soup kitchens.  It is illegal to baptize in many countries.  Congregation’s themselves resent the changes new people bring.  Our hearts, too, need the surgeon’s scalpel.

And what if we translate the text, “I have not come to bring peace, but a knife of sacrifice”?  What will such words say to us as we listen to Jesus declare that the fields are waiting for harvest?  When he sends us out to cast out demons and heal and declare the reign of God?

Jesus doesn’t bring a quiet and peaceable life.  He brings the peaceable kingdom.  He brings the dawning of that day when swords are beaten into plowshares – a day that won’t come easily, given our great faith in the power of violence.

There is surgery to be done, so don’t be surprised when Jesus says, “I have come with knives.”

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The Texts for June 21, 2020

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
“O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.” – The prophet raises a lament towards God for assigning him a message of judgment and destruction that has resulted in nothing but hostility and persecution.  And when he tries to be silent, God’s message burns like a fire within him.

Psalmody: Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
“Zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – The poet cries out to God in the midst of persecution and trouble.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
“Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!”
– In the course of setting forth his message that all are justified (in a right relationship with God) by grace (God’s merciful action) through faith (trusting God’s promise), Paul anticipates the objections of his opponents that if our sin shows how great is God’s mercy, why not continue to sin? Such a notion is rejected because joined with Christ in baptism we have entered into a new reality.  We have come under Christ’s dominion, being transferred from the realm of sin and death and living now in the realm of grace and life.

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – the path of discipleship is not an easy one.  The world will resist God’s claim on life, but the followers of Jesus are sent as agents of God’s transforming justice and mercy.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mus%C3%A9e_Cinquantenaire_Roman_dagger.jpg Michel wal / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Costly love

File:San michele in foro, interno, crocifisso.JPGWatching for the Morning of June 21, 2020

Year A

The Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 7 / Lectionary 12

Jeremiah struggled with the message God gave him.  It was not well received.  The people of his village (his clan) plotted to kill him.  He was beaten and thrown in prison.  He was eventually forbidden to come into the temple square, so he dictated his message and had his scribe go read it.  When his message finally came before the king, the king casually took his knife, sliced off each portion of the scroll as it was read, and tossed it into the fire.  Jeremiah’s message that the nation should submit to Babylon was considered treason.  The pride of the nation, their conviction that God was on their side, let to their brutal destruction.  It turned out that God was on the side of justice and faithfulness.

Resistance to God’s command is costly.

In our first reading, Jeremiah complains bitterly against God for the task given to him.  But when he vows to stop speaking, “there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

The psalm, too, this Sunday will complain about the abuse the poet suffers for faithfulness to God.  It is a text John’s Gospel will use in speaking of Jesus’ destiny: “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.”

It is no small thing when Jesus tells his followers, “A disciple is not above the teacher,” for they crucified Jesus.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!”

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” says Jesus, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  He is speaking of the sword that divides, not the sword that kills.  Jesus’ message will provoke hostility.  It will reveal those who yearn for a world made whole and those who prosper from the world’s inequities.  It will expose the divide between those who would share and those who would hoard.  It will show who yearns for justice and who profits from its absence.  It will divide those who would love the neighbor and those who see the neighbor as a threat.  There are those who feel empowered when their knee is on the neck of another, and they will not react kindly to Jesus’ teaching.  Neither will those who profit secretly.

The Word of God is not angels and fluff.  It is costly love, bold sacrifice, willingness to kneel at the feet, forgive 70 times, and respond to injustice with courage (when struck down by a backhanded slap, they arise to face their dismisser again).  The deepest bonds of life will be threatened by the teaching and promise of this Jesus: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”  And we will be summoned to take up the cross.

But the words of Jesus are not just warning; there is promise: “do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  God knows even the hairs of our heads.

The mission begun so exuberantly last week, takes a dark turn.  The world doesn’t give up its greeds and injustices easily.  But God shall reign.  Life is coming.

The Prayer for June 21, 2020

Gracious God,
Your word divides as well as heals;
it closes ears as well as opens hearts.
Grant us courage to be faithful in our witness
and diligent in our service
that, with boldness and joy in your promise,
your grace and mercy may be revealed to all people;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 21, 2020

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
“O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.” – The prophet raises a lament towards God for assigning him a message of judgment and destruction that has resulted in nothing but hostility and persecution.  And when he tries to be silent, God’s message burns like a fire within him.

Psalmody: Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
“Zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – The poet cries out to God in the midst of persecution and trouble.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
“Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!”
– In the course of setting forth his message that all are justified (in a right relationship with God) by grace (God’s merciful action) through faith (trusting God’s promise), Paul anticipates the objections of his opponents that if our sin shows how great is God’s mercy, why not continue to sin? Such a notion is rejected because joined with Christ in baptism we have entered into a new reality.  We have come under Christ’s dominion, being transferred from the realm of sin and death and living now in the realm of grace and life.

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – the path of discipleship is not an easy one.  The world will resist God’s claim on life, but the followers of Jesus are sent as agents of God’s transforming justice and mercy.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_michele_in_foro,_interno,_crocifisso.JPG
I, Sailko / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

We are the sent ones

File:Woman harvesting wheat, Raisen district, Madhya Pradesh, India ggia version.jpgThe harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Matthew 9:37-38

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Gracious God,
you bid us pray for laborers to be sent into your harvest,
to a world in need of your healing and life.
Help us to fulfill our calling as intercessors for your world
and bearers of your grace

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A message from Sunday morning

The Second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 6, Lectionary 11, Year A

June 14, 2020

Matthew 9:35 – 10:8: Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

10:1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

The death toll:  I have begun several times in recent weeks by referring to the current death toll from COVID-19.  It’s not news any of us can escape, but it seems important to acknowledge.  I am troubled by the attitude that seems to be emerging that there is nothing we can do; we have to just let the virus kill who it will kill and get on with our lives.  Some of this comes from a thoughtful concern over unintended consequences to sheltering in place.  Much more, I fear, comes from a false sense of helplessness, a willful denial, or a ruthless disregard of the value of human life.  I have heard people talk about “culling the herd,” as if the virus were like wolves in Yosemite chasing down the old and the weak in a herd of buffalo.

The death toll in the United States is now above 117,000.  One fourth of all the reported deaths worldwide are in the United States.  New Zealand has 22.  And yes, New Zealand is a much smaller country.  But they have had 5 deaths for every million people while we have had 357.

Australia has had 4 deaths per million people; Japan, 7; South Korea, 5.  This is not about the economy versus a shutdown.  It is about good governance and caring for your neighbor and people working together.

This is one of the moral and spiritual challenges of our time: to remember that we must care for one another; to understand that we’re connected.  What harms one harms us all, and what lifts one lifts us all.

This is why the protesters are in the streets, to challenge the attitude that some people don’t matter.

Lives that matter: Jesus spent a lot of time with people on the margins.  And his ultimate parable in Matthew’s Gospel is the one about the sheep and the goats and whether we saw and cared for those who were hungry, thirsty, sick or in prison.

All lives matter.  But when society says that black lives don’t matter, we need to say, “Yes they do.”  When society says the poor don’t matter, we have to say, “Yes they do.”  When society says those who are vulnerable to this disease don’t matter, we have to say, “Yes they do.”

We have discovered, all of a sudden, that grocery store workers are essential workers, and the people who clean hospital rooms are heroes.  We haven’t treated them that way before, and we certainly don’t pay them as heroes, but now it is clear that the least of these matter.

Wednesday will be the fifth anniversary of Dylan Roof’s attempt to start a race war by the murder of the nine members of a Bible study at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina: people who greeted him with open arms, invited him into their study, shared with him the Word.  It’s hard to comprehend the mind and soul of someone who would do such a thing, but we have watched a callous indifference over human life as a police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.  With his hand in his pocket, gazing indifferently at the crowd, he and three other officers slowly extinguished the life of a man, a father, a brother, a son, a human being conceived in the heart of God and bearing God’s image.

My father fought in World War II against an enemy that tried to fill the world with the idea that a great number of people don’t matter – not just Jews, but disabled children, gays and lesbians, political opponents, any who differed from a Germanic ideal, and those who tried to protect them.  They stole their homes, their possessions, their labor, and their last breath.  As a country we swore to fight that.  Many died in the effort.  But we have had trouble finishing the job here at home.  And terribly, some bearing the name of Christ have gotten twisted up with ideas that some people matter less.  We saw it again in our present administration when they attacked protesters in order to take a photograph in front of a church holding a Bible.  There is lots in Christian history, but nothing in Christ, that views any people as less.  Such ideas are a false and unclean spirit, an evil spirit.

Evil spirits: The spirit we saw at work in that Minneapolis police officer was an evil spirit.

This is what brings us to our text this morning.  The charge Jesus gives to his followers is to announce the dawning reign of God and “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

“Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” 

Jesus doesn’t say, “have a family, build a career, go to church, enjoy your grandchildren;” he says, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” 

Heralds of a new order: There are four things I want to say about this text.  The first is that Jesus sends his disciples to announce that the reign of God is at hand.  The Greek word that is translated here as ‘proclaim’ carries the suggestion of a herald arriving in a town with a royal proclamation.  There are stories in the scripture of runners sent from the battlefield back to the city to proclaim that the king’s forces have been victorious.  But there is more here than just the announcement of a victory.  These are the heralds who announce that a new king has come; the old empire has been overthrown.  Such heralds are sent to proclaim the rise of the new king, to announce his benefactions, and to summon the city to embrace his reign and show allegiance.

Jesus’ disciples are not sent with what we would now consider a religious message; they are sent with a message about God’s governance of human life.  It is a message that proclaims release to those who are bound, restoration to the broken, life to those who cannot breathe, the gathering of the outcast and the making whole of the human community.  The mission Christ gives is to announce a new order, a new world.

The new order ‘at hand’: The second thing to say about the text concerns this word ‘near’.  Jesus says to proclaim that “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This same Greek word for ‘coming near’ gets used by Jesus when they are in the garden of Gethsemane and Jesus wakes his disciples and saying: “Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”  Jesus doesn’t mean that Judas will be there some day.  He doesn’t mean that Judas will come in a little while.  He means he is at the gate.  The moment is now.

The kingdom of heaven is not ‘near’; the kingdom of heaven, God’s governance of the human heart, is ‘at hand’.  It’s beginning.  It’s marching up the driveway.  This is our message.

Fulfilling a promise: Third, it probably struck you as odd that Jesus said, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans.” That doesn’t sound like the universal message we expect from Jesus.  We will see Jesus welcome gentiles during his ministry.  And we will get that universal message at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus sends his followers saying, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”  But right now, at this point in Jesus’ ministry, the issue is God’s promise to Israel.  If God has not kept God’s promise to Israel, why should the rest of the world care what this God has to say?  So during Jesus’ life, the mission is first to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

About us all: Finally, it is not just the apostles to whom this word is directed.  This is about all of us.  This mission is not given to some; it is given to all.  This is not the work of priests and missionaries; it is the work of us all.  We exist as a church, and we are sent as believers, to be heralds of the news of a new governance of the world, and to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

Jesus began this section on our mission by commanding us to pray for workers to be sent into in God’s harvest.  And then he promptly sends us.  We are the answer to our prayer.  We are the commissioned ones.  We are the sent ones.  We are those sent to all nations by the risen Christ.  We are the ones sent to “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers (the outcasts), and cast out demons (false and destructive spirits).” 

Casting out demons: There are demons in the world.  There are cruel and evil spirits.  There are callous and selfish spirits.  There are hateful and deceitful spirits.  We are sent to cast them out.  Cast them out of ourselves.  Cast them out of others.  Cast them out of our communities.  Cast them out of our organizations, our churches, our nation, our world.

We are sent to cast them out – and to not leave the house empty, but to welcome the holy spirit, the sacred spirit, the spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God.

There are wounds that need healing.  There are lives that need liberating.  There are people pushed to the margins that need welcoming.  There is a new king, a new governance, a new Spirit at hand – a living and life-giving breath breathing upon the world.

And we are the sent ones.

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.
Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman_harvesting_wheat,_Raisen_district,_Madhya_Pradesh,_India_ggia_version.jpg  Yann Forget / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

The call remains

File:George Floyd protests in Washington DC. H St. Lafayette Square on 30 May 2020 - RP1 3245.jpgWatching for the Morning of June 14, 2020

Year A

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

With Pentecost behind us we return to the Gospel of Matthew.  Before Lent began, we were listening to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ teaching about the nature of God’s kingdom/way – the new world dawning where the Spirit governs every heart, the world of faithfulness and compassion rather than purity and exclusion.  Now we hear Jesus embodying this world of God’s governance and sending out his followers to do the same.

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

The world has changed since the beginning of Lent.  We observed Ash Wednesday on February 28 before we were ordered to shelter in place, before 115,000 had died here and 404,000 worldwide, before a callous policeman snuffed the life from George Floyd and the Attorney General sent troops with tear gas and weapons to clear peaceful protestors so our president could parade past armed forces to have his picture taken holding a Bible.

The world has changed since the beginning of Lent, but its need for the reign of grace remains.  There are terrible spirits to be cast out.  There are lives and communities in need of healing.  There are outcasts to be gathered in, the unclean to be welcomed.  The sick need care.  The dead need resurrection.

Sunday we will hear the people who have been led out from bondage and through the sea and gathered at the holy mountain declare: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.”  It will be bittersweet, because we know their aspiration to live God’s mercy and justice will not endure.  But the call remains.

The psalm will remind us of God’s faithfulness, and of our own calling, declaring “we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Paul will speak of the majesty of God’s mercy, saying “while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  For us.  For all of us.  For those who die alone in intensive care, for those who break windows and burn, for those who beat heads and push old men to the ground, for those who thrill at the assault of the defenseless and those who thrill at destruction.  All of us, those who hold bibles like trophies and those who weep at the sight.  All of us.  Like sheep without a shepherd.  But the true shepherd has come and is sending his people into this wounded world to bear witness to a world made whole and to live that healing.

The Prayer for June 14, 2020

Gracious God,
you bid us pray for laborers to be sent into your harvest,
to a world in need of your healing and life.
Help us to fulfill our calling as intercessors for your world
and bearers of your grace.

The Texts for June 14, 2020

First Reading: Exodus 19:1-8a  (appointed: 2-8a)
“If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” – Brought out of Egypt and assembled now before God at Mt. Sinai, the people hear and accept God’s covenant: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.”

Psalmody: Psalm 100
“Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his.” – A hymn of praise as the community enters into the temple courts and are summoned to acknowledge and serve God.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” –
having established that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God justifies all by faith – by their trust in God’s promise – Paul declares that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8 [9-23]
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – The twelve are appointed for the first mission: to be heralds of the dawning reign of God in the towns and villages of Israel.  “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Floyd_protests_in_Washington_DC._H_St._Lafayette_Square_on_30_May_2020_-_RP1_3245.jpg Rosa Pineda / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Promise

File:Pordenone Holy Trinity.jpgWatching for the Morning of June 7, 2020

Year A

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

The Trinity is not an abstract concept.  It is not an attempt to define the indefinable.  It is not an ontological description of the divine.  It is a promise.  It is the promise that Jesus the crucified is the face of God.  It is a promise that the Spirit that inflames, comforts, teaches, guides, empowers, confronts, and upholds is the breath of God.  It is a promise that the birth of the world is in the same suffering, healing, forgiving, love manifest in Jesus.  It is a promise that the breath that blew over the primal waters is the same life-giving breath in us and the same breath that will, in the age to come, govern every human heart.

The Trinity is a promise.  God is not a judge on a throne waiting to weigh everyone on eternal scales; God is the mercy that lays down its life for the sheep.  God is not the prime mover, winding up the world like a newly formed watch to let it run; God is the living heartbeat that calls forth life in every nook and cranny of existence.  God is not fickle, like the gods both ancient and modern, whose favors and wraths are petty and unpredictable – bestowing bounty one moment then stealing it away.  God is five loaves feeding five thousand and an ever-flowing stream.

The Trinity is promise, promise that the sorrows we see in the world, the hates, the fears, the grieving, the thieving, the suffering, the silencing, the extinguished breath – these are not our truth.  Our truth is in the word that called forth the world, saw that it was good, and blessed it.  Our truth is in the word made flesh who brought joy to a wedding, transforming water into wine.  Our truth is in the Spirit poured out that proclaimed the praise of God in every language on earth.  Our truth is creation made whole, Babel undone, hearts of stone become living beating hearts, the tree of life, and a river flowing from the throne of God like the river of Eden.

The Trinity is promise.  And all that is to come rests in the arms of this promise.

The Prayer for June 7, 2020

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder,
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully;
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 June 7, 2020

First Reading: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” – The first chapter of Genesis tells of the creation of all things by God’s word, God’s declaration that the creation is good, God’s blessing of humanity, and their commission to care for the earth.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” – The psalm celebrates the majesty of God and marvels at the position of honor and responsibility God has given to humanity by entrusting God’s wondrous creation into their care.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” –
In his final greeting at the close of his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul uses the familiar language that ultimately leads to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Following Pentecost, we return to the Gospel of Matthew, resuming here at the end of the Gospel because of the Trinitarian name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  With these concluding words, the risen Jesus declares his abiding presence among his followers and sends them to make disciples of all nations.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pordenone_Holy_Trinity.jpg; Il Pordenone / Public domain

Like water on thirsty ground

File:Spring in the Desert ..JPGWatching for the Morning of May 31, 2020

Year A

The Day of Pentecost

Isaiah 44:3

I will pour water on the thirsty land,
….and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,
….and my blessing on your offspring.

Sunday will be the Feast of Pentecost and we will hear the promise and gift of God’s Spirit.  It will not be our normal festival day.  Because of the pandemic, there can be no barbecue.  And maybe, with Minneapolis burning, this is not the right time for fire.

So this year we will not fill the sanctuary and playfully celebrate the outpouring the Spirit.  There will be no whirligigs or bubbles.  This is a year for prayer and reflection.  Isolated from one another, aware of the death toll, living in the confusion of falsehoods, anger, and partisanship, watching cities burn and victims die saying “I can’t breathe”, this is not the joyful celebration of a divine wonder.  It is, instead, a wonder at the brokenness of our common life and the yearning for the fulfillment of God’s promise for the Spirit to be poured out upon every heart.

We know something of the thirsty ground longing for rain.  We know something of the dry season that yearns for the first winter skies to wash the earth.  We know something of the labor of the season when the water in the cisterns is stale, and getting water is a double labor.

We are waiting with longing for all this to end – the cursing and lying and fearing of the unknown.  Stale waters.  Old arguments.  Reckless folly.  Real hungers.  Fearful violence.  We long for a new spirit to come to us and to our world.  We long for a holy spirit.  God’s Holy Spirit.  The Spirit that gives life.  The Spirit that brings the joy of the eternal wedding feast.  The Spirit that renews the earth and the human heart.  The Spirit that is a soft, soaking rain on dry and hardened ground.

So this year, instead of the appointed texts, we will hear the prophet’s promise of a day when the Spirit shall come.  And we will hear Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue saying the Spirit is upon him and the day is fulfilled.  We will hear that new wine requires new wineskins and seek to make ourselves ready.  We will remember the wedding feast filled joy and the finest of wines.  Jesus will remind us that God is eager to give the Holy Spirit in answer to our prayers.  We will hear his promise to send the advocate, the Spirit of Truth, to be with us forever.  We will hear Jesus rise up at the festival of Booths to declare: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”  And finally, we will come to Easter Evening and Jesus breathing out this new and holy spirit upon us all.

We come as supplicants in a world torn by divisive spirits.  We come in prayer that hearts can be turned and communities reshaped by a spirit of truth, justice and compassion.  We come trusting in the promise that the Spirit of the risen Christ is available to us.  We come to ask, seek and knock at the door that is promised to be opened to us – for ourselves, for our world.

The Prayer for May 31, 2020

God of the blazing fire
and the silent whisper,
who called to Moses from the burning bush
and to Elijah when his face was hidden in the cleft of the rock,
call to us.
Summon us by your Word,
empower us with your Spirit,
and send us to your service,
that every nation and all peoples
may be gathered into a shared song of joy and life.

The Texts for May 31, 2020

First Reading: Isaiah 44:1-5
“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.” – Preaching to the exiles at the time of the return from Babylon, the prophet promises God’s Spirit will be poured out on the people like water on drought-stricken land.

Second Reading: Luke 4:16-21
“‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”  – Reading from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus announces that the passage is fulfilled and the Spirit of the Lord is upon him to proclaim good news to the poor.

Third Reading: Luke 5:36-38
“New wine must be put into fresh wineskins.”  – Challenged for feasting with the “sinner” Levi, the tax gatherer, Jesus says new wine requires new wineskins.

Fourth Reading: John 2:1-10
“Everyone serves the good wine first… But you have kept the good wine until now.”  – At the Wedding at Cana, Jesus creates an abundance of the finest wine, a sign pointing to the outpouring of God’s Spirit.

Fifth Reading: Luke 11:5-13
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus teaches on prayer that God is eager to answer by granting us the Holy Spirit.

Sixth Reading: John 14:15-17
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.” – Jesus promises to send the Spirit of truth as our counselor and guide

Seventh Reading: John 7:37-39
“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” – At the Feast of Booths, when prayers are offered for the winter rains, Jesus speaks of the Spirit, declaring that he is the source of the river of life.

Eighth Reading: John 20:19-23
“When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” – The risen Christ breathes the Spirit upon his followers

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The Appointed Texts for Pentecost in Year A

Our parish is doing a special service this year: Praying for Renewal in Church and Society.  These are the appointed texts:

Pentecost Reading: Acts 2:1-21
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” – With the sound of wind and the image of fire, evoking God’s appearance at Sinai and fulfilling the promise of Joel, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon the first believers.

First Reading: Numbers 11:24-30
“The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to [Moses], and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.” – When the burden of hearing every complaint of the people in the wilderness becomes too great for Moses, God has him appoint seventy elders to receive a share of the spirit.  The text contains the prophetic remark of Moses Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Psalmody: Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”
– In a psalm celebrating the wonders of creation, the poet marvels at the manifold creatures of the world, and the breath/spirit of God that gives them life.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” –
Paul teaches the troubled Corinthian congregation about the gifts of the Spirit, emphasizing that they are given for God’s purpose to the benefit of others.

Gospel: John 20:19-23
“‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  When he had said this he breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” – On the evening of that first day of the week, the risen Christ commissions his followers and anoints them with the Spirit.

OR

John 7:37-39
“‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive – During the celebration that prays for the autumn rains and remembers Ezekiel’s promise of a life-giving river flowing from the temple, Jesus calls those who are thirsty to come to him.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spring_in_the_Desert_..JPG Sherbaz jamaldini / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

If you love me

File:Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles.jpg“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
John 14:15

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Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you love.

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A message from Sunday morning

The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year A

May 17, 2020

John 14:15-21: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (NRSV)

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

At first this was an emergency.  As the threat of this novel corona virus grew, we had to think through what we would do in worship to limit our risk.  Then, as the shut-down came, we had to quickly figure out a way to continue to worship online with the few resources we had.  It was a challenge, a puzzle to be solved.  And I was entirely focused on figuring out a way for us to worship – and then to do Holy Week and Easter online.  I didn’t have much time to do anything else.

But now, as the days drag on, I find myself grieving the loss of something that has been so important to me for the last 42 years.  I’ve been a pastor of the church.  And it’s been a great privilege.  I’ve been able to embrace those who grieve.  I’ve been able to hold hands and pray for those in need.  I’ve been able to lay my hands upon those in the hospital and say the blessing.  I’ve been able to lay hands upon the newly baptized, and upon confirmands at their confirmation, and upon the dying with the last rites.  I’ve been able to hold a child in my arms and walk her through the sanctuary following her baptism, introducing her to all those who now share in her spiritual life and growth.  Now all I have is this moment when I can see a few of you on the screen and talk to you about a text that seems far away from the realities of our daily life

I’m not able to invite you to be involved in care for others.  I’m not able to celebrate silly occasions like talent shows or youth dinners.  There are no confirmation retreats.  We can’t share a moment over a cup of coffee.  There are no delightful surprises that Tom has brought donut holes or that Elaine has made Kringle, or that Yolanda and Bill have made those amazing little sandwiches.  And I don’t see an end.

At some point it might happen that a few would begin to gather in the building and I could at least see faces – but those faces are likely to be covered by masks.  And we are going to have to sneak in and out without getting closer than six feet to each other.

We are reduced to waving at each other rather than shaking hands.

Jesus touched the man with leprosy.  He made mud and put it on the eyes of the man born blind.  He took the synagogue ruler’s daughter by the hand and raised her up.  He touched the bier upon which lay the body of the widow’s son.

Jesus broke bread.  He washed feet.  And shall I risk any of that?  I will not be able to sit with children for a children’s sermon.  I cannot take a child’s hand as we go outside to look at the tiny seeds of the Redwood trees and think about how they grow into giants.

I stand here on Sunday mornings and look out into an empty sanctuary.  I know you are there.  I know we are still connected in spirit.  I know we are still gathered around this wondrous book and a table set with bread and wine.  And I know we are keeping our physical distance because we care for one another.  But I would like to be in your living room or at your dining table or watching a football game together.  There are other words to be spoken, stories to be heard, lives to be shared.

I am struggling.  So many simple and ordinary joys are gone.  And I don’t want any more losses.

I want to sing the liturgy.  I want to feel the energy of an Easter crowd.  I want to see familiar smiles.  I want to share coffee and talk about the Sunday crossword puzzle.  I want to hear Natalie’s voice and see her face in the office.  I want to feel like this place is a sanctuary in all the best sense of that word.

I want to listen to the Swedish children’s choir singing in the next room when I’m here on a Saturday working on the sermon.  I want to hear the laughter of children on the playground during the week.  I want to chat with parents from the neighborhood who bring their children to play.  I want to pet the occasional dog being walked.  And, yes, there were times I needed to hide away in my basement office for some quiet uninterrupted time to study or write, but the music school was banging their drums in the next room, and there were children walking back and forth before my window with whom I could smile and wave.  I wasn’t just alone in my office.

I am frustrated, frustrated that all this social distancing was supposed to buy time for our leaders to put a plan in place – to get the equipment we needed, to get the testing we needed, to establish a process and hire the people that were necessary to trace and contain this virus.  But we have fumbled that effort.  We have wasted that time.  And it is the weak and the vulnerable and the poor who have born the worst of it.  Some are being forced to go back to work no matter how risky it is for them – or how fearful they might be – or how many children or seniors depend on their care – they are forced to go back or lose their unemployment coverage (if they’ve been able to get it).

On Saturday evening last week, the death toll from COVID-19 stood at 79,696.  Last night it was 89,420 – almost 10,000 more.  10,000 more families have lost loved ones in this last week despite the heroic work of doctors and health workers.  10,000 more have had to die alone, without a parent or a child or a partner to sit at their side and hold their hand.  And the best we can say is that maybe it will hold steady – not because we are helpless before this virus, but because we fumbled the ball and turned it over on the ten yard line.  We have more deaths than any country in the world.

10,000 more this week.  80,000 thousand people so far.  Each with family and friends and neighbors.  Each with lives they have touched.  Each with contributions they have made.  Each with stories to tell.     Each with sadness and loss left behind.

And for each of those 10,000, there are doctors and nurses whose hopes and spirits have been worn down because they couldn’t save them.

We raised an army and built ships and airplanes to fight fascism in Europe and imperialism in Japan.  We created a Marshall plan to rebuild Europe.  We kept Berlin alive with an airlift – planes taking off and landing every 90 seconds, night and day, when the Russians closed the rail lines.  We went to the moon.  We ended polio.  We ended smallpox.  We should have been able to fight this, not throw up our hands and say tests aren’t important and masks are a socialist plot.

I appreciate the fact that on Friday mornings the CBS morning news is beginning to show some of the people who are perishing.  We talk too often about numbers and not often enough about the people whose lives are being stolen away.  Five names, one day a week, however, is not enough when 10,000 are dying.

Paul and Iris shared with the council this week that their nanny’s sister has died from this Corona virus.  These are not numbers; these are real people.  We should not have to fight to have them recognized as such.

The children of Syrian refugee camps are also real people.  As are the children of the border detention centers.  As are the children of Flint, Michigan, and every other place where people are not only absent from our minds, but absent from our hearts.

When Jesus says to us this morning: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he is asking an important question.

The way you express a conditional statement in Greek – an “if/then” statement – can tell you what you expect.  The grammar reveals whether the “if” part of the statement is true or not.  So, one way to express this in Greek says: “If you love me (and we know that you do), you will keep my commandments.”  Another way says: “If you love me (and we know that you don’t), you would keep my commandments.”  And the third possibility says: “If you love me (and we don’t know whether you do), you will keep my commandments.”

When Jesus says this to his followers, he uses this third way.  The statement doesn’t assume that we love Jesus.  Whether we do or not will be revealed by whether we keep his commandments.

The word ‘commandments’ is in the plural.  It refers to all that Jesus has taught.  But there is really only one commandment.  That is the commandment Jesus has just given moments before when he washed the disciples’ feet and said: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.”

And let’s not be mistaken.  When Jesus talks about loving one another, he isn’t drawing that circle around a few close friends.  He is drawing that circle around the whole human community.

If you love me, you will show faithfulness to all I have taught.  If you love me, you will treasure and observe my teaching.  If you love me – if you feel an obligation and allegiance to me as if to a member of your own family – you will keep my commands, you will show faithfulness to all, you will treat every person as if they were family.

Jesus ends this passage with the same point he made at the beginning: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”  Fidelity to Jesus means fidelity to all.

Jesus will not leave us orphaned.  (I rather liked the old translation: “I will not leave you desolate,” but the word does mean ‘orphaned’.)  We are not abandoned.  We are not alone. Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the night he will be taken by the mob and thrust before Pilate and impaled upon the cross.  Jesus knows what is coming, but he will not leave his disciples abandoned and alone.  He will come to them.  It is a reference to that Sunday evening when Jesus revealed himself in their midst.  And Jesus will also come to them – come to us – in the Spirit that he breathed out upon his followers.

The Spirit is the living presence of Jesus in the community.  It is our ongoing teacher and guide.  It is the breath of life and font of grace.  It is the wonder of inspiration and the courage of love.  It is the comfort that comes to the downtrodden through simple acts of kindness and bold words of forgiveness – or simple words of forgiveness and bold acts of kindness.

The Spirit is the ongoing presence of Christ in our midst, the ongoing presence of Christ in the world.

It is a truthful Spirit.  It inspires no deceit, tells no lies, creates no illusions.  It doesn’t deceive or manipulate or confuse.  It does not lead to doubt or despair.  It inspires mercy and forgiveness and courage and truth.  It inspires love and patience and kindness.  It inspires hope and joy.  It carries us from the sorrows of the world to the joy of God’s table.  It carries us from the brokenness of the world to a new birth from above.  It carries us from a wedding that has run out of wine to the eternal wedding feast.  It carries us from our isolation into community.  It carries us from death into life.

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2020.  All rights reserved

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_Apostles.jpg  Duccio di Buoninsegna / Public domain.

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Don’t lose your way

File:Shirakimine Highland - panoramio.jpg“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me
will also do the works that I do.”
John 14:12

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Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way; keep us in your truth; enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us.

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A message from Sunday morning

The Fifth Sunday of Easter, year A

May 10, 2020

Acts 7:54-60: When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55 But, filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. (NRSV)

John 14:1-14: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (NRSV)

1 Peter 2:1-2, 4-5, 9-10: Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
…..10Once you were not a people,
……….but now you are God’s people;
…..once you had not received mercy,
…..…..but now you have received mercy. (NRSV)

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

There is a troubling and tragic line in our first reading this morning.  But before I go there, I want to acknowledge that the current death toll in the U.S. on Saturday evening was 79,696.  Twelve thousand more have died since last Sunday.

I trust you have seen the information that those who are dying are disproportionally older, poorer, and non-white.  The numbers in nursing homes and prisons – both workers and residents – are distressingly high.  These are people our society tends to regard as less important than others.  The White House has a rigorous testing procedure and is now testing daily, but the White House Press secretary said this week that, for the rest of us, testing was unimportant.

This is one of our deep and troubling sins as a nation: we think some people matter more than others.  I don’t need to go through all the familiar inequalities in our country.  And maybe it’s something endemic in the human heart that I matter more than you, and my family matters more than yours, but the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

I want to say that again: the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

I don’t know whether our president is undermining the rule of law in our country or simply nakedly profiting from the truth that our system has always been tilted towards some and away from others.  Too often, whether in law or the economy or in health care we seem to regard some as if they don’t really matter.  That’s why two white men can shoot down a young African-American jogging through their neighborhood, and no one asks any real questions for two and a half months.  It’s why Trayvon Martin is dead for being black and wearing a hoodie.  It’s why Sandra Bland is dead in prison for failing to signal a lane change.  It’s why Stanford student Brock Turner served only three months in county jail and went home to his parents in Ohio.  It’s why Jeffrey Epstein bought his way out of prison for so long and why O. J. Simpson got to go home after killing Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

We can go on.  The story is long.  It’s why J. Edgar Hoover ordered the surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and listed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a black nationalist hate group.  It’s why Native American lands were stolen and its people sent to reservations.  It’s why Angel Island was used to quarantine and interrogate Chinese immigrants in order to refuse them admission.  It’s why Japanese citizens were sent to internment camps during World War II.  It’s why our president called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers and opposes medical care for all citizens.

Some people matter more than others.  It’s not slavery, alone, that is our nation’s original sin; it is the belief that some matter more than others.  Some are not really people.  So our president calls neo-Nazis and gun-toting protesters with swastikas “good people” and Democrats and news reporters “human scum”.  It’s why Sara Palin said only some Americans are “real Americans.”

Some people matter more.  Others matter less.  It’s why we can tolerate hunger in America, why we can tolerate poverty, why we can tolerate hate, and why so many seem so willing to tolerate death by COVID-19.

On the one hand, we have vast numbers of people in this country risking their lives to protect others – doctors, nurses, health professionals, and all the support staff – fighting to keep people alive, or struggling to connect the dying with their loved ones – and yet our leaders dismiss leading health experts because they disagree with the president or say something truthful that embarrasses or contradicts him.

How can the president’s feelings matter more than the lives of our fellow citizens?  And how can my desire to get a haircut or go surfing matter more than the lives of my neighbors?

When Scripture talks about the judgment of God, it almost always speaks of God’s judgment on the nation.  God allows our sins to come back on our own heads.  But because such judgment is corporate, falling on the whole community, the consequences don’t fall on those who are most responsible; it falls on those who are most vulnerable.

During the terrible drought at the time of Elijah, the widow of Zarephath is perishing for want of food, while the king worries about his horses.

It is the most vulnerable who suffer.  And suffering came to Israel because the core values of the society had gotten twisted.  The prophets rail against idolatry not because God is concerned with correct worship, but because the values embodied by the idols are contrary to the commands and instruction of God.

God’s vision of a just society is overthrown when people’s fundamental allegiance is to wealth and power, when the king is above the law, when profit matters more than human life, when we close our eyes and ears to the well-being of others.  So I will say again: the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

The troubling and tragic line in our first reading this morning is this: they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.”

The event being described by Luke is the martyrdom of Stephen.  The followers of Jesus in Jerusalem are portrayed to us by Luke as a single community united in the apostolic teaching and mutual care.  But there are signs in the narrative that divisions existed.  The biggest challenge was the language and cultural divide between those residents of Jerusalem who had roots across the empire but had come to live in Jerusalem, and those who we might think of as more “native born”.

The language of those from other parts of the empire was Greek.  The language of those from the region was Aramaic.  And with those different languages were different cultural values.  For example, the Aramaic speaking Judeans were more likely to retain the ancient traditions about food.  And this soon become a problem: How do you share table fellowship around communion if some are keeping kosher and others are not?

We know, also, that there were concerns about the way food was shared in the community.  In the sixth chapter of Acts, the Greek speaking Judeans complain that their widows were not being treated equally with others.  In Luke’s account, this leads to the appointment of seven deacons, all of whom have Greek names.  It’s clear that these seven were not just those who help with the distribution of food; they were the leaders of the Greek speaking believers.  And when trouble arises and Stephen is killed by an angry mob, it is only the Greek speaking believers who are persecuted and driven from Jerusalem.  It was these Greek speaking believers who would go on to welcome Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and Gentiles into the body of Christ.  It was these Greek speaking believers who sent Paul and Barnabas on their mission to spread the Gospel throughout the empire.  It was these Greek speaking Christians who made Christianity a world religion with doors open to all and not a tight-knit little club in Jerusalem.

The tragic line is that the crowd who heard Stephen speak covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.”

We live in a time when too many people close their ears and shout.  And too often it leads to violence.  When we are unable to hear, when we are unwilling to listen, when we shut our minds, closed hearts follow right behind.  Then the love of God is lost.  Then anger turns to hate, and hate turns to violence.  (They dragged Stephen “out of the city and began to stone him.” – Acts 7:58)

The attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.  So are closed minds and closed hearts.  The Christ before us has arms wide open.  He bids us live with hearts open, with minds open, with arms open.

I don’t have time to talk about the second reading this morning, but I would just remind you of its opening words: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.” (2 Peter 2:1-2).  When 2 Peter reminds us that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,” he makes clear that we are not chosen for privilege, but for God’s mission in the world: “that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (2:9)

The Gospel reading this morning begins with the familiar words:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

The words are familiar to us from many funerals where they can come as a sweet word of comfort in distressing times.  But there is something more than a sweet word of comfort here.  It is a call to remain faithful.

The word translated ‘hearts’ is actually in the singular.  It is not spoken to us as individuals; it is spoken to the community of Jesus’ followers.  It’s not about my personal distress, but our shared distress.

When we hear these words, it is the Last Supper.  Jesus has just informed his followers that Judas will betray him and Peter will disavow him.  These are stunning allegations, full of foreboding.  And Jesus has dropped these two bombshells on top of the radical act of washing their feet like the lowliest of slaves, and saying that his body will be broken like the bread (although, John’s Gospel does not include those words).

It is to a community at risk of coming apart that Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  It is to a community at risk of losing its identity as a community bound to Jesus and one another that Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  And the word ‘troubled’ here is used of water that is stirred up, or emotions that are overflowing.

Jesus needs his followers to remain faithful to God and himself.  Troubled times are about to crash over them, and Jesus wants them to remain faithful to himself and one another.  He has just given them the commandment to love one another and the example of bending to wash feet.  He is reminding them of who they are, and what they are to each other.

When Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” he is using a many-layered metaphor with allusions to the temple as the house of God, and to the grand estates of the time that could provide for very large households.  But the key word is ‘dwelling places.’  The Greek is from the word ‘to abide’ that has been used again and again in John’s Gospel to talk about the relationship of abiding in God and God abiding in us.

Jesus isn’t talking about what we typically think of as heaven.  Jesus isn’t setting out to make up the beds and put out the towels for all his guests.  Jesus is opening the way that we might dwell in God and God in us.

The way of the cross that Jesus is traveling will draw them into God’s presence like a branch to the vine.  It will connect them to God and one another and fill them with God’s spirit.  The Life of God will pulse through them bearing rich and abundant fruit.  The work of God in healing and reconciling the world will be at work in them and through them.

Jesus is saying, “Don’t lose your way.  Don’t be overcome with fear or confusion.  Continue to show allegiance to God and my teaching.  I am the way to the heart of God.  I am the truth of the heart of God.  I am the imperishable life at the heart of God.”

What seems like disaster is upon his followers, but Christ will come and stand in their midst and breathe his Spirit upon them, and we will be the living presence of Christ in the world.  We will be the open arms of Jesus that treasure every person.

There is a sweet and precious promise in this passage.  But there is so much more.  Christ dwells in us, in the community of Jesus’ followers, and through us Christ is present to the world.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not lose your way.  Remain faithful to God.  Remain faithful to me.  I am going to the Father, but I will come and abide in you and you in me.”

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shirakimine_Highland_-_panoramio.jpg   oaaioai on Panoramio / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

I am the way

File:Campion Hall Jesus.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 10, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 14:1

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Our hearts are troubled.  They are troubled by the fear of Covid-19.  They are troubled by the tears of those who have lost loved ones.  They are troubled by the cries of frustration from nurses and doctors.  They are troubled by the lies and incompetence of our leaders.  They are troubled by the injustices that weave through our land.  They are troubled by those who talk about freedom as the privilege to do as they please not the responsibility to do as they ought.  They are troubled that love of self seems to trump love of neighbor.

Our hearts are troubled.  And the words of Jesus seem weak to the task.  Should there not be prophetic outrage?  Should we not hear Jeremiah shouting: “They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds”! (14:14). Should we not tremble before the voice of God declaring “I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” (13:9)

Our hearts are troubled.  And what will the texts this Sunday speak?  Will we hear Stephen pray for his murderers as Jesus did?  Will we understand that Christ in us is to be Christ for the world?  Will we hear Peter say, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,” and take up the mantle as those who bear Christ to the world?  Will we hear the poet speak the words that Jesus recited upon the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” and entrust ourselves so fully into the hands of God?

Will we understand what Jesus means when he says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”?  Will we hear a triumphalist song of the superiority of our ‘team’ or the summons to walk the path Jesus walked?  Will we recognize that the way, the truth, and the life – the living face of God – is shown in the outstretched arms that bore the sins of the world and prayed that God would yet forgive a world so inured to the suffering and dying of others?  We are not gaining a privilege, but shouldering a cross.

Our hearts are troubled.  And maybe this is something we share with the disciples who sense something terrible is afoot with Jesus.  Some spectre haunts their night when Jesus will be betrayed and handed over.

Nothing is as it should be in this night.  But we are given words of assurance.  God is working in ways hidden but sure.  And we have work to do, a priestly people not called to privilege but sent as servants of our foot-washing, suffering, redeeming, teacher and Lord.

The Prayer for May 10, 2020

Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way;
keep us in your truth;
enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for May 10, 2020

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” – Stephen becomes a victim of communal violence for his preaching and teaching about Jesus, and in his dying embodies the faith and love Jesus modeled.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:1-5
“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” – A prayer of lament.  The trust in God embodied in the psalm is reflected in Stephen and quoted by Jesus on the cross.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –
Expounding on baptism, the author urges the believers to “grow into salvation” as living stones in a “spiritual house” (a spiritual temple).

Gospel: John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” – Jesus makes provision for his followers in lieu of his impending death, urging them to remain faithful and assuring them that God’s resources are more than adequate to provide all their needs.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Campion_Hall_Jesus.jpg Gownley at English Wikipedia / Public domain