Seeing death and life

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Watching for the Morning of March 13, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

The passion draws near. Next Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday and the following week are the three days of the Paschal Triduum: Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper when Jesus washed feet and broke bread and, after, was grabbed by the mob in the night; Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion; and Saturday evening, the Great Vigil of Easter when by the celebration/renewal of baptism we journey with Christ from the realm of death into the realm of life.

This Sunday the Gospel reading anticipates all that is to come when Mary anoints Jesus with oil in a prophetic anticipation of his death. The others don’t see the death coming, so they complain about the “waste” of this expensive perfume. But Jesus sees.

They are in Bethany among the sick – near to the temple but out of sight by law. They are in Bethany where Lazarus was raised. They are at Bethany where Jesus ascends. They are in the place where our need for healing is manifest – and where Christ reigns.

So on this day we hear the prophet Isaiah declare that something greater than the exodus is coming. And the psalmist sings of the wheat sown into the soil with tears and rising into abundance with joy. And Paul writes of his Judean credentials, which he willingly casts aside for the sake of gaining Christ. Like an athlete training that he or she might ascend the dais for the laurel wreath, I press on,” writes Paul, “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Enlightened

File:36e rencontres internationales de Taizé Strasbourg 31 décembre 2013 11.jpgThis week we are conclude our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He gathers me into the Body of Christand that is the subject of our daily devotions. This Sunday we will continue in the third article of the creed with the theme: “He enlightens me by his word and Spirit.”

There are many elements of the creed – and especially of the third article of the creed – that could occupy our attention. The five we chose were: Created, Redeemed, Called, Gathered, Enlightened. And on this fifth Sunday in Lent our focus is on that word ‘Enlightened’. We see the world differently in the light of Christ. We see not only conflict but peace. We see not only revenge but forgiveness. We see not only greed but a shared table. We see not only death but life. The world isn’t changed, but we are changed. By the word and Holy Spirit eyes are opened to see. Light shines in the darkness. Light shines in our hearts.

The Prayer for March 13, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you breathe upon us your Spirit
and open our minds to understand your Word.
Grant us wisdom and understanding
that we may not walk in darkness but in the light of life;
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 March 13, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” – Through the prophet God announces a new exodus: God will bring the people through the wilderness back from their exile in Babylon.

Psalmody: Psalm 126
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”
– Using images of death and resurrection, the poet sings of God’s wondrous deliverance and prays for God to again “restore our fortunes.”

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” –
Paul warns the Philippians about those who would compel them to keep circumcision and the Judean traditions. Though his ‘credentials’ in that tradition are impeccable, he wants only “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.”

Gospel: John 12:1-8
“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.”
– The Jerusalem council has determined to put Jesus to death. Now, as Passover approaches, Jesus has come out of hiding to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, where Mary anoints him for his burial.

Enlightened: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the theme for week 3 from the third article of the creed: Week 4: Gathered.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus.jpg  By 125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A36e_rencontres_internationales_de_Taiz%C3%A9_Strasbourg_31_d%C3%A9cembre_2013_11.jpg  By Photo Claude TRUONG-NGOC (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Come to the banquet

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Watching for the Morning of March 6, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

The story of the prodigal son is familiar to everyone – and yet, not familiar. It is set in a culture different than our own and the story is much deeper than it first appears to us. We tend to hear a story of misspent youth, personal regret, moral reform and a penitent child welcomed home by a loving father. But Jesus’ listeners heard a much more profound story of a shameful family and a father’s dramatic action to save the life of his child by inviting the village to feast.

This is a child who has violated core communal values by seeking and selling the inheritance. By his action he declares he wishes his father were dead and threatens the extended family’s survival by selling a third of the land upon which they depend for food. The father acts shamefully, horribly, by acceding to the demand – and then, inexplicably, is willing to save the son’s life when he returns home. The son is facing communal violence as if he had desecrated the Koran. He is the small town pastor’s son who, after years of abusive behavior, breaking windows, violating the sanctity of the worship space, finally sets fire to the building and flees town. Now imagine he walks back into the sanctuary…

The father races to embrace his son to protect him from the village and then invites the whole village to come and feast – to be reconciled with this troubled family. (And we haven’t talked of the elder son’s shameful conduct who, like his brother, acts like his father is dead.)

This is a parable of the kingdom – but in what way is this tragic story like the kingdom? The feast. In a world troubled by greed and violence and family decay comes the invitation to share in the feast of reconciliation. It is a banquet set in the rubble of a Syrian city. It is a banquet set on the capitol steps. It is a banquet set on the white house lawn. It is a banquet set in the Pentagon parking lot. It is a banquet set on Wall Street. It is a banquet set in our own troubled homes and villages. It is a banquet of reconciliation to which all are invited. To which we are invited. God has killed the fatted calf and called us to rejoice with him in a world made new.

Yes, to answer such an invitation means letting go of old hatreds and greeds. Yes, to answer such an invitation is a profound reorientation of our lives. But God is setting the table and inviting us to come and share the feast, to join the dance, to sing the songs of joy, to break the bread of peace.

And so, with this text on Sunday, we will hear Paul speak of the new creation in Christ, and the psalmist sing of the peace of God’s forgiveness. And we will hear of the wilderness wanderings come to an end and the people gathered in a great Passover celebration where they share in the bounty of the promised land. The banquet is at hand and we are invited to share in the feast where all sins are forgiven and all creation reconciled.

Gathered

File:Rome - Basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran - Rencontres européennes de Taizé 2012 - 2.jpgThis week we are continuing our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He has called me through the Gospeland that is the subject of our daily devotions. Sunday we will continue in the third article of the creed with the line from the Catechism: “He gathers me into the Body of Christ.”

Christian faith isn’t private or solitary. When we put our faith, hope and trust in Christ we are joined with all others who have made him their hope. We have been joined to the missional community sent to bear witness to Christ throughout the world. We are gathered into the community where love is our new commandment. We are united to the body through which Christ is present to the world. Here the Spirit is given. Here sins are forgiven. Here the feast to come is begun.

The Prayer for March 6, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you gather us into the community of the church
and there proclaim to us your love and faithfulness.
Make us ever mindful of your gifts and faithful to one another
that, as one body in Christ Jesus,
we may bear witness to your grace and glory;
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 March 6, 2016

First Reading: Joshua 5:1-3, 9-12 (appointed 5:9-12)
“The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land.” – the people have come out from the wilderness, crossed the Jordan and are camped at Gilgal where they celebrate Passover and begin to live off the fruit of the land.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
– The poet sings of the goodness of God’s gracious forgiveness.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (appointed 5:16-21)
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” –
Paul speaks of the new reality that has dawned in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-2, 11-32 (appointed 15:1-3, 11b-32)
“The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ …So he told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons.’”
– Jesus tells of a troubled and shameful family whose father acts decisively to protect his wayward sons.

Gathered: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the theme for week 3 from the third article of the creed: Week 3: Called.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATaxiarchis_Church_Feast_(5159037622).jpg By Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece (Taxiarchis Church Feast  Uploaded by Yarl) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARome_-_Basilique_Saint-Jean-de-Latran_-_Rencontres_europ%C3%A9ennes_de_Taiz%C3%A9_2012_-_2.jpg By Peter Potrowl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fruitless

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Saturday

Luke 13:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Come

 

Ashenda_Girl,_Tigray,_Ethiopia_(15363919671) cropped

Thursday

Isaiah 55:1-9

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

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

I imagine God must wish he had a pause button.

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

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

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

 

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

Not like us

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Wednesday

Isaiah 55:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Now is the time

Clocktower

Watching for the Morning of February 28, 2016

Year C

The Third Sunday in Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

Called

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

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

The Prayer for February 28, 2016

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

The Texts for February 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Righteousness

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

Friday

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The God who promises

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Thursday

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Finally made whole

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Wednesday

Philippians 3:17-4:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Threats and sorrows and joy

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Watching for the Morning of February 21, 2016

Year C

The Second Sunday in Lent

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

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

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

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

Redeemed

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

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

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

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

The Prayer for February 21, 2016

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

The Texts for February 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

 

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