“When a foreigner comes”

File:King-Solomon-Russian-icon.jpg

Wednesday

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

42When a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name.

If you are cynical, you will hear Solomon praying that his temple might be the greatest on earth – and his god the most renowned. And maybe that’s all that Solomon had in mind – or all that the author who composed Solomon’s prayer imagined. But there is a seed, here, a deep and profound seed, that will grow into Christ gathering all nations into the peace of God.

This happens often in life where a chance word is later seen to have much deeper truth lying within. It’s why psychologists and psychiatrists pay attention to random associations. It’s why we catch a spouse or a friend saying, “See, that’s what you really mean.” It’s why a song I wrote the week before my wedding seemed to portend things I didn’t consciously understand until the marriage dissolved. It turns out I did know what I was getting into; I just didn’t know I knew.

So even if Solomon’s noble prayer is shallow with self-interest – the depths are there. And scripture can’t escape them. God is the God of all. Not just Israel. Not just the church. Not just the believing. Not just any subset of humanity. God hears the prayers of all.

Of course, the other shallow water to be avoided is the notion that it doesn’t really matter what you call God because there is only one God of all. But it does matter what you call God, because what you say of God shapes our encounter with God. So Solomon doesn’t pray to a nameless divine power, but to the God whose name is LORD, who walked with Abraham promising to bring blessing to the world. This God named LORD wrestled with Jacob and inspired Joseph and called Moses to lead a people out from bondage. This God named LORD spoke laws that may seem archaic to us, but were radical justice and mercy in their day (and still today for those with ears). This God named LORD raised up prophets and a king named David who sought a world at peace and planned for a temple where all came to pray and rejoice.

And we can look at it all and imagine it self-serving, but the words remain and their depths emerge and the prophets push the insight further, and then a child is born who is called Son of David and Son of God who pushes the boundaries yet further, gathering the outcast and the foreigners. And God vindicates this Son of David, reversing his death sentence, and his Spirit flows out upon his followers and they are baptizing Samaritans and an Ethiopian Eunuch and Gentiles, beginning with a Centurion named Cornelius. Paul takes the Gospel to the center of the Mediterranean world – embodying the commission to make students to Jesus of all nations.

And we still fight, in our frail and unredeemed humanity, about who should be allowed in and kept out, but the truth is that whether Solomon realizes it or not, he is praying that God will hear every prayer and all the earth will sing God’s praise. We build walls, but God builds an altar where all may be fed – and a holy city where the light never fails. And again and again God bids us all come to pray and to learn and to feast at God’s table.

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKing-Solomon-Russian-icon.jpg By 18 century icon painter (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Russia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For all

File:French milouf DF-ST-99-05511.JPEG

Watching for the Morning of May 29, 2016

Year C

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 4 / Lectionary 9

So the festal season has come to an end and we return now to our readings that take us (more or less continuously) through the Gospel of Luke. It’s been three months since we heard Jesus preaching in Nazareth that the promise of God’s reign was fulfilled in himself – and the crowd tried to throw him down the bluff because he suggested that God’s mercy and gifts were for all not just for Israel.

Following his sermon in Nazareth, Jesus goes to Capernaum, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, calls Peter, James and John to follow him (the wondrous catch of fish), frees a man from a dreaded skin disease, forgives and heals the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends (scandalizing the Pharisees) and calls the tax collector, Levi, to follow him – banqueting at Levi’s house with “sinners”. Conflict grows over the rules about purity and healing on the Sabbath and, after night in prayer, Jesus appoints the twelve apostles (a Greek word meaning an authorized messenger or envoy).  Jesus then teaches the twelve and crowd about the nature of the kingdom in a long section of teaching similar to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Our reading on Sunday follows that teaching:  Jesus returns to Capernaum and elders of the city meet him to request his help with a centurion’s ill servant. This commander in the occupation army becomes, for Jesus, the supreme example of faith for he sees Jesus as a man with authority to speak and act on God’s behalf.

It is this theme of the outsider that weaves through our readings on Sunday. Solomon prays at the dedication of the temple for God to hear the prayer of foreigners who come there to pray. The psalmist sings for God’s glory to be declared throughout the earth and for all the nations to sing God’s praise. And at the center of Paul’s stern rebuke of his Galatian congregation is his ire that they have tuned away from the central dominical message that God’s reign is at hand and all nations are being gathered into God’s grace and life.

The festal season may be over – but the festal age is at hand.

“O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth”!

The Prayer for May 29, 2016

Heavenly Father,
who names all nations as your own,
grant us confidence in your word of grace,
trust in your commands,
and faithfulness to the way of your kingdom;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for May 29, 2016

First Reading: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.” –
Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple, asking God to hear the prayers of all who come – including the prayers of foreigners.

Psalmody: Psalm 96:1-9
“Sing to the Lord a new song… Declare his glory among the nations.”
– The psalmist calls for all peoples to sing God’s praise.

Second Reading: Galatians 1:1-12
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ.”
The abrupt and shocking opening of Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia in which Paul moves immediately to a defense of his ministry, declaring there is no other Gospel than the one he preached to them.

Gospel: Luke 7:1-10
“I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes” –
Jesus acknowledges the great faith of a centurion who trusts the power of Jesus’ word, confident that Jesus’ has the authority to speak for God and dispense God’s benefits.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFrench_milouf_DF-ST-99-05511.JPEG  By DoD photo by: SSGT ANDY DUNAWAY ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

No Other Gospel

Saturday

Galatians 1

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

English: Rail Bridge Swarm of Starlings. The n...

English: Swarm of Starlings.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are flocking creatures.  I am sure there is some technical word for this, but I don’t know it.  I just know that we are creatures of the herd.  As much as modern Americans may celebrate the idea of the rugged individual, we are more like zebras and starlings than grizzly bears and snakes.  Some creatures are pack animals and others are not.  We are pack animals.  We follow fashions.  We follow fads.  Whether it is hairstyles or political opinions, we are most at home in a community of shared values.  Even where we reject the values of mainstream society, we do it as part of some group: bikers or goths or hippies in their time.  I don’t know why a flock of starlings choose to take flight all at the same time or swerve left in flight rather than right.  But when some bird in front takes a direction everyone follows.

Paul has brought the message of Christ to the communities in Galatia and lives have been changed.  They have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.  They have seen wonders performed in the name of Christ. (3:2-5).  But now some other teacher has arrived and suddenly the flock is swerving off in some new direction.  Paul was afraid to tell them the whole truth, they say, “You have to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses.”

Instead of a Gospel that announces the dawning of God’s new age that gathers all people from all nations to God in Christ, we now have a message of reform.  Jesus no longer saves the world; he makes better, more religious people.

Moralism is the death of Christianity.  Moralism in any form.  The Christian message has a great and noble ethic.  It anticipates lives of high moral character.  But it is not a reform movement.  It’s not trying to make us better.  It is trying to bring us under the reign of God in Christ.  Morality can make me say “thank you,” but it cannot make me mean it.  I can learn to use the right fork and not take more than my share, but such moralism doesn’t create hospitality or generosity of spirit.  Jesus was trying to get at something important when he told Nicodemus he must be born of the Spirit.  It is the encounter with the radical love of God in Christ that creates a new me, not a more earnest commitment to the rule of law.

Moralism sees the centurion and says he has done good things; he is worthy of this favor.  The Gospel says simply he is a child of God; he has a right to count on God’s love.

In moralism I get to be the hero of the story, little Jack Horner beaming “What a good boy am I!”  In the Gospel, God is the hero of the story; God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s gift is the beginning and end of the tale.

Paul has a reason to be irate that the believers in Galatia have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage.  There is no other Gospel.  And those who preach it should do their cutting on themselves, Paul will say later.

The grave has been opened.  The veil of tears lifted.  The dominion of sorrow broken.  The kingdom of God is dawning.  If you want a polite little religion of morality go somewhere else.  We are talking about the end of the world as we know it.  The end of fear and sorrow and arrogance and all life’s ruling powers.  The grave is empty.  The spirit is here to reclaim the world.

Foreigners are being welcomed, not because a few of them happen to be “like us,” but because they are all God’s  people.  All the objects of god’s love and concern.  All welcome at his table.  All invited to the wedding feast that has no end.

A Man under Authority

Friday

Luke 7:8

“I also am a man set under authority.”

Historical re-enactor wearing replica equipmen...

Historical re-enactor wearing replica equipment of a late 1st-century centurion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot is hiding in that little word ‘also’.

The centurion is a man under authority, but this does not simply mean he is a soldier in a chain of command; he is a link in the chain of patronage that starts with the emperor and ends with the village.  He is able to bring the resources of the emperor to bear for the community.  They look to him for help.  They offer their obedience and obeisance to Rome and he brings the emperor’s gifts to build the synagogue.

The centurion sees that Jesus, also, is a man under authority.  Jesus is a link in the chain that starts with God and ends with God’s people Israel.  He brings God’s gifts.  They show respect and honor to God.

The centurion has not come himself because he has no right to expect anything of Jesus.  He is not part of this particular chain of patronage.  He is not part of Israel.  But the synagogue leaders are part of Israel; they can ask.  So the centurion sends them on his behalf hoping that Jesus will grant this favor to the leaders resulting in the healing of his servant.

If Jesus were a mere healer, a wonder worker, there would be no question of authority, only the techniques of a folk healer manipulating the spiritual realities by means of prayer and incantation.  Such a man the centurion could easily hire or command.  But the centurion doesn’t see a faith healer; he sees a man who, like himself, is under authority.  He sees God’s agent authorized to dispense the gifts of God.

This is why no ritual is needed.  No laying on of hands.  No incantations.  No incense or sacred objects of numinous power.  Jesus doesn’t even need to show up in person.  Jesus need only say the word.  He need only give the nod of the head that opens heaven’s treasury.

This is the faith – the trust and allegiance – that Jesus commends.  The centurion sees truly: the crowd sees a healer, but he sees the agent of God.

So what do we see in Jesus when we come to be met by him on Sunday?  A healer? A helper?  A wonder worker?  A spiritual guide?  Or the authorized agent of God?

The Prayers of All

Thursday

1 Kings 8

Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes…

English: Toldos Avraham Yitzchok Rebbe during ...

English: Toldos Avraham Yitzchok Rebbe during morning prayers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Solomon asks God to hear the prayers of those beyond the borders of Israel.  I do not know if Solomon understood all the ramifications of that prayer – we seldom do.  I imagine he had in mind that Israel would be glorified if foreigners could find healing from Israel’s God.  His kingdom would be richer, greater, grander.  There is that in the church: people want the congregation to grow so more people can help pay the bills, so that we will look successful, so that we can be proud of our little club.

But God is not a god of a club.  He is Lord of all nations.  Which means he will hear the prayers of all people, whether they are Christians or not, whether they are our kind of Christians or not, whether they are deserving or not.

English: A Muslim raises his hands in Takbir, ...

English: A Muslim raises his hands in Takbir, marking the beginning of his prayers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God hears the prayers of Obama and Rush Limbaugh alike.  God hears the prayers of Christian and Muslim alike.  God hears the prayers of those who do not pray – or do not know that they pray.  God hears the cry of every human heart.  God hears what is spoken and unspoken.  God hears what is noble and ignoble.  God hears.

And God answers.  Those who are not looking for God’s hand are not likely to see it, of course – or to see it only dimly.  And God’s answers are seldom what we imagine they should be.  But God breathes his Spirit into every corner of the world calling us into his grace and life.  Unfortunately, in too many places, in too many homes, in too many hearts, it is shouted down by fear and greed and despair and chaos and confusion and the constant blare of angry voices.

God answers.  Not as we hoped.  Rarely as we hoped, it seems, for so often our prayers are much too selfish and shortsighted.  But God answers.  Opening doors to bring us into the light of grace.  Opening doors to bring us into the light of truth.  Opening doors to bring us into the goodness of human community.  Opening doors to bring us into service of our neighbor.  God provides the moments if we will but dare to follow.

We, the church, are not God’s people.  We are people God has called to be about his work to serve his people in the world.  To speak the word of grace and life.  To bind up the broken.  To break down walls of bigotry and oppression.  To break down the barriers between people and nations.  To bear witness to the work of God in Jesus.  To fill our sails with the wind of the Spirit.

Christians praying in Goma, DR of Congo.

Christians praying in Goma, DR of Congo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Solomon doesn’t realize all that he asks for.  He doesn’t realize all that God has in mind in answering this prayer.  God sees the lame welcomed, the outcast gathered in, the stranger received as brother and sister.  God sees the Ethiopian eunuch baptized and Cornelius and his family endowed with the Spirit.  God sees the mission of Paul among the nations – and the mission of each succeeding generation.  God sees Pentecost and the witness of God’s people in every language.  God sees the New Jerusalem gathered and all people breaking bread on the mountain of God.

And God sees the gifts of God given to a Centurion in service of the empire of Rome.  And Jesus calling him a model of true faith.

Raised Hands

1 Kings 8

stranger 7/100 abdul hoque

stranger 7/100 abdul hoque (Photo credit: HasinHayder)

22Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.

This is the ancient stance of prayer: arms lifted up to heaven.  I don’t know when we changed it to heads bowed and hands folded.  I have my suspicions.

This ancient stance of prayer with arms lifted is why the pastor or priest holds out his or her arms when saying the prayer over the bread and wine.  There is something expansive about that posture, something especially appropriate to that great recital of God’s creative and redeeming work that culminates in the supper where the Christ of Nazareth and Capernaum and Jerusalem comes to us here. That prayer echoes God’s work of creating, his deliverance of Israel from Egypt, his ongoing address of humanity through the prophets, and his encounter with the world in Jesus.  It speaks the promise of a world redeemed, a world freed from its violence and gathered at one table.  A world where the human community is restored and bread is shared.  It is an expansive story.  It is right for our hands to be raised.

Folded hands and bowed heads embody a very different set of emotions: introspection rather than praise, humility rather than joy, the self rather than the world.

Kneeling for communion in an often windowless room has us looking down, looking inward; such a moment is personal, between God and myself.  Communion standing in a circle beneath a great canopy of trees – or the vaulted ceiling of a Gothic cathedral – gives you a very different experience, especially if the community is holding hands as they await the bread.  Better yet if they are also singing.

It’s true that Communion is about God and me; God has something important to say to each of us in that moment the bread is placed in our hands.  But communion is also about God and us. And, most importantly, it is about God and the world.  This bread and wine are not only a promise of the forgiveness of my sins; they promise the forgiveness of the world.  It speaks of my redemption and our redemption.  I am invited to share God’s table; but God is also casting his nets into the world to gather all creation to his banquet of life.

Watching for the morning of June 2

Tuesday

Year C

The Second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 4 / Lectionary 9

The festal season (Lent/Easter) is over and we return to reading through the main body of Luke.

The front side of folios 13 and 14 of a Greek ...

The front side of folios 13 and 14 of a Greek papyrus manuscript of the Gospel of Luke containing verses 11:50–12:12 and 13:6-24, P. Chester Beatty I (Gregory-Aland no. P 45 ). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because of the odd construction of the Revised Common Lectionary, we have skipped from Luke 4 (where we left off on the 4th Sunday after Epiphany) to Luke 7.  We heard then Jesus’ sermon at Nazareth where he reads from Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” and the community rejects his role as a prophet and ultimately tries to throw him from a cliff.  The shadow of the cross and the mission beyond the borders of Israel lies across the very beginning of Luke’s narrative.  Now we take up the Centurion, another outsider beyond the boundary of those for whom the God of Israel was thought to care.

We have skipped over the silencing of the evil spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum and the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law – and all who were brought to him.  We have skipped the calling of the disciples from their nets, the healing of a man with “leprosy” and the paralyzed man let down through the roof.  Levi the tax gatherer has been called; Jesus has said that new wine requires new wineskins and claimed authority over the Sabbath, appointed the twelve, and given what is referred to as the Sermon on the Plain – similar to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount – ending with the metaphor of fools who build their houses on the sand.

As we pick up Luke’s narrative, the Centurion is one of those “enemies” Jesus has just commanded us to love.  And he is an example of the wise builder who, trusting and obeying the word of Jesus, builds his house upon the rock.

Prayer for June 2, 2013

Heavenly father,
who names all nations as your own,
grant us confidence in your word of grace,
trust in your commands,
and faithfulness to the way of your kingdom.

The Texts for June 2, 2013

First Reading: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 (Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple asking God to hear the prayers of all who come – including the prayers of foreigners.)
Psalmody: Psalm 96:1-9 (“Sing to the Lord a new song.  Declare his glory among the nations.”)
Second Reading: Galatians 1:1-12 (The opening of Paul’s letter where he moves immediately to his defense of his ministry declaring there is no other Gospel than the one he preached to the believers in Galatia.)
Gospel: Luke 7:1-10 (Jesus acknowledges the great faith of a centurion who trusts the power of Jesus’ word, confident that all Jesus need do to heal his servant is give the order.)