Like those who lift infants

During my sabbatical I have the chance to be present in worship as a hearer rather than the preacher. It’s not always easy to stay quiet…

jacob_limping

“I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.” (Hosea 11:4)

Sunday, I just wanted to crawl back into bed.  I was haunted, Saturday, by the news of the shooting in El Paso, and woke, Sunday, to the news of the shooting in Dayton.  It still weighs heavily on my heart – for the victims, for their families, for the shooter’s family, for the spiritual poverty of the nation, for the brokenness of the world.  If I hadn’t already made a plan to attend a neighboring church, I wouldn’t have had the resolve to find a place to worship; I would have gone back to bed.

It felt good to sit down in the pew.  It was good to see the altar, the reading desk, the familiar elements of traditional churches. This is a place where grace happens. This is a place where the cries of the heart are…

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Child sacrifice, divination, and the God who speaks

A reflection from three years ago still worth considering.

Watching for the morning

Thursday

Deuteronomy 18:9-20

File:Demobilize child soldiers in the Central African Republic.jpg Child in a rebel camp in the north-eastern Central African Republic

15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

I decided to add the preceding verses, 9 -14, to the reading from Deuteronomy this coming Sunday. Moses is speaking to the people at the end of their long journey through the wilderness, as they are about to enter the land of the Canaanites. He warns them:

9When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. 10No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, 11or one who casts spells…

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Peace and dismay

Sunday was a delightful service. People were gathered with their pets on the lawn in the shade of great trees, warm sun and a soft breeze. The service began with a prayer and a reading of Psalm 104 illustrated with beautiful photographs of this wondrous creation entrusted into our care. The sermon hit the right note of our connectedness to one another and all things. The pets that evoke such strong emotions from us are at our side to receive a blessing. We share in the prayer of St. Francis: “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.”

And then I wake up the next morning to the news of the shooting in Las Vegas.

For a moment all seemed right with the world. Now all seems wrong.

This is the strange position of the Christian community. We live in the borderlands between two worlds: this age of sorrows and the age of joy, this age where the lamb dare not lie down with the lion and the age to come where a little child shall lead them. We are a crucified people, yet risen. We are sinners, yet forgiven. Christ is present, but we await his coming. Eden is lost to us, but the new creation is at hand.

Tragedies like Las Vegas will call forth great acts of courage and compassion. And they will also call forth more hate and invective. It is the strange and saddening reality of our human condition. But next Sunday we will gather at the table yet again. Next Sunday we will hear the promise, yet again. Next Sunday we will dare to trust that this age is passing away and a new one dawning. And next Sunday we will taste it in the bread, in the sharing of the peace, in the words of grace, in the singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and in the commission to “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.”

Image: dkbonde

Come, Lord Jesus

For last Thursday

I wrote this post after the funeral last Thursday, but waited to get approval from the family before posting it. The sermon from that day, “We have seen the chariots of fire”, is posted at my site for occasional reflections: Jacob Limping (named from Jacob’s encounter with God that ends with him limping toward the promised land – wounded yet blessed).

I didn’t get the posting for Wednesday done on time yesterday; my heart and mind was on the sermon for today. We buried a child of the congregation. 26. Bright. Talented. Loved. Addicted. Somewhere there is a drug lord prospering from selling tainted heroin. In our parish we weep.

The church was beyond full. People squeezed together into the pews, filled the balcony, brought chairs from the fellowship hall, and then stood in the back. There was so much we wanted to say. And words were so hard to find. We wanted to say how great he was. And we wanted to say how angry we were. Angry at him. Angry at the world. Angry at God. Frustrated. Wounded. Seven times he had been in treatment. Seven times he had slipped. Not because he was weak. By no means. Perhaps because he was so talented, so smart, so much a winner, he thought he could control it. Perhaps because the dragon is so deceptive.

Perhaps because the disease is so virulent.

So words fail. How do you capture the sweet boy working our Bible school, idolized by the kids, and the betrayer of friends he ditched to go buy drugs? How do you capture the acolyte bearing the cross with the young man bearing a terrible cross. How do you speak of the talented young man with a bright, bright future and the lifeless body on the floor of his apartment bedroom?

How do you speak of the charming, sincere smile and the stormy conflicts that must have occurred in the home? You can’t say all that. So the remembrances were more of a choked tears than joyful celebration. But there was the boy we loved. The young man we loved. And the tragedy we all felt.

Come Lord Jesus. It is the most ancient prayer of the church. Come, Lord Jesus. Come set right our world. Come heal the wounded, free the bound, raise the dead. Come bring that perfect reign of light and life. Come raise the world from its brokenness into your perfect light. Come.

And come to the family. Bear their burden – you who have borne the burdens of all. Surround them with grace, as you have brought grace to all. Heal their hearts, as you will heal the hearts of all. Take us back through the eastern gate, past the flaming sword, that we may eat again of the tree of life and dwell in your perfect garden.

Like a bride

Sunday Evening

Sunday was my daughter’s wedding – that’s why there were a few missing reflections on the texts for last week.

The wedding was in the wine country, a “destination wedding”, since no matter where we held it, family and friends would have to fly in from all over the country. But there was something sweet and profound in the blend of accents from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Colorado, New Hampshire, and I’m not sure where else. Isaiah 25 declares that God will prepare a feast for all peoples; a world whose primal unity was broken will be gathered back together for God’s great banquet. In Matthew 14 that feast is anticipated in the feeding of the 5,000. In John 2 that banquet is anticipated in the new wine at Cana. In Revelation 21 that banquet is portrayed as a new Jerusalem, adorned like a bride for her husband.

Every wedding exults in the joy of creation and declares the promise of the banquet to come. In every wedding the bride is beautiful and the groom handsome, every flaw forgotten. In every wedding there is joy and dancing. In every wedding the woes of the world are forgotten for a moment.

It’s not that the woes are not there. An empty chair with daisies stood on the aisle for Megan’s missing sister. This date was the birthday of my missing brother. There are losses and wounds among us all, but they cannot overshadow the joy of the wedding. Hope, joy, the presence of possibility and future, the mystery and delight of two who find in one another a deep and enduring bond and dare to promise it no matter what comes – here joy trumps sorrow, hope trumps despair, life trumps death. There is a reason Jesus uses the wedding feast as a metaphor for God’s reign.

We live as believers – those who know the resurrection and trust the promise that God will fulfill his purpose of bringing life to us and to the world.

So we sing and dance and break the bread of the eternal feast.

(If you would like to read the sermon from the wedding, it is posted at jacoblimping@wordpress.com)

Toward the light

Sunday Evening

Philippians 4

To the Light - Colorado Dawn (Photocredit: dkbonde)

To the Light – Colorado Dawn (Photocredit: dkbonde)

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Walking towards the light is easier than walking away from it.  I woke in the middle of the night while visiting my daughter.  She had left a night light on in the bathroom.  It was a small little light, but in the darkness was more than enough to guide me, so I didn’t bring my phone, my normal source of convenient illumination.  The path back to the hide-a-bed was trickier, however, with the light behind me rather than ahead of me.

It’s hard not to stop in the middle of the night and write down such a great metaphor for life in general: walking towards the light is easier than walking away from it.

Walking towards the source of love is easier than walking away from it.  Walking towards the source of healing is easier than walking away.  Walking towards mercy rather than away.  Not that there aren’t challenges.  Just that with the light in front of you, you are less likely to stub your toe on a chair from the kitchen table.