But there are others

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Watching for the Morning of October 29, 2017

Reformation Sunday

Sunday is the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses, and names like Martin Luther, Philip Melancthon, and Katherine von Bora (Katy Luther) will surely get the major share of attention.

But there are others.

There are others like Justus Jonas who was dear friend to Luther, and Bugenhagen, and Frederick the Wise of course, without whom none of us would remember Luther except as another heretic committed to the flames. And there is John the Steadfast who became the Elector of Saxony after his brother Frederick and stayed the course despite its ultimate cost. (Saxony was defeated by Emperor Charles V in 1547 and the lands, title and privileged vote as Elector were stripped away and given to the Duke of Saxony who had betrayed the Protestant cause.)

But there are others.

Luther and his colleagues in Saxony were protected by Elector Frederick. So, too, those in other sympathetic German states. But the emperor had direct control in the Low Countries and enforced his Edict of Worms declaring Luther outside the protection of the law, forbidding anyone to provide any food, clothing, protection or assistance to Luther, and authorizing the confiscation of the property of any sympathizers, supporters, patrons, or followers.

Johann Esch, Heinrich Voes, and Lampertus Thorn were among the monks in the Augustinian monastery in Antwerp arrested for supporting Luther’s ideas. The prior and others recanted, but these three refused. On July 1, 1523, Esch and Voes were burned at the stake. Thorn died in prison.

So we will read these wonderful texts for Reformation Day, this Sunday, and sing with trumpets the stirring hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” and for some it will be like singing the old college fight song – a stirring tribute and remembrance of our team. But it is not about our team. It is about this compelling and dangerous word of Jesus that sets free and makes true disciples. It is about the promise of God through Jeremiah to establish with God’s frail and corrupt humanity a new covenant. It is about this message that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but “are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” It is about the work of God to fashion a new creation and our trust in and allegiance to that work.

Even when it may lead to the flames.

The Prayer for Reformation Sunday, October 29, 2017

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

The texts for Reformation Sunday, October 29, 2017 (assigned for Reformation Day)

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

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

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

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

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALucas_Cranach_d.%C3%84._(Werkst.)_-_Martin_Luther_und_Philipp_Melanchthon_(1543).jpg workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Of royal weddings

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Watching for the Morning of October 15, 2017

Year A

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

Politics makes for strange bedfellows, so the saying goes. Those running for office often find themselves on stage or at dinners with political adversaries. Some invitations are fraught with difficulty. If I accept, I alienate this portion of the voting public; if I don’t accept, I alienate others. Invitations are not always simple.

The wedding invitation in the Gospel reading for this Sunday is not simple. It comes from the king. To refuse the king is dangerous. To refuse the king is an act of rebellion. You would only dare such a refusal if you thought he was no longer powerful enough to take revenge. You would refuse only if you had betrayed your king and given your allegiance to another.

Matthew’s account is much more overt than the story in Luke. Here the host is a king and the rebellion open and defiant. Jesus says not only that the invitees “made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business,” but that “the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.”

We are talking about Judea, now, and Jerusalem, and the murder of the prophets – and the murder of Jesus. The slaughter of the rebels and burning of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 CE now echoes through the parable. There are consequences to rebellion. Destruction follows when you misjudge who is the true king, when you misjudge who truly holds power.

The invitation to feast at God’s table is not simple. It is full of grace, but it means giving up wealth and privilege. It means embracing all as your neighbor. It means taking up the cross, risking all for the path of peace.

This is not a partisan parable – as if God were going to get “those people” who are “not like us” in the end. This is a prophetic warning to the leaders of the nation. This is a prophetic warning to us all. We are invited to the table of peace. The welcome is given to all to come to the feast that knows no end. But an invitation is not a simple thing. Refusal is rebellion. And the consequences are fateful.

So Sunday we will hear God’s great promise in Isaiah to prepare a banquet for all people. And we will sing with the psalmist that the LORD (the LORD alone) is our shepherd/king. And St. Paul will urge Euodia and Syntyche to choose reconciliation – and for the community to help them – and to keep their minds on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. And the parable of Jesus will warn us not to take lightly the gift of God or dare to show up at the wedding feast to come without being clothed in Christ.

An invitation is a great gift. But is not a simple thing. It bids us choose to whom we will show allegiance.

The Prayer for October 15, 2017

Gracious God, shepherd and guardian of our souls,
keep us from the folly that would spurn your grace
and grant that, clothed in Christ,
we may know the joy of the eternal wedding feast;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 15, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 25:1-9
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” – Following a section of the book of Isaiah containing words of judgment against the nations surrounding Judah and Israel, we are given an oracle of salvation declaring a day when God will gather all people to a feast on Mt. Zion.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – The language of shepherds is used for kings in ancient Israel – but here the poet declares that God is the one who guides, protects and prepares for him God’s royal banquet.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:1-9
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
– Paul begins his concluding remarks to the believers in Philippi with a series of exhortations about their life together both to specific individuals and to the community as a whole.

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” – With a story about a royal wedding and the vassals of the king who declare their rebellion by refusing the king’s invitations and abusing his messengers, Jesus presses his attack against the leadership of the nation who have aligned themselves with the empire of Rome rather than the reign of God.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWedding_Supper_-_Martin_van_Meytens_-_Google_Cultural_Institute.jpg Martin van Meytens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“If you love me…”

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Watching for the Morning of May 21, 2017

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Again, this Sunday, we hear Jesus speaking after supper on the night of his betrayal. Again we hear him providing for his little band as he faces what he knows will be his death. Again we hear him speak of the Spirit who will come, an ‘advocate’ who will turn the hearts of the crowd in their favor. Again we hear the promise that Jesus will come to his followers. Again we hear about love and fidelity and abiding. And again we hear about living out Jesus’ teaching: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”

Fidelity to Jesus will mean fidelity to his teaching.  We are not joining team Jesus against team Pharisees. We are not joining team Jesus against team Humanists. We are not joining team Jesus against team Hillary or Team Trump. We are disciples, students, of the one who redeems the world: the one who forgives sins, who heals families and communities, who restores the world to its true source and life.

All the other promises weave together with this one: faithfulness is seen in the doing. There is no faith in concepts, ideas or doctrines. Nothing is gained by believing in a six-day creation or a literal ark. Nothing is gained by nodding to the notion of forgiveness. Those who have looked into the eyes of grace will live grace. Those who have fed at his table will feed others. Those who have been touched by his healing hand will extend their hand to others.

When I was about ten my step-father allowed a friend to store his sports car in our garage. We sat in the driver’s seat and roared through the gears, drinking in the wonder of this machine. But make no mistake; we were not driving it.

So, Sunday, Paul will call the citizens of Athens to hear the message that the “unknown God” has been made known in this Jesus. And the author of First Peter will summon us to do what is good even if it brings suffering. And the psalmist will speak of faithfulness in the midst of trial. And the table will be set that welcomes all and the songs will be sung that hint of the harmony to come, and we will be drawn again into the redemptive love made visible in this Jesus who sends the Spirit and comes to abide with us and in us.

Preaching Series: Genesis 3: Fall

We are in the third week of our series going through key stories of the scripture to see, as Jesus showed his followers on the road to Emmaus, that the scriptures bear witness to the sacrificial and redeeming love of God that is manifest ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The story before us this week is the moment when the harmony of God’s good garden goes wrong, when humanity reaches out for the knowledge of life’s joys and sorrows and finds itself now alienated from the world, one another and God.

We are capable of imagining a world of perfect peace and harmony, but we know that the world is full of woe. We are capable of ugliness of spirit and act. We hate. We fear. We abuse. We wage war. We build ovens. We harm even those who are closest to us with words that should have gone unsaid. We know the beauty of the world; why must we also know its ugliness? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars.”

The Prayer for May 21, 2017

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;
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 May 21, 2017

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31
“Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’” – Paul, traveling by himself to avoid a conspiracy to murder him, comes to Athens where he seeks to engage the leaders of that city with the message of God, the creator all peoples.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:8-20
“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.” – The psalmist calls for all nations to praise God for his gracious deeds to deliver those in need.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” –
The author’s continuing exposition on baptism, now touches on the Ascension: “Baptism…now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” The author urges his hearers to remain faithful in the face of hostility, to do what is good and be ready to give account for the hope that is in them.

Gospel: 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.” – Continuing last Sunday’s reading, Jesus makes provision for his followers in light of his impending death, promising that God will send the Holy Spirit (the ‘Paraclete’).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Exhortation_to_the_Apostles_(Recommandation_aux_ap%C3%B4tres)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The promised blessing

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Jesus and Nicodemus

Watching for the Morning of March 12, 2017

The Second Sunday in Lent

Sunday our focus turns to the Gospel of John and the visit of Nicodemus. In the background is the promise to Abraham that through him God will bring blessing to the earth. The earth is in travail. The flood has purged the land but not cleansed the heart of humankind. They denied the command of God to fill the earth and tried instead to storm the gates of heaven by building their ziggurat in Babel. A confusion of languages followed, a deep and fundamental disruption of humanity’s most remarkable achievement: words. With words we can storm the heavens and land people on the moon, but with words we also lie and steal and sow division and hate. With words we can connect on the most intimate level, and with words we can rend beyond repairing. In the face of this fragmented world, God speaks a promise to Abraham: in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And now Nicodemus stands before Jesus failing to understand these words about being born from above, born of the Spirit, born of God, born of the promised blessing. He wonders what sense it makes to talk of coming forth from the womb a second time. He doesn’t understand the metaphor of the wind. He comes to Jesus “by night”; he is in darkness.

But Jesus does not drive this thickheaded lunk away. He speaks, and in his word is life. He bears witness to the majesty of God’s love, to the sacrifice such love will make, to the redemption that is at hand, to the new creation that is dawning.

Nicodemus will linger near this Jesus. He will defend him to his accusers. He will come with spices fit for a king to give this Jesus an honored burial. He senses there is something of God here, something of that longed for blessing of all creation.

Abraham was in a right relationship to God by faith, argues Paul, by fidelity to God’s promise, for Abraham was declared “righteous” hundreds of years before the law was given. The psalmist speaks of his confidence in God as he looks at the pilgrim road rising through the dangerous hills to Jerusalem. It is such a trust and allegiance that is being born in Nicodemus. And it is such a trust and allegiance that is being born in us who come Sunday to hear the words and share in the one loaf and taste the promised blessing.

Your Name Be Holy

Our focus in Lent on a portion of the catechism, the basic teachings of the faith, takes us into the Lord’s Prayer this year. Sunday we will consider the first petition: “Holy be your name.” What honors God’s name? And what shames it? And what, exactly, are we asking God to do? There is much to ponder in this simple prayer.

Reflections on the themes of each week and brief daily devotions related to those themes can be found on the blog site for our Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 12, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and Gracious,
who met Nicodemus in the darkness
and called him into your light:
Grant us to be born anew of your Spirit
that, with eyes turned towards Jesus,
we might live your eternal 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 12, 2017

First Reading: Genesis 12:1-4a
“The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Following God’s halt to the tower of Babel and the scattering of the nations, God calls Abraham to venture out to a new land trusting only in God’s promise so that, through Abraham, God’s blessing may come to the world.

Psalmody: Psalm 121
“I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” – A pilgrim song, expressing the people’s trust in God as they journey up towards the hills of Jerusalem.

Second Reading: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
“For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
– Paul argues that Abraham was righteous not by his keeping of the law but by his trust in God’s promise.

Gospel: John 3:1-17
“just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’” – Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the darkness, unable to comprehend the new birth of which Jesus speaks.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHenry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Study_for_Jesus_and_Nicodemus.jpg Henry Ossawa Tanner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The way of life

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Once more on last Sunday

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

I am not ready to leave behind the texts for last Sunday, but I have trouble pulling just a single thread from the thoughts and emotions that swirl around within me.

The whole of Biblical faith is here in this passage where an expert in the interpretation and application of the law rises to a showdown with Jesus. Jesus trumps him with a story we all know as “the Good Samaritan”. But it is never just a smackdown with Jesus. Jesus wants to summon even this lawyer into the way of the kingdom.

The whole of Biblical faith is here in this passage – or, at least, Christian Faith. Here we see the transformative hand of Jesus upon the tradition he inherited. In a world where tribalism reigns, Jesus summons us to live as those who regard all people as members of our tribe, our kinship group, our family. Brothers and sisters. The outcast, the unclean, the Gentiles, even enemies – we are to love them all.

Show fidelity to God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind and show fidelity to your neighbor as to yourself. Allegiance not to tribe but to the God who is creator of all. Allegiance to the God who opens prison doors and blind eyes and gathers all creation to one table. Allegiance to the God who empties the grave to set us all free from our habitation in the realm of death.

The shooter in Dallas became a victim of death. Even as his body lived, death held his mind and heart in its grasp. It promised him relief in killing. In killing cops, in killing white people. It gave him the illusion of power, the illusion that he could affect the world. But it gave him no life, no wholeness, no healing, no liberation, only a bomb attached to the arm of a robot and a name no one wants to remember.

But there is before us another way, a path of life. A way that heals and makes whole. A way that rescues and redeems. A way that is joy and light.

And here is the deep, deep mystery in the parable. We are the fallen wounded. And Christ is the Samaritan who comes to us, who binds up our wounds, who carries us to safety, who pays the price for our healing. For the living. For the dead. For the whole creation.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASamariter.JPG By Mraz (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The birds of the air have nests

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Thursday

Luke 9:51-62

57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

There is something restless about Christian faith. We are not at peace with the world as it is; we are anticipating its redemption.

Jesus, of course, is speaking to a would-be follower who hasn’t considered the fundamental shift that has taken place with Christ. Before Christ, a person’s fundamental allegiance was to their family of origin. In Christ, one’s fundamental commitment is to the kingdom of God, the age to come, the new creation, the world made whole again.

Before Christ, existence revolved around your kin group. They were your identity, your support, your safety. Their ability to avenge a wrong kept others from harming you. Their status in the community provided your status. The food from their land was your food. But this would-be follower hasn’t counted the cost of making Christ his fundamental allegiance.

Christ calls his followers to “leave the dead to bury their dead,” refusing to play second fiddle to the culture when a man responds to Jesus’ summons by asking to first fulfill his filial obligation to his parents.

Jesus rejects the claim of his own family who come to “take him home” when his strange behavior begins to raise suspicions that he is possessed. He declares that the members of his kin group are those who do the will of God. Jesus says families will be divided two against three, and some will be killed by their own people.

This is a kind of all or nothing moment. Either you are with Jesus and God’s healing of the world or you are with the world and its brokenness. Either you take up the cross, the hostility of the world as it is, or you pick up stones to stone him. Either the new creation is dawning or we stake our claim on the old one – or, perhaps better, it stakes its claim on us.

Either you show allegiance to your enemies (love them) or you take no thought for them (hate them). Either you forgive those who sin against you or take your revenge. Either you share your abundance or build bigger barns. Either you are sons and daughters of the light or sons and daughters of the darkness.

This isn’t about professed religion or church membership; this is about allegiance to God’s healing of the world or allegiance to the world as is. Some of us are doing quite nicely in the world as it is. That’s why Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. We have to let go of the world as it is to take hold of the world that will be. We have to let go of injustice to lay hold of justice. We have to let go of violence to peacemakers. We have to let go of what Paul calls “the works of the flesh” (the deeds rooted in our fallen nature) to bear the fruit of the Spirit.” “The night is far gone, the day is near;” “the hour has come” to wake from our slumber, to “put on the Lord Jesus,” to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

So we are not nestled down in the world. But neither are we waiting to escape it for the next. We are restless for the world to be made whole. We are restless for our hearts to be made whole. We are hungry for the banquet of heaven. We are seeking the reign of God. We are living its values, following its path, sowing its seed. We are agents of its healing, witnesses to its mercy, participants in its joy. We are shareholders in the new creation.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASeabirds_home%2C_Hus%C3%B8ya.jpg  By GuoJunjun (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 no (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/no/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Something more than all

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Watching for the Morning of June 26, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 8 / Lectionary 13

Jerusalem. The city that slays the prophets. Jesus sets his face for the holy city and his destiny there. But Jesus does not follow the normal route from Galilee, going down to the Jordan River, traveling south around Samaria, then back up to Jerusalem. Jesus goes straight through Samaria, hostile country though it be. He has set his face.

He is not received in Samaria. He is a pilgrim going to Jerusalem – why should they help? Jesus and his followers are not part of their family, tribe or community. No hospitality is required of enemies – though hospitality would be required for God’s anointed. For this affront, the disciples are ready to call down fire. Like Elijah on the hill when soldiers came to seize him. Like wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

How far the disciples still are from the reign of God. How far from the peace of God that silences the wind and waves and warring of the human heart. And from Jesus we hear not only rebuke, but the uncompromising demand of discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” There is a message to be proclaimed. There is healing to be brought to the world. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

So Sunday we hear of Elijah summoning Elisha to follow – Elisha slaughters his oxen and sacrifices them, using the wood of the plow for the fire. He leaves all to follow his new master. We hear the psalmist declaring his complete allegiance, refusing to participate in the sacrifices to any other God. And we hear the apostle Paul summoning the Galatians to live by the Spirit and not the desires of our fallen nature.

We tend to be uncomfortable with Jesus speaking in such uncompromising terms. We expect “welcome for the sinner, and a promised grace made good.” And while there is, indeed, grace for the sinner, for the disciple there is a mission. “‘Tis not all we owe to Jesus; It is something more than all.”*

The Prayer for June 26, 2016

Heavenly Father, Lord of All,
you call people of every age to walk in your paths and herald your kingdom.
Grant us courage to follow where you lead,
go where we are sent,
and bear witness to your love,
that all may know your reign of grace and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 26, 2016

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
“So [Elijah] set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing.” –
Elijah is commissioned to anoint Elisha as his successor and summons him to follow. Elisha sacrifices his oxen, using the wood of the plow for the fire, and goes to serve Elijah.

Psalmody: Psalm 16
“I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” – The poet declares his allegiance to the LORD and his refusal to partake in offerings to any other god.

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” – Paul calls the community to live by the Spirit and contrasts the works of our fallen nature (the ‘flesh’) with with the fruit of the Spirit

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
– Passing through Samaria with his face set towards Jerusalem, Jesus is refused hospitality by a Samaritan town and James and John are ready to call down the fire of God’s judgment. This is coupled with three sayings on the radical requirements of discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

 

*quoted from the hymn: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AErlangen_Burgberggarten_Heinrich_Kirchner_Schlanke_Gestalt_001.JPG By Janericloebe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The end of “law”

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Friday

Galatians 2:15-21

19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

If I had been a Pharisee at the time, I would have hated Jesus, too. And I would have hated Paul – hate in the Biblical sense of feeling no connection or sense of obligation. He is simply not one of us. (So, as with Simon, the customary courtesies don’t apply.) And when Paul begins to pull people away from the path of Judean observance…well, such a one is deserving of whatever ill fate befalls him. He is against everything I know about God and our identity as God’s people. He betrays core values of our community. His words are like someone burning a Qu’ran/Koran. They incite violence, just like an African-American sitting down at a white’s only lunch counter. You can’t transgress communal norms so willfully and not expect violence. Just ask Stephen, stoned to death by a mob.

Modern American society is no longer bound by such tight communal norms – although we still see its vestiges when crowds assault people for coming to hear Donald Trump. They would assault Trump, if they could, for he is violating core values of tolerance and inclusion. Such words must be silenced, shouted down, removed from the community.

I wish I knew all that Paul meant when he declares, “I have been crucified with Christ.” His world is far different than mine and I’m sure those words speak differently to him than to me. There is a kind of death of self that is part of true religion. A turning from a life preoccupied with my wants and desires to a life focused on what I can give, from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. It’s the turn towards compassion, kindness, generosity, sacrifice.

But I don’t think that’s quite what Paul means here. I think he means that his old life, defined by obedience to Torah, has perished in his encounter with the crucified and risen Christ. He has come to see that God’s favor does not come from the observance of Judean cultural practices. It comes from allegiance to the God who raised Jesus from the dead, allegiance to God’s work of bringing the kingdom, allegiance to the gathering of all nations and peoples to proclaim God’s praise, allegiance to the rebirth/re-creation of the world that has begun in Christ and is dawning for all the world.

He has died to the life he once lived, the way he once defined his identity. And now he has been raised into a new life, a new identity, a new vision of God and the world.

Those who talk about being “born again” understand something of this fundamental transformation and reorientation of life.

The notion that we are saved by some law is like a huge gravity well that tends to draw everything into itself. It is that fundamental assumption that there is some standard by which we obtain some sense that we are the right kind of people. It changes from group to group. The way we dress is a group marker. It shows our affiliation – and the people with whom we identify establishes our identity. Language, too, shapes our identification and identity. In Detroit, a black child could be mocked for “talking white”. Trump was mocked for say “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians” – it was a tell revealing he was not an insider.

Custom, culture, practice, law written and unwritten, it is all part of the “law” that defined Paul. And now he has broken with that past and given his allegiance to the world of the resurrected Jesus. But gravity keeps pulling Jesus back into the realm of culture and custom, of “law”. People are right with God, pleasing to God, because they observe certain practices, be they rituals in church or personal prayer and Bible study. People are acceptable to God because they are generally good people, kind to pets, tolerant of children, decent neighbors, or because they have had the correct kind of religious experience. There was a time that people were acceptable because they put on their Sunday best and attended church each week, though that is fading fast. Success, education, political views, opinions about creation and evolution or sex and abortion are all markers of who is and who is not acceptable to God. This gravity well of “law” sucks Jesus and the human religious impulse into its center.

But then comes the resurrection of Jesus, this new reality in the world. What was once an event for the end of time when people would be sorted by their conformity to “law” has become a living reality in the midst of time. And the hope of a world transformed, set free from its sins and called back into the peace of God – a world that was thought to follow the general resurrection – that “age to come” is here now in this Jesus risen. And so Paul declares that he has been crucified with Christ. The old world is gone and a new one dawns.   And what matters now is not “law” in any shape, but allegiance to the new world God is making where sins are forgiven and bread shared and all people are regarded as members of one family (“love one another,” “love your neighbor as yourself,” “love your enemy”). The old has passed; the new has come.” This is the dawning truth of the world, and what matters now is allegiance to this new life of the risen Christ (“faith”).

It’s not easy to fight the gravity well of “law”. But the grave is empty and the door open for us to be born from above.

It’s why the woman bursts into Simon’s house ignoring all custom and law to declare her love and allegiance to Jesus and to give her most precious gift: herself.

+   +  +

For other reflections on the texts for this Sunday from this and previous years, follow this link Lectionary C 11, or Proper C 6

File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArtists-impressions-of-Lady-Justice%2C_(statue_on_the_Old_Bailey%2C_London).png By https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Lonpicman [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, 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

Faithful

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Sunday Evening

John 20:19-31

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

I wish it had not been translated “Do not doubt.” The Greek word uses the negative prefix ‘a’ (as we see in the word ‘apathetic’, ‘a-’, ‘without’, ‘pathos’, ‘compassion’) with the word for faith. “Do not be without faith but with faith.” Or, better, considering the relational content of the word ‘faith’: “Do not be faithless but faithful.”

The issue here is not the modern, rational concern for what is possible within the laws of physics and human experience. The issue is Thomas’ allegiance to Jesus as the face of God, to Jesus as the bread of life, the living water, the new wine, the light of the world. Crucifixion seems to belie all that.

It is no small thing to show allegiance to someone who was crucified, condemned as the ancient equivalent of a terrorist. Would you show allegiance to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Remember what happened to his friends?

This is why the disciples are in hiding. It is why the women went to the tomb. For the men to go would have been an act of public allegiance to a condemned insurrectionist. But women could pass freely. It was risky for Peter to go to the tomb on Mary’s witness; the safe thing was to stay in hiding.

So Thomas needs something more than the disciples’ word about a shared vision if he is going to risk his life in a show of allegiance to this crucified Jesus. He needs his own encounter with the living Lord.

Thomas is not alone. We, too, need more than the apostolic witness. We need to see something of the risen Lord. We need to see something of his mercy. We need to see something of his love. We need to hear his voice. We need to experience his life.

The Biblical witness, the report of the first believers, is able to do this – but it is not done by the dry words on a page: it happens when the words of Jesus are lived and spoken to us.

The followers of Jesus are sent with a news that does goodness, that releases captives, opens eyes, heals lives, forgives sins. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

There are not sent with just words – they are sent with the Spirit and the authority to forgive. They are sent to do the message. They are sent to be the word of grace and mercy. They are sent to shine forth the light that darkness cannot overcome.

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALight_in_darkness_foto_di_L._Galletti.JPG  By Galletti Luigi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons