Above every name that is named

File:Meister der Predigten des Mönchs Johannes Kokkinobaphos 002.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 28, 2017

The Sunday of the Ascension (The Seventh Sunday of Easter).

I have always chosen Ascension Day hymns to begin and end this last Sunday in Easter before Pentecost, mostly because they are nice hymns and without an Ascension Day service there’s no opportunity to sing them. Ascension Day had little meaning for me as a child. Lutherans aren’t all that interested in adding extra weekday services once you get past Christmas Eve and maybe Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Early in my ordained ministry Ascension Day was something to note in passing. Maybe even something of an embarrassment when taken literally. Like with this picture:

File:Jesus ascending to heaven.jpg

We don’t live in a three-tiered universe anymore. We don’t imagine that Jesus needs to go “up” after he has been raised from the grave. So Ascension Day seemed vaguely awkward.

In Detroit it provided a defined date we could remember each year for our special joint service among all the city parishes when we set apart deacons at the end of their yearlong training. It was easier than trying to coordinate the calendars of multiple parishes.

But the narrative of the ascension is the closing event of the first volume of Luke-Acts and the opening narrative of the second volume. It gets told by Luke as the natural end of Jesus ministry, and again as the natural beginning to discuss the mission of the church. Matthew makes the same connection of ascension as the culmination of Jesus’ story and the beginning of the Jesus mission. Even John in his rich and complicated way weaves those threads together. What the disciples go to do after the outpouring of the Spirit is tied not to Jesus resurrection, but to his place at the right hand of God.

The “good news” announced to the world isn’t that Jesus isn’t dead anymore. It is that he reigns. He is the world’s true lord. He is the true emperor whose wishes shape every land and life.

To put it crudely: if the Jesus story is about the cross and resurrection, then death is defeated, the redemption price paid, and we get to go to heaven when we die. But if the story culminates in the ascension, then the point is not about our trip to heaven, but a new governance of earth.

If the story is about going to heaven, then being good or accepting Jesus becomes the important element in Christian life. If the story is about Christ as lord (the confession for which Christians have died and continue to die), then the important element is living God’s “kingdom” (which Jesus describes as “justice and mercy” and love of God and neighbor) until every earthly power is dethroned and the reign of God arrives in fullness.

Again, if the story is about going to heaven, then the purpose of the church is to call people to be good or to accept Jesus. If the story is about God reigning over the world, then the purpose of the church is to proclaim the good news that the world has come under new management (and inviting the world to live in that grace and life: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”)

The creation around us and all its people are not the sinking ship from which we must be saved into the lifeboats. The world is the lost and misdirected ship that has received a new captain.

So we are celebrating this Sunday as the Sunday of the Ascension. It means letting go of the prayer of Jesus that we might be one. But maybe in this time that seems to be an era of triumphant greed and neglect, it is worth bringing to the forefront the notion that this Jesus, the shamed and denounced and crucified, has taken the captain’s chair. He was tossed overboard as worthless and misguided, but God has lifted him out of the waters and raised him to the bridge.

And we are his crew.

The appointed readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 28, 2017, and comment on them from 2014 can be found here.

Preaching Series: Genesis 4: Violence

We come this week to the outbreak of violence. Offerings are made, divine favor granted unequally, and the first religious war breaks out between brothers. God speaks to Cain before the terrible deed is done, but the words do not prevent the coming violence. Cain goes on to found cities, the realm of the landless, the place of creativity that leads to weapons and Lamech’s boast of murdering a man who wounded him and his promise of seventy-seven fold revenge.

The turn away from God in Eden throws dark shadows across the human landscape. Yet still there is grace.

The Prayer for May 28, 2017 (for the celebration of Ascension)

Almighty God,
before whom all heaven and earth shall bow down
to acknowledge your gracious rule,
send forth your Spirit upon us,
that with our eyes upon Christ Jesus, risen from the dead,
we may proclaim your praise to all the world;
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 28, 2017 (for the celebration of Ascension)

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” – The ascension account that is the culminating story in Luke (our Gospel for today) and the opening account of the Book of Acts.

Psalmody: Psalm 93
“The Lord is king…majestic on high is the Lord!” – A hymn of praise celebrating God’s reign over all the earth.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23
“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” –
A portion of the author’s opening salutation and prayer for the Ephesian community. It references the notion the ascension, and prays that they may know and live in the hope to which they have been called.

Gospel: Luke 24:44-53
“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” – The ascension in Luke when once again Jesus opens their minds to understand the scriptures and declares that his followers will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMeister_der_Predigten_des_M%C3%B6nchs_Johannes_Kokkinobaphos_002.jpg By Meister der Predigten des Mönchs Johannes Kokkinobaphos [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJesus_ascending_to_heaven.jpg John Singleton Copley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Singing the new song

File:Sierck-les-Bains Église de la Nativité 150022.JPG

Saint Cecelia, the patron saint of musicians

Watching for the Morning of May 8, 2016

Year C

The Seventh Sunday of Easter / Music Appreciation

This Sunday, in our parish, is Music Appreciation Sunday in which we give special acknowledgement to all the musicians who contribute so much to our worship through the year. Accordingly, our liturgy is adapted for extra music and the theme of praise. Psalm 98 (Sing to the Lord a new song) and Psalm 92:1-4 (It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High) begin our worship. The choir will sing, the handbell choir will play – we even have a guitar and accordion prelude. There are many contributors to the service and we thank them all.

Sunday we stand between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost, between the narrative of Jesus ascending to the right hand of God and the Spirit descending to empower the witness of the believers. We are near the culmination of this Easter season, near the dawning of that day that marks the gathering of the nations and the Spirit poured out on all people, men and women, young and old. The dawning of that day in which the world is born from above and God’s law written on every heart. The dawning of that day when mercy triumphs and peace reigns.

And so we will hear Jesus pray for his fledgling community, and for all those who will be drawn by their testimony, that they may be one as he and the Father are one. We will hear of Paul and his companions singing God’s praise in the Philippian jail, when an earthquake breaks every bond and opens every door. They bring life and grace to the Philippian jailor who will wash their wounds and himself be washed into Christ. And we will sing the new song, for “the LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.” (Psalm 98:2NIV)

The Prayer for May 8, 2016

Almighty God, whose will it is to unite all things in your beloved son,
whom you have raised to sit at your right hand;
unite our voices in that great song of praise
born of your love and mercy
and make us faithful as his body in the world;
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 8, 2016

Psalm 98 (Sing to the Lord a new song)

Psalm 92:1-4 (It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High)

First Reading: Acts 16: 16-34
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” – Paul and his companions are arrested after conflict erupts when Paul casts out a fortune-telling spirit, robbing her owners of their income. Though an earthquake sets them free, they do not flee as if they were criminals – and they stop their jailor from harming himself when he assumes he has lost all his prisoners.

Gospel: John 17:20-26
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – Jesus concludes his prayer for his followers with a petition that all those who come to faith may be united as he is united with the Father.

The Prayer for Easter 7, year C

Eternal Father,
fountain of mercy and source of light and life;
help us to abide in you
that we may be worthy vessels of your 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 as appointed for Easter 7, year C

First Reading: Acts 16: 16-34 (as above)

Psalmody: Psalm 97
“The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice.” The poet celebrates God’s reign over the heavens and the earth.

Second Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.”
– The concluding blessings and declarations of the book of Revelation.

Gospel: John 17:20-26 (as above)

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASierck-les-Bains_%C3%89glise_de_la_Nativit%C3%A9_150022.JPG  By GFreihalter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Inauguration Day

Thursday

Acts 1

File:Chora Christ south coupole.jpg

Chora church in Istanbul.

9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

We do not live in the conceptual world of the first century, though we still think of ‘heaven’ as ‘up’ (and ‘hell’ as ‘down’) – or at least we use the language of heaven as ‘up’.

And though we confess that God is everywhere – ‘omnipresent’ is the great word Church Latin gave us – we don’t think in theological terms, we think in images. Our tendency in the West is not to see God in every blade of grass but to imagine God dwelling in ‘heaven’. Or, again, that is at least the language we use. Our ‘spirits’ or our ‘souls’ (some invisible part of ourselves – but that locus of our sense of self) ‘go’ to ‘heaven’ when we die. Our language can’t really escape this ancient inheritance where God dwells in the sky and looks down on the affairs of the world.

Today is Ascension Day, the 40th day after Easter. In Acts, Luke tells us that the risen Jesus appeared for forty days then ascended to the right hand of God. For Luke, Jesus went into the sky.

So, in that curious ability we have as humans, we speak of Ascension Day and “heaven above” knowing full well that there is no dome called ‘sky’ but an endless expanse of space and stars. The metaphor persists, though the logic of it has evaporated.

And I am perfectly comfortable with the metaphor. There is grace in the idea that God observes the affairs of the world and our own lives. We want God to know life’s injustices and our daily needs. What’s more, heights inspire and depths chill us. It makes me weak in the knees to look down the cliff face of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison – even to think of it – but it inspires me to look up the face of Half Dome. So God should inspire and hellish things should chill us. The metaphor has its uses.

But Ascension Day says much more than that Jesus has gone to be with God above. We would do better to call it Enthronement Day. All those great Orthodox churches with Christ Pantocrator looking down from the central dome have it right. Christ has ascended to the dome of heaven where he reigns as Lord of All.

The great wonder at the climax of the Gospels is not the resurrection, but the ascension. This Jesus of Nazareth has been installed as Lord of All.

We often struggle with such language because we think of God’s reign in terms of causality – God authoring every event – and this creates our intractable struggle with why bad things happen. But the just king is the source of every blessing even while remnants of rebellion are still at work in the land – remnants over which the just king will eventually triumph. Psalm 72 is a wonderful celebration of such a kingship.

So today is Enthronement Day, Coronation Day, Inauguration Day – and we should be going to a succession of inaugural balls, for the world has been restored to its true and proper king. We are not subjects of sin and death; of war, violence and tragedy; of hunger, sorrow and suffering. We are citizens of heaven, subjects of the kingdom of God, residents of the true and enduring realm of grace and life. Every remnant of our primal rebellion will be quelled, every knee shall bow, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

I am coming to you

Watching for the morning of May 25

Year A

The Sixth Sunday of EasterGolden Gate Bridge at night.lg

It is still Easter, though we draw near to the liturgical celebration of the ascension – 40 days after Easter according to Luke. Luke likes nice, tidy, maps. 40 days for the risen Jesus to appear (the counterpoint to 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of the Gospel). Then 10 days of waiting and preparing for the promised Spirit on that 50th day when Luke has 120 believers together in Jerusalem and the roar of a mighty wind/breath/spirit summons God’s people to hear the mighty works of God.

But for John there are no such nice schemas; for John it is all part of the same drama. Jesus is the living presence of the Father. And the Spirit is the living presence of Jesus. And the Spirit is the living presence of the Father. The Father abides in the Son and the Son in the Father and the students of Jesus abide in Jesus and in the Father and in the Spirit who comes from the Father (at the Son’s request) as their advocate. There is a reason we end up with a doctrine of the Trinity. Though John is not talking about doctrine; he is talking about the living presence of God among this band who are now Children of God, abiders in the heavenly grace, appointed bearers of the divine mercy: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

And so John tells us that Jesus breathed his Spirit on his followers on Easter Evening, because Easter and Ascension and Pentecost are all part of the same new reality. Jesus says, in Sunday’s Gospel, “I am coming to you.” And the promise is answered by the resurrection (he returns to speak and eat with them) and by the Ascension (he tells Mary not to hold him until he has ascended to the Father, which has happened by that first Easter Evening when he invites the disciples to touch his wounds) and by the coming of the Spirit (on that first Easter evening when he breathes upon them his breath/spirit/life).

We are not alone. He has come. And is coming. Continually he comes. In the Spirit to comfort and empower. In the word and in the meal. He cooks breakfast on the Galilean shore, and his brief conversation with Peter pulls him once more away from their nets. The risen Jesus feeds us and suddenly there are ‘missionaries’ all over the world. Witnesses. Speakers of the word that frees. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”

It is still Easter. But John knows it is also Pentecost. And for that matter it is Christmas and Epiphany, for the light and life of God is present in the world.

And we are sent.

The Prayer for May 25, 2014

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 25, 2014

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.”

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’).

 

Death, resurrection, ascension: Jesus condemned, vindicated, enthroned.

English: Jesus Christ - detail from Deesis mos...

English: Jesus Christ – detail from Deesis mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thursday

The Ascension of Our Lord

A Prayer of the Day for Ascension Day

Almighty God,
before whom all heaven and earth shall bow down
to acknowledge your gracious rule,
send forth your Spirit upon us,
that with our eyes upon Christ Jesus, risen from the dead,
we may proclaim your praise to all the world

It’s been 40 days, a nice round Biblical number for the fullness of time: 40 days and nights of rain to wash the earth; 40 years in the wilderness to leave behind faithlessness and bring forth a new generation; 40 days of Elijah’s journey to Horeb; 40 days of fasting for Jesus.

All that needs to be done has been done.  The risen Christ has opened their minds to understand the scriptures.  He has shown himself in the breaking of the bread. He has commissioned them to be his witnesses to the nations.  Now he lifts up his hands and blesses them.

But recognize that this is the pattern for every Sunday: the risen Christ comes among us, he opens our minds to the scriptures, he reveals himself in the breaking of the bread – and then, through the upraised arms of the pastor, he speaks his blessing and we go to be his witnesses.