As no fuller

File:Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. Novgorod XVI Russia.jpg

Watching for the Morning of February 11, 2018

Year B

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Elijah is taken up in the whirlwind this Sunday. The psalm sings of God as a devouring fire. Paul refers to the glory of God in the face of Jesus. And Mark speaks of shining white garments “as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3RSV).

We don’t know what fullers are anymore, so our current translation will say “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them,” but I like that old word. There are people whose job it was to cleanse fabric. The Wikipedia article linked above says: “In Roman times, fulling was conducted by slaves working the cloth while ankle deep in tubs of human urine.” It’s valuable for us to take the scriptures down from their pious mountains and remember the reality in which they speak: No amount of the ammonia in human urine could get Jesus’ clothes as white as they became in the cloud of God’s presence.

It was at the fuller’s field that Isaiah spoke to Ahaz promising the sign of a child named Immanuel. Malachi declares that one is coming who will be like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap

Slave work. Divine work.

Sunday speaks of the event known as the Transfiguration. This is the festival that brings this season of the Sundays after Epiphany to its conclusion. Once again we hear a voice from heaven testify to Jesus. As we heard at Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of this season, so again we hear: “This is my Son, the Beloved.” Unfortunately, most of us have become so used to them that they will not make us quake.

Pick an empire ruling in majesty and might over vast domains and then imagine you, a mere peasant, hear the shout: “Behold the king’s son!” We would fall on our faces. We would tremble with awe at the radiance of royal majesty. But we will likely hear Sunday’s text without terror and awe.

Perhaps that’s appropriate. The one who has come has come to save. He has shown himself our healer and redeemer. He has declared the Father’s love. But the divine command ought not be neglected: “Listen to him.”  There is a radiance here that comes from no fuller on earth.

The Prayer for February 11, 2018

Holy and Wondrous God,
hidden in mystery yet revealed in your Son, Jesus,
to whom the law and prophets bear witness
and upon whom your splendor shines:
Help us to listen to his voice
and to see your glory in his outstretched arms.

The Texts for February 11, 2018

First Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-14
“Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.” – As Elijah heads toward his end in the whirlwind, Elisha seeks a “double share” of Elijah’s spirit, an expression drawn from the inheritance that goes to the eldest son.

Psalmody: Psalm 50:1-6
“Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.”
– With the imagery of a storm over Jerusalem the poet speaks of the majesty of God who comes to speak to his people.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6 (appointed 2 Corinthians 4:3-6)
“It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – Paul expounds on the story of Moses, whose face radiated with the glory of God after God spoke to him in the tent of meeting.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
“He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
– Peter, James and John serve as witnesses when God appears to Jesus (and, like Moses, his appearance is transformed) and testifies that he is God’s beloved son to whom we should listen.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATransfiguration_of_Jesus_Christ._Novgorod_XVI_Russia.jpg By Новгородская живопись XIV века [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus the destroyer

File:Christus heilt einen Besessenen.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 28, 2018

Year B

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

A demon comes forth this Sunday. It rises up in the middle of church – in the middle of the sermon – as the crowds are marveling already at this lowly laborer’s audacity to preach – and cries out “What are you to us, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us?!” Or maybe that first expression means “What are we to you?”

“Why are you bothering us, Jesus? What have we done to deserve this? Keep on preaching like this and you will destroy us for sure.” You don’t have to think him demon possessed for such thoughts. Jesus’ challenge of the existing order is exactly why the leaders will put him to death. Mark alludes to it (11:18). John lays it out clearly: “So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

How ironic it is that Jesus is accused of endangering the nation, when it is the Judeans themselves who rebel from Rome and rain destruction on their nation.

But there is a spiritual battle going on. The demon calls Jesus by name and reveals his identity: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” It is a standard notion that to possess the name of a spiritual being (god or demon) is to be able to control it. But the demon is helpless before Jesus. And the crowds are amazed – not by the presence of a possessed man (such people were common) but by the teaching. Jesus’ presumption of the authority to teach is confirmed by his command of evil spirits. He must rank above them to rule over them. Here is a ‘tekton’, a construction worker, but he has supreme authority over those powers that possess, drive and govern human life. It confirms his authority to teach. And the crowd is blown away: A teaching with new power. A teaching with new focus not on purity and law but compassion and fidelity to all.

So Sunday we will hear Deuteronomy promise a prophet like Moses who will bear God’s word to us. And the psalm will sing that God “has shown his people the power of his works.” And Paul will speak of the “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” And the amazement of the crowds at the authority of Jesus will linger in the air and bid us to recognize that we are in the presence of a supreme authority. His teaching ranks above every other.

The Prayer for January 28, 2018

God of power, God of grace,
you have spoken by your prophets and in your Son Jesus,
to call us out from death into life,
from despair into hope,
from sin into forgiveness.
Deliver us from all that binds the human spirit
and free us to live in you for the sake of the world;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 28, 2018

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:9-20 (appointed 15-20)
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.”
– Moses addresses the people after their forty-year journey through the wilderness, just before they enter the land, warning them not to imitate the religious practices of the Canaanites. Then, in a passage that will come to be heard as a promise of the Messiah, Moses declares that God will raise up a prophet for them.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart.”
– A psalm of praise that exalts the faithfulness and mighty deeds of God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – Paul continues to attack the distorted notion of freedom in the Corinthian congregation that fails to recognize the obligations of the members of the congregation to one another as the body of Christ.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’”
– Having summoned Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus enters the town and begins to teach in the synagogue, astounding the community with his authority to teach and to command the spirits.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChristus_heilt_einen_Besessenen.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The authority to speak

File:Backhuysen, Ludolf - Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee - 1695.jpg

Ludolf Backhuysen, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1695

Watching for the Morning of June 21, 2015

Year B

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 07 / Lectionary 12

The stilling of the storm is one of those troubling stories that challenges our modern understanding of what is possible given the laws of nature. But Jesus’ command of the wind and waves is not only conceivable to the people of his time; it is filled with dramatic significance.

Out of the stormy chaos of a raging sea, mighty wind, and darkness, God speaks to create the world. At the time of Noah, God opens the floodgates in the heavens to allow the sea that destroys all life to pour in. God drives back the waters of the Red Sea by a mighty wind, and by his word sets limits the sea cannot pass. God even sends a storm to oppose Jonah in his flight from his ministry in Nineveh.

We hear some of this in Sunday’s other readings.  When God breaks his silence and questions Job, God asks Job where was he when God constrained and set limits for the sea. The psalmist sings of Gods deliverance of sailors at sea. They cry out in terror before God stills the waves. All of this reverberates through this narrative of Jesus rising from sleep to command the sea.

What confronts the followers of Jesus, struggling in their frail boat, is the authority of Jesus to speak God’s word of command over the primal forces of chaos. It is not a “miracle”, a dramatic show of Jesus’ divine power. It is the authoritative proclamation of one commissioned to speak on behalf of the God who called all things into being. And we are as the disciples in the boat: He who has authority to speak God’s word to the sea, speaks God’s word also to us.

The Prayer June 21, 2015

God of all creation,
who brought forth the earth and all its creatures
and set the bounds of the sea,
come to the aid of your church, beset by storms and danger,
granting us faith that your will and purpose to redeem all things cannot be overthrown;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 21, 2015

First Reading: Job 38:1-11
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” – God responds to Job’s persistent demand for God to explain his innocent suffering.

Psalmody: Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”
– The psalmist sings of the steadfast love of God who delivers those in distress.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
“We urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.”
– The ministry of Paul was attacked in Corinth by new teachers who came after he left, saying he lacked the proper credentials and his teaching was self-serving. Paul urges the community in Corinth not turn away from the message he brought them – and the favor of God to which it testifies – and cites his endurance despite many trials as evidence of the worth and validity of his teaching.

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” – The disciples, though experienced sailors, are terrified by a hostile wind, while Jesus is at peace, asleep. Their loyalty to Jesus and his message of the dawning reign of God is shaken by this attack, but Jesus rises to command the sea to be still.

A beacon in the dark

Sunday Evening

2 Corinthians 3

File:Peggys Cove Lighthouse (3).jpg17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Jesus is fully human. This is a very bold declaration of the Christian tradition. What he is able to do he does by the power of God working through him – not by his own power. What he is able to see in the hearts of others he sees by the power of God working in him – not by his own power. What he is able to see in the future he sees by the power of God working in him – not by his own power. The sins he forgives, the bread he breaks, the water upon which he walks – it is all the power of God working in and through him. Jesus is not a fundamentally different creature than we are. He is just better at it. He is a better human being. He is a human being in whom the link between God and himself is never broken. His trust in God does not fail.

The Transfiguration of Jesus doesn’t belie what is to come; it sustains us through it. Jesus is not Superman, letting Peter, James and John peek behind his Clark Kent suit. He is not revealing himself as the Lord of Glory as though the suffering that is to come were but a minor detour. We look at Jesus through the lens of the centuries and the doctrine of the Trinity and we tend to think that Jesus was God in a way that denies his full humanity.

But Jesus is not a divine being hiding in human form. He is not omniscient and omnipotent pretending to be limited by time and space. He is fully human. And the works that we see in him are done by faith, by his perfect trust in God. Jesus mediates the blessing and wonders of God. Technically, Jesus is not healing the sick and casting our demons, he is bringing into these places the healing power of God. He is God’s anointed, God’s Christ, God’s agent to dispense the gifts of God, to bring God’s reign of grace and life.

What happens on the mountain is not a sign of Jesus’ divinity, but a witness to Jesus’ authority – that Jesus is, in fact, God’s beloved son.

Peter, James and John need to hear God make this declaration because Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. And ignoble end is coming. A rejection. A suffering. An accursedness. The apparent failure of the promise. The apparent triumph of Rome.

The customary response to the crucifixion of a hoped for Messiah (assuming any followers survive the purge) is to go home disillusioned. We were wrong. We hoped, but we must have been mistaken. This is what the disciples on the road to Emmaus say: “We thought he was the one.” … Apparently not.

In the face of those moments in life that seem to belie the grace and power and love of God, we need to remember that God spoke with Jesus face to face. We need to remember that God has designated Jesus as the beloved son. We need to remember that Moses and Elijah came and bore witness that in Jesus the reign of God is dawning. Even when we lose sight of it.

The Transfiguration stands as a beacon in a dark world. It is one in a chain of lighthouses that mark the coastline and sustain us in the storms: the voice from heaven and the descent of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism; the voice from heaven and the heavenly visitors at the Transfiguration; the angelic witness at the empty tomb. Again and again God bears witness that Jesus is the one in whom earth and heaven are reconciled, in whom the new world is born, in whom we are born of God.

For a long time I didn’t understand or appreciate the importance of this story. I kept thinking it was Jesus who shines when, in fact, it is God who shines upon Jesus. Jesus is radiant because he is the perfect mirror of God.

Would that there were more in the world who glowed with the radiance that comes from true faithfulness to God and one another. Would that there were more in the world who were clothed in Christ as a daily garment.

 

By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A stunning display

Wednesday

Mark 1

File:Anônimo - Cristo com esfera.jpg

Salvator Mundi, unknown artist and date

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.

Jesus, we know, is a ‘tekton’, a construction worker, a builder – perhaps a carpenter, perhaps a stone mason, perhaps both. There was a city going up near Nazareth, so there was work, but who knows what happened to drive him out to John the Baptist at the Jordan River. Perhaps it was the new city, a Greek city, built on the Greek model, built by and for the ‘Hellenized’, those who had acculturated to the then modern world.

It was happening all over the ancient lands of Israel. Gymnasia and theaters and forums. Arenas. Hippodromes. Places for the games celebrated in the cultured world. A changing world. Changing values. And the people, the peasant class, increasingly left behind. “Galilee of the Gentiles”.

Is this the life to which God called them? John said, “No.” And Jesus went to join him.

The Gospels never mention Sepphoris, the city being built near Nazareth. Jesus’ journeys take him through the villages and towns of Israel. It is, in some ways, a conservative movement, going back to the ancient ways.

But it was not conservative. The ancient ways were radical. A deep and abiding concern for the poor. A passion for justice. A provision for those in need. A provision that land was a gift from God to each family, not to be sold as if mere property.

This is the ancient faith of Israel, says Jesus, not the rituals and marketplace of their new wonder-of-the-world temple. Not the tithing of mint and cumin, not the manipulations of the law that allow you to leave a parent destitute, not the bleeding of widows.

Who knows for sure what happened to him in the waters of baptism. But power came on him. The Spirit descended. And who knows what happened to him out in the wilderness, where he was tested to the core and angels ministered unto him. But when he comes back, when he walks by his fellows by the sea he says “Now’s the time. Follow me.” And when Sabbath comes he lays claim to the teachers chair in the synagogue. Not like the teachers of the law, not by citing rabbi after rabbi, but declaring himself what it is that God commands.

He is a ‘tekton’, a construction guy. What is he doing preaching?! People were supposed to keep within their station in life. But Jesus is far beyond his station. He is speaking with the voice of God. And suddenly a demon cries out in recognition: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

The translation should end with exclamations points.

Jesus has arisen to destroy the demonic. He has arisen to cast out the unclean spirits, the spirits unable and unwilling to serve the God of Israel, the God of exodus, Sinai and the Promised Land, the God who is the defender of widows and orphans, the God who would destroy his own house rather than have it corrupted, sell his own people into slavery rather than bless slavery. He has come to destroy – to destroy what binds and corrupts and devours. To set free a people from lies and illusions. To call the nation back to their lost way.

And the one who teaches with authority commands the demon and with great cries the unclean spirit must obey.

A stunning out-of-station display by a ‘tekton’ of questionable birth, Jesus the son of Mary.

And how will the community respond?

How will we respond?

Drama in Capernaum

Watching for the morning of February 1

Year B

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

File:THE ANCIENT SYNAGOGUE IN CAPERNAUM IMG 2931 ITAMAR GRINBERG IMOT (14475139241).jpg

The remains of the synagogue in Capernaum that dates to the time of Jesus.

Sunday our readings begin with Moses promising that God will provide “a prophet like me from among your own people.” It is a promise that God will not leave the people without a witness to God’s voice – the voice they did not want to hear at Sinai. But the promise of a prophet like Moses becomes a hint of a prophet to come who will speak with the authority and power of Moses.

Against this backdrop, Jesus enters Capernaum with his new disciples in tow. Rising in the synagogue on the Sabbath he teaches with an astonishing authority – an authority that is shown to extend over the unseen realm as a man with an evil spirit cries out against him but is powerless before him. And with the psalmist we sing of the wonder and grace of God’s works.

“What is this?” asks the crowd. And the answer that has been proclaimed by Paul, that this Jesus is the Christ of God, is applied to a concrete question in the faith community: If the gods worshipped by the pagans are mere idols, what does it matter if we eat meat from their temples? It matters, says Paul, because you are the body of Christ. It matters because your sisters and brothers matter, and our freedom in Christ does not release us from the bonds of love.

The Prayer for February 01, 2015

Almighty God,
who by your word called forth the world
and summons us to life in you;
deliver us from every falsehood and deceit,
that we may praise your name,
and live each day to your glory;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 01, 2015

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” – Moses addresses the people after their forty-year journey through the wilderness, just before they enter the land, warning them not to imitate the religious practices of the Canaanites. Then, in a passage that will come to be heard as a promise of the Messiah, declares that God will raise up a prophet for them.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.”
– A psalm of praise that exalts the faithfulness and mighty deeds of God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – Paul continues to attack the distorted notion of freedom in the Corinthian congregation that fails to recognize the obligations of the members of the congregation to one another as the body of Christ.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’”
– Having summoned Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus enters the town and begins to teach in the synagogue, astounding the community with his authority to teach and to command the spirits.

 

Photo: By Israel_photo_gallery [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons