Water and Kings and New Creation

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Watching for the Morning of January 15, 2017

The Baptism of Our Lord

(See the note below on why we are celebrating The Baptism of Our Lord this Sunday)

Sunday the Feast of Epiphany lingers in the air as the voice from heaven declares: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” As the star in the east proclaimed a new king to all with eyes to see and understand, the voice from heaven affirms his royal title (“Son of God”) and divine favor.

But the direction is all forward now, into the words and deeds of this mighty one. The Spirit has come to empower him. Heaven has anointed him. He is the one who washes the world in the Spirit. Next Sunday we are summoned from our nets to follow and learn what it means to gather all into the net of divine love. And from there we start through the Sermon on the Mount: the declaration of what is honorable in God’s sight and how we are summoned to live as sons and daughters of the kingdom. This is not a picnic at the Jordan River; we are packing bags for a journey that ultimately takes us to a hill outside Jerusalem and a gravestone rolled away.

So Sunday the waters are divided and the Spirit comes and light shines to the nations. The prophet will speak of God’s servant who “will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.” The psalmist will speak of the powerful voice of the LORD that shakes the earth. Peter will preach to Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, and his family declaring that all people are welcome at God’s table. And then there is Jesus, the embodiment of the story of Israel, the faithful son, sharing the waters of repentance in solidarity with a fallen human race, and rising to live in and by the Spirit of God – the destiny of all creation.

Water and Spirit and light to the nations – and suddenly we are aware of our own baptism into Christ. A dying and rising. A new creation. An anointing with the Spirit. A commission to bear the light of grace to the world.

The Prayer for January 15, 2017 (for the Baptism of Our Lord)

Heavenly Father, Eternal God, Holy and Gracious One:
in the waters of the River Jordan
you anointed Jesus with your Holy Spirit
and declared him your beloved Son.
Make all the earth radiant with your glory
and pour out upon all your children the abundance of your Holy Spirit;
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 January 15, 2017 (for the Baptism of Our Lord)

First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights… I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” – The prophet proclaims that this people, wounded by exile, is the servant chosen by God to bring justice to the earth. (For the followers of Jesus, he embodied and fulfilled this suffering servant of God.)

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing upon the slope of Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” –
Peter’s conveys the message about Jesus to the household of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, after God has shown him in a vision in that God has declared all people ‘clean’.

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
“John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’” – After John has called Israel to a new allegiance to God’s way and announced that one is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, Jesus comes to the Jordan and we hear God declare “This is my son.”

As noted the last two weeks, our parish departs from the appointed texts for the Christmas season in order to present the birth narratives with some integrity: reading Luke 2:1-20 on Christmas Eve (and John 1 on Christmas morning), then the reception of the child by Simeon and Anna on the Sunday in Christmas. The second Sunday after Christmas (nearest January 6) is celebrated as the Sunday of the Epiphany and provides us with Matthew’s account of the Magi and Herod’s attempt to kill the infant Messiah.

Occasionally, as in this year, this puts us out of sync with the appointed lectionary. So this Sunday, the first after our celebration of the Epiphany, we will celebrate as the Baptism of our Lord and next Sunday we will skip to the texts for the third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The appointed readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 15, 2017, and comment on them from 2014 can be found here.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARavenne_baptistere_de_neon_coupole.JPG By Velvet (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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True sons and daughters

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Watching for the Morning of October 30, 2016

Reformation Sunday / Rite of Confirmation

Sunday in our parish we will celebrate the confirmation of three young people who will rise to affirm their intention to continue in the covenant God established with them at their baptism. It brings an added joy and celebration to the tradition of observing Reformation Sunday – a day to remember the insights that lie at the heart of the 16th century Reformation, and the principle that the church is always being reformed by the Spirit of God through the Word read, proclaimed, sung and feasted.

Among the great insights of the Reformation was the recognition that God is not served by the performance of religious works, but by the love of neighbor embodied in the work of daily life. When I create a medicine to save lives I serve God by serving my neighbor. It does not have to have a religious hashtag. But when I buy a medicine and manipulate its price to maximize profit for executives and shareholders the ground gets considerably shakier. Perhaps serving shareholders is serving neighbor, but the truth of that statement would ring truer if the officers and board weren’t themselves major shareholders – and if it weren’t the sick, the “weaker members”, who bear the burden.

This idea of vocation not as a calling from God to serve the institutional structure of the church but as a calling to serve one’s neighbor is one of many profound religious insights from the Reformation that dramatically reshaped the path of western society and the history of the world. Unfortunately we didn’t always embody the genius of those insights. Too many religious wars and burnings at the stake followed in the Reformation’s train. Not that these were new to the human community, but the genius of the Gospel should have called out more from us than changing the team colors and fight song.

But the confirmands who come forward this Sunday rise not to pledge themselves to “the church” – they rise to pledge themselves to the God who calls them to be church, to be a people of God living in the world for the sake of the world, to be a people in whom God’s law/teaching/will is written on the heart. Heaven knows earth has enough religion; we need true sons and daughters of God.

The Prayer for Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2016

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 30, 2016 (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 Israel 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:Confirmation_blessing.jpg

Loving and beloved

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Watching for the Morning of May 22, 2016

Year C

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Two weeks ago I celebrated a baptism of a small child at a local park. Why is another conversation. Baptism belongs in the worshipping community, but this seemed the right thing to do. It was a lovely spot, beneath a sculpted arbor, shaded by old trees, with a pond behind us and a fountain in the distance. It was a place that invited hands to be joined, lovers to kiss, vows to be spoken, and those long together to pause in tender affection. How perfect that we should gather as a small community in that peaceful spot to hear God claim this child as God’s own – an inheritor of God’s promised new creation and participant in God’s mission to the world.

Three times we poured water over the head of the child “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Not three names; one name. One name identifying the God upon whom we called as the one who brought forth the world in love, became incarnate of the maiden Mary, and breathed upon the followers of Jesus to empower their witness to the world. One name linking creation and redemption and sanctification. One name known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and Miriam, to Hannah and Samuel, to Ruth and David as LORD. One name who breathed into humanity the breath of life and by the breath of the Spirit summons us back to himself. One name, One God, Triune but one. Begetter and Begotten. Loving and beloved in God’s very being. Mystery to us. But lover of us. Calling us to live in that divine love.

The texts for Sunday go several different directions. Proverbs relates wisdom, the underlying order of the world, personified and summoning us to feast at her table. The Psalm speaks of God’s creating, and the honor shown humanity: a little lower than the angels but entrusted to exercise God’s dominion, God’s care over all the earth. Romans exults in the peace with God wrought in Christ, and the Spirit’s presence as one through whom “God’s love has been poured into our hearts”. And Jesus, in John’s Gospel, again declaring the gift and work of the Spirit.

The texts point several directions, but are tied together by this mystery of the Trinity: the God who is beyond conception but is known by a work and a name: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

The Prayer for May 22, 2016

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder,
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully.

The Texts for May 22, 2016

First Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work.” –
Wisdom, the knowledge of the fundamental truths of existence, is personified as a teacher and speaks of its role in the formation of all things.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them?”
– A song of praise marveling at God’s care for human beings and their role as stewards of God’s creation.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

Gospel: John 16:12-15
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADetail_kazuifel_J.L._Str%C3%A4ter_drie-eenheid.jpg By Marikevanroon20 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A New Commandment

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Watching for the Morning of April 17, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Peter does what many regard as unthinkable when he chooses to baptize Cornelius and his family. Cornelius is a centurion in the Roman army, a commander of the occupying forces. Though he is a good man, he is outside the community of Israel. And so begins the conversation that decides whether Jesus is the Messiah of Israel or the Redeemer of all the earth.

Is Jesus the anointed one who frees Judah or the anointed one who beings the day when all heaven and earth are reconciled. Does Jesus make us better Jews or citizens of the age to come when death no longer holds dominion over God’s creation?

For Peter, he had no option. God had decided this question by giving these Gentiles the gift of God’s Spirit – the gift of the age to come. If they had the baptismal gift; Peter needed to finish the job with water. It was in keeping with the prophets and the words and deeds of Jesus. The grave was empty. The dawn of the world gathered to God was underway.

John of Patmos describes it for us as the heavenly Jerusalem descending to earth and all heaven and earth made new. The voice of the psalmist joins the refrain calling upon all creation to sing God’s praise. And at the center of our worship on Sunday will be the words of Jesus giving the new commandment – the commandment that characterizes the age to come – the commandment to love one another. Such love reveals that we are student/followers of Jesus. Such love bears witness to ultimate triumph of God’s love.

The Prayer for April 24, 2016

Gracious God,
whom all creation praises,
and whose will it is to gather all things into your wide embrace,
pour out upon us your Spirit of love,
that we may follow where you lead
and obey what you command;
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 April 24, 2016

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18
“If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” – Peter faces criticism over his baptism of the Gentile, Cornelius, by recounting the sequence of events leading to his visit and God’s outpouring of the Spirit.

Psalmody: Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens.” – The psalmist calls upon all creation to sing God’s praise.

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
– In this culminating vision of the Book of Revelation, the prophet sees the earth made new and the heavenly Jerusalem coming to dwell on earth.

Gospel: John 13:31-35
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – On the night of the last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: to love one another.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWashing_the_feets_(1420s%2C_Sergiev_Posad).jpg  By Workshop of Daniel Chorny and Andrey Rublev (http://www.icon-art.info/group.php?lng=&grp_id=9) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Righteousness

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He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

Friday

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

1After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Abraham was 75 when he left Haran, taking his wife, Sarah, and nephew, Lot, and leaving his father behind. He left, according to the narrative, in obedience to God who promised he would be the father of a great nation through which all families on earth would be blessed.

He went to Shechem, then to Bethel, then by stages to the Negev. During a famine he went down into Egypt and eventually returned, moving again in stages from the Negev back to Bethel. Tension between his household and the household of Lot caused them to separate, and Lot to move into the Jordan Valley and took up his fateful residence in Sodom. Lot became the victim of a war between the “kings” (chieftains of city-states) of the region and Abraham went to rescue him. After all this, “some time later” according to the text, we find him still childless.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Three times he has heard the promise of descendants, and three times nothing has happened but the ongoing vicissitudes of life.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

I appreciate the frankness of his conversation. He can see no future but that his steward will end up with the estate. God, however, explains nothing. What God does is simply repeat the promise. And Abraham trusts it.

Trust is not a substitute for righteousness. Righteousness means fidelity to God and to others. Abraham has shown fidelity to Lot. Now he shows fidelity to God. He accepts God’s word.

Few of us have a vision such as Abraham’s. What we have is the promise of God mediated to us through the text of scripture and embodied in the water of baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion. They are the equivalent of the smoking pots: God’s covenantal promise made visible: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood…shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.”

We don’t know how we will get to the fullness of the promise of the world brought into the blessing of God. But we accept and live by the promise. And it is righteousness.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHeavens_Above_Her.jpg By Ian Norman (http://www.lonelyspeck.com) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Heading home from the manger

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Looking back to Sunday

So we gather in the season of Christmas. We hear the promise of peace in the child of Bethlehem. We sing “Silent Night” and “Away in the Manger” and light candles in the dark. We hear the story of the peasant mother on a cold winter’s night. If we are fortunate, we go home to family gatherings that are warm and joyful and a taste of all that is good in life. Then somewhere in the days that follow, perhaps after some family tension or evening news account, we lament that the peace doesn’t last.

It is then, in these days after, that it is important for us to hear the words of our second reading yesterday morning:

12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)

There is baptismal imagery working in this word of encouragement. You can almost hear the elder admonishing the newly baptized – who have put off their old clothes and renounced their previous gods before going down into the water, rising up out of the opposite end of the pool to put on a new, clean garment – you can almost hear the elder admonishing them to put one Christ, to clothe themselves with all the qualities of Christ, to adorn themselves with the way of life that accords with God’s redeemed creation.

12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Then comes the exhortation to let Christ govern in our hearts – in the place where thought and desire turns into choice and action “let the peace of Christ rule.” This leads to the appeal to let the Christ’s teaching dwell within and among us and concludes with the practice of gratitude.

This is the shape of the believer’s life: to be clothed in Christ, to live forgiveness, to be governed by our harmony with God and infused with God’s teaching, to be thankful.

This is the life with which we seek to cloak ourselves as we journey home from our visit to the manger.

 

Image: By Gentile da Fabriano (Petar Milošević) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAdorazione_dei_Magi_by_Gentile_da_Fabriano_-_Predella.jpg

The unholy made holy

Friday

Acts 8:26-40

File:Menologion of Basil 006.jpg36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

It’s not an abstract question for the Ethiopian; it’s a highly personal one. He has just come from Jerusalem where the fact that he is a eunuch bars him from the temple. He is fundamentally flawed and not acceptable in God’s presence.

There is something to be said for the notion of holiness, that what we bring before God should be whole. Lame animals show no honor or respect for the Lord of all. Moldy grain, rancid oil – we ought not imagine making such gifts at the altar. God deserves our best. There is even something to be said for the notion that sinners ought to stand far off and not parade to the front, that we should come with humility, that we should approach God with care. But it is a far different thing for me to hold myself back than for others to make that judgment. It is for me to recognize God’s holiness, not for others to defend it. I should know my unworthiness rather than have someone point it out to me.

But Christ was crucified. He was made unholy. Outside the walls of the holy city, his death was hastened lest he pollute the holy days, while those who arranged his death went up to the altar with hands they regarded as clean. Pilate had to go out to the high priests as they conspired to murder Jesus, lest they pollute themselves by entering a gentile’s house.

The holy one – the truly holy one – was made unholy that we, the truly unholy, might be made holy in him. And now, what religious people excluded in order to defend God’s honor, God gathers in order to show his glory: the lame man at the temple, the Samaritans, the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius the centurion, gentiles in Antioch.  The stories of Acts follow the seeds Jesus sowed: the Syrophoenician woman, Matthew the tax collector, the woman with the flow of blood, sinners and tax collectors.

“What is to prevent me from being baptized?” asks the Ethiopian eunuch. Marred in the flesh by men, rendered unholy by the mighty, he is now made holy in Christ by the Almighty. As are we.

It is not our job to defend God’s honor. God will take care of himself. It is for us to be mindful of God’s honor and enter into his presence with humbleness – and joy.

 

Image: Menologion of Basil II, Menologion of Basileiou – 11th century illuminated byzantine manuscript with 430 miniatures, now in Vatican library.  Photo by Мастер Георгий (http://www.pravenc.ru/text/149805.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From darkness into light

Watching for Easter

Year B

Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / The Vigil of Easter / Easter Sunday

HeQi_036-medium

He is Risen, He Qi

We gather to begin our observance of the three days on Thursday evening. There is a prelude that night and a confession and forgiveness – but the dismissal to “Go in peace,” and the postlude doesn’t happen until the end of the liturgy on Saturday evening. This is one great celebration in several acts over the three days.

Thursday we begin with a confession that connects to the ancient practice of the church when, on this night, those who had been under the public discipline of the church were reconciled. It is a good word with which to begin: we walk through these days as those who have been cleansed. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” We are gathered as a forgiven and reconciled people – a forgiving and reconciling people.

And so in the Thursday liturgy the forgiven/reconciled, forgiving/reconciling people hear Jesus speak the new commandment to love one another. We hear the splashing water and wrestle with that image of the living Christ at our feet as the paradigm of our life with one another. We encounter the Christ whose body is broken like bread, whose blood is poured out like wine. And we see the altar stripped as Christ was stripped of all honor and led away in the night.

Friday in that last hour of Jesus’ life we hear the prophet Isaiah speak of the one who was wounded for our transgression and John describe the one who was lifted up in the hour the Passover lambs were slain.  We listen and we adore and we pray for a world in need of his voice.

Saturday evening we gather to follow the light of the world through the darkness, we hear the great stories of salvation – and water again, this time the washing of baptism with all its echoes of passing through the Red Sea out from slavery into freedom. And then the Cry goes out: “Christ is Risen!” and the table of Maundy Thursday becomes the banquet of heaven, the foretaste of the feast to come.

In the full light of Easter morning we sing the great hymns that belong to a people who have come through the waters from darkness into light, from the realm of death into the realm of life.

In Detroit, one year, when the girls were young, I stopped at a party store for milk on my way home after the evening service on Good Friday. The man in front of me bought a bottle of cognac, received his change, and started to walk away when turned back to ask for two glasses. He was given two small plastic disposable cups, presumably to sit in a car in the lot and drink with his girl.

I was struck by the contrast that night between the faith community gathered in prayer on this holiest of days, and the guys hanging and drinking outside the store knowing only this was a Friday night. One group praying for the life of the world and the other thinking it was found in a bottle.

Most of the world will not care what we do these three days. But the one they do not see is the world’s true light and life.

The prayers and texts for this week

Maundy Thursday:

In the night of his betrayal, O God,
Jesus bent to wash feet
revealing your will and your way.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives
that, in union with Christ,
we may prove faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14 (The Passover)
Psalmody: Psalm 116:12-19 (I will lift up the cup of salvation)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (In the night in which he was betrayed…)
Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (A give you a new commandment)

Good Friday

In the desolation of the Cross, O God,
you watched over Jesus,
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, by the mercy of Christ,
we may prove faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (He was bounded for our transgressions)
Passion Reading: John 18:1-19:42 (The passion according to John)

Good Friday Evening Prayer – Tenebrae

Eternal Father,
in the shadows of the night we hear the echo of your voice.
Beyond the hammer and the nails,
beyond the jeering and the cries,
beyond the anger and the hardness of heart,
we hear the voice “Father, forgive them.”
Help us hear the prayer, trust its promise, and know its healing.

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6 (He was wounded for our transgressions)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:21b-25 (He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross)
Seven Last Words:
Luke 23:33-34: (Father forgive them)
Luke 23:39-43: (Today you will be with me in paradise)
John 19:23-27: (Woman behold your son)
Matthew 27:45-46: (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?)
John 19:28-29: (I Thirst)
John 19:30: (It is finished)
Luke 23:46: (Father, into you hands I commend my Spirit)

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil

In the night of his Passover, O God, you watched over Jesus
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, by your Spirit,
we may be born anew
in lives faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Genesis 1.1-2.2 (The Story of Creation)
Second Reading: Selections from Genesis 6-9 (The Flood) [whole text, Genesis 6:5-9:15]
Third Reading: Genesis 22.1-14 (The Binding of Isaac)
Fourth Reading: Exodus 14.5-14:30 (The Exodus)
Fifth Reading: Ezekiel 37.1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones)
Sixth Reading: Selections from Exodus 11 and 12 (The Passover)
Seventh Reading: Daniel 3.1-29 (The Fiery Furnace)
Epistle: Romans 6:3-5 (We have been buried with him in baptism)
Gospel: Mark 16:1-8 (The women run away from the empty tomb in fear and trembling)

Easter Sunday Morning

In the empty tomb, O God,
you bear witness to Jesus
that his word and his deeds are true,
and encounter all people with the promise of life.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, all heaven and earth
may be united in faithfulness and joy.

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9 (Isaiah’s vision of all people gathered at one table)
Psalmody: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-16, 22-24 (The stone that the builders rejected)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (Paul’s list of the witnesses to the resurrection)
Gospel: John 20:1-18 (The race to the tomb, and the risen Jesus meets Mary )

 

 

Image: He, Qi. He is Risen, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46117 [retrieved April 1, 2015]. Original source: heqigallery.com.

Practice, practice, practice

Sunday Evening

Psalm 147

Lutheran Altar7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.

Today was Boy Scout Sunday. Our troop served coffee hour and joined us in worship.  I was reminded of the difference it makes when there is a larger number of people in worship. The energy of the service is different. The singing is stronger. The energy in the preaching is higher, because the feedback from the congregation is greater.

When I have been on vacation, I have tended to think I had an obligation to myself to find a worship service. I have thought “this is what Christians do” – they gather on the first day of the week to hear the word and share in the Lord’s Supper.

The time I had a sabbatical, the worship service was less of an obligation, but still something I did for what I received. It was a healthy pattern, a focal point of the week, an occasion for prayer and the sacrament. It was good for me. What I didn’t consider was that my presence – as one of many – made worship better for others.

I have told parents who bring infants for baptism that their children have a ministry in the church. One of the promises the parents make in the baptismal service is that they will bring their children “to the services of God’s house.” But we often don’t see them until the child is ready for Sunday School. It’s a shame. The ministry of babies in a congregation is to be babies. Babies attract a crowd. They make everyone smile. There is an “aaaw” effect that connects people to one another.

No one coos over me at this point in my life, but nevertheless each voice makes the worship of the church richer, fuller. I have not only an obligation to God to come thank and honor him with the first hour of my week; I have not only the privilege of hearing God’s Word and receiving God’s gifts; I have a ministry to the community to come and sing and pray and add myself to our shared experience.

There have been times I have been unable to sing, times when the prayers stick in my throat, times of grief and despair when I have needed the community to pray the prayers and sing the songs for me. Though I couldn’t get the words out, the community spoke them for me. I have understood this. And yet, I never thought about the importance of doing this for others when I was trying to decide on Saturday night whether to go someplace on Sunday morning.

We make worship about me. My convenience. My enrichment. My spirituality. (I had members of one church leave for another because the new church had a 45-minute 8:00 a.m. service and they could “get in and get out and still have [their] whole day.”) But worship is not just about me. It is about the community. I add something to their experience just by being there. So even if I got nothing else from the service, it would still be worthwhile, for I have been there for the sake of others. And this is the whole point of worship – to practice being people of God.

Child sacrifice, divination, and the God who speaks

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, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. 12For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13You must remain completely loyal to the Lord your God. 14Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so.

It’s not the kind of thing we normally read in worship. A little too dark. A little too judgmental. It reminds us a little too much that these readings come from far away in time and culture.

But it’s important to be reminded.

Scholars debate whether the Canaanites actually practiced child sacrifice or whether this reference to passing through the fire refers to some ritual that does only that: a wave offering rather than an actual holocaust. My hunch is that these were real sacrifices – perhaps not routinely, but real nonetheless. Otherwise, why is Abraham on the mountain with his son and a knife? And why does Hiel of Bethel found the gates of Jericho on the sacrificed bodies of his sons Abiram and Segub?

Such a sacrifice is unthinkable to us – though we can cognitively understand the strange logic of giving to the gods your most precious possession to show them the depth of your devotion in hopes of gaining their favor.

But lest we think we are morally superior, we should consider how easily we also sacrifice our children. There are bodies of our young men being flown home from wars. There are children sacrificed to the sexual desires of their parents. There are children laying dead at the hands of a murder-suicide, children who crack under the pressure of success, children who wither while parents pursue wealth and power. We sacrifice our children on the altar of our parental happiness (You’ve heard it said about divorce: “the children will be happy if the parents are happy”. Really? We say that without blushing? Have you ever heard a child say that? We are not talking about violence in a home, mind you, or abuse, or such for which children would readily vote. And we’re not even talking about the painful, wrenching decision to divorce – just the way we rationalize it as a culture, as if happiness were the god we served.)

So we survey the bombed out villages, the refugee camps, the abused and abandoned children, and we have no claim to moral indignation at the ancient practice.

But God who revealed his name as LORD does. It was Pharaoh’s murderous plot against the infant sons of Israel that started the crisis in Egypt that led ultimately to the death of Pharaoh’s own child – a child sacrificed on the altar of the right to keep slaves.

Our country paid dearly on that altar, too.

This matter of child sacrifice is in a passage about divination, about the ways in which we try to gain secret knowledge and power from the gods. It is leading to this promise that God will not leave Israel without a prophetic voice.

Moses’ attacks the myriad ways in which we want to read the tea leaves, to access hidden and divine information to know what the future will bring, to know what we can do to guarantee success or to ensure a bountiful harvest. The Farmer’s Almanac does the same thing reading the coats of wooly caterpillars – and we have that wonderful little ritual every February to see whether the sun is shining on a rodent in Punxsutawney. We joke about these ‘divinations’, but we know the drill. If I could know which lottery numbers to pick – as vainly promised by my fortune cookies – if I could know what tomorrow brings, then I would be king.

But God is king.

It is our desire to be king, our desire to control, to conquer, to rule, to grasp the fruit from the tree, to be as gods, that leads to the death of children.

God is king.

And God does not deal with us by omens and tea leaves. He speaks. He reveals. And we are meant to hear, to receive, to trust.

This is the sweetness in this promise of a prophet: God will not stop speaking to us. God will not leave us without knowledge of him or his will. He will continue, day after day, Sunday after Sunday, to reveal himself, to encounter us, to proclaim his grace and love, to call us to fidelity to God and neighbor, to summon us to lives that mirror his faithfulness and compassion.

God will speak. And in case we have trouble hearing, he makes his word visible in water and in bread and wine. For you. For the world. For the lifting away of every debt of shame and sin. For the granting of grace and life. For the birth from above, the breath of his Spirit. Moses may be gone, and Isaiah, Jeremiah and David – but their words remain and God still speaks to us through them. God will not leave us desolate. He will speak.

As Jesus kept saying, “Let the one who has ears to hear, listen.”

 

Photo: By Credits: Pierre Holtz / UNICEF CAR / hdptcar.net at hdptcar [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons