Partners in the song

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Watching for the Morning of October 1, 2017

The Commemoration of St. Francis and The Blessing of the Animals

On this first Sunday of October, nearest to the feast day of St. Francis, our parish celebrates the blessing of the animals. The readings for the day are chosen around that theme. Follow this link for a comment on the regularly appointed texts for this Sunday. Other comments/reflections can be found for by following this link, Proper 21 A / Lectionary 26 A.

File:Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) Tswalu.jpgThere are hundreds of glorious pictures to choose from when you begin to look: the creation is stunning in its variety and splendor. The creatures with whom we share this awesome world are wondrous in their diversity, beauty, majesty – and, sometimes – strangeness. It seems impossible for a picture of meerkats not to make you smile. Fawns of any kind evoke tenderness. In its familiarity, we forget how strange is an elephant’s nose. Butterflies seem such an ephemeral beauty – yet monarchs migrate thousands of miles. Whales, chipmunks, water buffalo, and the myriad things that squirm and make us squirm – it is an amazing world.

File:Giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park 2013.jpgStand beneath redwoods or giant sequoias. Let yourself be cradled in the arms of an oak. Walk among aspens. Ponder the tiniest alpine flowers. Consider the myriad forms of things that grow. Some we love – pears and peaches and fresh corn.   But then there are nettles and poison oak. And there are mosquitos, wondrous in their form but irritating and sometimes dangerous in what they carry.

Horned toads. Penguins. Emu. Fox. The strange things hidden deep in the sea. The microflora in our gut. The world is bursting with life.

File:Caesio teres in Fiji by Nick Hobgood.jpgEven beasts as terrifying as the great white shark are wondrous and beautiful.

Walking to and from the office on suburban streets past rose bushes, decorative trees and chirping birds, amidst all the distractions of tasks to be done and routines followed, it is possible to forget the wonder and mystery of the natural world. We don’t stand in awe of night skies; we cannot see them. We don’t search the horizon hoping for rain and fearing hail, knowing our lives are dependent on the fragile green stalks turning into bursting clusters of grain. We fear no beasts in the night. We see little of the beauty of the sunrise or sunset.

File:Väimela Mäejärv 2011 09.jpgSomething is lost in our relationship not only with the natural world around us, but with the divine. There is a taste of the holy in the beauty of the world. There is a shudder of the holy in the power of its storms. The enduring faithfulness of God is whispered by the pattern of the seasons and the enduring hills. The tenderness of God is witnessed in the care of songbirds for File:Gavia immer1 BS.jpgtheir chicks. Watching the small screen on our cell phones we lose track of the far horizon, the enduring truth that we are small and there is something greater than ourselves, the enduring truth that we must care for one another if we are to survive, the enduring truth that we must care for the land if it is to care for us.

You cannot cut down the fruit trees when you besiege a city, says Deuteronomy, and it is not legislation but vision: Are the trees men that you should make war on them?” You can take the eggs from a nest, but not the hen that lays them. You must give thought for the future. The Sabbath law applies even to animals. We must care for the world around if we are to know life’s goodness. We must care for one another. We must become partners in the song of all creation.File:Butterfly Green-underside Blue - Glaucopsyche alexis 01.jpg

The Prayer for October 1, 2017

Gracious God, from whom and for whom all things exist:
In the wonder of the creation you bear witness to your majesty and grace.
All things proclaim your praise.
Grant us wisdom and courage
to tend with faithfulness all that you have entrusted into our care
and to lift our lives to you in thankfulness and praise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 1, 2017, Blessing of the Animals

First Reading: Psalm 104
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.” – The psalmist sings of the wonder of the created world and summons us to recognize their the majesty and goodness of God.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-20
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created.” – In the opening verses of this letter the author sings of the mystery of Christ Jesus as the truth at the heart of all existence and its ultimate goal.

Gospel: John 1:1-4
“In the beginning was the Word…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” – The opening of John’s Gospel sees in Christ Jesus the embodiment of the Word that called all things into existence and speaks life to the world.

Images:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALotus_flower_(978659).jpg By Hong Zhang (jennyzhh2008) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMeerkat_(Suricata_suricatta)_Tswalu.jpg By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGiant_sequoias_in_Sequoia_National_Park_2013.jpg By Tuxyso (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AV%C3%A4imela_M%C3%A4ej%C3%A4rv_2011_09.jpg By Vaido Otsar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGavia_immer1_BS.jpg By Cephas (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AButterfly_Green-underside_Blue_-_Glaucopsyche_alexis_01.jpg By Zeynel Cebeci (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Garden

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“Say what you want about ‘all the killing in the Bible’, the Bible begins with two narratives about relationship with God and relationship with one another and a world in perfect peace.” – from today’s sermon.

We looked at Genesis 2 in worship this morning, the narrative about the creation of Adam and Eve. What follows is the content of the booklet that was handed out following worship explaining the images used in our sanctuary today. The sermon series is designed to help us understand what Jesus was telling his followers on the road to Emmaus about the fundamental witness of the scripture to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God.   (For more information about this series, see the explanation in the post for week 1.)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ANevuas.jpg By Géder Abrahão (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 2:4-25


“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”


File:Épaule musée archéologique de Naples.jpg

The creation narrative in the first chapter of Genesis is a sweeping and majestic portrait of a God who speaks and whose speaking brings order, goodness and beauty, calling all things into being. The creation story in this second chapter gives a more intimate portrait of a God whose first creation is a human. Where Genesis 1 views humanity as the crown of God’s creating, Genesis 2 presents humanity as God’s first thought. Where God speaks with a royal we in chapter 1, and like a great king his word effects what he speaks, in chapter 2 we meet an artisan forming humanity from the earth and breathing into him the breath of life.

And since the Hebrew word means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’, something is happening that is far more than mere respiration. Again we are in the realm of intimacy. God is not just our creator; God is our breath. And we are bound together even as God’s speaking (in Genesis 1) begets relationship.

Marbre antique, détail, épaule, musée archéologique de Naples
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%C3%89paule_mus%C3%A9e_arch%C3%A9ologique_de_Naples.jpg By photogestion [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden;
and there he put the man he had formed.”


File:Araucárias ao fundo Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina - denoise.jpg

Having formed a human, God plants a garden to provide him a home. There are notions of a royal garden in this image. This is a place where God will walk in the cool of the evening (3:8) and the human creature is given the responsibility “to till it and keep it”. We are the royal gardeners, granted the right to sustain ourselves from the fruit of the garden. But we are not hired hands; we are bearers of the divine breath and companions of God.

Sunrise with Paraná pines as seen at the Serra da Bocaina National Park, Brazil..
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArauc%C3%A1rias_ao_fundo_Parque_Nacional_da_Serra_da_Bocaina_-_denoise.jpg By Heris Luiz Cordeiro Rocha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground
trees that were pleasing to the eye…


File:Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms - Flickr - treegrow (14).jpg


…and good for food.”


File:Cornucopia of fruit and vegetables wedding banquet (cropped).jpg

God provides for the human all the goodness and beauty of the earth. It is God’s first act of faithfulness and love.

Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACapitol_Hill_Cherry_Blossoms_-_Flickr_-_treegrow_(14).jpg By Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA (Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A wedding cornucopia
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACornucopia_of_fruit_and_vegetables_wedding_banquet_(cropped).jpg By Jina Lee [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.”


File:Manavgat waterfall by tomgensler.JPG

Four great rivers find their headwaters in the garden – the rivers on whose banks human society will find life: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile (Gihon), and a fourth whose identity we no longer know (though there are satellite images suggesting an ancient river across the Arabian peninsula.) Perhaps it’s just as well we do not know this river: now all the rivers of the world can be seen as arising in the garden.

And it does not matter that these rivers don’t connect with one another. That is not our author’s message. The garden is the source of life for the world. Even when the garden is lost to us, its waters continue to flow, bringing their fertility and abundance to human society.

It is an image taken up by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47) when he describes a life-giving river flowing from the new temple, by Jesus when he declares that he is the source of the water of life (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38), and by the author of Revelation when the river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22).

Waterfall at Manavgat (Turkey).
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AManavgat_waterfall_by_tomgensler.JPG By Thomas Gensler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“It is not good for the man to be alone.”


File:Louis Rémy Mignot Solitude.jpg

Amidst all the beauty and abundance of the garden, it is not yet ‘good’, perfect, complete. Humans are meant for relationship. It is not good for this human creature to be alone. It is a fundamental truth. It is part of what is meant by the image of God. For there to be love, there must be an other, a beloved. We are meant for community.

Solitude, Louis Rémy Mignot
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALouis_R%C3%A9my_Mignot_Solitude.jpg Louis Rémy Mignot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.”


File:AberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg

And so God continues to create, bringing to the human all the other creatures of the earth.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, part of our connectedness. We know this in our pets, but also in the birds we hear singing in the morning or watch around a feeder. There is an intake of breath when we stumble across a rabbit or a deer. There is something familiar in sounds of the frogs in the pond or the sight of a lizard sunning on a rock. We talk to them without thinking about it. They are part of our community. And so the sight of a starving polar bear grieves us, or a wounded bird that has hit our picture window.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, but in all these creatures there is not a companion equal to that first human.

The King James Version translated this as “an help meet for him.” It would have benefited us if they had added a comma after the word ‘help’, (an help, meet for him) for what popularly turned into a single word, ‘helpmeet’, actually means a helper “equal to him”, or “matching him”.

So God takes a portion from the first human and from it makes another.

Adam naming the animals, Folio 5 recto from the Aberdeen Bestiary.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man
he made into a woman.”


File:Tracy Caldwell Dyson in Cupola ISS.jpg

The woman is not made for the first human but from him. She is separate, but she is of the same stuff as he. She is not made like the animals are made. She is unique. And they are uniquely connected.

The Hebrew words here are tricky to translate comfortably into English. The creature God makes is an ‘adam’. It is a word that refers to human beings. There are other words to refer to male and female. And there are ordinary words for a man and a woman.

Clearly the Biblical writers imagined the first human as a male, but women are also “humankind”. In Genesis 5:1-2 it says: “When God created humankind (‘adam’), he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” (‘adam’) when they were created.” It is only with the appearance of this other that humanity emerges as ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

Self portrait of Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below during Expedition 24.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATracy_Caldwell_Dyson_in_Cupola_ISS.jpg By NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”


File:Adam Eve Storonov.JPG

Now come the words for ‘man’ (‘ish’) and ‘woman’ (‘ishah’). These are not the words for ‘male’ and ‘female’; they are words that speak of relationship, words that evoke the connection of men and women in family and community. We are made for one another, even as we are made to be in relationship with God.

Adam and Eve, sculpture by Oscar Stonorov
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAdam_Eve_Storonov.JPG By Smallbones (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

Creation

File:A break in the clouds - Flickr - rachel thecat.jpg

25Then he [Jesus] said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

When Jesus walks with his followers on the road to Emmaus, he takes them back through the scripture to help them understand the fundamental witness of the Biblical writings. He is not proof-texting the resurrection, but opening their eyes to see that the fundamental narrative of the scripture concerns the sacrificial love of God – love that has its fulfillment in the cross and resurrection.

So the sermon series in which our parish has embarked has as its purpose not only to tell these pivotal stories in scripture, but to show how they bear witness to the God whose face we see in Christ.

As we developed this idea, our sanctuary arts people proposed placing a series of pictures in the sanctuary that related to the story of the day. That led to the production of a booklet that summarized the story and identified the pictures.

Here is the text of the booklet from week 1 on Genesis 1.  This Sunday we will talk about Genesis 2.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_break_in_the_clouds_-_Flickr_-_rachel_thecat.jpg By rachel_thecat (A break in the clouds) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 1:1-2:3


“A wind from God swept over the face of the waters”


File:Wea00816.jpg

At the beginning of God’s creating, there is nothing but the breath of God hovering over a storm tossed sea.

And then God speaks.

It is God’s word that brings order, beauty and life. Before God’s word, apart from God’s speaking, there is neither order, beauty or life.

Speech is relational. It connects. It creates. It enlivens. For God to speak, means that God is relational. (When the author of 1 John writes that “God is love”, he is describing the kind of relationship God has with the world: God is faithful to us.)

Though our words can also create division and harm, God’s word creates community, goodness and life.

The Biblical account is set down in this form when Jerusalem has been destroyed and the leadership of the nation carried off into exile in Babylon. Those surviving peasants who hadn’t fled the war were left to farm the land. They posed no threat of resistance or rebellion. But the people of the city now inhabit the ancient equivalent of a refugee camp. They live in the aftermath of the chaos of war: grief, suffering, disease, dislocation. The temple and priesthood, symbols of God’s presence are destroyed. The sacrifices that were the means of grace and connection to God are lost to them. They are a people in the darkness of a storm-tossed sea.

But the Spirit of God is present.

And then God speaks.

North Pacific storm waves as seen from the M/V NOBLE STAR
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWea00816.jpg by NOAA (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/bigs/wea00816.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“God called the dome Sky”


File:Milky Way over Devils Tower.jpg

God’s first act is to create light and to separate the light from the darkness.

The ancient world imagined darkness as a thing in itself, rather than the absence of light. So into the stuff of the world which is darkness God calls into being a new stuff: light.

And the light is good.

God gathers the light together so we can live in the light. There is now day and night.

Next God speaks into existence the dome of the sky. Imagine a glass bowl upside down in the bathtub: water all around, but a bubble of air under the dome. God has made a space in the midst of the primal, chaotic waters where goodness and life can happen.

A panoramic image of the Milky Way galaxy stretching across the sky over America’s first national monument, Devils Tower. 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMilky_Way_over_Devils_Tower.jpg by NCBrown (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Let the earth put forth vegetation”


File:Lotus flower (978659).jpg

Now, God gathers the water together so that land appears. And the land is summoned to bring forth all the living, growing stuff we see.

The text calls these ‘days’ though there is yet no sun or moon or stars to mark the days and seasons. But the cycle of day and night suggests images of labor, God is working to call forth his world. And the language of days suggests time; God is building something that takes time. And time itself is moving towards its completion, towards Sabbath.


“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky”


On the fourth ‘day’ God calls forth the lights that span the dome of the heavens and appoints them “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.”

The ancient words for ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ were the names of gods. The lights in the sky were considered spirit beings, creatures of fire and light rather than earth, divine beings to be adored and called upon for help. But the Biblical author doesn’t call them ‘Sun’ or ‘Moon’; these are but lanterns in the sky, placed there by the word of God. We use them only to count days.

It is a startling claim for a people whose god has been crushed in battle by the (presumably) more powerful gods of Babylon. The Lord could not protect his own house, his temple. The Lord could not protect his household staff, his people. Yet here our writer proclaims that these powerful so-called gods of Babylon are no gods at all.

Flower of an Indian Lotus
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALotus_flower_(978659).jpg by Hong Zhang (jennyzhh2008) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“ Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind”


File:A butterfly feeding on the tears of a turtle in Ecuador.jpg

Now God begins to summons forth the creatures of the earth. The waters proliferate with creatures and birds fill the skies. It is good. And God utters a blessing: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

God will also speak this blessing over humans. They are among the living creatures. They are not creatures of the air. They are not spirit beings. They are part of the good world God calls forth in all its wondrous diversity.

The fish and birds are called into existence on the fifth ‘day’, creatures of the land and humans on the sixth day.

We are creatures. We are one with the creation and yet the crown of creation. The care of the earth is entrusted into our hands. We are blessed as the creatures are blessed. But we are also charged to exercise “dominion”, governance, stewardship, lordship. And the model of true lordship is not one of control and domination, but the God who provides and cares, and the lord who lays down his life for the sheep. St. Francis is correct when he speaks of the creatures of the world as our sisters and brothers.   The world is to be tended not plundered.

Two Julia Butterflies (Dryas iulia) drinking the tears of turtles (Podocnemis expansa?) in Ecuador. Turtles bask on a log as the butterflies sip from their eyes. This “tear-feeding” is a phenomenon known as lachryphagy.  
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_butterfly_feeding_on_the_tears_of_a_turtle_in_Ecuador.jpg amalavida.tv [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“In the image of God he created them”


File:Heavens Above Her.jpg

The word ‘image’ in the ancient Greek translation of Genesis comes into English as ‘icon’. An icon was an image that represented the presence of another – like the United States planting a flag on Iwo Jima to represent the authority and presence of the nation. Humans represent the presence of God. Or, at least, we are supposed to so represent. We are the agents and signs of God’s presence, the agents and signs of God’s care, the agents and sign of God’s love. Or at least, again, this was God’s intention. This is our calling. This is our true identity.

Perhaps the ancients thought we shared the same physical appearance as God. But the truth is we have no other language or imagery to talk about a loving, speaking being.

These humans are given fruit to eat. And the grazing animals grass. In the beginning we did not yet kill and eat each other. It’s why the prophets say that in the end, when God’s creation is finally restored, the lion can lie down with the lamb.

Milky Way lying above a lady’s silhouette, at Trona Pinnacles National Landmark, California.
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

Sabbath Rest

“On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done.”


File:Paints of sunrise on Langtang National Park.jpg

So now we come to the final day, the consummate day, the goal toward which all things move: Sabbath. Rest. Completion. Perfection. Shalom. Peace. Wholeness. Harmony. This ‘day’ is holy, sacred, radiant with the divine. Jesus will call it “the reign of God.” St. John the Divine will call it the “New Jerusalem”.

The world is not complete in six days. It is complete with Sabbath.

And Jesus will declare that the reign of God is at hand, so it makes perfect sense for him to heal on the Sabbath. He is not working, doctoring; he is bringing that final Sabbath when all things are made new.

The Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the deep now breathes in all people. The promise of Joel is fulfilled (Joel 2:28-29). Pentecost has come (Acts 2). The Torah is written on every heart (Jeremiah 31:31). The heavenly banquet is begun (Isaiah 25:6-8). Swords are beaten into plowshares (Micah 4:1-3) and the lion eats straw like the ox (Isaiah 65:17-25).

It is all “very good.”

View from mountain pass Laurebina-la
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APaints_of_sunrise_on_Langtang_National_Park.jpg  by Q-lieb-in (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
 © Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

Like rain on the mown grass

File:Blackdykes Ruin - geograph.org.uk - 1025680.jpg

Thursday

Psalm 72

1Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.

I have written before about this psalm (in 2014 and 2015) and the question whether it should be heard as prayer or promise. On Epiphany Sunday, when the magi kneel and present their gifts, it becomes proclamation: this is the royal child in whom justice will reign and the earth bloom. But we are approaching the inauguration of a new president. A new congress has been seated. A new government is being formed. Actions are underway. And how shall we pray?

Now the psalm is not looking only at the child of Bethlehem; now the psalm is speaking to a country and a world wondering what the new administration will bring. Now the psalm is closer to its original setting as a new king rises to power. Now it is a prayer – and in the praying is a message to the king about his role and responsibility.

Looking at Jesus we can say with confidence “He will judge your people in righteousness,” as does the New International Version (NIV) from 1984. Looking at our leadership today, it is best heard petition, as in the current form of the NIV: “May he judge your people in righteousness.”

The psalm gives voice to our prayer. It speaks of our hopes from our leaders. But the prayer spoken in the hearing of the king becomes a reminder to the new king and those in power. What does God seek from those who govern? Justice. Faithfulness to the poor. The defense of the afflicted. Deliverance for the needy. Care of the earth that it may produce abundantly. Leadership that earns the respect and trust of the nations because it brings justice.

11All kings will bow down to him
and all nations will serve him.
12For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.

This psalm has become for us a description of God’s reign among us. But it is also a description of what God expects of us. It is promise, but it is also calling. God’s reign is grace and favor; it is also call and command.

In the Sundays to come we will hear Jesus speak to our obligation. The Sermon on the Mount is coming. But for now we offer the prayer. And we are sustained by the promise. For a child is born for us.

5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:5-7)

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABlackdykes_Ruin_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1025680.jpg by wfmillar [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Panting on the heights

File:3 khulan am Wasser Abend.jpg

Jeremiah 14:1-9

5 Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn
because there is no grass.
6
The wild asses stand on the bare heights,
they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
because there is no herbage.

The creation suffers because of human sin. We can smugly say that the ancients were ignorant of modern science and didn’t understand the nature of weather patterns and naturally occurring droughts. And it might be that the ancients had a simplistic view of the weather as directly controlled by the gods – Baal, after all, is the storm god, god of the rain and therefore of prosperity and fertility. And we moderns may sneer at Texas Governor Rick Perry leading a prayer service for rain. But there is a deep spiritual insight in these ancient texts.

Our actions affect the world around us. When we tear down a mountain we affect the wind patterns. When we destroy wetlands we worsen the damage of storms. When we build on cliffs with beautiful ocean views we make ourselves vulnerable to the shore’s natural erosion. When we create acid rain we change ecosystems. When we pollute water systems we jeopardize health. When we pump water and chemicals into the oil fields we awaken old earthquake faults. The natural world changes when we kill off the top predators or cut down the forests or fill the air with chemicals that destroy the ozone or raise the greenhouse effect.

Our actions affect the world around us, for good or ill. When our actions are wanton and greedy, when they are thoughtless and self-absorbed, there is a price to pay. It gets paid by starving polar bears and algae blooms. It gets paid by dying reefs and perishing species. It gets paid by narwhal young when the melting of the arctic ice grants killer whales access to narwhal birthing sites.

So the prophet is not wrong when he sees “the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn” and the wild assess panting “for air like jackals,” and recognizes these as symptoms of a society whose people are greedy for luxury and not for justice.

There is no simple answer to the drought in the West and its accompanying sorrows. But there is occasion for repentance: for self-examination as a community and as individuals to consider whether we have exercised the care for the earth God assigned us or whether we have bowed down to other gods. It is an opportunity for “turning” (the meaning of the word repentance): for changing direction, changing our attachments, showing a proper fidelity to God and the world entrusted to our care.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A3_khulan_am_Wasser_Abend.jpg By Kaczensky at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Who are we?

File:Mount-Yamnuska2-Szmurlo.jpg

Thursday

Psalm 8

4What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,

The psalmist stands before the majesty and wonder of the world and asks the question, “Who are we, that you should show such care for us? Who are we that you should crown us with glory? Who are we that you should entrust all this into our hands, that you should grant us the honor of exercising your care of your creation?”

The poet is exulting in the wonder of human existence. We are the ones who get to peer into the farthest reaches of the universe. We are the ones who get to climb earth’s highest mountains and plumb its greatest depths. We are the ones who get to study the mysteries of DNA and the flight of the bumblebee. We are the ones who can breed wolves into sheep dogs and retrievers and fluffy little white things to sit in our laps. We are the ones who train a grape vine to grow on a trellis and dance with the joy of wine. We are the ones to take cows milk and turn it into Gruyere and Gorgonzola. We are the ones who master fire and the atom. We paint the Sistine Chapel and the murals of Diego Rivera. We are the ones who turn mold into penicillin and learn to purify water.

Yet you have made us but a little lower than gods!

But we are not gods. If only we could get that right. We are not gods. We were given the privilege of exercising God’s care of the earth. It is ours to tend, not ours to rape and pillage. It is ours to treasure not to plunder. We were given the animals to name not to slaughter. We were given one another to love not to wound and kill.

We are privileged above all other creatures. But we lose our way when we lose wonder and praise…when we turn from the one who made us…when we forget all this is a trust…when we reach for God’s throne…when we forget who we are.

 

image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMount-Yamnuska2-Szmurlo.jpg by Chuck Szmurlo [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The LORD reigns

File:Chora Christ south coupole.jpg

Wednesday

Psalm 99

1The LORD is king;
let the peoples tremble!

I’m not sure why some translators render this line as “The LORD is king” while others as “The LORD reigns.” I do not know whether there is some evidence for that decision or it is purely a stylistic choice. The Hebrew text is pointed as a verb, though that pointing was added centuries later.

I prefer the translation “The LORD reigns.” That God is king seems like a static notion. I do not much care who sits on the throne; I care very much indeed who is doing the governing.

It is important to declare that God is king. The world’s turmoil and trouble seems rooted in the notion that we are the masters of the world – a notion that leaves many bodies in the earth and few fish in the sea. If we were mindful that God is king we might act with a little more humility, a little less warring, a little more care of the neighbor and care of the earth.

But, as I said, sitting in the White House is one thing; running the country is something else.

I need to hear that God is actually reigning. I need to hear it proclaimed to me that we are not living in a lawless and godforsaken fringe of the empire. I need the voice of God in the scriptures to declare that there is some accountability happening in this world for those who murder young girls or shoot up a holiday party. I need to be assured that the breath of God is blowing through our affairs to frustrate the plans of the wicked and stir up the compassion of the righteous.

I need the promise that God will reign in me.

I know the psalm has its origin in some great public liturgy where God is acclaimed as king in Israel. But the psalm is also now word of God. It is now not just praise but proclamation. It is a word for us that God does indeed reign.

 

Image: Chora church in Istanbul.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChora_Christ_south_coupole.jpg.  By No machine-readable author provided. Neuceu assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The end of stomping

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1985-1216-524, Paris, Wachablösung.jpgThursday

Isaiah 9:2-7

File:CaligaSeptimiusSeverusBogen2.jpg5All the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The Tanach translation of this passage begins:

Truly, all the boots put on to stamp with
And all the garments donned in infamy
Have been fed to the flames,

I love the way it subtly shifts the focus from the destruction of military gear to an end of the human propensity to stomp one another.

I find it ironic that on the night of peace that brought even the German and British armies to a temporary truce during World War I, CBS is advertising a football game as if it were some great contribution to your celebration of the holiday (remember ‘holiday’ means ‘holy day’).

The world continues to spin on its axis, the planet races around the sun, and the sun races around the galactic center – and even the galaxy itself is racing, someday to collide with its neighbor. Babies will be born (my mother is a Christmas baby and my daughter, Christmas eve). First responders will be on duty. Nurses will tend patients. And most of life will continue.

But in a world where violence is widespread and ritually enacted in combat sports, including football, some of us will gather to celebrate the child of peace and to join the angels’ song announcing “Peace on earth.”

The Christmas Eve service may bring a moment’s peace, but its true importance is in pointing towards peace, pointing towards the harmony that should be but is so seldom, pointing towards the peace that is far more than an end to the gunfire but the sharing of a table. We shouldn’t have to be reminded that peace is God’s purpose in the world, but it seems we do.

I watch football, but I am aware that it is ritual combat. Its underlying metaphor is that life is about conquest and victory. Tonight, in churches across the world, we will be reminded that life is about the ties that bind us to one another, to the creation, and to Him who is the heart of the universe. The Christ child comes to restore those ties.

 

Images:
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1985-1216-524 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
By Rabax63 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The joy of tires

Thursday

Psalm 104:24-33

File:Gombak Malaysia Tyre-repair-shop-01.jpg31May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works.

Some years ago in Michigan I came out of church on a cold and wet wintry evening and one of my tires was flat. One of the nice things about ministry among auto workers was that guys had it fixed before I got to the car. I needed new tires, they said. And one young woman said “I know a guy” and set me up to get tires cheaply.

I met the guy a few days later on a cold – and now snowing – wet winter evening at one of those storage facilities. As I drove up I began to wonder whether I was about to purchase hot tires, but he was a guy trying to start his own tire business, with a plan to get a place of his own. He had a large unit, the size of a garage with two bays, and the place was packed with tires. What I will always remember was his complete joy in automobile tires. The place was not only filled with tires to sell, but he had a private collection of tires – as one would collect shot glasses or hockey memorabilia. While his compatriot fixed my car, he gave me a quick course in tires, showing me the different types, explaining the numbers and ratings, talking about their history, it was amazing. He loved tires. He loved his work.

“May the LORD rejoice in his works.”

What an interesting prayer it is for us to ask that God would take joy in his work, for God to delight in the world he has made and his work of sustaining and renewing it.

We say people should follow their bliss, but what happens if you lose your passion? What happens if tire after tire should be defective? What happens if they lose any aesthetic quality? Consider what it would mean for the tires to pray that this guy never lose joy in his work?

God delights in the beauty and wonder of his creation. And it is easy for us to see when we are standing amidst majestic mountains or golden prairies. What happens when God stands on oil-stained beaches or blood-soaked sands?

This is an important prayer: “Do not lose your joy in us, O God.”

It should inspire us to be worthy of that joy.

Photo: © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / , via Wikimedia Commons

Blessing of the animals, 2

Wednesday

Prayer attributed to St. Francis,
from the liturgy for the Blessing of the Animals

Photo credit: dkbonde

Photo credit: dkbonde

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

The photograph yesterday was of my mother’s cute Maltese/Yorkshire mix (apparently called a ‘Morkie’). It is the most recent in a line of small fluffy dogs that have been her companion and friend in work and retirement. The history of our family could be told through our pets: the black cocker spaniel named Charlie Brown; the black cat named Nellie Grey; the stray we brought home in 3rd grade who left his paw prints in the patio concrete.  There was the escape artist dog whose name I can’t remember because his stay was so short – he climbed over a six foot fence when the path underneath was finally sealed. The yappy miniature poodle (Xanthippe, named after Socrates’ combative wife) who hid beneath the table and barked incessantly at my step-father didn’t last long either – though she went to live with my grandmother. There are tales of gerbils; the hamster who escaped and made a nest in the piano, stealing food from the bowl of nuts set out at Christmas (Mom filled out our Christmas stockings with whole walnuts, almonds and pecans); the rat who accidentally poked out his eyes; the bird I found on the roadside who recovered and flew away.

I can’t have an animal in my apartment – but I had a fish for a long while and it amazed me how quickly I started talking to “Fishy” when I came home each evening. Feeding that one little fish still gave me a sense of connection.

It is not just pets that are important to our lives; rural life reminds us of the rich complex community of animals from chickens to horses that are necessary to life. Yet even here there is a sense of relationship. I have a friend who is a large animal vet, and I have gone with him on calls and seen people’s attachments to their horses and milk cows. Part of what intuitively bothers us about “factory farms” is the sense that our relationship with animals should be personal.

We are enmeshed in a web of living creatures and, though most of us are far removed now from the farm, that sense of connection lingers in the animals we draw around us as pets, in the birds we feed in the back yard, or the wild animals that amaze us on the PBS show Nature.

The church’s annual rite of blessing of the animals on the first Sunday in October, nearest to the feast day of St. Francis on October 4, is not just about our pets. It is a reminder of the web of all life of which we are a part – our interdependence upon all things from honeybees to whales. It is a reminder of the author of life who is the source and goal of all things. It is a reminder of our calling to live as tenders of God’s garden. And it is a reminder that we, with all people, are part of that garden and tending it means caring for one another.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…