The invitation stands

File:The water transfer.jpgWatching for the Morning of July 5, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

It’s hard to get away from the language of kingship in the scriptures.  This was the governing reality of the time.  People are always under the dominion of some reigning ruler (and only very rarely a queen).  If God is to govern the world, if the Spirit is to direct every heart, if the creation redeemed shall flower, the people can only imagine it as the arrival of a just and righteous king.  It is imagery that still resonates with us, though our experience of kingship and rulers is so often bitter.  Though our rulers falter, we still imagine things could be truly good if only we had the right person to lead us.

In the grey days of Judah’s life under Persian dominion, Zechariah bears witness to the light of a new day when one shall ride up from the Jordan river valley upon a donkey like kings of old – a bringer of peace not conquest.  “His dominion shall be from sea to sea,” and “he shall command peace to the nations.”

The poet sings of a world governed by God, shaped by God’s faithfulness and compassion.  It is a world where “The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.”

The promise of the psalm echoes in the Gospel where we hear Jesus’ tender and challenging words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  He is speaking of a yoke.  It is an image of kingship, as Jeremiah spoke of Judah taking up the yoke of Babylon, submitting to its rule (a yoke they rejected, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and its holy site of encounter with the divine).  But this king is “gentle and humble in heart;” his “yoke” brings life not sucks it away.

There is some sadness and regret in Jesus’ voice; the nation has not welcomed this dawning reign of grace.  We are too full of ourselves.  But the arms remain open.  The invitation stands.

The Prayer for July 5, 2020

Gracious God,
in Christ Jesus you invite all people
into the path of your teaching and life.
By your Holy Spirit,
open our hearts and lives to your message
that, following your Son, we may find true rest for our souls.

The Texts for July 5, 2020

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – In the weary years after Babylon has fallen and Judah is but a poor backwater of the Persian empire, comes a prophetic message from the book of Zechariah promising a king who shall arrive like the kings of old and command peace to the nations,” reigning “from sea to sea.”

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-14
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” – A hymn of praise to God who reigns as earth’s just and faithful king.

Second Reading: Romans 7:21-25a (appointed: Romans 7:14-25)
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Paul uses the image of possession (compelled to act against our own will) to expound his notion that the death of Christ has freed us from our bond-service to sin and made us servants of God.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus rebukes the fickle crowd (who criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for being a libertine) and praises God for opening the eyes of the poor and marginalized to see and take up the yoke of God’s reign of grace and life.

+   +   +

Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_water_transfer.jpg
Mikhail Kapychka / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© David K Bonde, 2020

Costly love

File:San michele in foro, interno, crocifisso.JPGWatching for the Morning of June 21, 2020

Year A

The Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 7 / Lectionary 12

Jeremiah struggled with the message God gave him.  It was not well received.  The people of his village (his clan) plotted to kill him.  He was beaten and thrown in prison.  He was eventually forbidden to come into the temple square, so he dictated his message and had his scribe go read it.  When his message finally came before the king, the king casually took his knife, sliced off each portion of the scroll as it was read, and tossed it into the fire.  Jeremiah’s message that the nation should submit to Babylon was considered treason.  The pride of the nation, their conviction that God was on their side, let to their brutal destruction.  It turned out that God was on the side of justice and faithfulness.

Resistance to God’s command is costly.

In our first reading, Jeremiah complains bitterly against God for the task given to him.  But when he vows to stop speaking, “there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

The psalm, too, this Sunday will complain about the abuse the poet suffers for faithfulness to God.  It is a text John’s Gospel will use in speaking of Jesus’ destiny: “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.”

It is no small thing when Jesus tells his followers, “A disciple is not above the teacher,” for they crucified Jesus.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!”

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” says Jesus, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  He is speaking of the sword that divides, not the sword that kills.  Jesus’ message will provoke hostility.  It will reveal those who yearn for a world made whole and those who prosper from the world’s inequities.  It will expose the divide between those who would share and those who would hoard.  It will show who yearns for justice and who profits from its absence.  It will divide those who would love the neighbor and those who see the neighbor as a threat.  There are those who feel empowered when their knee is on the neck of another, and they will not react kindly to Jesus’ teaching.  Neither will those who profit secretly.

The Word of God is not angels and fluff.  It is costly love, bold sacrifice, willingness to kneel at the feet, forgive 70 times, and respond to injustice with courage (when struck down by a backhanded slap, they arise to face their dismisser again).  The deepest bonds of life will be threatened by the teaching and promise of this Jesus: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”  And we will be summoned to take up the cross.

But the words of Jesus are not just warning; there is promise: “do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  God knows even the hairs of our heads.

The mission begun so exuberantly last week, takes a dark turn.  The world doesn’t give up its greeds and injustices easily.  But God shall reign.  Life is coming.

The Prayer for June 21, 2020

Gracious God,
Your word divides as well as heals;
it closes ears as well as opens hearts.
Grant us courage to be faithful in our witness
and diligent in our service
that, with boldness and joy in your promise,
your grace and mercy may be revealed to all people;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 21, 2020

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
“O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.” – The prophet raises a lament towards God for assigning him a message of judgment and destruction that has resulted in nothing but hostility and persecution.  And when he tries to be silent, God’s message burns like a fire within him.

Psalmody: Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
“Zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – The poet cries out to God in the midst of persecution and trouble.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
“Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!”
– In the course of setting forth his message that all are justified (in a right relationship with God) by grace (God’s merciful action) through faith (trusting God’s promise), Paul anticipates the objections of his opponents that if our sin shows how great is God’s mercy, why not continue to sin? Such a notion is rejected because joined with Christ in baptism we have entered into a new reality.  We have come under Christ’s dominion, being transferred from the realm of sin and death and living now in the realm of grace and life.

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – the path of discipleship is not an easy one.  The world will resist God’s claim on life, but the followers of Jesus are sent as agents of God’s transforming justice and mercy.

+   +   +

Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_michele_in_foro,_interno,_crocifisso.JPG
I, Sailko / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

We are the sent ones

File:Woman harvesting wheat, Raisen district, Madhya Pradesh, India ggia version.jpgThe harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Matthew 9:37-38

+   +   +

Gracious God,
you bid us pray for laborers to be sent into your harvest,
to a world in need of your healing and life.
Help us to fulfill our calling as intercessors for your world
and bearers of your grace

+   +   +

A message from Sunday morning

The Second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 6, Lectionary 11, Year A

June 14, 2020

Matthew 9:35 – 10:8: Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

10:1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

+   +   +

Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

The death toll:  I have begun several times in recent weeks by referring to the current death toll from COVID-19.  It’s not news any of us can escape, but it seems important to acknowledge.  I am troubled by the attitude that seems to be emerging that there is nothing we can do; we have to just let the virus kill who it will kill and get on with our lives.  Some of this comes from a thoughtful concern over unintended consequences to sheltering in place.  Much more, I fear, comes from a false sense of helplessness, a willful denial, or a ruthless disregard of the value of human life.  I have heard people talk about “culling the herd,” as if the virus were like wolves in Yosemite chasing down the old and the weak in a herd of buffalo.

The death toll in the United States is now above 117,000.  One fourth of all the reported deaths worldwide are in the United States.  New Zealand has 22.  And yes, New Zealand is a much smaller country.  But they have had 5 deaths for every million people while we have had 357.

Australia has had 4 deaths per million people; Japan, 7; South Korea, 5.  This is not about the economy versus a shutdown.  It is about good governance and caring for your neighbor and people working together.

This is one of the moral and spiritual challenges of our time: to remember that we must care for one another; to understand that we’re connected.  What harms one harms us all, and what lifts one lifts us all.

This is why the protesters are in the streets, to challenge the attitude that some people don’t matter.

Lives that matter: Jesus spent a lot of time with people on the margins.  And his ultimate parable in Matthew’s Gospel is the one about the sheep and the goats and whether we saw and cared for those who were hungry, thirsty, sick or in prison.

All lives matter.  But when society says that black lives don’t matter, we need to say, “Yes they do.”  When society says the poor don’t matter, we have to say, “Yes they do.”  When society says those who are vulnerable to this disease don’t matter, we have to say, “Yes they do.”

We have discovered, all of a sudden, that grocery store workers are essential workers, and the people who clean hospital rooms are heroes.  We haven’t treated them that way before, and we certainly don’t pay them as heroes, but now it is clear that the least of these matter.

Wednesday will be the fifth anniversary of Dylan Roof’s attempt to start a race war by the murder of the nine members of a Bible study at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina: people who greeted him with open arms, invited him into their study, shared with him the Word.  It’s hard to comprehend the mind and soul of someone who would do such a thing, but we have watched a callous indifference over human life as a police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.  With his hand in his pocket, gazing indifferently at the crowd, he and three other officers slowly extinguished the life of a man, a father, a brother, a son, a human being conceived in the heart of God and bearing God’s image.

My father fought in World War II against an enemy that tried to fill the world with the idea that a great number of people don’t matter – not just Jews, but disabled children, gays and lesbians, political opponents, any who differed from a Germanic ideal, and those who tried to protect them.  They stole their homes, their possessions, their labor, and their last breath.  As a country we swore to fight that.  Many died in the effort.  But we have had trouble finishing the job here at home.  And terribly, some bearing the name of Christ have gotten twisted up with ideas that some people matter less.  We saw it again in our present administration when they attacked protesters in order to take a photograph in front of a church holding a Bible.  There is lots in Christian history, but nothing in Christ, that views any people as less.  Such ideas are a false and unclean spirit, an evil spirit.

Evil spirits: The spirit we saw at work in that Minneapolis police officer was an evil spirit.

This is what brings us to our text this morning.  The charge Jesus gives to his followers is to announce the dawning reign of God and “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

“Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” 

Jesus doesn’t say, “have a family, build a career, go to church, enjoy your grandchildren;” he says, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” 

Heralds of a new order: There are four things I want to say about this text.  The first is that Jesus sends his disciples to announce that the reign of God is at hand.  The Greek word that is translated here as ‘proclaim’ carries the suggestion of a herald arriving in a town with a royal proclamation.  There are stories in the scripture of runners sent from the battlefield back to the city to proclaim that the king’s forces have been victorious.  But there is more here than just the announcement of a victory.  These are the heralds who announce that a new king has come; the old empire has been overthrown.  Such heralds are sent to proclaim the rise of the new king, to announce his benefactions, and to summon the city to embrace his reign and show allegiance.

Jesus’ disciples are not sent with what we would now consider a religious message; they are sent with a message about God’s governance of human life.  It is a message that proclaims release to those who are bound, restoration to the broken, life to those who cannot breathe, the gathering of the outcast and the making whole of the human community.  The mission Christ gives is to announce a new order, a new world.

The new order ‘at hand’: The second thing to say about the text concerns this word ‘near’.  Jesus says to proclaim that “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This same Greek word for ‘coming near’ gets used by Jesus when they are in the garden of Gethsemane and Jesus wakes his disciples and saying: “Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”  Jesus doesn’t mean that Judas will be there some day.  He doesn’t mean that Judas will come in a little while.  He means he is at the gate.  The moment is now.

The kingdom of heaven is not ‘near’; the kingdom of heaven, God’s governance of the human heart, is ‘at hand’.  It’s beginning.  It’s marching up the driveway.  This is our message.

Fulfilling a promise: Third, it probably struck you as odd that Jesus said, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans.” That doesn’t sound like the universal message we expect from Jesus.  We will see Jesus welcome gentiles during his ministry.  And we will get that universal message at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus sends his followers saying, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”  But right now, at this point in Jesus’ ministry, the issue is God’s promise to Israel.  If God has not kept God’s promise to Israel, why should the rest of the world care what this God has to say?  So during Jesus’ life, the mission is first to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

About us all: Finally, it is not just the apostles to whom this word is directed.  This is about all of us.  This mission is not given to some; it is given to all.  This is not the work of priests and missionaries; it is the work of us all.  We exist as a church, and we are sent as believers, to be heralds of the news of a new governance of the world, and to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

Jesus began this section on our mission by commanding us to pray for workers to be sent into in God’s harvest.  And then he promptly sends us.  We are the answer to our prayer.  We are the commissioned ones.  We are the sent ones.  We are those sent to all nations by the risen Christ.  We are the ones sent to “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers (the outcasts), and cast out demons (false and destructive spirits).” 

Casting out demons: There are demons in the world.  There are cruel and evil spirits.  There are callous and selfish spirits.  There are hateful and deceitful spirits.  We are sent to cast them out.  Cast them out of ourselves.  Cast them out of others.  Cast them out of our communities.  Cast them out of our organizations, our churches, our nation, our world.

We are sent to cast them out – and to not leave the house empty, but to welcome the holy spirit, the sacred spirit, the spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God.

There are wounds that need healing.  There are lives that need liberating.  There are people pushed to the margins that need welcoming.  There is a new king, a new governance, a new Spirit at hand – a living and life-giving breath breathing upon the world.

And we are the sent ones.

Amen

+   +   +

© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.
Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman_harvesting_wheat,_Raisen_district,_Madhya_Pradesh,_India_ggia_version.jpg  Yann Forget / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

The call remains

File:George Floyd protests in Washington DC. H St. Lafayette Square on 30 May 2020 - RP1 3245.jpgWatching for the Morning of June 14, 2020

Year A

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

With Pentecost behind us we return to the Gospel of Matthew.  Before Lent began, we were listening to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ teaching about the nature of God’s kingdom/way – the new world dawning where the Spirit governs every heart, the world of faithfulness and compassion rather than purity and exclusion.  Now we hear Jesus embodying this world of God’s governance and sending out his followers to do the same.

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

The world has changed since the beginning of Lent.  We observed Ash Wednesday on February 28 before we were ordered to shelter in place, before 115,000 had died here and 404,000 worldwide, before a callous policeman snuffed the life from George Floyd and the Attorney General sent troops with tear gas and weapons to clear peaceful protestors so our president could parade past armed forces to have his picture taken holding a Bible.

The world has changed since the beginning of Lent, but its need for the reign of grace remains.  There are terrible spirits to be cast out.  There are lives and communities in need of healing.  There are outcasts to be gathered in, the unclean to be welcomed.  The sick need care.  The dead need resurrection.

Sunday we will hear the people who have been led out from bondage and through the sea and gathered at the holy mountain declare: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.”  It will be bittersweet, because we know their aspiration to live God’s mercy and justice will not endure.  But the call remains.

The psalm will remind us of God’s faithfulness, and of our own calling, declaring “we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Paul will speak of the majesty of God’s mercy, saying “while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  For us.  For all of us.  For those who die alone in intensive care, for those who break windows and burn, for those who beat heads and push old men to the ground, for those who thrill at the assault of the defenseless and those who thrill at destruction.  All of us, those who hold bibles like trophies and those who weep at the sight.  All of us.  Like sheep without a shepherd.  But the true shepherd has come and is sending his people into this wounded world to bear witness to a world made whole and to live that healing.

The Prayer for June 14, 2020

Gracious God,
you bid us pray for laborers to be sent into your harvest,
to a world in need of your healing and life.
Help us to fulfill our calling as intercessors for your world
and bearers of your grace.

The Texts for June 14, 2020

First Reading: Exodus 19:1-8a  (appointed: 2-8a)
“If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” – Brought out of Egypt and assembled now before God at Mt. Sinai, the people hear and accept God’s covenant: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.”

Psalmody: Psalm 100
“Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his.” – A hymn of praise as the community enters into the temple courts and are summoned to acknowledge and serve God.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” –
having established that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God justifies all by faith – by their trust in God’s promise – Paul declares that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8 [9-23]
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – The twelve are appointed for the first mission: to be heralds of the dawning reign of God in the towns and villages of Israel.  “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

+   +   +

Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Floyd_protests_in_Washington_DC._H_St._Lafayette_Square_on_30_May_2020_-_RP1_3245.jpg Rosa Pineda / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Don’t lose your way

File:Shirakimine Highland - panoramio.jpg“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me
will also do the works that I do.”
John 14:12

+   +   +

Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way; keep us in your truth; enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us.

+   +   +

A message from Sunday morning

The Fifth Sunday of Easter, year A

May 10, 2020

Acts 7:54-60: When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55 But, filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. (NRSV)

John 14:1-14: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (NRSV)

1 Peter 2:1-2, 4-5, 9-10: Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
…..10Once you were not a people,
……….but now you are God’s people;
…..once you had not received mercy,
…..…..but now you have received mercy. (NRSV)

+   +   +

Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

There is a troubling and tragic line in our first reading this morning.  But before I go there, I want to acknowledge that the current death toll in the U.S. on Saturday evening was 79,696.  Twelve thousand more have died since last Sunday.

I trust you have seen the information that those who are dying are disproportionally older, poorer, and non-white.  The numbers in nursing homes and prisons – both workers and residents – are distressingly high.  These are people our society tends to regard as less important than others.  The White House has a rigorous testing procedure and is now testing daily, but the White House Press secretary said this week that, for the rest of us, testing was unimportant.

This is one of our deep and troubling sins as a nation: we think some people matter more than others.  I don’t need to go through all the familiar inequalities in our country.  And maybe it’s something endemic in the human heart that I matter more than you, and my family matters more than yours, but the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

I want to say that again: the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

I don’t know whether our president is undermining the rule of law in our country or simply nakedly profiting from the truth that our system has always been tilted towards some and away from others.  Too often, whether in law or the economy or in health care we seem to regard some as if they don’t really matter.  That’s why two white men can shoot down a young African-American jogging through their neighborhood, and no one asks any real questions for two and a half months.  It’s why Trayvon Martin is dead for being black and wearing a hoodie.  It’s why Sandra Bland is dead in prison for failing to signal a lane change.  It’s why Stanford student Brock Turner served only three months in county jail and went home to his parents in Ohio.  It’s why Jeffrey Epstein bought his way out of prison for so long and why O. J. Simpson got to go home after killing Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

We can go on.  The story is long.  It’s why J. Edgar Hoover ordered the surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and listed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a black nationalist hate group.  It’s why Native American lands were stolen and its people sent to reservations.  It’s why Angel Island was used to quarantine and interrogate Chinese immigrants in order to refuse them admission.  It’s why Japanese citizens were sent to internment camps during World War II.  It’s why our president called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers and opposes medical care for all citizens.

Some people matter more than others.  It’s not slavery, alone, that is our nation’s original sin; it is the belief that some matter more than others.  Some are not really people.  So our president calls neo-Nazis and gun-toting protesters with swastikas “good people” and Democrats and news reporters “human scum”.  It’s why Sara Palin said only some Americans are “real Americans.”

Some people matter more.  Others matter less.  It’s why we can tolerate hunger in America, why we can tolerate poverty, why we can tolerate hate, and why so many seem so willing to tolerate death by COVID-19.

On the one hand, we have vast numbers of people in this country risking their lives to protect others – doctors, nurses, health professionals, and all the support staff – fighting to keep people alive, or struggling to connect the dying with their loved ones – and yet our leaders dismiss leading health experts because they disagree with the president or say something truthful that embarrasses or contradicts him.

How can the president’s feelings matter more than the lives of our fellow citizens?  And how can my desire to get a haircut or go surfing matter more than the lives of my neighbors?

When Scripture talks about the judgment of God, it almost always speaks of God’s judgment on the nation.  God allows our sins to come back on our own heads.  But because such judgment is corporate, falling on the whole community, the consequences don’t fall on those who are most responsible; it falls on those who are most vulnerable.

During the terrible drought at the time of Elijah, the widow of Zarephath is perishing for want of food, while the king worries about his horses.

It is the most vulnerable who suffer.  And suffering came to Israel because the core values of the society had gotten twisted.  The prophets rail against idolatry not because God is concerned with correct worship, but because the values embodied by the idols are contrary to the commands and instruction of God.

God’s vision of a just society is overthrown when people’s fundamental allegiance is to wealth and power, when the king is above the law, when profit matters more than human life, when we close our eyes and ears to the well-being of others.  So I will say again: the attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.

The troubling and tragic line in our first reading this morning is this: they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.”

The event being described by Luke is the martyrdom of Stephen.  The followers of Jesus in Jerusalem are portrayed to us by Luke as a single community united in the apostolic teaching and mutual care.  But there are signs in the narrative that divisions existed.  The biggest challenge was the language and cultural divide between those residents of Jerusalem who had roots across the empire but had come to live in Jerusalem, and those who we might think of as more “native born”.

The language of those from other parts of the empire was Greek.  The language of those from the region was Aramaic.  And with those different languages were different cultural values.  For example, the Aramaic speaking Judeans were more likely to retain the ancient traditions about food.  And this soon become a problem: How do you share table fellowship around communion if some are keeping kosher and others are not?

We know, also, that there were concerns about the way food was shared in the community.  In the sixth chapter of Acts, the Greek speaking Judeans complain that their widows were not being treated equally with others.  In Luke’s account, this leads to the appointment of seven deacons, all of whom have Greek names.  It’s clear that these seven were not just those who help with the distribution of food; they were the leaders of the Greek speaking believers.  And when trouble arises and Stephen is killed by an angry mob, it is only the Greek speaking believers who are persecuted and driven from Jerusalem.  It was these Greek speaking believers who would go on to welcome Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and Gentiles into the body of Christ.  It was these Greek speaking believers who sent Paul and Barnabas on their mission to spread the Gospel throughout the empire.  It was these Greek speaking Christians who made Christianity a world religion with doors open to all and not a tight-knit little club in Jerusalem.

The tragic line is that the crowd who heard Stephen speak covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.”

We live in a time when too many people close their ears and shout.  And too often it leads to violence.  When we are unable to hear, when we are unwilling to listen, when we shut our minds, closed hearts follow right behind.  Then the love of God is lost.  Then anger turns to hate, and hate turns to violence.  (They dragged Stephen “out of the city and began to stone him.” – Acts 7:58)

The attitude that some are less is inconsistent with biblical faith.  So are closed minds and closed hearts.  The Christ before us has arms wide open.  He bids us live with hearts open, with minds open, with arms open.

I don’t have time to talk about the second reading this morning, but I would just remind you of its opening words: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.” (2 Peter 2:1-2).  When 2 Peter reminds us that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,” he makes clear that we are not chosen for privilege, but for God’s mission in the world: “that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (2:9)

The Gospel reading this morning begins with the familiar words:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

The words are familiar to us from many funerals where they can come as a sweet word of comfort in distressing times.  But there is something more than a sweet word of comfort here.  It is a call to remain faithful.

The word translated ‘hearts’ is actually in the singular.  It is not spoken to us as individuals; it is spoken to the community of Jesus’ followers.  It’s not about my personal distress, but our shared distress.

When we hear these words, it is the Last Supper.  Jesus has just informed his followers that Judas will betray him and Peter will disavow him.  These are stunning allegations, full of foreboding.  And Jesus has dropped these two bombshells on top of the radical act of washing their feet like the lowliest of slaves, and saying that his body will be broken like the bread (although, John’s Gospel does not include those words).

It is to a community at risk of coming apart that Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  It is to a community at risk of losing its identity as a community bound to Jesus and one another that Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  And the word ‘troubled’ here is used of water that is stirred up, or emotions that are overflowing.

Jesus needs his followers to remain faithful to God and himself.  Troubled times are about to crash over them, and Jesus wants them to remain faithful to himself and one another.  He has just given them the commandment to love one another and the example of bending to wash feet.  He is reminding them of who they are, and what they are to each other.

When Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” he is using a many-layered metaphor with allusions to the temple as the house of God, and to the grand estates of the time that could provide for very large households.  But the key word is ‘dwelling places.’  The Greek is from the word ‘to abide’ that has been used again and again in John’s Gospel to talk about the relationship of abiding in God and God abiding in us.

Jesus isn’t talking about what we typically think of as heaven.  Jesus isn’t setting out to make up the beds and put out the towels for all his guests.  Jesus is opening the way that we might dwell in God and God in us.

The way of the cross that Jesus is traveling will draw them into God’s presence like a branch to the vine.  It will connect them to God and one another and fill them with God’s spirit.  The Life of God will pulse through them bearing rich and abundant fruit.  The work of God in healing and reconciling the world will be at work in them and through them.

Jesus is saying, “Don’t lose your way.  Don’t be overcome with fear or confusion.  Continue to show allegiance to God and my teaching.  I am the way to the heart of God.  I am the truth of the heart of God.  I am the imperishable life at the heart of God.”

What seems like disaster is upon his followers, but Christ will come and stand in their midst and breathe his Spirit upon them, and we will be the living presence of Christ in the world.  We will be the open arms of Jesus that treasure every person.

There is a sweet and precious promise in this passage.  But there is so much more.  Christ dwells in us, in the community of Jesus’ followers, and through us Christ is present to the world.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not lose your way.  Remain faithful to God.  Remain faithful to me.  I am going to the Father, but I will come and abide in you and you in me.”

Amen

+   +   +

© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shirakimine_Highland_-_panoramio.jpg   oaaioai on Panoramio / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

I am the way

File:Campion Hall Jesus.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 10, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 14:1

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Our hearts are troubled.  They are troubled by the fear of Covid-19.  They are troubled by the tears of those who have lost loved ones.  They are troubled by the cries of frustration from nurses and doctors.  They are troubled by the lies and incompetence of our leaders.  They are troubled by the injustices that weave through our land.  They are troubled by those who talk about freedom as the privilege to do as they please not the responsibility to do as they ought.  They are troubled that love of self seems to trump love of neighbor.

Our hearts are troubled.  And the words of Jesus seem weak to the task.  Should there not be prophetic outrage?  Should we not hear Jeremiah shouting: “They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds”! (14:14). Should we not tremble before the voice of God declaring “I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” (13:9)

Our hearts are troubled.  And what will the texts this Sunday speak?  Will we hear Stephen pray for his murderers as Jesus did?  Will we understand that Christ in us is to be Christ for the world?  Will we hear Peter say, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,” and take up the mantle as those who bear Christ to the world?  Will we hear the poet speak the words that Jesus recited upon the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” and entrust ourselves so fully into the hands of God?

Will we understand what Jesus means when he says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”?  Will we hear a triumphalist song of the superiority of our ‘team’ or the summons to walk the path Jesus walked?  Will we recognize that the way, the truth, and the life – the living face of God – is shown in the outstretched arms that bore the sins of the world and prayed that God would yet forgive a world so inured to the suffering and dying of others?  We are not gaining a privilege, but shouldering a cross.

Our hearts are troubled.  And maybe this is something we share with the disciples who sense something terrible is afoot with Jesus.  Some spectre haunts their night when Jesus will be betrayed and handed over.

Nothing is as it should be in this night.  But we are given words of assurance.  God is working in ways hidden but sure.  And we have work to do, a priestly people not called to privilege but sent as servants of our foot-washing, suffering, redeeming, teacher and Lord.

The Prayer for May 10, 2020

Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way;
keep us in your truth;
enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for May 10, 2020

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” – Stephen becomes a victim of communal violence for his preaching and teaching about Jesus, and in his dying embodies the faith and love Jesus modeled.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:1-5
“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” – A prayer of lament.  The trust in God embodied in the psalm is reflected in Stephen and quoted by Jesus on the cross.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –
Expounding on baptism, the author urges the believers to “grow into salvation” as living stones in a “spiritual house” (a spiritual temple).

Gospel: John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” – Jesus makes provision for his followers in lieu of his impending death, urging them to remain faithful and assuring them that God’s resources are more than adequate to provide all their needs.

+   +   +

Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Campion_Hall_Jesus.jpg Gownley at English Wikipedia / Public domain

We will go with him

 

Watching for the Morning of February 23, 2020

Year A

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Sunday is the last of the Alleluias.  By tradition, they are omitted during Lent; we do not sing them again until the cry goes out: “Christ is risen!” and the darkness turns to light in that night that dawns into Easter morning.

Sunday we are on the mountain peak.  The cloud of God’s presence surrounds Jesus and he is made radiant by God’s glory.  It is a vision that confirms the word spoken at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.”  It is a vindication of all that Jesus has said and will yet say.  “Listen to him,” the heavenly voice says.  Listen to him.  Dare to hear what he says about the cross and resurrection.  Dare to follow him to Jerusalem.  Dare to see the arms stretched wide and the blood outpoured.  Dare to trust the word of the women who will see the vision of angels and the empty tomb.  Dare to trust and live the redemption of the world that happens here where shame is suffered and mercy given.  Listen to him.

Sunday we are made ready for our Lenten journey.  In our first reading we are reminded of Moses ascending into the cloud of God’s presence at Sinai.  In the psalm, we hear the divine voice say of the king “You are my son; today I have begotten you,” words that gain their fullest meaning as they are spoken of the lamb who shall reign over a world made new.  We hear the author of 2 Peter testify to their vision: “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”  And we will hear Matthew’s account of that moment, and how Jesus came and touched Peter, James, and John, telling them not to be afraid.

There is a path ahead that is full of wonder and mystery that Jesus’ followers will not fully understand until the Spirit beats in every heart.  But we are made ready for the journey.  This is God’s beloved.  And we will go with him from death into life.

The Prayer for February 23, 2020

Holy and Wondrous God,
hidden in mystery yet revealed in your Son, Jesus,
of whom the law and prophets bear witness
and upon whom your splendor shines:
Help us to hear his voice
and see your glory in his outstretched arms;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for February 23, 2020

First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’” – God speaks to Moses from the cloud on Mt. Sinai.  Both the cloud as a symbol of God’s presence and the tradition that Moses’ face shone from speaking to God face to face lie in the background of today’s Gospel narrative of the transfiguration of Jesus.

Psalmody: Psalm 2
“Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” – A royal psalm that contains a declaration by God to the king “You are my son; today I have begotten you” similar to that spoken by God to Jesus in the story of the transfiguration.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21
“He received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
– The author of 2 Peter alludes to the events on the Mount of the Transfiguration.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
“He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” – After Peter has confessed Jesus as the Christ only to be told that the Messiah must suffer and be killed, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain where they have a visionary experience of Jesus transfigured by the radiant presence of God.

+   +   +

Image: dkbonde

My Father is still working

File:Cornus florida 02 by Line1.jpgA reflection on John 5:1-9 and Revelation 21:9-10, 22-22:5 (the texts for Easter 6 C) on the occasion of my grandson’s first Sunday in worship and the first step towards his baptism.

There are a couple things I need to say about our texts before I share with you what I have written for this morning.  This passage from John is an amazing narrative.  The man has suffered for 38 years.  When asked whether he wishes to be made whole, he answers by saying he has no one to help him into the water.  The legend held that an angel would occasionally descend and stir the water and the first person into the pool would be healed.  But this man has no one.  His answer expresses brokenness and despair.  He has no hope of healing.  He has no community, no family, no friends, no one to care for him – until Jesus finds him.  And Jesus does find him. 

The leadership of the nation responds to this wondrous healing by criticizing the man for carrying his mat on the Sabbath.  We didn’t read this part.  We should have, but that would have required us to read the whole chapter.  But it is important to note this because religious people are often this way.  We respond to God’s wondrous work with nitpicking and legalism.  He’s not supposed to work on the Sabbath and carrying your mat is defined as work.

The conflict over the Sabbath is the central element of this narrative.  When Jesus, himself, is criticized for working on the Sabbath, he answers by saying, among other things, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”  The leadership of the nation imagined God’s work of creating was over.  God had created for six days and now God was ‘resting’.  But Jesus declares that God is still at work.  God is still creating — and God’s work is a work of healing.  God is working to make us whole.  God is working to make the world whole.

Sometimes it needs to be said that God is still at work.

Our second reading was the vision of the New Jerusalem given to John of Patmos.  It is a vision of the world made healed and restored.  At the time John writes, the earthly city has been destroyed by rebellion and war.  Rome has crushed it.  But at the consummation of human history, in that day when all human rebellion is overcome and all things are made new, in that day the heavenly counterpart of the earthly city descends to earth.  And though we don’t get the measurements of the city in our portion of the reading, the city is a giant cube some 1,200 to 1,500 miles across and high. The reason it measures as a perfect cube is that the holy of holies inside the temple, where God was present, was a perfect cube.  The world is now the holy of holies where God dwells.  The consummation of human history is God coming to dwell with us.

Sometimes it needs to be said that God is still at work – and that God’s purpose is to dwell in our midst.

*   *   *

As you know, my daughter and her husband are here this morning and we are doing a rite of blessing in anticipation of a baptism that will happen later where they live.

There are things I want to tell Finn, but he is not ready to hear them.  I want to tell him about the beauty and grandeur of the world around us.  I want to tell him about the Grand Canyon and the waterfalls at Yosemite in springtime.  I want to take him to the Monterey Aquarium and talk about the mysteries of the deep.  I want him to gaze into the wonder of those tiny flowers in the grass outside and the supple lines and color of a rose.  I want him to watch with wonder the flight of a swallow and the migration of the monarchs and to hear crickets in the evening.  I want him to see how seed turns to sapling turns to towering tree.  I want him to walk among redwoods and see dogwoods in the spring. 

I want him to know the beauty of the world.  I want him to know its goodness before he learns its sorrows.  I want him to play in a soft summer rain before he feels the power of a storm.  I want him to see the wonder of a bird’s nest before he learns that other animals would prey on the babies.  I want him to delight in bunnies in the yard before he worries about hawks overhead.  I want him to know human kindness before he learns of human cruelty.

I want to tell Finn this story we have received of a world conceived in love, of a creation called into being by a divine Word and that God saw and declared all things good and noble and beautiful.  I want to tell him this story that he is made of the dust of the earth and the breath of God.  I want him to know that he was made to live in God’s presence and tend God’s garden – that he was made to live in harmony with all things.

I want Finn to know the goodness before he learns what happened in that garden, how humanity broke faith with God and broke the ties that bind all things together. 

I want Finn to know the beauty of the earth before he tastes its tears.  I want him to know the goodness of family before he learns about Cain and Abel and the bitter envy that tears the human family apart.

And I want Finn to hear the voice of God speaking to Cain, telling him that we can choose kindness and faithfulness.  I want him to know we can choose to listen to the breath of God rather than the murmurings of bitterness and revenge.

There are so many things I want to tell Finn.  I want to tell him of Abraham’s courage in trusting God’s promise, of Isaac’s love for Rebekah, of Jacob the cheat burning all his bridges and wrestling with God at the river Jabbok.  I want to tell him of Joseph who forgave his brothers and Moses who stood before the burning bush.  I want to tell him about Pharaoh’s hardness of heart and God’s determination to bring freedom to both the oppressors and the oppressed.  I want to tell him about Sinai and the wilderness and the radical notion that God is a god who travels with us, that God is not a god of rock and stream but a God of love and mercy.  

I want to tell him of the prophets.  I want to tell him of the psalms of joy and the cries of lament.  I want to tell him of the faithfulness of Ruth and the courage of Esther.  I want to tell him about the gifts and call of God.  And I want to tell him about the child of Nazareth, the song of the angels and the message given to shepherds.  I want to tell him about the boy Jesus in the temple and the grown man at the Jordan.  I want to tell him about the words he spoke and the things he did.  I want to tell him about Zacchaeus in the tree and the woman at the well and the banquet in the wilderness that fed five thousand families with twelve baskets left over.

I want to tell him about the empty tomb and the gift of the spirit and the dawn of God’s new creation in the world and in us.  

I want him to know about the women at the tomb and Mary, the first witness.  I want him to know about the boldness of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch and Peter trusting the voice of heaven and baptizing a Roman centurion and family.  I want Finn to know of Lydia and the Philippian jailor bending to wash feet.  I want Finn to know the healing of the world is at hand.

I want to tell Finn about the courage and faithfulness of Perpetua and her companion, Felicity, who were martyred in the arena, and how she guided the executioner’s hand when he faltered.  I want to tell him about Francis of Assisi and Katy Luther and how Bach wrote “Soli Deo Gloria” – wholly to the Glory of God – on all his music.  I want to tell him of all the courageous men and women of faith and this wondrous mystery of the church gathered from every nation on earth to bear witness to the grace and mercy of God.

And I want to tell him about the promise of his baptism and the promise of the table.

I want to know that there is mercy in our sorrows and strength in our challenges and hope, always hope, for the grave is empty and the arms of God are open to us and to all.

I want Finn to know all this.  Even more, I want his parents to tell him these stories.  And I want all of us to tell him these stories.  I want the community of God’s people to uphold him in his journey and to uphold one another as we try to live Christ for the world.  I want us to sing and to pray and to labor side by side in hope and faithfulness, 

I want Finn to hear with us and understand with us this story of Christ and the man at the pool of Beth-zatha.  I want him to know Christ as healer and to know that this is the work of God.  I want him to know the power and promise of Jesus’ statement: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 

And I want Finn to hear and understand with all of us the power of this vision of the New Jerusalem, a city without fear, a city whose gates never close, a realm that gathers all that is good and noble of every culture and people, a city shaped like the most holy place – a world that has become the dwelling place of God.

Amen

+   +   +

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cornus_florida_02_by_Line1.jpg Liné1 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D

When all seems lost

File:Two-tailed pasha (Charaxes jasius jasius) Greece.jpgWatching for the Morning of May 5, 2019

Year C

The Third Sunday of Easter

“Children, you have no fish, have you?” It is a haunting question. A night of labor has resulted in nothing. And this strange figure on the shore in the dim light of dawn knows it.

The writer of this Gospel doesn’t tell the story of Jesus encountering Peter by the sea at the beginning of his ministry where they leave their boats and embark on a new life as those who work to gather the human community into the nets of God’s mercy. And we do not know whether our Gospel writer has transformed that story into a resurrection appearance or the risen Jesus came to meet Peter once again at the sea, repeating the summons that first changed Peter’s life – though there is a great spiritual truth in the latter.

There is a profound element of new beginnings in this narrative. Three times Peter had denied Jesus. Now he is presented with the opportunity to give a new answer to the threefold question whether he belongs to Jesus.

The texts this Sunday are rife with new beginnings. Saul is given a new beginning in his encounter with the risen Jesus. He has tried to purge Israel from this dangerous heresy that Jesus was raised and here he is with eyes opened and a new beginning to his life. The psalmist sings of a new beginning, having been delivered from a deadly disease. And the hosts of heaven singing the praise of the lamb who was slain yet lives anticipates the rebirth of the world.

It is a theme deep in the biblical narrative as a whole – when hope is lost, new life is given. God calls the world into being from its primal chaos, rescues it in the days of Noah when there is nothing but violence, gives to Abraham a promise of land and descendants when he and Sarah are homeless and barren, calls Moses to lead Israel out from bondage when the imperial power has turned against them – and when they are trapped by the sea, God opens a way, swallowing up the might of Egypt behind them. From death into life, from judgment into grace, from sorrow into joy, God gives a new beginning to us and to all creation.

When the story seems over, there is Jesus on the shore summoning us to cast wide the net of mercy, dine at his table, and tend the flock of all God’s children.

The Prayer for May 5, 2019

Gracious God,
through the resurrection of Jesus
you have turned all human mourning into dancing.
As he appeared to his followers by the seashore,
nourished them at his table,
and sent them out into the world,
so come to us that, fed by your mercy,
we too may carry your bread of life to the world.

The Texts for May 5, 2019

First Reading: Acts 9:1-20 (appointed: 1-6 [7-20])
“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” – Saul (Paul) is blinded when the risen Christ encounters him on the road to Damascus and Ananias, responding to God’s call, goes to heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 30
“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” – With words that echo the resurrection, the poet sings of God’s deliverance from an unexpected affliction.

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
– The prophet sees the heavenly hosts around the throne of God singing praise to the Lamb who stands upon the throne.

Gospel: John 21:1-19
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” – In an addendum to John’s Gospel, The risen Jesus appears to his followers at the sea of Galilee and gives Peter the opportunity to turn his threefold denial into a threefold affirmation of allegiance to Jesus, conveying to him the leadership of the nascent Christian community.

+   +   +

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Two-tailed_pasha_(Charaxes_jasius_jasius)_Greece.jpg Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

And us? What should we do?

File:Humanitarian aid OCPA-2005-10-28-090517a.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 9, 2018

Year C

The Second Sunday of Advent

Sunday we combine the assigned Gospel texts for the next two weeks because of the children’s Christmas program on the 16th. This gives us the chance to hear Luke’s account of the ministry of John the Baptizer in a single reading: The word of God comes into the brutal world of Rome and its client kings, announcing God’s righting of the world and the coming of the one who will wash the world in a holy Spirit. And what does it mean to prepare for this wondrous act of God? It is to bear fruit befitting God’s reign: to share your bread with the hungry and your clothes with the naked, to show faithfulness to others rather than plundering them to your benefit.

The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor.

The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.

So there are warnings on Sunday, the ax poised to strike the fruitless tree, and the winnowing fork sifting the chaff for the fire; heritage doesn’t count for anything, only fidelity. But there is also promise of a dawning salvation: a world set right and a human community awash in the Spirit. It is time, says John, to take sides. Choose the one to whom you will show allegiance: the world of rulers and empire, or the reign of grace.

Sunday we will hear the prophet Malachi speak of God’s messenger who prepares the way for God to come to his temple. His task is to purify the priestly clan of Levi, that their offerings may please rather than offend God. And in this warning of a refiner’s fire we will recognize that it is not only the preachers and priests who must have the dross burned away, but a people who must become faithful.

In the shadow of that warning we will sing the prophetic song of Zechariah that rejoices in God’s favor and the fulfillment of God’s promises, describing the mission of his son, John, to “Go before the Lord to prepare his way.” There are barriers of heart and mind that must be torn down. There are hearts that must be changed, relationships to be reconciled, wounds to be healed, love to be lived.

And we will hear Paul exhort his beloved congregation to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” in the promise that “it is God who is at work in you.”

It is a season of hope, but also a season for living the kingdom.

The Prayer for December 9, 2018

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Lead us in the way of your kingdom
that we may walk in paths of faith, hope and love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 9, 2018

First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
“I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.”
– The prophet known as Malachi spoke to a people who complained of God’s absence, but neglected their offerings and worship of God. He declares that God will come to this people, but warns he will come as a purifying fire.

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” – On this Sunday when we hear of the ministry of John the Baptist, we sing the song known as the Benedictus (from its first words in Latin). This prophecy is sung by Zechariah when he regains his voice after following the divine command to name his son John. He glorifies God for God’s work of deliverance and declares that John “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:12-16 (appointed: Philippians 1:3-11)
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” –Paul writes from prison, urging his beloved congregation to faithfulness in their life together. (Our congregation read Philippians 1:3-11 last week.)

Gospel: Luke 3:1-18 (appointed: Luke 3:1-6)
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” – We combine the Gospel readings for 2 and 3 Advent this Sunday where John is located in the midst of the ruling powers but speaks of the ruler to come – and calls the community to a life in keeping with the dawning reign of God.

+   +   +

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Humanitarian_aid_OCPA-2005-10-28-090517a.jpg Technical Sergeant Mike Buytas of the United States Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons