He did not despise

Friday

Psalm 22:1, 16-28

File:Peter Paul Rubens The Three Crosses.jpg24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.

There is a deep underlying tension between our human religiousness and the God of the exodus and Calvary. Our religious impulse is towards what is pure and perfect. Temples and cathedrals of every land are works of extraordinary beauty. We set rules for who is worthy to enter, who is considered pure enough, sacred enough, to come into the presence of the divine.

Every culture needs its rules of purity. They create a measure of social cohesion and identity. They define boundaries. They give a measure of order to the world.

We eat turkeys but not vultures (who feed on the dead) or eagles (who symbolize the nation). Fish eat worms. We eat fish. It is the order of things. (It is what made Chinatown so interesting to me as a child, for there were things hanging in the market windows I never saw in my town’s grocery.)

Fish are “clean” (when they have been cleaned) and worms are “dirty” and belong in the dirt. And what is true of everyday things is true especially of religious things. As children we took baths every Saturday night and wore our “Sunday best” to church.

We have an attraction, as human beings, to what is perfect and pure. An ice skater is “pure grace”. A runner “pure speed”. We exult in the “perfect game”. We are drawn to the beautiful, the pure, the innocent, the brilliant, the exceptional. We turn away from what is corrupt, ignoble, defeated. And we think the heavens must think as we think.

But what, then, shall we do with Jesus? He started so well and ended in such disgrace: bloody, broken, stripped, shamed, mocked, despised. Ugly. Unholy. Defeated. Defiled.

He doesn’t match our human religious impulse. The only way we can hold on to him is by transforming the cross into an act of heroic courage or stripping the body from the cross and focusing on resurrection – ultimate victory!

But it was the crucified who was raised. The shamed who was honored. The debased who was exalted. We see him now through the radiance of the resurrection and the glory of Easter, but on that Friday when the disciples fled, God “did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.”

Jesus embodied this truth of God. He did not despise the leper he touched and healed. He did not despise the bleeding woman who touched him through the crowd. He did not despise the despised woman at the well. He did not despise Matthew, the tax collector or Simon, the Pharisee. He did not despise the widow’s dead son. He did not despise the thief on the cross. He did not despise his disciples who denied him.

Our human religious impulse clashes with this God of slaves and the crucified. But in the day of our need, we find a life-saving mercy. He does not “despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.” He does not despise the sick or the lost. He does not despise the broken or the bitter. He does not despise the saint or the sinner.

Our hearts may be turned to love what is pure and holy, but the heart of God is turned to love us. And hopefully, we will learn to follow the command to love as he loves.

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For other reflections on the texts for this Sunday from this and previous years, follow this link Lectionary C 12, or Proper C 7

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APeter_Paul_Rubens_The_Three_Crosses.jpg  by Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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A more profound revolution

Watching for the Morning of September 13, 2015

Year B

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 19 / Lectionary 24

File:Christ Sculpture, Cambridge (7063878723).jpgWe have reached the turning point in Mark’s Gospel. Now Jesus begins to talk about his destiny in Jerusalem – to be crucified and raised.

It’s not hard to foresee that he will be crucified. He is challenging Rome’s claim to dominion over human life. He is denying that Caesar is the savior of humankind. He is announcing the dawning reign of God – and even his followers think of the kingdom of God in terms of the restoration of the Davidic monarchy and the nation’s deliverance from all foreign oppression. Rome meets all such claimants with the torture and shame of the cross.

But Jesus has a much more profound revolution in mind.

The prophet, in the reading from Isaiah on Sunday, is rejected by his community – but the LORD is the one who has given him the message to speak and will be his vindication. It is an appropriate choice for Jesus who will also be rejected by the leadership of the nation but vindicated by God.

The psalmist sings of God’s deliverance and uses words in which the Christian community finds hints of resurrection: “you have delivered my soul from death…I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Though the disciples do not yet grasp what Jesus is talking about – though they do not yet see fully – the hints of God’s remarkable work are sprinkled like Easter eggs through the Old Testament for those with eyes to see.

So we begin our Gospel reading on Sunday with the story of the blind man. Jesus heals his eyes but, when asked, he says “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” It takes a second act of healing to help him see clearly. So it is when Jesus speaks with his disciples – they can see that he is the anointed, the Christ/Messiah, but they do not yet see clearly. They do not understand the cross and resurrection.

The prophets like Elijah or John boldly challenged the evil they saw in their society, but Jesus is more than a prophet. Jesus is on a mission not to combat evil but defeat it forever.

The Prayer for September 13, 2015

Like Peter, O God,
we recognize Jesus as your anointed
but stumble over the mystery of the cross.
Grant us your Holy Spirit
that we might not seek to gain the world,
but to be found in your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 13, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a
“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard.” – The prophet is rejected by his community but it is God who has called him and will deliver him.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-9
“The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’”
– The poet praises the LORD who delivered him from death.

Second Reading: James 3:1-12
“No one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”
– The author warns the community about the power of the tongue and reminds them that we cannot bless God and curse others.

Gospel: Mark 8:22-38 (appointed: 27-38)
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” – Jesus begins to teach his followers about his destiny in Jerusalem and calls for them to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow.”

 

Image: By Steve Evans from Citizen of the World (Christ Sculpture, Cambridge  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

We will remember

Saturday

Psalm 22:25-31

File:Jesus at Sumela.jpg27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

There is a turn in this psalm, as in so many psalms of lament, when the poet moves from his despair and grief and bitter plea to exultation and joy. We are reading, Sunday, from that joy.

But those with history in the church or in scripture will recognize that this is Psalm 22. This is the psalm where the poet’s cry has spoken of being surrounded by enemies who taunt and torture him. Here we hear those fateful words “They have pierced my hands and feet” and “for my clothing they cast lots.” This is the psalm Jesus prays from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When the followers of Jesus searched the scriptures to understand what had happened to the one they confessed as the Christ, words like this must have exploded off the page with new meaning, pointing far beyond the poet’s original sorrow to the world’s ultimate sorrow.

But the psalm does not end with the suffering and gloating enemies. God did not “despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”

And in that turn from lament to praise those first believers found witness also to the resurrection. And more than the resurrection, to the ascension, to Christ “at the right hand of the Father.”

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

It is not a cry of triumph, like all the fans of a team pointing their forefingers into the air after a victory to declare they are number one. It is rather a profound confession that in the story of the crucified and risen one we will remember. We will remember who we are. We will remember the God who made us. We will remember the love that vibrates in and through and around all creation. We will remember how we have turned away from the source of life. We will remember the horrors we have done. We will see in the pierced hands of Jesus the pierced hands of all our sisters and brothers who are crucified by violence and neglect. We will remember it all: our true identity, our terrible path, and the way home.

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

We will remember and return and kneel before him who is the font of grace and life. We will worship: we will remember and sing praise, we will remember and give thanks, we will remember and adore.

And what awaits all creation is what we do on Sunday mornings when we gather to break the bread and sing the songs of joy.

 

Image: Christ Pantocrator.  Ceiling of one of the chambers of the Sumela monastery.  Photo: By Vladimer Shioshvili (Flickr: jesus) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For the whole world

Friday

1 John 1:1-2:2

File:Meister Theoderich von Prag 013.jpg2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is crucified at the hour the lambs are slaughtered for the Passover. In John’s memory – or in his theological reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ death – it is not the Passover meal when Jesus arises to wash his followers feet. It is the night before. And the day he is sacrificed, is the day the lambs are sacrificed. He dies as the lambs died, to redeem the nation from death.

Whether John’s account is memory or reflection, the power of the imagery is impossible to miss. Christ is our Passover lamb. In the imagery of the Book of Revelation, he is the lamb who was slain standing in the center of the throne.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” writes the author of 1 John. And with those simple words we are reminded of Christ our Passover Lamb whose blood marks the door and saves us from death.

But the author of 1 John writes more: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

“For the sins of the whole world.” He is the atoning sacrifice not only for the shame we bring upon God for our pedestrian selfishness – the occasional greed, thoughtlessness, selfishness, betrayal that’s so much a part of ordinary human existence – but for the great shame of fratricide that has plagued us since Cain rose up against Abel: the slaughter of other children of God in the name of God, wealth, power, ideology and simple hate, envy, and vengeance. Unspeakable crimes from every beaten woman to every segregated fountain, from every raped child to every tortured prisoner, from every neglected elder to every stolen pension, from every death camp to mass grave. Unspeakable crimes against humanity. Unspeakable crimes against the children of God.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Most of us are likely to excuse our own petty sins. We don’t imagine they need real atonement. And for those other sins we imagine there is no atonement, no way to make it right. But before us stands the cross, the nails, the scourge, the thorns, the grave. Before us stands the stone rolled away. Before us stands the risen one with wounds. And in our hands is the broken bread – the sign of his broken body. Broken for us. Broken for the world. The whole world.

Our hands should tremble as we hold it.

 

Image: Theodoric of Prague [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From darkness into light

Watching for Easter

Year B

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

HeQi_036-medium

He is Risen, He Qi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The prayers and texts for this week

Maundy Thursday:

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

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

Good Friday

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

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

Good Friday Evening Prayer – Tenebrae

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

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

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil

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

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

Easter Sunday Morning

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

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

 

 

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

Death, Resurrection

Watching for the Morning of March 22, 2015

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

File:Christ en croix cluny 2.jpg

Christ en croix, The Musee national du Moyen Age, (National Museum of the Middle Ages)

Shattered covenant, shattered world. New covenant, new world. A grain falling into the ground to die, yet bringing forth life. An exaltation upon a cross. A priest, like the cryptic figure of Melchizedek to whom Abraham gave a tithe, who is an eternal priest. A son made perfect through suffering. A priceless revelation of the heart of God come to abide in our hearts: I treasure your word in my heart.” The way and will of God written on our hearts.

The mountain range that was far off when we began this journey towards the Paschal Triduum, the three-day celebration of the cross and resurrection, draws ever nearer. The cloud and thunder at the mountain peaks echo across the plains. We hear the dramatic and transforming sounds of the coming days.

Through Jeremiah, the prophet of doom, God promises a new beginning. That covenant created at Sinai, “I will be your God and you will be my people,” has been utterly and completely shattered. It lies on the ground like the broken walls of the city, the burnt cedar beams and collapsed stone of the temple, the gold and bronze and jewels stripped and added to the royal treasury of a foreign nation. Priesthood and Kingship ended. The people have betrayed the one who was a husband to them. Irredeemably. And yet: the promise of a new creation, a new covenant, a new day.

And Jesus, by all accounts betrayed and broken, stripped and shamed, crushed and dead upon the timbers of a cross, yet exalted for all the world to see. For all the world to believe. For all to enter the world of living bread and new wine and the broken made whole and the blind now seeing. To enter the world of imperishable life.

A high priest forever, writes the author of Hebrews, the source of eternal salvation. “With my whole heart I seek you,” sings the psalm.

For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for Lent 5: Renewing the World with Justice and Mercy

 

The Prayer for March 22, 2015

In your Son, O God, we see your face,
giving yourself to bring life to the world.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, your law of justice and mercy
may be written in our hearts,
and we prove faithful to you and to all;
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 March 22, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” – In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, God promises to make a new covenant with crushed and scattered nations of Israel and Judah. Though they have betrayed and broken their covenant with God, God will start again, promising to write God’s commands on their hearts.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:9-16
“I treasure your word in my heart.” – A portion of the majestic hymn to the revelation of God’s will and way in the Torah, God’s word/law/teaching.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10
“He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”
– Jesus the faithful one has become our perfect high priest.

Gospel John 12:20-33
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” – When Greeks come to “see” Jesus (see with faith), Jesus knows that the hour is at hand for him to be exalted/lifted up on the cross. He will lay down his life like a grain of wheat – and his followers also – for the sake of a rich harvest that gathers all people into life.

 

Art: By Chatsam (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The power to heal

Friday

Numbers 21:4-9

File:Staff at Sunset.jpg

Brazen Serpent Sculpture by Giovanni Fantoni atop Mount Nebo

8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

There is no magic in the bronze serpent. No power in the image. The power is in the promise of God and their trust in that promise.

I suppose God could have said, “stand on your head and you will be healed,” and it could have functioned in the same way, as an act of trust. But that would have been more magical than looking at the bronze serpent. For the bronze serpent is an image not only of the plague, but their own bitter, poisonous words. The bronze serpent is the truth of who they have become and what has happened to them. To look on the bronze serpent is to take the first step in rehab: to admit they are powerless over their addiction. It speaks the truth about themselves.

We are vipers. We are a brood of snakes. We have become the offspring of the cursed one who turned our first parents from trusting God. And if the limp and broken body of the holy incarnation of God is not enough to convince you of this, then consider the masses of humanity that have been hacked, shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged, gassed, poisoned, irradiated and burned to a crisp in the last century – or just allowed to perish from starvation. They are all present in the body of the crucified one.

We are vipers. We are crucifiers. Healing and confession go together. There is no healing without truth.

There is no requirement that the people feel badly about their bitter words against God. Confession is not about the feelings of guilt – it is about the objective reality of guilt. This is who they are. This is what they have done. Speaking that truth opens the door for God’s healing.

But in the bronze serpent they are not only looking at the truth of their bitter tongues. They see not only the consequence of their rebellion. They see also the promise of God to forgive. God does not hold their sin against them. God wants to heal them. God wants to create faith and trust and fidelity in them.

And in us.

And so we can see why Jesus says he must be lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness. We, too, must see the fruit of our rebellion from God. We must see the truth of the violence in the heart of humankind. We must acknowledge the bitter poison on our tongues. We must recognize our distance from our true humanity. We must see the truth.

But there, in the crucified one, we see also the promise of God to heal and forgive.

There is no magic, here. The power is in that promise – and our trust in that promise.

 

By JoTB (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Taking up the cross

Wednesday

Mark 8:31-38

File:Diorama of Lunch Counter Sit-Down Protests - National Civil Rights Museum - Downtown Memphis - Tennessee - USA - 01.jpg

Diorama of Lunch Counter Sit-Down Protests – National Civil Rights Museum – Downtown Memphis – Tennessee.

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

It’s important that we understand what it means to take up the cross. Jesus is not talking here about enduring the trials and tribulations of mortal life. This is not an exhortation to endure nobly a weak heart, a rebellious daughter, or a drinking husband. Life has many crosses to bear – but these are not the one to which Jesus refers. Jesus is headed to Jerusalem. There he will encounter the entrenched power and privilege of the wealthy elite who have made their alliance with Roman imperial power. They are the movers and shakers of their time – only they were not movers and shakers but preservers and defenders of the status quo. They would say, “Preservers of the peace,” but Jesus has suggested they are preserving their privilege not the way of God, the way of justice and mercy.

An encounter with power can have only one outcome. They will do everything they can to shame and discredit and silence Jesus. Stripped naked, tortured, mocked – “Come on down if you are the Christ!” – and crushed. Powerless. Worthless. A worm not a man.

Follow the Freedom Riders and you can expect spit and violence. Follow the young people at the “Whites Only” lunch counters and you can expect hate and vitriol (see photo).  Speak up in their defense and you will incur the wrath of your neighbors. Those with any sense are silent. Those who would keep their jobs did not dare to register to vote during that Freedom Summer – or dare say that African-Americans had a right to vote.

This is what it means to bear the cross. To endure the hostility, shaming and violence of the powerful because you stand on the side of the kingdom.

The disciples are altogether unprepared to do this. Peter rebukes Jesus for trying to suggest this is what Jesus will find in Jerusalem. But Jesus knows this is no victory march into the halls of power. The way to the kingdom involves a much more traumatic convulsion, a dying and rising – even as the path of becoming a disciple involves dying and rising. Peter will betray Jesus before he becomes the Peter who feeds Jesus’ sheep, before he becomes the Peter who heals the lame man at the temple, before he becomes the Peter who would serve God rather than man, who baptizes Cornelius the Roman Centurion, who is crucified upside down in Rome because he said he was not worthy of dying as Christ did. The soldiers gladly obliged.

Letting go of life in order to find it. Letting go of the privileges of this world for the sake of the new world dawning in Jesus. Taking up the cross cast by a world that wants not to change, wants not to be born from above, wants not to die and rise. This is the awesome, terrible, holy, liberating journey of following Jesus.

 

Photo: By Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A new world in the making

Watching for the Morning of March 1, 2015

File:Three Crosses monument at sunset (8178234419).jpgThe Second Sunday of Lent

Sunday the texts point us towards Jerusalem. That is where we are headed this Lenten season, to that hill outside Jerusalem where three crosses await, and the open tomb containing none but angels. Jesus has troubling words for us about taking up the cross, about finding life in laying it down, that fidelity to the kingdom of God means we cannot avoid the hostility of the kings of this world. But they are not dark words, unless you stop listening before you hear Jesus say “and be raised.” A new world is about to be born.

It is a world where a homeless, childless couple receive the promise that they shall be the parents of many nations. It is a world where the psalmist crying out in despair at death’s door now stands and calls all people to praise God. It is a world where people of every nation are gathered to God by trust in his promise, not by birth or merit.

It is to such a world made new that we are called to show fidelity, to endure the mockery and hate of the powers that be, to take up the shame of the cross, for a new day is dawning. The tomb will be opened.

And so we are not far from the core of Lent, the season of spiritual renewal, the season when we are called to let God renew faith, renew relationships, renew families, renew communities, renew the world.

(For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran Church, and for sermons and other information on Lent, see our Lent site.)

The Prayer for March 1, 2015

In steadfast love, O God,
you bound yourself to Abraham by your promise,
and came among us bearing the cross.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and the ties that bind us to others
that, following in your footsteps,
we may prove faithful to you and to all;
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 March 1, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
“No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” – God establishes a covenant with Abram and Sarai giving them new names, Abraham and Sarah, an indicator of their new destiny.

Psalmody: Psalm 22:23-31
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.” – At the conclusion of this lament (that begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,”) the poet’s prayer for deliverance turns to praise and thanksgiving that God has not let him perish.

Second Reading: Romans 4:13-25
“The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”
– Paul argues that just as Abraham was declared righteous for his trust in God’s promise (a promise that he would become the “father of many nations”), so we (the members of those ‘many nations’) are made righteous not by the law but by trusting God’s promise.

Gospel Mark 8:31-38
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” – Jesus teaches his followers “openly” that he will be rejected in Jerusalem and killed, but Peter disavows such an idea. Jesus spurns Peter and declares that fidelity to the reign of God means his followers will share in that same shaming rejection by the governing powers: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

 

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

A beacon in the dark

Sunday Evening

2 Corinthians 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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