Marching towards the new birth of the world

File:Aivazovsky - Descent of Noah from Ararat.jpg

Saturday

Matthew 16:21-28

21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

We call this a passion prediction – a prediction of his suffering and death. It doesn’t require any special divine foreknowledge. It’s reasonable to think that Jesus was astute enough to recognize that the things he was saying and doing would eventually bring him into conflict with the Judean authorities – and that the outcome of that would be his death. But Jesus adds “and on the third day be raised.”

For a long time I rather ignored this portion of the prediction. Scholarship rightly understands the Gospels as works of the church, the faith community of Jesus’ followers. Jesus didn’t write the Gospels; his followers did. But scholars tend to then make a distinction between what they think came from Jesus and what came from “the church”.

So Jesus could have foreseen his death, but who could imagine his resurrection? The first part may have belonged to Jesus, but the second part surely belongs to the early church. They are the ones who added that Jesus would be raised, because they had seen it.

It’s a reasonable thought, I guess, though it requires a certain audacity on the part of his followers to put words into the mouth of Jesus. Moderns think ancients are willing to do that (and in many cases they were), but that we wouldn’t (though we do). I am always in support of a little humility about what we are certain we “know”.

For a long time, then, I saw in this text the passion prediction and just kind of ignored the resurrection prediction. But the truth is the resurrection prediction is a key element of Jesus’ prophetic word. Indeed, the entire bulk of the Biblical prophets is to warn of pending judgment and destruction, but then to affirm grace and restoration. The Biblical story is a story of sin and redemption. The wicked world drowns at the time of Noah, but from destruction a new creation rises. Israel is condemned to wander in the wilderness but a new generation rises to enter in to the promised land. Jerusalem is destroyed, but the prophet declares that springs will flow in the desert and a highway lead the people home.

The whole Biblical story is about death and resurrection, judgment and grace, suffering and redemption. So why couldn’t Jesus have trusted that his death would lead to resurrection? His message is about the dawning of the age to come, the reign of God where lives are healed and blind eyes opened and tears wiped away. Resurrection is at the heart of this ministry. Jesus is herald of the new. The dead shall give up its prisoners. The gates guarding the realm of the dead shall not stand. Life is at hand.

So I understand the skepticism of the scholars. And it is important to resist the notion that Jesus was some kind of superman who had powers greater than the rest of us mere mortals. Jesus was fully human. This is the ancient and persistent confession of the church. But the Spirit is upon him. He trusts God fully. He knows the sacred writings intimately. He understands God is a God who delivers – even from the wrath of Jerusalem’s elite. Even from the grave.

And because God is a god who delivers – he sets his sights on Jerusalem. Courageously, faithfully, obediently, he marches towards the new birth of the world.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAivazovsky_-_Descent_of_Noah_from_Ararat.jpg Ivan Aivazovsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Of cisterns and crosses and imperishable life

File:Iran, désert - Yakhchal inside - intérieur d'une glacière - persian cooler (9246947525).jpg

Watching for the Morning of September 3, 2017

Year A

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 17 / Lectionary 22

Faithfulness, suffering, deliverance – troubling truths rattle through the texts for this Sunday. Jeremiah, who experienced great opposition, shame and humiliation for his message, cries out against God at what feels like God’s betrayal or abandonment. The poet of our psalm declares his innocence in his call for God’s deliverance. And Jesus lays out the path before him through torture and crucifixion, asserting that all who would be his followers must also take up the cross.

What does it say about us as human beings that we should be so resistant to the voice of the eternal? Why does a simple call to love God and neighbor evoke such passionate hostility from a nation’s leaders? Why do we so clutch at privilege, power or position that we would throw a prophet into the mud at the bottom of a dry cistern? Why does Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to nonviolence end with a bullet? How is it possible to wish to purge Europe of its Jewish citizens and enlist nations in the enterprise, driving the trains, guarding the gates, issuing the orders, carrying them out?

Why does the call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked evoke scorn and derision? I remember my stepfather exploding in derision and anger after I related a high school church retreat that involved a trust walk. Would I let a black panther lead me? He would lead me out into the street before a speeding car. I was a fool for imaging there was goodness in others, that they wouldn’t harm the vulnerable. Maybe I was. It’s quite clear that we as human beings have the capacity to plunder the weak. It might be hard to do face to face; but not so hard from a distance. Yet even still, consider how many men, women and children are bruised and battered by their most intimate companions.

File:Colina de las Cruces, Lituania, 2012-08-09, DD 12.JPG

So there is a cross to carry for those who would live compassion and faithfulness to neighbor. There is a scorn to endure. There are cisterns waiting. There are Golgothas. It is sweet to hear Paul say: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good,” but he doesn’t stop there.

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It is a noble life. But it is not simply a noble ideal; it is our true humanity. It is the life for which we were created and the life of the age to come. It is what Jesus means about being born from above. But there are hammers and nails waiting for those who dare to be so “weak.”

Only this is not weakness. It is courageous and difficult work to live such a life. We do so – or try to do so – because of the promise that “those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” We do so because this life is eternal. We do so because we have felt the breath of the Spirit. We do so because, on the third day, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty.

The Prayer for September 3, 2017

Gracious God,
the mystery of your redemption is revealed
in the life, death and resurrection of your Son.
Grant us the will and desire to follow where you lead
and to give our lives in the service of your perfect love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 3, 2017

First Reading: Jeremiah 15:15-21
“Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.”
– Faced with persecution and imprisonment for his prophetic word, Jeremiah cries out against God, and God answers with a promise: “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth…I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you.”

Psalmody: Psalm 26:1-8
“Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity.” – The poet prays for deliverance and declares his innocence.

Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” – Paul continues his exhortation to the community in Rome, urging them to faithfulness in their life together.

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28
“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” – Following Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed of God, Jesus begins to teach them of the destiny that awaits him in Jerusalem. His followers, too, must be prepared to take up the cross, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AIran%2C_d%C3%A9sert_-_Yakhchal_inside_-_int%C3%A9rieur_d’une_glaci%C3%A8re_-_persian_cooler_(9246947525).jpg By Jeanne Menj [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AColina_de_las_Cruces%2C_Lituania%2C_2012-08-09%2C_DD_12.JPG Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Choose your kingdom; choose your king

File:Tomato vender at the Covington Farmer's Market in Covington, LA.jpg

“You that have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55)

Watching for the Morning of August 6, 2017

Year A

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

I live in a place and time where there has always been food in the grocery store. I understand that privilege. And even in the years I lived in a place that is now referred to as an urban “food desert”, I had a car with which to reach the suburban stores where milk and meat were fresh, and bread and fruit plentiful. I understand the privilege.

I have seen parts of the world where privilege is lacking. I have sat in a board meeting discussing whether we should help a companion church body in a region of the world where, after multiple years of drought, they had no seed corn. It disturbs me still, as it disturbed me then, that there was any hesitation. (We did commit to send the funds immediately, prior to the effort to raise them.)

The scripture is full of stories about famine. Famine takes Jacob (Israel) and his family to Egypt. Drought and famine had Elijah hiding in the wilderness and taking refuge with the widow of Zarephath. Famine takes Naomi to Moab where Ruth becomes her daughter-in-law (and David’s great-grandmother). Locusts (and the subsequent famine) are the occasion for the prophet Joel’s message. Subsistence farmers lead a precarious life, especially in the years of Jesus when the burden of taxes took nearly half the crop, and the necessity of keeping seed and feed left landowners with maybe 20% for food – far less for tenant farmers.

Hunger is a constant companion for too much of the world through too much of human history. And it is those who have known the anxiety and uncertainty of daily bread who recognize the full drama and grace of that day when five loaves feed five thousand.

It is food for today. And it is the bread of tomorrow. It is bread for those who hunger and a taste of a world without hunger. It is manna in the wilderness and a foretaste of the feast to come. It is the prophetic promise made present. It is a world reordered, a world set right, a world born from above. As Mary sang, “the hungry are filled with good things.

In contrast to Herod’s banquet, where Salome will dance for strangers, where the king’s daughter is used to inflame the king’s consorts, where plots conspire and the king’s vanity and shamelessness ends with the head of John on a platter – in contrast to Herod’s banquet is the banquet of Jesus where the people are healed and fed, with an abundance left over.

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

+       +       +

Sunday we hear of the feeding of the five thousand. And the backdrop assigned for this narrative is the prophet of Isaiah 55 giving voice to God’s offer for all who are hungry to come and eat: bread freely given, wine and milk overflowing, the voice of God that is true life. And the psalm will speak of God’s gracious providing, “The LORD” who “upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down”:

15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

Sunday we will also hear Paul willing to be cursed for the sake of God’s people. And in that sentiment we recognize the spirit of the one who took the curse for our sake. The one who opened the grave. The one who poured out the Spirit. The one who brings the feast without end.

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

The Prayer for August 6, 2017

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you set a table
for all the world to come and feast.
Grant us hearts that are eager to hear your word,
share in your banquet,
and live your reign of mercy and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 6, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-5
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” – After the return from exile, the prophet calls to the community like a vendor in the marketplace, inviting them to “feast” on God’s promise that the eternal covenant once established with David is now transferred to the whole nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” – A psalm of praise and thanksgiving for God’s grace and bounty.

Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
“I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”
– Having laid out his message of God’s reconciling grace apart from the law, Paul now takes up the problem that God’s people have largely ignored the message of Christ Jesus. He begins with an expression of his great grief that Israel has not received this fruit of all their promises.

Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21
“All ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.” – Following the parables of chapter 13, Matthew tells of Herod’s banquet where all act corruptly and John is beheaded, and of Jesus’ banquet on the mountain where he has compassion for all.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATomato_vender_at_the_Covington_Farmer’s_Market_in_Covington%2C_LA.jpg By Saint Tammany [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In the breaking of the bread

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Watching for the morning of April 30, 2017

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

A resurrection appearance still dominates the readings for Sunday. This is the week we hear Luke tell us of the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

The narrative is pregnant with meaning for a community known as “the way” – literally, “the road”. The unseen Christ walks with us. Through him the scriptures are opened to us. In the broken bread we recognize him. It is the story not only of the first believers but of every generation.

Where else can we turn to make sense of this unexpected ending to the one who opened the gates for us to see and taste the kingdom? In his words the scriptures were alive. In his teaching was the Spirit of God. In his work was mercy for the margins and a daring challenge to the ruling center. In his hands crowds were fed, sinners welcomed, a new path set before us. And in that moment when the old empire should fall, he is stolen away. Where else can we turn to understand? And as we reread the ancient words they shine with a new light. The suffering servant of Isaiah. The humble king of Zechariah. The faithful one of the psalms. Suddenly the scriptures seem to explode with new insight.

And then there is the bread – the promised feast in Isaiah, the five loaves and two fish, the last supper, and now the bread and wine. All the threads of scripture, all the hope of a world made whole, weave into this moment when bread is broken like his body was broken – and shared freely as he shared himself freely for the sake of the world.

In the teaching, in the bread, they see him. They recognize his presence. They see the perfect love. They see the dawning of the promise – a world governed by this wondrous and holy Spirit.

Now the vision is complete. Christ is gone but not gone. And they race back to share the vision, to proclaim the news, to rejoice in the wonder of God.

So Sunday we will hear Peter declare the promise is for all and invite them to turn and show allegiance to this crucified one whom God has made both Lord and Messiah. And the psalmist will sing of deliverance from death and Peter writes that we “have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

The new creation is dawning. We hold the bread of the great feast in our hands.

The Prayer for April 30, 2017

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming 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 April 30, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” – a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from a threat to his life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism, here urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATand%C4%B1r_bread.jpg By jeffreyw (Mmm…pita bread Uploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

We push on

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Saturday

John 20:19-31

21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Easter drives towards Pentecost.

Christmas drives towards Easter. The wonder of the incarnation pushes towards its destiny in Jerusalem. Every step along the way, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation, the opening of blind eyes, the rejection at Nazareth, the conflict with the Pharisees, the healing of the sick, the lifting of sins, it pushes towards the cross and resurrection.

The Lord of heaven and earth has come to dwell with us. But we are not ready. We are not ready for the world to be healed. We are not ready for the reign of the Spirit. We are not ready for the triumph of mercy. We are not ready to see all people as members of our own household. We are not ready for the love that kneels to wash feet. And so the incarnation ends where it had to end: in rejection, in violence, in the cross.

But that’s not where it ends for God. The incarnation pushes towards Easter. It drives towards the empty tomb, towards the risen Christ, towards the kneeling of Thomas, towards the breaking of bread at Emmaus.

But this is not the end of the matter. The reason God came to dwell among us was to dwell among us. Our rejection of the incarnation and God’s vindication of Jesus hasn’t yet resolved the matter of God dwelling with us. And so we push on towards Pentecost. We push on towards the outpouring of the Spirit. We push on to the mission of this community who have heard the words and seen the work of God in Christ, who have seen the witness to the reign of God, who have seen the cross and the risen Lord, who have seen Christ ascend and promise to come again to dwell among us. Indeed who dwells among us now, already, by the Spirit and in the community gathered.

We push on toward Pentecost. To the breath of God roaring like a mighty wind that gives witness in every language to all the earth. To the breath of God breathed upon the student/followers that makes them bold in witness and full of grace. Stephen dies at the hands of a mob, praying for God to forgive those throwing stones. And Paul, who holds the cloaks that day while the mob works its rage, will himself be counted dead by stoning yet rise again to continue his witness that God has reconciled all things.

It is Easter, but we push on toward Pentecost. We push on towards that day when the Spirit reigns in every heart and all are gathered at God’s table. We push on toward that day when the bridegroom comes and heaven and earth are wed – when at last we are ready for God to dwell among us and the holy city stands with gates wide open, filled with never-ending light.

We push on. And Sunday, on this 8th day since the empty tomb was discovered, we hear already of Pentecost, of the breathing out of God’s breath upon us, and the sending of God’s little community to bear witness to the new creation, the forgiving of every debt and healing of every heart.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APushing_van_together.jpg By Clear Path International (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Palms and Passion

File:Assisi-frescoes-entry-into-jerusalem-pietro lorenzetti.jpg

Watching for the Morning of April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion

A noble dying, a shameful death. A royal claim upon the city, and a rejection of that claim. The cries of Hosanna are not sounds of praise, but pleas for aid and deliverance made to the passing king – but then the crowd will cry for blood. Sunday is both. Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. The festive gathering and procession to church with palm fronts waving and the fabulous hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor,” and the gut-wrenching story of a mob in the night and fleeing disciples and Rome determined to show this royal claimant the true power and might of empire.

Our Lenten season is nearing its end. And though Easter is coming, the light that shines on Easter morning shines against the dark background of the human enterprise. We are a long way, yet, from living as children of God.

But the story is not only about human violence and power; it is also about the faithfulness of God and the fidelity of Jesus. He is willing to go to his death without breaking faith in the promise of God that the Spirit of God shall prevail. The reign of God shall dawn. The human heart shall be transformed. Grace and mercy shall govern all creation. Death shall give way to life.

So Sunday is joy and pensiveness and wonder. Sunday is celebration and mystery and thankfulness. Sunday begins with palms in our hands and then brings us to the table to receive the bread – the foretaste of the feast that will come.  It is a good and proper way to prepare us for the observance of the three days that carry us from Maundy Thursday into the first light of Easter.

(I apologize to those who follow this blog regularly that, during this season of Lent, it has been somewhat erratic. I have been focused primarily on the daily devotions for Lent we publish on the church website and at our Lent site.)

The Prayer for April 9, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and Wondrous;
trusting your promise, Jesus entered Jerusalem
knowing the path that lay before him.
Grant us a share of his Spirit
and the courage to follow his way of 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 April 9, 2017

Procession with Palms Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
“The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” – Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.

Processional Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord… The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” – A song of salvation from an ancient festival in Israel as the community enters through the gates into the temple, rejoicing in God’s deliverance.

Reading from the prophets: Isaiah 53:1-6
“He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole.” – Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant who bears the sins of the people.

Passion Reading: Matthew 26:1 – 27:61
“Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” – The passion narrative according to Matthew.

Readings as appointed for Passion Sunday

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a
“I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” – One of the ‘servant songs’ from Isaiah describing a teacher who suffers, but trusts completely in God’s vindication.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:9-16
“I hear the whispering of many– terror all around!– as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.” – A cry from one who faces the threat of a violent death, yet expresses his complete trust in God. It echoes with themes of the passion.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”
– An early Christian hymn reciting the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus. It is used by Paul to remind the community of the mind of Christ and to call them to abide in his Spirit.

Gospel: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAssisi-frescoes-entry-into-jerusalem-pietro_lorenzetti.jpg By Pietro lorenzetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the most unexpected places

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Watching for the Morning of November 20, 2016

Year C

Christ the King / Reign of Christ
Proper 29 / Lectionary 34

Sunday is climax of the church year. What began twelve months ago with a look to the horizon of human history sees that horizon again on Sunday in the royal pardon of a crucified man. The one we await as Lord of All is present in the brokenness of the cross, dispensing mercy and grace. It is the oddity at the heart of Christian faith: honor hidden in shame, glory hidden in lowliness, truth hidden in rejection, triumph hidden in defeat, life hidden in death. God shows up in the most unexpected places.

The more we ponder this strange, incomprehensible truth, the more we discover its depths. The thief on the cross is not deserving of mercy, but he receives it. We want to find him meritorious for his defense of Jesus, for his allegiance, his faith and trust. But he speaks the truth when he declares that he and his compatriot are condemned justly. He is not innocent. He is not deserving. Yet he sees a man dying and glimpses a transcendent truth: this is the face of God. Not wrath. Not vengeance. Not heaven’s roar against a world become vile. But mercy, compassion, fidelity, redemption. In a world where hate seems triumphant, a man of hate pledges himself to the king of peace.

This Sunday, established in the 1920’s in response to the rise of fascism, communism and ideologies claiming our allegiance, continues to speak to a world forever caught up in the conflict of powers wreaking division and death, reminding us that our lives belong only to this king: the crucified who lives. We will hear the words of Jeremiah about the shepherds of this world who destroy and scatter the flock in their care – and the promise of a new shepherd, a new king, who will reign in faithfulness. And we will hear the psalmist sing of the one who makes wars to cease to the end of the earth. And we will hear the author of Colossians sing that we have been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of his beloved Son. And we will hear the king speak mercy to the thief, to us, to all.

It will be paradise.

The Prayer for November 20, 2016

O God who reigns as Lord of all,
creating and sustaining the universe,
and drawing all things to your eternal embrace,
pour out upon us your Holy Spirit,
that pondering the mystery of the cross and resurrection of your Son, Jesus,
we may be met by him who is our true Lord and King;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Texts for November 20, 2016

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
“Woe to the shepherds
who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” – As the nation spirals towards destruction by rebelling against Babylon, God speaks a word of judgment upon the leaders of the people and declares that he will gather his scattered people and give them a righteous king of the house of David.

Psalmody: Psalm 46
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble… He makes wars cease to the end of the earth.” – A hymn celebrating the reign of God who overcomes the chaotic forces of nature and the warring tumult of human history.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:11-20
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or power.” –
Christ is the ‘image’, the living sign and presence of God’s reign. We have been reclaimed from the death’s dominion and brought under the reign of Christ in whom and for whom all things exist.

Gospel: Luke 23:33-43
“One of the criminals
who were hanged there…said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” – Jesus crucified is degraded by the governing elite as powerless to save, but one of those crucified with him puts his faith in him.”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACristo_de_Guadix_123.JPG  By No machine-readable author provided. Aguijarroo assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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

Perfect mercy

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Once more about last Sunday

Luke 7:11-17

13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

The account just before this episode about the widow of Nain was the Centurion who showed greater faith than all in Israel, for he recognized and trusted the authority of Jesus to dispense God’s healing with a simple command. This story, where Jesus raises the son of the widow, happens without any request on her part or any show of faith. It is pure gift. Unexpected. Unearned. Unimagined. If the Centurion shows perfect faith, this shows God’s perfect compassion.

The true nature of Christianity lies here at this junction of perfect mercy and perfect faith. Where we accent the importance of faith we diminish mercy. Where we exult in God’s complete compassion we lose discipleship. Faith does not merit mercy; it is produced by God’s mercy. But mercy produces fidelity. Like the flower from the seed, like the fruit from the flower, mercy produces fidelity. And where fidelity does not flower, something is seriously wrong. Birds, maybe. Or thorns. Or footpaths and trodden seed.

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Things happen that hinder perfect mercy from bearing the fruit of perfect faith. I think of a woman I knew who loved church, hungered for church, but could not escape the shadow of a pastor who, when she was a teen, crossed boundaries that should not have been crossed. The seed was trodden underfoot. I think of families I have known who were driven to bitterness by gossip and pettiness. The seed was choked by thorns. And I think of people who were different in some way, and the congregation did not welcome them. The seed was given no place to take root.

We usually think the message of the parable of the sower and the seed is that we should be good soil. Maybe it means we shouldn’t be birds and weeds and boots.

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The injunction in the parable of the sower and the seed is not that we should be good soil. Soil is what soil is. The promise of the parable is that a great harvest comes despite all adversity, despite the church’s failings, despite the world’s allures. Though seed is plucked and stomped and strangled, there will be a harvest a hundredfold. It is a parable of perfect mercy.

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And the joy of the parable is the sower’s extravagance; he casts the seed abundantly, recklessly, daringly, wildly, confidently.

Perfect mercy.

It was this reckless, abundant mercy that made whole the life of a widow who never asked, who couldn’t have imagined the possibility of such mercy.

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She was a widow with an only begotten son. There is a story yet to come in Luke’s Gospel about an only begotten son, and a place outside the city wall, and a widowed mother left childless. That, too, is a story of perfect mercy.

And perfect faithfulness.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChristuss%C3%A4ule_8.jpg By Bischöfliche Pressestelle Hildesheim (bph) ([1]) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Seeing death and life

File:125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus.jpg

Watching for the Morning of March 13, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

The passion draws near. Next Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday and the following week are the three days of the Paschal Triduum: Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper when Jesus washed feet and broke bread and, after, was grabbed by the mob in the night; Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion; and Saturday evening, the Great Vigil of Easter when by the celebration/renewal of baptism we journey with Christ from the realm of death into the realm of life.

This Sunday the Gospel reading anticipates all that is to come when Mary anoints Jesus with oil in a prophetic anticipation of his death. The others don’t see the death coming, so they complain about the “waste” of this expensive perfume. But Jesus sees.

They are in Bethany among the sick – near to the temple but out of sight by law. They are in Bethany where Lazarus was raised. They are at Bethany where Jesus ascends. They are in the place where our need for healing is manifest – and where Christ reigns.

So on this day we hear the prophet Isaiah declare that something greater than the exodus is coming. And the psalmist sings of the wheat sown into the soil with tears and rising into abundance with joy. And Paul writes of his Judean credentials, which he willingly casts aside for the sake of gaining Christ. Like an athlete training that he or she might ascend the dais for the laurel wreath, I press on,” writes Paul, “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Enlightened

File:36e rencontres internationales de Taizé Strasbourg 31 décembre 2013 11.jpgThis week we are conclude our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He gathers me into the Body of Christand that is the subject of our daily devotions. This Sunday we will continue in the third article of the creed with the theme: “He enlightens me by his word and Spirit.”

There are many elements of the creed – and especially of the third article of the creed – that could occupy our attention. The five we chose were: Created, Redeemed, Called, Gathered, Enlightened. And on this fifth Sunday in Lent our focus is on that word ‘Enlightened’. We see the world differently in the light of Christ. We see not only conflict but peace. We see not only revenge but forgiveness. We see not only greed but a shared table. We see not only death but life. The world isn’t changed, but we are changed. By the word and Holy Spirit eyes are opened to see. Light shines in the darkness. Light shines in our hearts.

The Prayer for March 13, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you breathe upon us your Spirit
and open our minds to understand your Word.
Grant us wisdom and understanding
that we may not walk in darkness but in the light of life;
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 13, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” – Through the prophet God announces a new exodus: God will bring the people through the wilderness back from their exile in Babylon.

Psalmody: Psalm 126
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”
– Using images of death and resurrection, the poet sings of God’s wondrous deliverance and prays for God to again “restore our fortunes.”

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” –
Paul warns the Philippians about those who would compel them to keep circumcision and the Judean traditions. Though his ‘credentials’ in that tradition are impeccable, he wants only “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.”

Gospel: John 12:1-8
“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.”
– The Jerusalem council has determined to put Jesus to death. Now, as Passover approaches, Jesus has come out of hiding to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, where Mary anoints him for his burial.

Enlightened: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the theme for week 3 from the third article of the creed: Week 4: Gathered.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus.jpg  By 125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A36e_rencontres_internationales_de_Taiz%C3%A9_Strasbourg_31_d%C3%A9cembre_2013_11.jpg  By Photo Claude TRUONG-NGOC (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons