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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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© 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.”

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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)

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.

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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.

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Image: dkbonde

He saw two brothers casting a net into the sea

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Watching for the Morning of January 26, 2020

Year C

The Third Sunday after Epiphany:

John is arrested.  When Jesus hears, he moves from Nazareth to Capernaum.  His move ties him yet again to the prophetic word. “In the former times,” reads the text from Isaiah,

“the Lord brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”

Nazareth is in Zebulun; Capernaum in Naphtali.  These are the tribal regions that, in the time of Isaiah, first felt the tramping boots of the Assyrian army and were led away into exile beneath the smoke from the fires of war. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” writes the prophet.

Christ comes.

Then, walking along the shore, he summons four fishermen to come with him.

Demonstrations arise easily in that culture, and a complaint is strengthened by a crowd.  But Jesus isn’t on the march to redress some wrong.  Jesus is on the march to change the world.  Peter and Andrew, James and John, will still be fishermen, only now they are not hauling in nets of the captured, they are setting the world free: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”

Sunday we hear the familiar call story at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  But the story begins in Isaiah with the prophetic declaration “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  This is the season of light, of Christ made manifest to the nations.  The star and the magi linger.  So we will hear the prophet, and with the psalmist we will sing: “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” and Jesus will meet us at our nets and issue his summons to follow as God sets right the world.

And alongside this dawning light, alongside this call to join the movement, Paul will warn us about divisions and point us to the proclamation of the cross – a message that may look like foolishness but is “the power of God,” the healing of the world.

The Prayer for January 26, 2020

Gracious God,
you call us to follow your Son Jesus in lives of witness and love.
Form our hearts and minds by your Holy Spirit
that we may ever rejoice in the freedom of your grace
and be faithful in our calling as your voice and hands in the world.

The Texts for January 26, 2020

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” – In the aftermath of war, the prophet speaks to announce the dawning of a new day when “the rod of their oppressor” has been broken.

Psalmody: Psalm 27:1-6 (appointed:  Psalm 27:1, 4-9)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” – A song of confident trust in God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” –
Paul takes up the problem of a community divided into parties defined by various teachers, centering them instead in the message of the cross.

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” – Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum as a fulfillment of the Isaiah text for Sunday, then relates the summoning of Andrew, Peter, James and John.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Een_visser_uit_Konga_gereed_voor_het_uitwerpen_van_zijn_net_TMnr_60007344.jpg  Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Joseph forgave his brothers

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“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

This is the message from Sunday, February 24, 2019, based on the first reading Genesis 45:3-11, 15, (Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers) and Luke 6:27-38, the Gospel for the day when Jesus commands us to “love your enemies.” The other readings were Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 . An introduction to this Sunday and its texts is posted as An audacious and generous love.

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Because of my cough, I need to keep things short and concise this morning. This poses a challenge, since these texts are all so important.

Every time you hear someone talk about how the Old Testament is all about violence and wrath, you need to say simply: “Joseph forgave his brothers.”

The story of Joseph takes up the last fourteen chapters of the book of Genesis. This is the book that begins with the wondrous creation of all things and then tells how the harmony of God’s world was lost, how Cain killed Abel, how violence multiplied in the earth until God felt it necessary to wipe the slate clean and start again. Genesis tells us of Noah, of the tower of Babel, of the call of Abraham, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the birth of Ishmael, of the birth of Isaac and the command to offer Isaac in sacrifice.

Genesis recounts how Abraham sends a servant to search for a wife for Isaac: his beloved Rebekah. It tells of the birth of the twins, Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob stole the birthright and the blessing. Jacob had to flee from his brother’s murderous wrath and has his dream of the stairway to the heavens with angels ascending and descending. Jacob meets Rachel and negotiates seven years of labor that she might be his bride and, on the morning after his wedding, finds Leah in his bed and realizes that he, the cheater, has been cheated. He works another seven years for Rachel and cheats his father-in-law out of the best of the flocks until he has to flee, taking his wives and possessions. Jacob is caught between an angry father-in-law behind him and a murderous brother ahead of him – and then God jumps him while he is sleeping alone at the river Jabbok. They wrestle all night. Jacob wants to know God’s name and God refuses. As dawn nears, God dislocates Jacob’s hip with a touch to force Jacob to let go, but Jacob demands that God bless him. Then there is the climactic scene when his brother Esau comes galloping towards him with 400 armed men.

All of this and so much more is in Genesis – including all those “begats” – but the book still devotes a fourth of its narrative to Joseph.

The Joseph story is critically important – and it is a story that reaches its climax with an act of unmerited forgiveness. Joseph forgives the brothers who hated him and intended to kill him.

The Old Testament is not about wrath; it is about mercy. It is about a troubled and violent world that is not the world God created, but is the world God chooses to forgive, to redeem, to save, to heal.

The forgiveness of which Jesus speaks – the forgiveness that is the heart of the Old and New Testament alike – is a real forgiveness lived in a broken world. It is not carefree young people singing “All you need is love;” it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, love.

The beatitudes we heard last week, “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep,” – these are not romantic ideas; they are real world ideas. And those exclamations about what is honorable and what is shameful in God’s sight lead immediately to this one sentence: “Love your enemies.”

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call it the Golden Rule but, as I have said, it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, kind of rule.

And understand why Jesus says this:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36)

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. God is faithful to us when we are not faithful. God is generous when we are not generous. God is kind when we are not kind. God is merciful when we are not merciful.

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. And we are not talking about generalities. They tried to kill Joseph. They did kill Jesus. They showed no mercy. They showed no generosity. They stripped him and beat him and pierced his hands with spikes and his side with a spear. They mocked him as he hung there in shame. And the soldiers, after they had had their sport of dressing him up like a king and beating and spitting upon him, demanding that he prophesy – after they had done their Abu Graib cruelties, they callously ignored him on the cross and threw dice for his few meager possessions. But there were no thunderbolts from heaven, only a sad darkness. And there were no curses from the cross, only mercy and forgiveness.

God is merciful though we are not merciful. God is kind though we are not kind. God is faithful though we are not faithful. And this merciful God summons us to follow, summons us to spread wide the net that gathers all into God’s grace.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38)

Joseph forgave his brothers.

Amen

© David K Bonde, 2019. All rights reserved.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Afghan_girl_begging.jpg Evstafiev [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D

A Journey towards God

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From last Sunday

The First Sunday of Advent, 2018, Year C

The children were given binoculars on Sunday – as we look on this Sunday to the horizon of history. The theme for the day was “A Journey towards God,” and the texts for Sunday can be found with the post: “The season of hope.” These are a few passages from the day’s sermon. The full message can be found here.

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When we describe this first Sunday in Advent as being about our Journey towards God, we aren’t just talking about my individual spiritual journey, but the journey of the whole world to its re-creation.

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We are moving towards a creation made new. We are moving towards the day when the Spirit of God reigns in every heart. This means we are fundamentally and profoundly people of hope. We don’t look on the sorrows of the world around us with despair. We don’t lay our dead in the ground imagining this is the end. We don’t see the triumph of lies and deceptions and hate as the end of civilization.   It may be the end of our civilization, but it is not the end of God’s work with the world. It’s not the end of the human story.

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What is present to us in Jesus is a new birth of the world. And the followers of Jesus are the messengers of Jesus carrying that new birth to the world.

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We are not waiting with dark pleasure at the thought that the wicked are finally going to get their due. We are rejoicing in the rebirth and transformation of the world. We are sowing the seeds of mercy and light. We are living our reconciliation. We are bearing witness to the mercy of God. We are bold in the face of death, for death has lost its sting. We belong to God. The world belongs to God. And we are headed toward life. Even if it were possible for heaven and earth to pass away, says Jesus, his promise will not pass away.

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The shaking of the powers of the heavens doesn’t mean literal changes to the physical universe – the reference is to the governing powers that oppress human life. The powers that are shaken are hate and fear and racism. The powers that are shaken are tribalism, greed and falsehood. The powers that are shaken are all the tyrants that rule – because a new king is coming: one who reigns in justice and righteousness, one who fills all creation with faithfulness to God and one another, one who sets right the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2014041_465556_21255545_161244.jpg Suvendra.nath [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Serious business

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Watching for the Morning of October 21, 2018

Year B

The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 24 / Lectionary 29

“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.”

The text as appointed for Sunday doesn’t include these words, but we will read them. They are laden with the fateful truth about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Jesus leads. It is his decision, his determination to walk into the lion’s den. And those who follow are amazed and afraid – amazed at his boldness, afraid at its consequences. Afraid not just for him for them all.

Following Jesus is serious business.

So Jesus will again tell his students about his fate in Jerusalem: “they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” And they will understand none of it. James and John will make their request to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his glory – and the rest of the disciples will be outraged, presumably because they didn’t ask first. And again we will hear about living as servants in the world rather than masters, and Jesus will remind us that, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Following Jesus is serious business.

We will begin with Isaiah on Sunday, speaking of a suffering servant who “was wounded for our transgressions” with all it’s troubling implications that we are not, in fact, the noble human beings we want to believe we are, but immersed in a human community deeply flawed and turned from God and neighbor. And we will read the psalm together that speaks a promise we know cannot be true, for we are not always delivered from the snare of the fowler. And even if the psalm that once exalted Israel’s king now speaks of Jesus, we know that the angels will not bear him up lest he strike his foot against a stone. Thorns and nails await. And the mystery of God’s deliverance is much more profound than a simple protection from life’s harms.

Following Jesus is serious business.

But then, before we listen to Jesus’ fateful words, we will hear the author of Hebrews write: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

These are serious things. Eternal things. Undying. Imperishable. And perfect.

The Prayer for October 21, 2018

You are our refuge, O God,
and our holy habitation.
Grant that, dwelling in you,
our lives may honor him who gave his life as our ransom:
your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 21, 2018

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-12
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” – In the 6th century BCE, the prophet speaks of a servant of God who suffers on behalf of the people, and “by his stripes we are healed.”

Psalmody: Psalm 91 (appointed 91:9-16)
“You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
– The poet sings of God’s faithfulness.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10
“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
– Christ is our true high priest, appointed by God, who mediates our reconciliation.

Gospel: Mark 10:32-45 (appointed 10:35-45)
“Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” – James and John approach Jesus looking for positions of honor in the new administration and Jesus has to once again explain that the kingdom of God inverts the values of the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_Maesta_detail3.jpg Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons