Like showers watering the earth

File:08152 Bukowsko (powiat sanocki).jpgWatching for the Morning of January 6, 2019

The Epiphany of Our Lord

6He will be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.

We will read Psalm 72 on Sunday from the old 1984 translation of the New International Version because that version presents the psalm as promise rather than wish. The current NIV reads “May he be like rain falling on a mown field,” and the New Revised Standard Version reads similarly. ‘May’ is too soft a verb. It robs the prayer of passion. In our time, in our conflicted politics, it sounds more like a sigh than a song.

I understand the translators’ choice. But the text is not just a relic of an ancient coronation rite; it is now deep in the canon of scripture. It now bears the divine word to a broken world. It preaches. It declares what kings and presidents ought to be – and what the reign of God will be. It stands against those who use their office to bless themselves and proclaims the promise of God to all creation. It summons us to live the faithfulness that is coming, to be participants in the blessing of the world.

When we gather in worship and set this song next to the child of Bethlehem, the magi, and the murderous king, the song soars. We hear the yearning and joy of all heaven and earth: in the outstretched arms of Jesus is God’s true and lasting reign and the healing of the world. To him belongs the obeisance of the nations. To him belong the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In him is the end of every murderous regime. In him is the silencing of every deceitful tongue. In him is the end of the whip and the lash, the nails and the wood, the taunts and the dying. In him the grave is powerless. In him is the soft rain that brings life to the earth.

Sunday we read this song that is prayer and promise and proclamation. We hear of the magi kneeling before the child of Bethlehem, and of the kings of this earth with the blood of children on their hands to prevent his rising. The voice of the prophet declares: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” It is the feast of the epiphany, the feast of Christ revealed to the nations, the feast of light shining in the darkness. The wondrous grace of Christmas Eve blazes across the skies.

And, yes, the shadow of the cross lies across the day: Herod echoes Pharaoh’s murderous attempt upon the children of Israel. But the child will live. The child will come forth out of Egypt. The child will settle in Nazareth. And in his outstretched arms all creation is born of God.

The Prayer for January 6, 2019

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world bringing his perfect peace.

The Texts for January 6, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” – In the years after the return from exile, the prophet heralds a restoration of the nation: though Jerusalem and the temple are now only a pale reflection of their former glory, the Glory of God shall be upon them, the sons and daughters of Israel scattered throughout the ancient world shall return, and the people of all nations will make pilgrimage to “proclaim the praise of the LORD”.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)
“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – A royal psalm, likely composed to celebrate the ascension of a new king, has become a promise of the anointed of God (Messiah/Christ) in whom all creation is made new.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” – Paul is privileged to proclaim God’s plan, once hidden from our eyes but now revealed, to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:08152_Bukowsko_(powiat_sanocki).jpg Silar [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Magi and Kings

File:Magi Herod MNMA Cl23532.jpg

The Magi before Herod

Watching for the Morning of January 8, 2017

The Sunday of the Epiphany

Sunday our parish celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. Technically, the feast day is January 6th and Sunday the 8th should be the first Sunday after Epiphany, but Epiphany is too important to be left to a weekday. So we change the calendar.

And we choose to read not only Matthew’s account of the kneeling Magi, but also the narrative of murderous Herod. Without the slaughter of the innocents, the drama and significance of this account is too easily lost from view. Empires are clashing. Kings are doing battle. The Empire of Rome v. the Empire of God – although a peasant child hardly seems like a player in the game of thrones. Later, when Matthew tells of Satan’s attempt to seduce the new king (the temptation of Jesus), we will see that the battle is not Herod versus an upstart king, or Rome versus a member of the Judean royal line: it is a struggle between God’s claim upon the world and the devil’s presumptive rule.

But first there is the child and a destiny written in the heavens. First there are seekers looking for a world ruler of the house of Judah. First there is the testimony of the ancient prophets and the guidance of angels speaking through dreams. First is the drama and suspense of God’s work in the world. Christ is revealed to the nations. Something profound is happening. Something that will free the world from the debt of its sins.

So on Sunday we will bring our Christmas celebration to its wondrous conclusion. We will hear of the visit of these mages from the East. We will listen to the voice of the prophet cry out in jubilation “Arise, shine; for your light has come” and speak of the gathering of all nations, declaring: “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” We will sing the enthronement psalm of the just king who will “defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy” and rule “as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.” And we will hear the author of Ephesians speak of the mystery now revealed that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

Light, life, just kingship, abundance, reconciliation, the gathering of all creation – and, too, the hostility from the rulers of this age – it all unfolds before us on this day when we rejoice in Christ revealed to all the earth, when we come with the magi to bow down and offer our loyalty and service to this newborn king.

The Prayer for January 8, 2017 (for the Epiphany of Our Lord)

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world
bringing his perfect peace;
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 January 8, 2017 (for the Epiphany of Our Lord)

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
– though the return from exile has failed to meet the nation’s expectations for glory, the prophet declares as present reality the fulfillment of God’s promise that all nations shall be drawn to the light of God present in Jerusalem.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)
“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – an enthronement psalm whose idealized description of the king becomes a portrait and promise of the Messiah whose reign brings blessing to the world.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” –
God’s hidden plan now revealed to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.

As noted last week, our parish departs from the appointed texts for the Christmas season in order to present the birth narratives with some integrity: reading Luke 2:1-20 on Christmas Eve (and John 1 on Christmas morning), then the remainder of Luke 2 on the Sunday in Christmas and the account of the Magi and Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus on the second Sunday after Christmas, celebrated as the Sunday of the Epiphany.

This does mean that we sometimes have to drop a Sunday when our celebration of the Epiphany falls after January 6th (as this year), in order to reconnect with the appointed texts. So we will celebrate the Baptism of our Lord on January 15, then skip to the texts for the third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The appointed readings for the first Sunday after Epiphany, January 8, 2017, are these for the Baptism of Our Lord and comment on them from 2014 can be found here.

First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9 (“I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.”)

Psalmody: Psalm 29 (“The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.”)

Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43 (“God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”)

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17 (The baptism of Jesus)

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMagi_Herod_MNMA_Cl23532.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A box filled with plowshares

File:Old agricultural tools.jpg

Thursday

Ephesians 3:1-12

8This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

Most modern scholars don’t think Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, but that doesn’t take anything away from its authority as scripture. It is part of the canon not because Paul wrote it, but because the community of faith recognized the voice of God in it. It bears witness to the character and work of God.

It’s not my purpose to review the academic argument, only to point out that what we listen for in these ancient writings is the living voice of God. These writings are not dictated by God as an authoritative legal code or historical record; they are inspired, “inspirited,” breathing the breath of God, encountering us with God’s creating and redeeming speech that brought forth the world, reveals the heart of God and draws us into his will and purpose.

Paul is a servant of that word, that message, that living speech of God that calls our name and bids us follow, that forgives our sins and draws us into the realm of grace, that nourishes us through the wilderness of this world like manna in the desert and water from the rock.

Whether these words are from Paul, Paul’s secretary, Paul’s friend, Paul’s disciple, or someone writing in Paul’s memory doesn’t matter. These words have their origin in the Holy Spirit and continue to be a vessel of that Spirit. They bear witness to the mystery of God’s purpose in the world: 6the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

It doesn’t seem strange to us now to think that God is the God of all, that we are – and are meant to be – a single human family. But it was radical news at the time. And we still have trouble with it – not with the concept of one God, Lord of all, but with the reality of receiving all people as sisters and brothers.

We are wired to put things into categories: these are apples, these are oranges, these a bananas. They are all fruits. They are not meat. They are not vegetables. These are edible. These are not. Pennies go in a gumball machine; they don’t go in your mouth. Gum goes in your mouth, but you don’t swallow it. Oak leaves are pretty in the fall, so are poison oak leaves – but they go in different categories.

We are wired to put things into mental boxes. The mystery of which Paul speaks is that there is one box labeled ‘people’. There are not separate boxes for tall people and short people, fat people and skinny people, dark complexion and light. There are not separate boxes for liberals and conservatives, sinners and saints, Christians, Muslims and Jews. There is just one box: all God’s children.

The church is meant to be the sign that there is one box, a community of all kinds of people across language and culture and time. We are also the bearers of the message that there is only one box – a box filled with “the boundless riches of Christ.” A box filled with grace. A box filled with compassion. A box filled with love of neighbor. A box filled with plowshares and pruning hooks.

 

Image: agricultural tools used in Ferizaj.  By Diamant Hetemi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

They will call him blessed

File:074 Frontal d'altar de Mosoll, els Reis d'Orient.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 3, 2016

The Sunday of the Epiphany

The appearance of the magi is both majestic and terrifying. In a world where Herod killed his own children in fear they conspired to seize his throne, the obeisance of the magi before the child of Bethlehem is not only a threat to the current regime, it imperils the holy family – and, as we shall hear, every child in Bethlehem.

A thousand years before, the village elders of Bethlehem quaked when the prophet, priest, and kingmaker, Samuel, arrived. They knew his presence could well expose them to the wrath of Saul; prophets have a habit of acclaiming new kings. But Samuel masked his secret mission as a public sacrifice, and anointed David in the privacy of his father’s house (after God rejected all his strapping older brothers and they had to fetch David from the fields).

The clash of kings – only this is not one king against rivals, but human kingship against divine kingship. So the first reading and psalm soar with the vision of God’s just and righteous reign over all creation. Isaiah proclaims Israel’s restoration and exaltation, that “nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” bringing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. And the psalmist declares that the just and righteous king “will rule from sea to sea.” All nations will bow before him, “for he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help,” and the kings of this earth will kneel “and present him gifts.” (This is why the magi become kings in the tradition.)

Sunday is about the clash of kingships. And the gathering of the nations in Christ is witness that this is the dawning of God’s righteous reign when “all nations will be blessed through him; and they will call him blessed.”

The Prayer for January 3, 2016

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world bringing his perfect peace;
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 January 3, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” – In the years after the return from exile, the prophet heralds a restoration of the nation: though Jerusalem and the temple are now only a pale reflection of their former glory, the Glory of God shall be upon them, the sons and daughters of Israel scattered throughout the ancient world shall return, and the people of all nations will make pilgrimage to “proclaim the praise of the LORD”.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)

“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – A royal psalm, likely composed to celebrate the ascension of a new king, has become a promise of the anointed of God (Messiah/Christ) in whom all creation is made new.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” – Paul is privileged to proclaim God’s plan, once hidden from our eyes but now revealed, to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.

 

Image: Altar frontal from Mosoll.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A074_Frontal_d’altar_de_Mosoll%2C_els_Reis_d’Orient.jpg  By Enfo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

One bountiful table

Watching for the Morning of July 26, 2015

Year B

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 12 / Lectionary 17

File:Pan asturiano.JPGSunday we begin a five-week excursion through the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John that relates the feeding of the five thousand and the subsequent conversations about the meaning of that sign. As we have been reading through Mark’s Gospel, the next portion would have been the feeding of the crowds (who were like sheep without a shepherd). But the lectionary pauses in order to hear the rich development of this event in the Gospel of John.

So Sunday is about God’s wondrous providing. During a time of famine, a poor man brings to Elisha his offering of first fruits (barley is the food of the poor, since it grows on poorer soil). Though these twenty small loaves would not normally feed even twenty, it is more than enough to satisfy a hundred. The psalm sings of God’s faithfulness in his care for those in need and his gracious providing for all. And Jesus takes up the five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand with twelve baskets left over.

Providing a kind of soaring descant to these wonderful texts is the majestic prayer by the writer of Ephesians that we may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” and “be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Each of the gospel writers pick and choose which stories to tell in order to reveal the meaning of God’s work in and through Jesus. In a rare unity, all four of them include this story of the five loaves and two fish. It is not a story about Jesus’ wonder-working power; it is a witness to the dawning reign of God when our wounded earth is healed, all war and divisions overcome, and all people gathered to one bountiful table.

This is why this story is paired with the account of Jesus walking on water. For the God who spoke over the primal sea and brought forth his good and bountiful creation has spoken again in Christ to restore the life of the world. As we will hear in John these next Sundays, God has provided not just our daily bread, but the bread of life for the world.

The Prayer July 26, 2015

Merciful Father,
you stretch forth your hand to feed those who hunger,
grant us a share in the banquet that is to come,
and the faith to live according to your promise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 26, 2015

First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to Elisha, the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack.” – Elisha feeds a hundred people with twenty small loaves with food left over.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:10-18
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”
– The poet praises God for his goodness and faithfulness in providing for all.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21
“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
– The author prays for the community to be rooted in the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit.

Gospel: John 6:1-21
“’There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’” – The feeding of the five-thousand with twelve baskets left over.

 

Photo: By Tamorlan (Photo taken by Tamorlan) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Our Light has come

Watching for the morning of January 4

The Sunday of the Epiphany

Mary and the baby Jesus.large

The Nativity Scene at Los Altos Lutheran church

Rich, wonderful words and imagery fill worship this Sunday as we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, the manifestation of God incarnate to the world.

In Isaiah 60 we hear the wonderful summons to “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” In Psalm 72 we hear the soaring proclamation of the faithful king whose reign brings prosperity and justice, the gathering of the scattered people of God, and the honor and praise of all nations. The author of Ephesians speaks of the mystery now revealed of God’s eternal purpose to unite all things in Christ. And then the voice of Mathew sounds forth with the wondrous and terrible narrative of a sign in the heavens and magi bearing royal gifts, kneeling in obeisance. Jerusalem trembles in fear, the king decides to slay the child, and soldiers go forth to defend the realm with the blood of every village toddler.

Our light has come. The light the darkness cannot overcome. The light of compassion, the light of truth, the light of justice, the light of God’s perfect reign.

Our light has come. Like a long awaited dawn on a cold winter night, the day of warmth is come.

Our light has come. The light to our path. Light for our homes. Light in our hearts.

And like the magi we come. We come to kneel. We come to offer our gifts. We come to bask in the light. We come that the light may shine in us and through us.

The Prayer for Epiphany Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world bringing his perfect peace;
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 January 4, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” – In the years after the return from exile, the prophet heralds a restoration of the nation: though Jerusalem and the temple are now only a pale reflection of their former glory, the Glory of God shall be upon them, the sons and daughters of Israel scattered throughout the ancient world shall return, and the people of all nations will make pilgrimage to “proclaim the praise of the LORD”.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)

“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – A royal psalm, likely composed to celebrate the ascension of a new king, has become a promise of the anointed of God (Messiah/Christ) in whom all creation is made new.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” – Paul is privileged to proclaim God’s plan, once hidden from our eyes but now revealed, to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.