Will we live the new creation?

File:Altarraum-Kreuz in Taizé.jpg

A sermon from the festival Sunday of Pentecost (May 20, 2018) that celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ followers fifty days after Easter as described in Acts 2:1-21.

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

I want to invite you to think back to how we have come to this day. This day in which we hear again about how the Spirit was poured out upon the followers of Jesus and they were empowered to proclaim the wonderful work of God in all the languages of the earth – this day happens after Easter. It is the culmination of this Easter season. What began in the empty tomb, what was born in the encounter with the risen Christ, reaches its logical end with the Christian community bearing witness to the world.

But before the empty tomb came Good Friday. Before Easter was the harsh judgment of power that tried to break Jesus with torture and shame. But Jesus did not break. He did not weep and cry for mercy. He did not rage at God or his betrayers. He did not pray for vengeance upon the Romans or the Judean leaders or the soldiers who had impaled him upon the cross. He lived even with pierced hands the mercy he taught.

We are here on Pentecost because of Easter and Good Friday.

And before Good Friday was Maundy Thursday, that night in which Jesus ate his last supper with his followers – the meal we still eat together with Jesus every Sunday. At that meal Jesus embodied everything he had taught his disciples about the way of God by taking a towel and assuming the role of the lowliest slave to wash their feet. The reign of God is not about reaching the top of the social ladder but kneeling before those at the bottom.

We are here on Pentecost saying that God has given us the Holy Spirit because of what we have seen about that Holy Spirit on Easter and Good Friday and Maundy Thursday.

And we didn’t get to Maundy Thursday without the long journey through the season of Lent – the season that walks with Jesus towards Jerusalem, the season that talks about spiritual renewal, and care of the poor, and a deeper walk of faith.

It was a season that began with Ash Wednesday – a day of repentance, of turning anew towards God, of renewing our allegiance. That day at the start of Lent remembers our mortality, the inheritance of our turn away from the source of life, summoning us to turn back. We are but dust and ashes, but with the breath of God we are living beings, able to love and be loved, able to hear God’s word and sing God’s praise, able to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Before we come to this day celebrating the Spirit, we came through Easter and the God who gives life to the dead, and we came through the 40 days of the wilderness, and the reminder that apart from God’s spirit we are but dust.

And before Ash Wednesday and Lent was the season that lives in the light of the epiphany – the season that begins with the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan and the heavens opened and the Spirit coming down and the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved son,” – the season that ends on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and his followers and the cloud of God’s presence and the voice of God declaring again that this Jesus is God’s beloved, telling us to listen to him.

Before our Lenten journey to Jerusalem was Jesus revealed to us and to the world as God’s beloved and the voice of God telling us to listen to him.

So we are here on this day, listening to the fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit being poured out on the world because of Easter and Good Friday and the broken bread and common cup of Maundy Thursday and the journey to Jerusalem and the radiant vision of the Spirit of God upon this Jesus.

And before that were the magi, representing all the nations of the world, kneeling before the child. And before that Simeon and Anna singing God’s praise when they see the infant in the temple, the fulfillment of all God’s promises of redemption. And before that were the shepherds hearing the heavens sing and coming to kneel before the mystery of the Word made flesh.

And before the wonder of Christmas was the season of Advent, of hope and expectation that God would fulfill God’s promise to make the world whole.

Six months ago we were talking about God’s promise to make the world whole, and here we now stand with the gift of the Spirit and the work of Jesus’ followers to go out into the world to declare that hope is fulfilled, the world has a new captain.

What began with the promise of the prophets has been fulfilled.

I know that we gather today in the aftermath of yet another school shooting. I know that within twenty minutes of that shooting, fake Facebook accounts began to spew lies and division about the shooting – showing the suspected shooter with a Hilary 2016 hat and linking him with Antifa, the anti-fascist group.

I know that there are people stoking fear and division among us, sowing the spirits of hate, intolerance, bigotry, and fear. But the promise of the prophets has been fulfilled.   There is a holy Spirit poured out.

I know that there are spirits of greed and callousness loose in the world. I have heard about the racist rant of the lawyer caught on tape and the president calling people ‘animals’ and saying, “These aren’t people.” And it doesn’t matter if he was only talking about gang members; we are becoming accustomed to the dehumanizing language that has been used in every act of genocide and violence. But the promise of the prophets has been fulfilled.   There is a holy Spirit poured out.

I know that they are spirits of deceit and falsehood loose in the world, but the promise of the prophets has been fulfilled.   There is a holy Spirit poured out.

I know there are spirits of bitterness and despair loose in the world, but we are here because the promise of the prophets has been fulfilled.   There is a holy Spirit poured out. And it has been poured out upon us.

And the choice we make every morning is whether we will live in this holy Spirit, or in those other spirits loose in the world. Will we live healing or division? Will we live compassion or hardness of heart? Will we live kindness or neglect? Will we live forgiveness or revenge? Will we live hope or despair?

Will we live the Holy Spirit? Will we live what God is creating? Will we live the shared table? Will we live the mystery of the font and a life turned away from self to neighbor? Will we live at the culmination of this journey that began with the promise of Advent and the wonder of Christmas and journeyed to Good Friday and Easter and this day of Pentecost? Will we live the new creation?

Amen

+   +   +

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Altarraum-Kreuz_in_Taiz%C3%A9.jpg By Christian Pulfrich [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

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Fidelity and anticipation

File:Montreal - Plateau, day of snow - 200312.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 31, 2017

Year B

The Sunday in Christmas

Fidelity. The Sunday in Christmas shows us more of the faithful in Israel: Joseph and Mary fulfilling all that the law requires. Simeon and Anna waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise. But even now the texts begin to move towards Epiphany. “The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory,” says the prophet – and though the prophet is speaking of the restoration of Jerusalem, all the nations shall see God’s saving work. Righteousness and praise shall spring up as certainly as the seeds sown in the garden.

And so Simeon sings – sings of God’s dawning salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” And Anna praises God and testifies to this child “to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Fidelity and anticipation. Something big is happening. Something dramatic is occurring. God is fulfilling his promises. The wise elders see. The longed for day is come. The lowly are hearing good news proclaimed.

Much of the Midwest is under a thick blanket of snow. It was reported that Erie, Pennsylvania, received over five feet. Spring seems like an unthinkable promise when you are shoveling through such depths. But Simeon and Anna have eyes to see. And they testify to us of God’s faithfulness. The season has turned. The days are growing longer. The light is come.

The Prayer for December 31, 2017

Gracious God,
by whose word we live
and whose promises all come to fulfillment:
we give you thanks for those faithful among your people
who, like Simeon and Anna, have eyes to see your dawning work among us.
Grant that, with them, we might see where your hand is working
and share in its joy.

The Texts for December 31, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3
“The Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” –
In the years after the return from exile, the prophet speaks to a discouraged and weary people of a vindication to come.

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son.” – Paul recites the core message of what God has done in Christ for these Galatians, making them members of God’s household and heirs of God’s promise through the gift of the Spirit in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 2:21-40 (appointed: 22-40)
“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.”
– The narrative of Jesus’ birth continues with Mary and Joseph’s faithful obedience and the recognition and reception of Jesus by Simeon and Anna, representatives of faithful Israel.

For the psalm on the Sunday in Christmas we sing a Christmas carol. The appointed Psalm is: Psalm 148 – “Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth… He has raised up a horn for his people.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montreal_-_Plateau,_day_of_snow_-_200312.jpg

Like rain on the mown grass

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Thursday

Psalm 72

1Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.

I have written before about this psalm (in 2014 and 2015) and the question whether it should be heard as prayer or promise. On Epiphany Sunday, when the magi kneel and present their gifts, it becomes proclamation: this is the royal child in whom justice will reign and the earth bloom. But we are approaching the inauguration of a new president. A new congress has been seated. A new government is being formed. Actions are underway. And how shall we pray?

Now the psalm is not looking only at the child of Bethlehem; now the psalm is speaking to a country and a world wondering what the new administration will bring. Now the psalm is closer to its original setting as a new king rises to power. Now it is a prayer – and in the praying is a message to the king about his role and responsibility.

Looking at Jesus we can say with confidence “He will judge your people in righteousness,” as does the New International Version (NIV) from 1984. Looking at our leadership today, it is best heard petition, as in the current form of the NIV: “May he judge your people in righteousness.”

The psalm gives voice to our prayer. It speaks of our hopes from our leaders. But the prayer spoken in the hearing of the king becomes a reminder to the new king and those in power. What does God seek from those who govern? Justice. Faithfulness to the poor. The defense of the afflicted. Deliverance for the needy. Care of the earth that it may produce abundantly. Leadership that earns the respect and trust of the nations because it brings justice.

11All kings will bow down to him
and all nations will serve him.
12For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.

This psalm has become for us a description of God’s reign among us. But it is also a description of what God expects of us. It is promise, but it is also calling. God’s reign is grace and favor; it is also call and command.

In the Sundays to come we will hear Jesus speak to our obligation. The Sermon on the Mount is coming. But for now we offer the prayer. And we are sustained by the promise. For a child is born for us.

5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:5-7)

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABlackdykes_Ruin_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1025680.jpg by wfmillar [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Magi and Kings

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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

“Break forth together into singing”

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Watching for the Morning of January 1, 2017

The Sunday in Christmas

Oprah Winfrey seems to be everywhere on television promoting Weight Watchers. For the society around us, Christmas is over. The feasting and sweetness is finished; now it’s time to lose weight. And if Christmas is only about gifts, then once the gifts are opened the holiday is finished. Drag the tree out to the curb. Take down the lights. All that remains is football.

But if Christmas is about the gifts of God come to the world in the child of Bethlehem, then there is much more to celebrate.

Sunday continues the Christmas Season. It is that wonderful oasis between the feast of the Nativity and the Epiphany of our Lord. The community gathers again in the aura of that silent night to hear the continuation of the story begun on Christmas Eve. The child greeted by the song of angels and the wonderment of shepherds is greeted by the faithful poor in Israel: Simeon yearning for God’s day of grace to come, and Anna absorbed in prayer. These recognize the Christ child as God’s anointed and sing of him to all who will listen.

Sunday the prophet will call us to join the song. And Paul will speak of what God has done in “the fullness of time”. Joy reverberates throughout the texts and liturgy, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. But we also see the first shadow that reminds us of the great drama underway: Simeon speaks of “the falling and the rising of many in Israel” and the “sword” that will pierce Mary’s soul. Heaven sings. The faithful sing. But the powers of this world will not sing. So Good Friday awaits, but the grave will not reign: the new creation is at hand.

The Prayer for January 1, 2017

Gracious God,
by whose word we live
and whose promises all come to fulfillment,
we give you thanks for those faithful among your people
who, like Simeon and Anna, have eyes to see your dawning work among us.
Grant that, with them, we might see where your hand is working
and share in its joy;
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 1, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10,
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.” – The prophet stands before the rubble of Jerusalem and hears the stones singing. He summons the people to rejoice in God’s saving work and declares that “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son.” – Paul recites the core message of what God has done in Christ for these Galatians, making them members of God’s household and heirs of God’s promise through the gift of the Spirit in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 2:21-40
“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” – The narrative of Jesus’ birth continues with Mary and Joseph’s faithful obedience and the recognition and reception of Jesus by Simeon and Anna, representatives of faithful Israel.

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 Texts for the first Sunday in Christmas, year A

First Reading: Isaiah 63:7-9 (“It was…his presence that saved them”)

Psalmody: Psalm 148 (Praise the Lord from the heavens.)

Second Reading: Hebrews 2:10-18 (“He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect.”)

Gospel: Matthew 2:13-23 (The flight to Egypt and slaughter of the innocents)

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMenologion_of_Basil_037.jpg By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rejoice in the Lord

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Watching for the Morning of December 13, 2015

Year C

The Third Sunday of Advent

Though the appointed texts for Sunday keep us focused on John, our children are presenting their Christmas program, so we have shifted our focus to joy. Sunday we will read of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth where the two unexpectedly pregnant women exult in God’s salvation, John the Baptist leaps in the womb, and Mary sings for joy. We will hear Paul write to the Philippians urging them to rejoice always. And together we will sing the song of Mary, the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

The joy of Christmas cannot be contained. It leaks into Advent and echoes through the Sunday’s after the Epiphany. It is the joy that comes from the knowledge that what has long been longed for is near at hand. It is the joy of the lightening skies at the end of a long dark night. It is the joy of seeing land on the horizon after a lengthy voyage at sea.   It is the joy of the childless when, at last, a pregnancy comes near to term. It is the joy of the impending wedding (when all the planning is done – or when we have entrusted it all into the hands of a perfect planner).

It is not the joy of a holiday – we know such joy is ephemeral and uncertain. It is the joy that heaven draws near: God comes. God comes to save. God comes to redeem. God comes to heal. God comes to dwell with us. The eternal heart of the universe beats for us and with us. The font of all life is coming to dwell with us.

Such joy cannot be contained.

The prayer for December 13, 2015

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Bring the desert to full bloom,
and fill with joy our path to you;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The texts for December 13, 2015

(Because of the Children’s Christmas Program this Sunday, our parish has adjusted the readings during this season. We also try to retain the practice of singing the Magnificat on the third Sunday of Advent. So we will read The Visitation as our Gospel this morning and sing the Magnificat. We included the preaching of John (Luke 3:7-18) in the Gospel reading for last Sunday.)

First Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
– Though Paul is in prison facing the possibility of death, he urges his community to abide in joy.

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55, the Song of Mary (the Magnificat)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – In response to her encounter with Elizabeth, Mary sings with joy of God’s coming to set right the world.

Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
“As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” –Having heard from the angel Gabriel that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, is also wondrously with child, Mary comes to greet her. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit, and the child in her womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy.

The texts as appointed for 3 Advent C

First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” – though the prophetic book speaks in cataclysmic terms of the judgment coming upon the nation, it nevertheless ends with a song of joy. The prophet calls the nation to rejoice for God shall come to reign over his people.

Psalmody: Isaiah 12:2-6,
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” – the prophet sings a song of thanksgiving, anticipating the day of God’s redemption.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” – Though Paul is in prison facing the possibility of death, he urges his community to abide in joy.

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” – John summons the crowd to show their allegiance to the dawning reign of God in acts of justice and mercy.

 

Image: Fra Angelico (circa 1395–1455), The Visitation,  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is my Son”

Saturday

Mark 9:2-9

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Interior of Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart,

We read this story of the transfiguration every year at the conclusion of the Sundays after Epiphany.  It is a wonderful element in the architecture of the church year.

This season follows the celebration of the Epiphany, the feast day that tells the story of the Magi kneeling before the child Jesus. It echoes with all the great themes of the Epiphany: Christ Jesus revealed to the nations; Jesus the light of the world; Jesus the incarnation of God.

With the incarnation God declares that human life is a fit vessel of the divine, the finite can bear the infinite. And, in a stunning reversal of the natural order of things, the divine is not rendered ‘unclean’ by its contact with the fallen world, the world is made ‘clean’ by its contact with God in Christ.

Dropping ‘clean’ food on the floor doesn’t make the floor clean; but the Christ has made us clean. The earth, once holy and perfect and good, is made holy again. God, who once walked with us in the garden, walks in our midst again. The water set aside for cleansing has become wine.

On the first Sunday of this season we celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord and heard the voice of God declare that Jesus is God’s beloved son. It is the kind of declaration made by the emperor when he has chosen a successor and declares him his son. It is the Old Testament language for kingship. God has designated Jesus as second in rank only to the Father. In Christ God has come to reign in us and among us. And so, in the Sundays that follow, disciples are summoned, demons are driven out, the sick healed, sins forgiven, prisoners released. A new reign is begun.

With Lent the church calendar will turn with Jesus toward Jerusalem: the holy city that has bent the knee in service to Rome. The holy city that has chosen power and wealth over justice and mercy. The holy city that has exalted temple and cult over the spirit and truth. The holy city that reflects the truth of every human heart.

Jesus has a destiny there: to be rejected. To be condemned. To be branded a liar. To be shamed and degraded and killed. The holy one is rendered unholy. The apparent triumph of an ‘unclean’ and unholy world.

But before we start this path through Lent to Good Friday and Easter, the architecture of the church year gives us the Feast of the Transfiguration so that we hear one more time the voice from heaven declare, “This is my Son, the beloved.” And then the voice of God commands us: “Listen to him.”

Something unexpected is coming, and we need to not lose faith before we get there. Something unexpected is coming, and we need to see this journey through. Something unexpected is coming, and we need to hear the promise that death will lead to life, the grave will yield to the empty tomb, the violence of the world will not stop the kingdom.

Hate cannot conquer love. The darkness cannot overcome the light. The lie cannot defeat the truth. The Father of lies will be dethroned. The Spirit will be poured out. God’s reign of grace and life is begun. The world is being made holy. We are being made holy, fit vessels of the Spirit of God.

“This is my Son. Listen to him.”

 

Photo: By Skier Dude (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A belated post on the importance of celebrating Epiphany

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Grötlingbo Kyrka auf Gotland. Taufstein von Meister Sigraf ( 1200 ): Heilige Drei Könige

Epiphany. Shining. Manifest. Revealed. Made known. Antiochus IV called himself ‘Epiphanes’ – the manifestation of God on earth. He was the king who attempted to stamp out the strange, exclusive, unmodern faith of Israel and sparked the Maccabean revolt.

He is hardly the first human ruler to consider himself the manifestation of God in human form – nor the last. Few would remember him had he not tried to install an image of himself in the temple of Jerusalem, among a people who passionately opposed all such images and all other gods.

It is an affliction for all those with great wealth and power to believe that they rule by the modern equivalent of divine right: the myth of the free market means they have merited their wealth – no matter how crooked the game – that they are, therefore, by definition, superior humans, fit to tell other humans how to live, fit to decide who prospers and who falls, fit to decide who lives and who dies. War for bananas, war for oil, war for political influence, war for a fit of pique, it matters little. Britain went to war upon China because China didn’t want the British importing opium. But there was profit to be made. Big profits. The bankers crashed the economy because they thought they were smarter than everyone else and above the rules. (And we let them get away with it, so they are off on their divine right quest again. Thanks to riders slipped into the “CRomnibus bill” in return for their huge donations, they are able again to gamble with the government insured deposits or ordinary people.)

But it is not just the big muckety-wumps who think they are gods. We have all had teachers who acted this way, and bosses, and neighbors. Even clergy: why else would someone feel they have the right to put their hand down a little boy’s pants?

And there is a little tyrant in all of us.

It was bold of ancient Israel to declare we were made in the image of God rather than born of the blood of the chaos monster. The evidence seems to go the other way.

Epiphany. This day that seems like an afterthought to the sweet story of the baby Jesus, this day is desperately important. We are not the manifestation of God on earth; he is. He is our true humanity. He is our true unbroken spirit – our uncorrupted spirit. Unbent. Untwisted. Un-curved in upon itself. He is the faithful son humanity has failed to be. He is the love for which we were fashioned. He is the light that shines in our world of false lights. He is our redeeming grace, our hope for rebirth.

Like Noah he turns away the wrath of God and offers the world a new beginning. He is the one, true epiphany, the one, true manifestation of the face of both God and man.

Photo: By Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Behold the Lamb of God

Watching for the morning of January 19

Year A

The Second Sunday after Epiphany:

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By Immanuel Giel (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The themes of Epiphany – Christ revealed to the nations, Christ the light of the world – continue this Sunday.  The prophet Isaiah sings again of the servant of the Lord who is a light to the nations.  The psalmist sings a song of deliverance and bears witness to all of God’s faithfulness and salvation.  Paul begins his correspondence with his fractious congregation in Corinth, acknowledging their many gifts but reminding them that they are part of a larger community called into a new life.  John the Baptist points to Jesus as the Lamb of God in whom the world is reborn and Jesus’ first disciples seek him out.

This is a season like those time-lapse images of a blooming flower.  The story of Jesus unfolds from Christmas: arriving at the Jordan, he is baptized and anointed with God’s Spirit, then gathers disciples and begins his ministry declaring the dawning reality of God’s reign.  The light shines.  God has drawn near.  In words and deeds we see the bursting forth of God’s life and grace into the world.

Lent will remind us that this will not be an easy path, and Good Friday will take us back to the horror of Herod’s first attempt to kill Jesus, but death will not hold back the dawning of God’s redemption of the earth.  The grave will be opened, and our weekly celebration of the resurrection will continue through the whole narrative of Jesus’ teaching and deeds until we are pointed again to the horizon of history and the fulfillment of God’s promises.

“Behold the Lamb of God,” John says, the one in whom all things are made new.  Like Andrew we will follow, bringing others with us to bear witness to this one who abides in God and God in him.

The Prayer for January 19, 2014

Gracious God,
in the simple invitation to “Come and see,”
Jesus invited Andrew to follow
and, in following, to see
that Jesus abides in you and you in him.
Grant us courage to follow
that, through the words and deeds of Jesus your anointed,
we may see the font of all grace and truth,
and abide in your light and life.

The Texts for January 19, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7
“I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – The servant of the Lord is sent not just to restore Israel but as a light to all nations.  As with last Sunday’s reading, the followers of Jesus find this message about God’s servant embodied and fulfilled in Jesus.

Psalmody: Psalm 40:1-11
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire.” – A song of deliverance and trust in God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
“You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” –
Paul begins his letter to his troubled congregation in Corinth with a greeting celebrating the gifts of the Sprit they have received but reminding them that they are connected to a great community of believers.

Gospel: John 1:29-42
“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother… found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’” – John the Baptist bears witness to Jesus as the Lamb of God upon whom the Spirit of God descended, and the first disciples come to Jesus.

Light for the world

Friday

Isaiah 60

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6A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Those great caravans that came up from southern Arabia and the horn of Africa, carrying precious goods from the regions we now know as Yemen and Somalia, the caravans that connected the world of the East to the Mediterranean, the gold and incense, spices and silks and exotic goods that transfixed Europe in many eras, the treasures that would eventually lead sailors across the Atlantic seeking a shorter route than around Cape of Good Hope – the prophet imagines that Jerusalem shall become their destination.

Jerusalem was not much to look at in the time the prophet spoke.  It had none of its former grandeur.  There was no royal palace.  The city was not awash in gold and silver and bronze.  The temple was a pale reflection of the one that had once graced this city.

There was no king of David’s line.  The prophet Malachi will chastise the priests – and the people – for their half-hearted service of God, willing to bring lame and blemished animals for their sacrifices, offering God their second-hand stuff, leftovers rather than their first and best.  Traditional churches are often awash in used TV’s and computers and such when people buy new for themselves.

It is to this city that the prophet speaks of its shining radiance.  The glory of the LORD has risen upon it.  The face of God shines upon it.  All the world wanders in darkness, but here light shines.  And the nations shall come.  They will lay their riches at the feet of this city. They shall proclaim the praise of God.

But it is not to the city they come.  It is to the presence of God in their midst.  A city is just a city; a community in which God dwells is a light for the world.

So, also, the church.  A church is just a church; a community where God dwells is light for the world.

And just so, a person.  A person in whom God dwells is light for the world.