Like children in the marketplace

File:Mayan girls playing sack race on the market of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.JPG

Watching for the Morning of July 9, 2017

Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

There’s a sweet word coming in the Gospel text for Sunday. Jesus is going to say those familiar and comforting words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And God knows, we are weary: Weary of the cacophony in Washington. Weary of the rush of modern life. Weary of the challenges of health. Weary of the press of finances. Weary of the drumbeats of war. Weary of the fear that seems to seep into every corner of our lives.

But before we get to that promise, there is a rebuke: we are like children in the marketplace pouting that we don’t get our way. Maybe Jesus is quoting something like a nursery rhyme. Maybe he is just acknowledging the taunts that get made when people won’t go along with the game. But it is clear Jesus is rebuking those whose excuse for not listening to John the Baptist was that he was too rigorous and demanding. But they won’t listen to Jesus because he isn’t rigorous enough. He laughs. He tells jokes. He teases. He dines with sinners and tax collectors. They mocked John because he lived on locusts and wild honey and Jesus because he didn’t.

Hypocrisy comes pretty naturally to us. Trump makes a career of denying the validity of Obama’s birth certificates and then accuses the media of being “fake news”. McConnell says his highest priority is to deny Obama a second term and then accuses the Democrats of being obstructionists. I tell my children they can only have two cookies but, when they go to bed, I help myself. Jesus did say something about not worrying about the splinter in my neighbor’s eye when I have a log in my own – but we do.

Hypocrisy is pretty natural to us. It allows us to do and say what we want without the work of self-examination or amendment of life. It’s comfortable to make excuses for ourselves but grant no grace to others. So Jesus has blunt words for the self-righteous before offering rest to the weary: If Sodom and Gomorrah had seen what you’ve seen, they would never have been destroyed.

The ‘righteous’ are hard to reach; it is the poor and burdened who can see the joy and freedom of serving Christ.

So Sunday we will hear the prophet Zechariah speak of the coming king who comes humbly on a donkey and sets prisoners free. And we will sing with the psalmist of God’s gracious deeds. And we will struggle to understand the latest section of Paul’s letter to Romans – but resonate to the word of thanks to God for delivering us from the bondages of our human condition. And we will hear Jesus welcome the weary and speak of the yoke of service that is not always simple, but lifts the heart.

The Prayer for July 9, 2017

Gracious God,
in 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;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 9, 2017

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 but Judah is 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” and reign “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 7:14-25
“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.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMayan_girls_playing_sack_race_on_the_market_of_Quetzaltenango%2C_Guatemala.JPGright By Erik Albers (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Fall

File:Metz (57) cathédrale St Etienne 36.jpg

“Why does Jesus have to tell us to love one another if we have been made in the image of God whose very being is faithfulness and love?”

This question from last Sunday’s sermon led us into the narrative of humanity’s turn away from God and their plucking the fruit of the tree that brings the knowledge of “good and evil”, of life’s joys and sorrows.

What follows is the information in the booklet we handed out following worship explaining the images used in our sanctuary last Sunday. The sermon series is designed to help us understand what Jesus was telling his followers on the road to Emmaus about the fundamental witness of the scripture to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God.   (For more information about this series, see the explanation in the post for week 1.)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Metz_(57)_cath%C3%A9drale_St_Etienne_36.jpg By Jacques CHAZARD (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

 

Genesis 3


In the middle of the garden were the tree of life
and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.


File:Shaki khan palace interier.jpg

In the garden is the tree of life. We are mortal creatures, but we are not made for death. There is a food that grants life. The tree of life shows up in Revelation. Christ has opened the way to the tree of life. It bears fruit in every month “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

But there is also a tree that will give the knowledge and experience of life’s sorrows, the knowledge of what is beautiful and what is brutal, what is kind and cruel, what is joyful and grievous. Here are the tears of life from which God would protect us. And so the command: every tree but this one.

Painting of life tree in interoer of Shaki Khan palace, Azerbaijan National Art Museum, Usta Gambar Garabagi
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AShaki_khan_palace_interier.jpg By Urek Meniashvili (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 


“Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”


File:Adam and snake sculpture, Iskola Promenade, 2016 Dunakeszi.jpg

Trouble comes already with the question. Humans are free to choose to trust God’s word or to trust their own judgment. Until now they live in a perfect trust: they are “naked and not ashamed,” vulnerable but not fearful, open to one another and to God not turned in on themselves, living in perfect love of God and one another.

But then comes the question: “Did God say…?” It is the kind of question that plants doubt and uncertainty. Instead of trusting God’s word they question it. It is like a remark to a woman or a man, “Are you sure your husband/wife is working when they come home so late?” The question plagues the hearer and the harmony of the relationship is torn.

Now comes the decision whether to abide in God’s word or turn aside. And suddenly they are listening to the serpent deny the consequences of turning away from God’s word. Now they are hearing the serpent insinuate that God is trying to preserve his privilege and position as the knower of these things. Now they are deciding for themselves: it looks delicious, it tastes sweet, and it’s good to be wise. And the deed is done. They reach for the fruit.

Sculpture group at 10-12 Iskola Promenade, Dunakeszi, Pest County, Hungary.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adam_and_snake_sculpture,_Iskola_Promenade,_2016_Dunakeszi.jpg By Globetrotter19 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was a delight to the eyes,
and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,
she took of its fruit and ate.


File:Adam and Eva by Eugeny Kolchev.jpg

Adam and Eve. Skulpture of Eugeny Kolchev. 2003, bronze. Gallery La-Sandr Art, Minsk.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adam_and_Eva_by_Eugeny_Kolchev.jpg Eugeny Kolchev [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

She also gave some to her husband, who was with her,
and he ate.


Adam was with her. Though he will try to blame this on the woman – and God who gave him the woman – he was with her. He was a partner in this act.

And even if he were only a follower, there is shame here, too. It shows something dark and troubling about the human heart. We follow too easily down pathways we ought not tread. We go with the crowd. We surrender to hates and fears and wars. We yield to peer pressure and social convention. We are silent when we should speak. We go along.


Then the eyes of both were opened,
and they knew that they were naked.


File:Adam and Eve. Downfall.jpg

Their communion with God is broken. Their communion with one another is broken. They hide (vainly) behind fig leaves from the eyes of one another. They hide (vainly) in the bushes from the gaze of God. Alienation. Pretense. Secrets. Shame. They know sorrows.

Adam and eve. The fall of man. 2012. Oil on canvas. 60×60. Artist A.N. Mironov
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAdam_and_Eve._Downfall.jpg   By Andrey Mironov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Lord God called to the man, and said to him,
“Where are you?”


File:Adam Listening to the Voice of God the Almighty. John Martin.jpg

The first question is not asked because God doesn’t know where the humans have gone. The question is asked because they need to see that they are hiding. It is a hard question, but a gracious one. Where are you? What is the truth of your life? What has come of the human race? What sorrows do we wreak? We need to see the hammer and nails in our hands.

John Marton. Oil on canvas. circa 1823-1827. Victoria and Albert Museum – London (United Kingdom – London)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adam_Listening_to_the_Voice_of_God_the_Almighty._John_Martin.jpg   John Martin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The woman you gave me…”


The finger pointing is comical, but so true about us. But God gives the humans the right explain themselves. He listens. The God who speaks listens.

Do hear ourselves? Do we recognize the human heart, willing to deflect and excuse and blame even God for our choices and deeds? Do we hear the voice of God ask that simple question, “What have you done?” not as an accusation, but an invitation to choose to live in the truth?

But nevertheless, the action has consequences.


“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers.”


File:Crotalus atrox diamantklapperschlange kopf.jpg

Enmity. It’s not only the relationship between God and humans, and the relationships between humans, that have been disrupted; humanity’s relationship with the natural world now involves fear. There are snakes. Where we lived in harmony with the natural world, now it is a stranger. There are things that creep in the night. There are lions that roar. Dogs that bite. The deer turn back into the forest and the turtle pulls into his shell. There is fear.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Ulm, Germany, Zoological Garden.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crotalus_atrox_diamantklapperschlange_kopf.jpg By H. Krisp (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken.”


File:Schweissdissi.jpg

Sweat. What was work now becomes labor. What was good becomes mixed with struggle. Childbirth is now labor pains. The ground gives weeds with the wheat. There are worms in the apples and crows in the field. Gentle rains become storms, and an unseasonal freeze can kill the oranges. The joy of work remains, but it is mixed with sweat. The joy of childbirth remains, but it too is mixed with sweat. We turned from trusting God’s word. We chose to know sorrow.

And ultimately the ground from which we came will take us again.

Parc Tivoli, Mulhouse: statue of a perspiring worker (1905)
Cropped version of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASchweissdissi.jpg By M.Strīķis (Parc Tivoli) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

At the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim,
and a sword flaming and turning
to guard the way to the tree of life.


File:The Expulsion from Paradise. Christian Rohlfs - 1933.jpg

“The serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die.’” It was a lie, of course.

Yes, death didn’t come immediately. God didn’t strike them down. But death came. They lost the garden. And with the garden they lost the tree of life. Now the death-free life that had been provided for them is lost. They go out into the world of sorrows.

There is grace here, however. It is a kindness not to live forever in our sin. Imagine if every Hitler and abuser were eternal? Imagine if we lived forever knowing betrayal? Or infirmity? Or shame? There is a hidden grace here.

And there is a visible grace: God clothes them in animal skins. There is no killing, yet. Leaves and grass were all they would have had as they went forth from the garden. But God provides them with clothing to keep them warm, to protect them, to provide some cover to soften their shame.

There is a curse on the land and the serpent, but not on the humans. Life has been thrown off kilter, but the rivers still flow to water the earth. There is sorrow – and more sorrows to come – but God continues to care for his creatures. There is still goodness. There is still beauty. We are not cursed. Innocence is lost, but we can still choose faithfulness and love.

The Expulsion from Paradise. Christian Rohlfs – 1933
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Expulsion_from_Paradise._Christian_Rohlfs_-_1933.jpg   Christian Rohlfs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Cover Image: misericord from St. Etienne cathedral of Metz (France)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Metz_(57)_cath%C3%A9drale_St_Etienne_36.jpg By Jacques CHAZARD (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
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

Carrying the cross

File:Gelati Gospels MSS (2).jpg

Thursday

Luke 14:25-33

27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

When I was twelve or so I learned how to tie a hangman’s nose. I don’t know why it interested me. Perhaps it was due to the westerns I had watched on TV. Perhaps it was because my cousin, who showed it to me, invested it with a certain emotional energy – it was ‘cool’. Perhaps it’s just because the knot itself was an interesting puzzle. As a white boy in the California suburbs it had no other meaning to me. It did not speak of terrorism, of the brutal realities of Jim Crow segregation, of the violence we would come to see thanks to Bull Connor and his dogs, billy clubs and fire hoses. The knot had the vague numinous power of something associated with death, but it did not fill me with the fear of lynching for failing to respect the strict social requirements of the dominant culture. It is only later that I learned that this knot was a symbol of terror and oppression.

Such was the cross in Roman hands. It was an instrument of subjugation, a brutal demonstration of power and the consequences of challenging that power. Any sign of resistance on the part of a slave towards his master, any rebellion against the social order, was answered with this bloody instrument.

We wear crosses of gold and silver, now, adorned sometimes with precious jewels. We put them on bumper stickers and doorknockers and give them as wedding gifts for a new couple to put on their living room wall. Imagine giving a newly married African American couple in the 1950’s a hangman’s noose for their wall.

The cross has been robbed of its power. For the generation threatened with crucifixion in the arena, fed to the lions, or used as the ancient equivalent of cannon fodder for mass entertainment – for this generation the meaning of the cross was quite clear. They had taken the symbol of oppression and used it as a symbol of liberation. They took the instrument of Roman dominion and used it to proclaim God’s dominion. The symbol of Rome’s power became a witness to the ultimate triumph of the reign of God.

To take up the cross was to endure the hostility of the world for the sake of the world to come, the world God was creating, the world where all imperial powers are thrown down, all injustice overthrown, where debts are released and prisoner’s freed, where neighbors are loved and bread is shared, where the honored are not those who rule but those who serve.

Those who live in “the real world” mock the “starry-eyed dreamers.” But Jesus was not a dreamer. He saw the world clearly. He knew his fate. Yet all the might of imperial Rome could not silence his witness that a world in which the Spirit of God governed was coming – indeed, was already present. Sins were forgiven, the sick healed, the scattered gathered, the dead raised. Bread was already being shared, the light shining, a new creation dawning.

Those who would follow in Jesus’ footsteps must be clear-eyed, too. It’s not a requirement to give up everything to follow him; it’s just a fact. You can’t hold on to a dying world and participate in a new one. You can’t hold on to hate and follow love. You can’t hold on to fear and follow faith. You can’t hold on to wealth, power and privilege and follow hope, mercy and service.

The dying world doesn’t go away easily. Hate and fear, violence and shame abound in us and around us. And the dying world resists the birth of the new. Always. But the new is come. And those who would be disciples should recognize that we are not on a pilgrimage to the old Jerusalem (after which we all go home to our same old lives); we are on a pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem, the city God creates, the world God governs, the community where the fruits of the Spirit reign: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGelati_Gospels_MSS_(2).jpg By Anonymous (Center of MSS (Tbilisi, Georgia)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Leave us alone, Jesus

File:The Master of the Furies - Tormented Figure - Walters 71435.jpg

A look back to Sunday

Luke 8:26-39

37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

It was a simple thing we did on Sunday. I printed 49 copies of a list of the names of those who were killed in Orlando, and went through the list highlighting a first name on each list. I then passed the lists out at the end of the sermon asking each person in the congregation to take one and, in the prayers of the people, name the name that was highlighted on their list.

It was simple and moving to hear these names rise up from many different voices in the congregation. It is customary for us to offer individual prayers from the congregation when the assisting minister has finished the more general prayers he or she has prepared for those people and concerns that are on the heart of the whole congregation. Typically, there are individuals named who are dealing with illness or grief – and an occasional prayer of thanks. Having different people in the congregation each lift up a name had the effect of making audible that the people we named each have their own families and networks of friends.

These are not the only ones whose lives have been cut down by violence this last week. The world is too full of sorrow from the hates and callousness that divide us. I do not know what the answer is. I do believe it has something to do with this Jesus who went to the region of Gerasa, where even now violence bears its terrible fruit, and there delivered a man from the legacy of rage and despair.

When the townspeople see the man restored to his right mind, they are filled with fear and ask Jesus to leave them alone. There is a terrible truth in their request: we have lived with our demons so long, we choose the familiar and the known over the possibility of true healing.

So go away from us, Jesus. Don’t ask us to surrender our hates and fears, our passions and desires. Don’t ask us to surrender the sweet satisfaction of self-righteousness. Don’t ask us to consider why we are alienated from others or ourselves.

Don’t ask us to see the hungry at our gate or the wounded at the side of the road. Don’t ask us to see the log in our own eye. Don’t ask us to sell our possessions and give alms. Don’t ask us to bless those who curse us or forgive those who sin against us. Don’t ask us to beat our swords into plowshares. Go away from us Jesus. We choose what we know. Egypt is fine. There are melons and leeks.

The healed man begs to go with Jesus. But Jesus sends him home. Home to all those he has cursed and wounded. Home to make his confessions and mend his relationships. Home to tell what God has done. Home to live the peace of Christ.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_Master_of_the_Furies_-_Tormented_Figure_-_Walters_71435.jpg  Walters Art Museum [Public domain, 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

An unending jar of mercy

File:ElijahByLouisHersent.JPG

Thursday

1 Kings 17:17-24

18“What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”

Some translations at least make it a question: “Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son?!” Of course, others put it more bluntly, “that you should kill my son?”

It’s a remarkable turn for this woman, the widow of Zarephath, who has been sustained through the brutal drought and famine by the prophet’s promise that her jar of meal and of oil would not fail until the rains return. One moment she is the beneficiary of a wondrous divine mercy and now accuses God of petty vindictiveness. None of us are without sins, and the hazard of taking in a holy man, is that he draws the eye of God – and what may have once passed by in obscurity, is now revealed to the royal master. And he is swift to punish. Or so she thinks.

It is sad that she has not learned from God’s mercy that God is merciful.

I understand the fear that seizes her when her son stops breathing. I know these thoughts come. I know they blurt out in our frightful anxiety. But still, everything she has known about the God of Israel is generosity and compassion.

I have had these conversations, in the hospital, at a bedside, in grief. Years and years of worship, years and years of the word of grace and the feast at God’s holy table, yet in fear comes the question, “Why is God doing this?” “What did I do to deserve this?”

We do not learn well. God is not robbing us of life’s goodness; he brings true goodness. He brings true life. God heals. God delivers. God forgives. God rescues. God transforms. God brings new birth. God brings his kingdom. God brings the Spirit. God brings the New Jerusalem. God opens the grave.

And so now, when my child lies breathless, my cry is not about guilt and shame. My prayer is for mercy, yes. My plea is desperate, yes. But my cry is for God to show God’s goodness because I know God is good. Like the widow, I want my child to live, I will cry out for my child to live – but I know God will bring goodness, even if the price is tears.

There are things that happen because of choices I have made. I endure those as best I can. And there are things that happen because of choices the world around me makes. And I endure those as best I can. And there are things that just happen. I praise God for the times I am protected. And I look for God’s goodness in those things I suffer. For I know that the God who provides our daily bread from his unending jar of meal is the bringer of a true and imperishable life.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AElijahByLouisHersent.JPG by Louis Hersent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fear not

File:Ikona na Arhangel Gavril vo Sv. Blagoveštenie Prilepsko.jpg

Friday

Isaiah 43:1-7

5Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

We are not worthy of this. But this is about God, not us. God is faithful to his promise. However far we may wander. However great our destruction. However profound our exile. God remains faithful to us. It is the character of God.

(I looked at this paragraph for three days and decided there was nothing more to add.  Peace to you.)

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AIkona_na_Arhangel_Gavril_vo_Sv._Blagove%C5%A1tenie_Prilepsko.jpg.   Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Without fear

File:Portrait of Refugee, Paris 2009 A.jpg

Friday

Luke 1:68-79

69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,…that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear.

In the aftermath of the shooting in San Bernardino, people are not only frightened of possible terror, Muslim Americans are frightened of their neighbors. I can’t imagine how I would feel if the situation were reversed: a minority Christian in a Muslim dominated country when some Christians are making bombs and proclaiming, “Jesus is Lord,” as they shoot up a crowd. If the majority culture knew little about Christianity, I would fear they would view all Christians as possible terrorists – or terrorist sympathizers. It disgraces the name of Christ. It would disgrace me.

Some Christians already disgrace me (and, I think, Christ), but there are enough of us around for people to recognize that shooting up abortion clinics, church prayer groups or black youth on the street isn’t intrinsic to Christianity. But if people didn’t know Christians or Christianity…

I would keep my head down. I would be on constant guard.

Living in fear is corrosive of the human spirit. It restricts our joy. It limits our freedom. We live in the shadows, even as children of an abusive parent find places to be out of sight and mind. It is not the life God intended for us. For any of us.

It takes courage to go on national television and speak of your shock and sadness when your brother has inflicted mass casualties. It takes even more courage to wear a headscarf. Hate is made easier when you are easily identifiable, when you look ‘different’.

69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,…that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear.

I hear these words and think of the Judean experience under Antiochus Epiphanes IV who tried to stamp out what he and his cultured despisers regarded as a backward religious belief and practice that refused to embrace the values of the ruling powers. When there is the threat of death for circumcising your child – or soldiers going village to village with drawn swords demanding you eat pork – fear becomes your daily bread. It is a much different fear than the dominant culture’s fear of terrorism. It is a fear for your very being. The fear that makes you withdraw and hide.

When I served in Detroit, the kids in my parish made fun of white folks. But beneath the laughter was a buried fear. Away from their turf, an encounter, any encounter, with the dominant culture could go south quickly and unexpectedly. You needed to always be on guard. And they are not the only ones who live with such a low grade, chronic fear.

There is no want of fear in our world. It seeps into relationships and homes and communities and human hearts. It corrodes the human spirit. Compassion rusts. Tolerance wears thin. We divide. We arm ourselves. Then someone breaks into a school a workplace, a holiday party and starts firing. And then nations rise up and go to war.

To a fearful world Zechariah sings his song:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David.
70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.”

Maybe Zechariah was thinking about the occupying Roman forces. Maybe the song is older, from the days of Antiochus. But maybe Zechariah understands perfectly that the enemy from which we are delivered is not Muslims or jihadis, terrorists or troubled teens, but the brokenness of our own existence.

And into this world where our brokenness has wrought its evil for generation upon generation, into this world comes a child, his child, John who will be called “the baptizer”. This child he holds in his very own hands will open the door for the one in whom the world finally begins to change:

You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

To guide our feet, yours and mine, out of fear and darkness into the way of peace.

 

Image: By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia (Portrait of Refugee  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

One Child

Sunday Evening

I needed worship today. I needed to sing the hymns and hear the prayers and feel the presence of the community.   Maybe that’s why I had such a hard time finding the sermon. (“Finding” the sermon is my description of my process of studying and listening to the text to discern what it has to say to us on this occasion. I could always talk about the text, what’s going on in the story, the social context of the narrative, the structure of the narrative, etc, but worship isn’t Bible study. We aren’t there to learn about the text. We are there to hear the text, to let it speak to us, to let it draw us deeper into Christ, to let it shape our worship, to let it shape our lives. Sometimes we have to learn about the text in order to hear it, but the point is to hear God speaking to us through it.)

But I had trouble finding the sermon this week. When I rose to read the Gospel this morning I still hadn’t found it. When this happens to me I find that I need to come down and stand in the aisle. I need to get close to the gathered community. It helps, sometimes, to see real faces. Especially when I don’t know what I’m going to say. But, as I began to speak, I realized the problem was that this had been a very intense and personal week, but the texts were cosmic in scope. This was the feast of Christ the King. We read Daniel about the coming reign of God. We said a psalm about the kingship of God. The second reading from the opening chapter of Revelation spoke about Christ coming on the clouds. And our Gospel had Jesus before Pilate declaring his kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world.

But this wasn’t a week in which we were thinking about the grand sweep of history. This was a week in which a boy in our parish had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and rushed into surgery. He posted the brain scan on his Instagram account with the simple words “I have a brain tumor.” It scared the wits out of every adult in the parish.

Nations have been warring this week, and politicians spouting. But this had not been a week in which the nations and the consummation of human history mattered to me. What mattered was one child, one family, one desperate prayer for grace and healing. It has been a week of great international tragedies and fears, but our fear was for one boy.

It was only as I began to speak to the congregation that I found the message of the text for us. Fear is fear. Whether it is fainting with fear at what is coming on the world, or fainting before a very personal fear, fear is fear. And the message that God is God speaks to every fear. History is in God’s hands. And we are in God’s hands. And this child is in God’s hands. To our fear comes the promise that our world – and our lives – are God’s.

Jesus tells Pilate he comes as witness to the truth. The Greek version of the scriptures that was used by the nascent Christian community routinely translates the Hebrew references to the faithfulness of God with the Greek word ‘truth’. Truth is personal in the scriptures. Truth is not doctrine or propositions but the steadfastness, the faithfulness, the firmness of God. He is truth. Jesus is a witness to God’s faithfulness.

So whether our fear is at the roaring of the seas, the warring of the nations, or the very personal crises we face, God is faithful. He reigns. Not like the nations of the world. He reigns in love. And his reign is everlasting.

I am. Stop being afraid.

Friday

John 6:1-21

File:Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, c. 1907.jpg19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

I remember reading this as a young person and hearing it to say that “Jesus can do anything.” I saw in it a demonstration of power. I didn’t have the experience yet to recognize the true power of the imagery.

I didn’t know yet what it was to be cast adrift in the storms of life. I didn’t know yet what it was to be battling rough seas in the dark. I didn’t know true fear or chronic anxiety or what it was like to be in distress and wondering why Jesus is not with us.

All of this is in this story.

I didn’t yet know about the turbulent times in which Mark’s community lived – with brutal war and ideologies raging about them. I didn’t know that storms at sea were understood to be spiritual assaults rather than natural forces.  I didn’t understand what it means that these stories are stories about a community not individual faith. And, most of all, I didn’t yet know that the words we translate “It is I,” are deeply significant words that, translated literally, say “I am” and bespeak the name of God given to ancient Israel.

The message of the story isn’t that with enough faith we can walk on water. Nor is it that Jesus is a man of power (and can do anything for us if we believe firmly enough). The message is “I am. Stop being afraid.”

“I am.” Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called forth the world from the chaos of the primordial sea. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called Abraham and Sarah to go forth on the promise of a new country. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the holy one who met Moses in the burning bush. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the mighty one who divided the waters of the Red Sea and delivered both Egypt and Israel from slavery. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the voice that spoke at Sinai commanding fidelity to God and one another and directing a people to live justice and compassion.

Though we are beset by storms, though we dwell in darkness, though Jesus seems absent, he is yet the living presence of the faithful one who does not abandon his people or the world he has made, but gathers all things to himself.

In the midst of life’s chaos, in the midst of life’s sorrows, in the face of life’s evils, God is yet God. Christ is yet Lord. The hidden one has shown his face. His faithfulness is sure. His promise abides. And with him we will reach the far shore.

He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

 

Painting: Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The authority to speak

File:Backhuysen, Ludolf - Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee - 1695.jpg

Ludolf Backhuysen, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1695

Watching for the Morning of June 21, 2015

Year B

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 07 / Lectionary 12

The stilling of the storm is one of those troubling stories that challenges our modern understanding of what is possible given the laws of nature. But Jesus’ command of the wind and waves is not only conceivable to the people of his time; it is filled with dramatic significance.

Out of the stormy chaos of a raging sea, mighty wind, and darkness, God speaks to create the world. At the time of Noah, God opens the floodgates in the heavens to allow the sea that destroys all life to pour in. God drives back the waters of the Red Sea by a mighty wind, and by his word sets limits the sea cannot pass. God even sends a storm to oppose Jonah in his flight from his ministry in Nineveh.

We hear some of this in Sunday’s other readings.  When God breaks his silence and questions Job, God asks Job where was he when God constrained and set limits for the sea. The psalmist sings of Gods deliverance of sailors at sea. They cry out in terror before God stills the waves. All of this reverberates through this narrative of Jesus rising from sleep to command the sea.

What confronts the followers of Jesus, struggling in their frail boat, is the authority of Jesus to speak God’s word of command over the primal forces of chaos. It is not a “miracle”, a dramatic show of Jesus’ divine power. It is the authoritative proclamation of one commissioned to speak on behalf of the God who called all things into being. And we are as the disciples in the boat: He who has authority to speak God’s word to the sea, speaks God’s word also to us.

The Prayer June 21, 2015

God of all creation,
who brought forth the earth and all its creatures
and set the bounds of the sea,
come to the aid of your church, beset by storms and danger,
granting us faith that your will and purpose to redeem all things cannot be overthrown;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 21, 2015

First Reading: Job 38:1-11
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” – God responds to Job’s persistent demand for God to explain his innocent suffering.

Psalmody: Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”
– The psalmist sings of the steadfast love of God who delivers those in distress.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
“We urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.”
– The ministry of Paul was attacked in Corinth by new teachers who came after he left, saying he lacked the proper credentials and his teaching was self-serving. Paul urges the community in Corinth not turn away from the message he brought them – and the favor of God to which it testifies – and cites his endurance despite many trials as evidence of the worth and validity of his teaching.

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” – The disciples, though experienced sailors, are terrified by a hostile wind, while Jesus is at peace, asleep. Their loyalty to Jesus and his message of the dawning reign of God is shaken by this attack, but Jesus rises to command the sea to be still.