He goes ahead

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Wednesday

This is a reposting of a reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday in 2014

John 10:1-10

4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Palestinian shepherds are different than most shepherds worldwide. Most places in the world the shepherds come behind, driving their flock. In Palestine they walk ahead and the sheep follow.

This contrast alone makes this chapter of John priceless. How much religion consists of people being driven? Driven by guilt, by rules, by demands, by self-righteousness, by the psychological needs of the leadership, by history, by desire. Most of life is driven. Driven by our need to provide, our need to succeed, our need to feel safe. Driven by our fears, our wants, our restless sense that we are missing something. Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden in their shame. The prodigal son is driven home by his desperate hunger – but the prodigal father runs to welcome his son with open arms.

Jesus leads his flock. He goes before. He goes ahead. And though that often results with us running to catch up, it means we are not going anywhere that Jesus has not already been. Every sorrow he has tasted first. Even the grave. But also the resurrection.

He is our elder brother. He goes ahead. He paves the way. He opens the door. He does not ask us to wash feet before he has washed our feet. He does not ask us to take up the cross before he has taken up his cross. He does not ask us to give what he has not given. He does not ask us to walk where he has not walked. He does not ask us to love anyone he has not loved or forgive anyone he has not forgiven.

There is all the difference in the world between the command to go and the invitation to “Come with me.”

My brother got me to do all kinds of things by doing them first. I learned to swim because my brother went first. I learned to ski because he went first. I learned to hold a pigeon, I walked the streets of Brussels, I picked up a live crab, I left home for college. And there were some things I didn’t have to do because he did them, battles he fought I didn’t have to fight.

God does not sit on a throne spouting orders; he has come as our elder brother, leading the way. There are commands in the scripture, to be sure. We know of the ten, even if we can’t name them all. Jesus himself gave a new commandment – and tightened the others. He talked about forgiving seventy-seven times. But he went first. He goes ahead. He calls our name and bids us walk with him.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APikiWiki_Israel_19308_Settlements_in_Israel.JPG ארכיון עין השופט [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Carrying the cross

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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

Counting the Cost

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Watching for the Morning of September 4, 2016

Year C

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 18 / Lectionary 23

Jesus’ relentless challenge of the social order continues this week as he spells out to the crowd the consequences of enjoining the privileged to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to their banquets. Banquets functioned to maintain the social fabric through ties of kinship and friendship and by reinforcing the honor status of the host and guests. Jesus’ teaching to invite those on society’s margins jeopardized the safety and security of the family by bringing shame on the family, undermining their position in society and incurring the hostility of their social class.   ‘Love’ and ‘hate’ are words expressing attachment and detachment. Those who would follow Jesus must detach from the social system of this world in order to show allegiance to the new order that is dawning in Christ. The reign of God welcomes all, feeds all, forgives all. One cannot live the kingdom and yet maintain the ties of security through family position and wealth. “Count the cost,” Jesus says, “Count the cost.”

With this radical challenge comes the preaching of Moses declaring that God’s way is not too hard for you,” but is in fact the way of life. We hear the psalmist describe the one who shows fidelity to God (and neighbor) as a tree planted by streams of water,” drawing in the water of life in contrast to “the wicked” (those who lack fidelity to God and neighbor) who are “like chaff that the wind drives away.” And we hear Paul writing to Philemon, setting before him the need to welcome his runaway slave, Onesimus, (whom Philemon had the legal right to punish even to death) as a brother in Christ.

The world will staunchly defend the social order, but Jesus calls us to be a new creation, citizens of the age to come when all creation is reconciled to the Lord and Giver of Life. There is a cost to discipleship – but a greater cost for ignoring so great a salvation.”

The Prayer for September 4, 2016

Lord to whom our lives belong,
grant us courage to follow where you lead,
bearing the burdens of a broken world,
daring to speak the word of hope,
and living the love that lays down its life
for the sake of the world.

The Texts for September 4, 2016

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:11-20
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
– In a sermon set in the mouth of Moses, speaking to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the promised land, the preacher sets before them the choice of faithfulness and life or disobedience and all its consequences.

Psalmody: Psalm 1
“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season.” –With this psalm that opens the psalter, the poet speaks of the enduring quality of the righteous (those faithful to God and neighbor) in contrast to the ephemeral existence of the wicked who are like chaff swept away by the wind.

Second Reading: Philemon 1-21
“Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love.”
– Paul writes to Philemon on behalf of a runaway slave who has come to Paul and become a follower of Christ. Paul is sending him back to his master with instructions for Philemon to receive him as a brother.

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” – The words love and hate convey a different sense to the first century than to ours, but the words were shocking then as now. The kingdom of God, the reign of grace, requires our ultimate allegiance. We should count the cost.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWTC_Hub_July_2014_vc.jpg By JasonParis from Toronto, Canada [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Something more than all

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Watching for the Morning of June 26, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 8 / Lectionary 13

Jerusalem. The city that slays the prophets. Jesus sets his face for the holy city and his destiny there. But Jesus does not follow the normal route from Galilee, going down to the Jordan River, traveling south around Samaria, then back up to Jerusalem. Jesus goes straight through Samaria, hostile country though it be. He has set his face.

He is not received in Samaria. He is a pilgrim going to Jerusalem – why should they help? Jesus and his followers are not part of their family, tribe or community. No hospitality is required of enemies – though hospitality would be required for God’s anointed. For this affront, the disciples are ready to call down fire. Like Elijah on the hill when soldiers came to seize him. Like wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

How far the disciples still are from the reign of God. How far from the peace of God that silences the wind and waves and warring of the human heart. And from Jesus we hear not only rebuke, but the uncompromising demand of discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” There is a message to be proclaimed. There is healing to be brought to the world. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

So Sunday we hear of Elijah summoning Elisha to follow – Elisha slaughters his oxen and sacrifices them, using the wood of the plow for the fire. He leaves all to follow his new master. We hear the psalmist declaring his complete allegiance, refusing to participate in the sacrifices to any other God. And we hear the apostle Paul summoning the Galatians to live by the Spirit and not the desires of our fallen nature.

We tend to be uncomfortable with Jesus speaking in such uncompromising terms. We expect “welcome for the sinner, and a promised grace made good.” And while there is, indeed, grace for the sinner, for the disciple there is a mission. “‘Tis not all we owe to Jesus; It is something more than all.”*

The Prayer for June 26, 2016

Heavenly Father, Lord of All,
you call people of every age to walk in your paths and herald your kingdom.
Grant us courage to follow where you lead,
go where we are sent,
and bear witness to your love,
that all may know your reign of grace and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 26, 2016

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
“So [Elijah] set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing.” –
Elijah is commissioned to anoint Elisha as his successor and summons him to follow. Elisha sacrifices his oxen, using the wood of the plow for the fire, and goes to serve Elijah.

Psalmody: Psalm 16
“I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” – The poet declares his allegiance to the LORD and his refusal to partake in offerings to any other god.

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” – Paul calls the community to live by the Spirit and contrasts the works of our fallen nature (the ‘flesh’) with with the fruit of the Spirit

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
– Passing through Samaria with his face set towards Jerusalem, Jesus is refused hospitality by a Samaritan town and James and John are ready to call down the fire of God’s judgment. This is coupled with three sayings on the radical requirements of discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

 

*quoted from the hymn: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AErlangen_Burgberggarten_Heinrich_Kirchner_Schlanke_Gestalt_001.JPG By Janericloebe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Radiant with Heaven’s glory

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Watching for the Morning of February 7, 2016

Year C

The Feast of the Transfiguration

As we stand at the threshold of Lent and its journey to Jerusalem and the cross and resurrection, this final Sunday after Epiphany takes us to the Mount of Transfiguration. There, the chosen one of God, anointed with the Spirit, and declared God’s “Son” at his baptism, is made radiant by the presence of God. It is a story sandwiched between two passion predictions. Jesus is pointing his followers to his destiny: he will suffer and die and on the third day be raised.

This teaching is beyond anyone’s comprehension. No one has imagined such a destiny for the Messiah. The disciples don’t understand. We don’t understand. God should fix things not suffer them, right wrongs not endure them. God should vanquish enemies, not be their victim.

This is why, if you read the extended version of the appointed text, you will hear Jesus say: “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” (And if you are reading the extended version, you should go all the way through their incomprehension in verse 45.)

Jesus is the crowning revelation of God. Like Moses at Sinai and Elijah in the cleft of the rock, Jesus climbs up the mountain into the cloud of God’s presence. But Moses and Elijah appear not as Jesus’ equals, but to bear witness to him. They discuss his “departure”, his coming death and resurrection (literally his “exodus”), and in the end Jesus stands alone and the voice of God declares to the sleepy-but-startled-into-wakefulness, terrified-in-the-presence-of-God disciples: “This is my Son (a royal title), my Chosen; listen to him.”

Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. And yet it is for the weary and heavy laden. It is demanding, yet full of grace. It promises life, but asks us to lay ours down. It forgives, but requires us to forgive. It loves, but requires us to love. It shows Jesus mighty against the demonic realm but helpless upon the cross. But even on the cross exercising kingly mercy.

It’s no wonder the disciples are confused. This is not the kind of Messiah for whom they have hoped. The Romans are forgiven not judged, enemies to be loved not conquered. Hundreds of years of foreign oppression goes unavenged, replaced by a mission to gather them all into the wide net of God’s mercy and grace. How can it be?

So here, in Sunday’s Gospel, we see Jesus bathed in the light of God’s presence. And here, with Peter, James and John on the mountain, God summons us to attend, to listen, to hear, to devour Jesus’ teaching and understand his deeds.

It is a vision meant to sustain us through Good Friday so that we are still in Jerusalem on Easter morn, ready to witness the eighth day, the day of new creation.

The Prayer for February 7, 2016

Holy and Gracious God,
wrapped in mystery, yet revealed in your Son Jesus.
Renew us by the radiant vision of your Son;
make us ever attentive to his voice and worthy of your service;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 7, 2016

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35
“As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” – Moses’ face shines from the radiance of God’s presence.

Psalmody: Psalm 99 (Psalm 2 is the appointed psalm; Psalm 99 the option)
“The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!”
– The psalmist sings of God as ruler of all, and of Moses and Aaron with whom God spoke.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
“We act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.” – Paul, writing to defend his ministry and to be reconciled with the Corinthian congregation, uses the image of Moses covering his shining face as a metaphor of the fading glory of the covenant at Sinai compared to the more glorious covenant in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36 (Optional: Luke 9:28-43)
“Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
– In a narrative rich with imagery from Moses on Mt. Sinai, three disciples see Jesus radiant with the Glory of God and consulting with Moses and Elijah. They hear God’s voice declare again that Jesus is “my Son”, bidding them to listen to him.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAlexandr_Ivanov_015_-_variation.jpg by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

He shall be the one of peace

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Jesus and the Apostles. (Note that the weapons they carry are the instruments by which they were martyred.)

Wednesday

Micah 5:2-5a

4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
5and he shall be the one of peace.

The cries for war seem to persist through every generation. We are like children squabbling over toys. Kings, queens, rulers, ruling councils, governing bodies, senates, parliaments, economic powers, or whomever stands to gain by plundering the possessions of another cries “Foul!” and raises the rabble to march to slaughter. Our faith in the use of force is very deep. Our trust in our righteousness quite blind. Fear and hate so easily sown.

Tribes raid tribes. The poor pilfer from the rich. The rich plunder the poor. Graft is the order of things through most of human history. We ask only one question, “What’s in it for me.”

And then we wake up after years of warring and grieving and wonder how to escape our madness.

He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD.

Peace seems beyond us. Beyond our nature. Beyond our will. Beyond our reason.

But there is one who comes. One whose rule is just. One whose reign is faithful. One who feeds the flock rather than fleeces them.

There is one who comes. One who comes in the name of the LORD. One who comes in the majesty of the LORD. One who brings true security to the ends of the earth. One who is our peace.

We don’t follow him very well. We use his name as an instrument of war, as a justification for violence, as an addendum to hate – though he revealed that we are all members of a single human family and commanded us to treat one another so.

We don’t follow him very well. We claim him as a partisan in our causes. We pick and choose his words to support what we want to believe and do. We even murdered him in the name of God.

But he lives.

And beyond all imagining he bears no grudge. He loves. And he continues to bid us to follow.

He is the one of peace.

 

Image: St. Mary’s, Gdansk.  credit: By PawełS (Own work) [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

Riches

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Watching for the Morning of October 11, 2015

Year B

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

The Pharisees’ question to Jesus about divorce turned into an invitation by him to live the kingdom. Now a rich man comes asking how to enter the kingdom, but he turns away, unable to live the life Jesus is bringing.

We know this story as the story of the rich, young ruler, but Mark doesn’t tell us that he is any of these, until it comes out at the end that the man cannot give up his wealth. Every adjective we add to describe this person who comes to Jesus seeking the kingdom of God, every detail with which he is embellished, pushes him further and further into a comfortable distance from ourselves. Bit by bit we define him as someone specific rather than an everyman. He becomes someone else, not me.

But he is me – me with different issues, maybe, but me. What is Jesus asking of us? What is he promising? What do I have to walk away from in order to walk into the realm of the Spirit? My wealth? My anger? My bitterness? My sorrow?

The subject under discussion here is wealth – but much more than wealth. Even as last week’s conversation was about much more than divorce. We are still on the journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus is still headed to the cross and resurrection. He is still talking about what it means to take up the cross, what it means to be citizens of the dawning reign of light and life, what it means to show allegiance to Jesus and Jesus only.

The prophet Amos tills the soil for the seeds Jesus is sowing. He cries out against the economic injustice of his day, the loss of compassion, the abuse of the poor, and declares the coming catastrophe when Assyria will come trample those who trampled the poor:

“You have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.”

The psalmist calls us to be wise, to recognize that

“The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

Pain and struggle and mortality are the heritage of a world turned away from God – but the poet prays for God to soften the burden of life’s sorrows.

What is unspoken in the psalm – but present nonetheless – is the recognition that our brief and fragile life should be spent in “fear” of the eternal God (respect and honor of God’s ways).

As he warns us to show trust and allegiance to God, the author of Hebrews states boldly that the Word of God will reveal the heart of each of us. But he also declares that in Christ we may “approach the throne of grace with boldness.”

In this mix of warning and promise, judgment and grace, there is an abiding promise that God’s reign is dawning. It requires our full allegiance, but it abounds with riches – just not the ones taken from our neighbors.

The Prayer for October 11, 2015

In your kingdom, O God, all find shelter and all are fed.
May your Spirit reign among us
that, abiding in your goodness,
we may live with joyful and generous hearts;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 11, 2015

First Reading: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
“Because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them.” – In the 8th century BCE, during the reign of Jereboam II, the northern kingdom of Israel grew rich but failed to live God’s justice and mercy. As Assyria rises to power, the prophet Amos cries out against the nation’s failure, warning them of the coming catastrophe, and urging them to turn and live.

Psalmody: Psalm 90 (appointed 90:12-17)
“Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”
– The poet meditates on the brevity and sorrows of human life, rooted as they are in humanity’s sinfulness. The poet bids God grant them a proper humility, but also asks God to have mercy and deal with us according to his faithfulness and love.

Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
– God knows and will reveal the heart, but the author also declares that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” and urges his hearers to “approach the throne of grace with boldness.”

Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – A man comes up to Jesus asking how he can inherit the kingdom of God (be among those to enjoy the age to come when God rules over all). But when Jesus summons him to sell his possessions, give to the poor and come, follow Jesus, he turns away. And Jesus comments on how difficult it is for the wealthy to start living the kingdom. Fortunately, “for God all things are possible.”

 

Photo: By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Contando Dinheiro) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not about the bread

About last Sunday – and the ones to come

John 6:1-21

File:Raffaellino del garbo, moltiplicazione dei pani e dei pesci, da s.m. maddalena de' pazzi 09.JPG15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

This is an important piece of information that shapes what will come next in John’s Gospel: the response of the crowd moves quickly from wonder to self-gratification.

The text says that they “saw the sign.” They recognized what this pointed to, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world,” but they became preoccupied with the bread. They looked at the physical and missed the spiritual. They saw bread. They saw full bellies. They saw a release from the labor and anxiety of the fields. They attended to the obvious and missed the profound.

It’s hard to blame them. We are all like them in a way, concerned about what we need from Jesus rather than what Jesus needs from us.

The five thousand gathered on the hillside around Jesus were people who were familiar with hunger. They were what we now call “food insecure.” It is a chronic concern of subsistence farmers, those dependent upon the rains and beneficence of nature for the crops that will sustain them through the year. And it was exacerbated in Galilee by the high portion of their crop that went to landowners and the temple and the state. But now, here is one who, with a boy’s lunch, can feed 5,000. You can almost hear the rumble through the crowd: “We will never be hungry again!”   It takes no special insight to understand that they would make him king.

But the bread is a sign. It points beyond itself. It points to the God who created a bountiful world. It points to the commandment that bread be shared – that the hungry would be fed, the sick tended, the poor aided. It points to the will of God in creating the world. It points to our true humanity. It points to the beneficence of God and the promise of a world restored to its true purpose. And it points to Jesus. It points to him who is the face of God, the witness to our true humanity, and the opening of the path to our re-creation – our being born from above.

Joel Osteen is coming to town and tickets are $15.00 a head. The capacity of AT&T Park is listed at 41,503 – so he starts with a gate well past half a million. He will tell everyone how God wants them to prosper. And it’s not untrue. It’s just that he has everyone looking at the bread and not at the sign.

Christian faith is not a technique for peace and prosperity. Nor is it a denial of death through a promise we will be with loved ones again. It is a witness to the truth of God, the truth of existence, and the truth of our humanity. It is a witness that this ultimate truth has dwelt among us. And it is a call to follow where he leads: to live now the life that is eternal.

God knows we all need bread. But the bread we truly need is the bread of life, the living bread, the living Word who breathes upon us his Spirit. We need our humanity – not our frail, broken, “everyone makes mistakes”, “we all have our dark side” humanity, but the humanity that is born of God.

 

Feeding the multitude by Raffaellino del Garbo.  Photo: By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
For more of this artwork, see https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Feeding_the_multitude_by_Raffaellino_del_Garbo

Our true shepherd

Watching for the Morning of April 26, 2015

Year B

The Fourth Sunday of Easter / Good Shepherd Sunday

File:WhSouthLawn.JPEGWhen we read Psalm 23, or hear Jesus declare, “I am the good shepherd,” we think of peaceful, pastoral images – rolling hills, green grass, gentle waters. We do not think of the intense conflict of the royal court, the constant rivalry for wealth and power in the capital city, the alliances made and broken for the sake of fame and greater access to the media. Nor do we imagine the intrigue of the renaissance papacy as cities and kings fought for control of its wealth and power. Nor do we imagine even the petty bickering and desire to control that rattles around a town or business or local congregation. But in Israel the language of sheep and shepherds is used of the courts of power.

Jesus is the true shepherd, the noble shepherd, the good shepherd, who does not feed off the sheep but leads them to good pasture. He does not use them as canon fodder or sweatshop labor, but lays down his life for the sheep. They are not masses to be manipulated, but people to be saved, healed, and protected from the thieves and robbers who sit on thrones.

On the fourth Sunday of Easter every year, when we have told the stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, now we point out the truth to which all those stories bear witness: this Jesus is our true shepherd.

In our first reading, Peter and John bear witness to the Jerusalem elite who have arrested them in outrage at their preaching – for, if God has raised the one they crucified, then God has stripped these leaders of all claim to authority. They are not true shepherds, but hired hands protecting themselves.

David sings his song of trust in God, acknowledging the LORD as his (and Israel’s) true shepherd – a noble claim for a potentate.

And the author of First John reminds us that the model for our life together is Jesus who laid down his life for us. We who are students of the noble shepherd must live as he lived, not just talk about loving one another.

The Prayer for April 26, 2015

Gracious Heavenly Father,
Christ Jesus our good shepherd laid down his life for our sake
that he might gather one flock from all the nations of the earth.
Be at work within us
that we might hear and respond to his voice,
and follow him in lives of service and love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 26, 2015

First Reading: Acts 4:1-13 (appointed 5-12)
“This man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” – Peter and John are examined by the authorities after having been arrested for preaching that God raised Jesus from the dead (a message that invalidates the authority of the High Priestly leadership because it declares that God has reversed their judgment against Jesus.)

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – The famous song of trust in God that reverberates with social, political and religious meaning in a world where the king (or ruler) was regarded as the shepherd of the people.

Second Reading: 1 John 3:16-24
“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
– The author encourages his community to remain faithful to God and one another despite the departure of a schismatic group from their community.

Gospel: John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – The middle section of chapter 10 where Jesus employs metaphors drawn from shepherding. Here he identifies himself as the true shepherd who cares for the sheep, freely laying down his life for the people.

 

Photo: By PHC C.M. Fitzpatrick [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Taking up the cross

Wednesday

Mark 8:31-38

File:Diorama of Lunch Counter Sit-Down Protests - National Civil Rights Museum - Downtown Memphis - Tennessee - USA - 01.jpg

Diorama of Lunch Counter Sit-Down Protests – National Civil Rights Museum – Downtown Memphis – Tennessee.

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

It’s important that we understand what it means to take up the cross. Jesus is not talking here about enduring the trials and tribulations of mortal life. This is not an exhortation to endure nobly a weak heart, a rebellious daughter, or a drinking husband. Life has many crosses to bear – but these are not the one to which Jesus refers. Jesus is headed to Jerusalem. There he will encounter the entrenched power and privilege of the wealthy elite who have made their alliance with Roman imperial power. They are the movers and shakers of their time – only they were not movers and shakers but preservers and defenders of the status quo. They would say, “Preservers of the peace,” but Jesus has suggested they are preserving their privilege not the way of God, the way of justice and mercy.

An encounter with power can have only one outcome. They will do everything they can to shame and discredit and silence Jesus. Stripped naked, tortured, mocked – “Come on down if you are the Christ!” – and crushed. Powerless. Worthless. A worm not a man.

Follow the Freedom Riders and you can expect spit and violence. Follow the young people at the “Whites Only” lunch counters and you can expect hate and vitriol (see photo).  Speak up in their defense and you will incur the wrath of your neighbors. Those with any sense are silent. Those who would keep their jobs did not dare to register to vote during that Freedom Summer – or dare say that African-Americans had a right to vote.

This is what it means to bear the cross. To endure the hostility, shaming and violence of the powerful because you stand on the side of the kingdom.

The disciples are altogether unprepared to do this. Peter rebukes Jesus for trying to suggest this is what Jesus will find in Jerusalem. But Jesus knows this is no victory march into the halls of power. The way to the kingdom involves a much more traumatic convulsion, a dying and rising – even as the path of becoming a disciple involves dying and rising. Peter will betray Jesus before he becomes the Peter who feeds Jesus’ sheep, before he becomes the Peter who heals the lame man at the temple, before he becomes the Peter who would serve God rather than man, who baptizes Cornelius the Roman Centurion, who is crucified upside down in Rome because he said he was not worthy of dying as Christ did. The soldiers gladly obliged.

Letting go of life in order to find it. Letting go of the privileges of this world for the sake of the new world dawning in Jesus. Taking up the cross cast by a world that wants not to change, wants not to be born from above, wants not to die and rise. This is the awesome, terrible, holy, liberating journey of following Jesus.

 

Photo: By Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons