Purity

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“Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Matthew 15:10-11)

Watching for the Morning of August 20, 2017

Year A

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 15 / Lectionary 20

I chose the picture above for our bulletin cover several weeks ago, but it gains added poignancy by the events in Charlottesville last week. The Gospel account is the Canaanite woman, the foreigner, the outsider, the “unclean”, whose request for healing Jesus dismisses with a curt and offensive “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” It is a statement worthy of any white nationalist. What is ours is ours. God owes us his benefices. They are not part of us. To which she responds with that compelling assertion of God’s abundant and universal mercy: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

It is important to include with this narrative Jesus’ challenge to the ruling authorities about the nature of ritual purity: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Purity is measured by our treatment of others. Purity is measured by whether we live compassion and faithfulness. Purity is not an outward category of things or people; it is manifest in word and deed.

Jesus embodies the promise spoken through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading this Sunday that God would welcome in his temple all those previously excluded as unclean –eunuchs (the physically deformed or maimed) and foreigners. The psalmist celebrates the harvest and a sees in God’s abundance the invitation for all nations to see God’s goodness and sing God’s praise. And the apostle Paul writes of God’s purpose and plan to have mercy on all.

We keep using religion to draw lines between “us” and “them” – whoever “them” might be. But Jesus relentlessly erases those lines. He understands that the Biblical story begins and ends with a single human family.

The Prayer for August 20, 2017

O God, who hears the cries of all in need,
grant us confidence in your mercy
and persistence in our prayer
that, trusting your goodness,
we might know your saving grace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 20, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1-8 (appointed, Isaiah 56:1, 6-8)
“My house shall be…a house of prayer for all peoples.” – The prophet proclaims that all those who were unclean – eunuchs and foreigners – and previously excluded from the temple will be welcomed by the God who will gather not only the outcasts of Israel, but all people.

Psalmody: Psalm 67
“Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.” – A song of thanksgiving at the harvest that summons all people to rejoice in God’s goodness.

Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
“God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” –
addressing the problem of why so many Judeans have not received Paul’s message of God’s grace in Jesus with trust and allegiance, Paul affirms the certainty of God’s call and election, but sees in their “disobedience” God’s purpose to have mercy on all.

Gospel: Matthew 15:10-28 (appointed, 15:[10-20] 21-28)
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” – Matthew pairs Jesus’ challenge to the ruling authorities’ understanding of purity as ritual purity (rather than justice and mercy in fidelity to God’s command) with the account of the Canaanite woman who shows great faith in God’s mercy: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWe_want_white_tenants.jpg By Arthur S. Siegel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“When a foreigner comes”

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Wednesday

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

42When a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name.

If you are cynical, you will hear Solomon praying that his temple might be the greatest on earth – and his god the most renowned. And maybe that’s all that Solomon had in mind – or all that the author who composed Solomon’s prayer imagined. But there is a seed, here, a deep and profound seed, that will grow into Christ gathering all nations into the peace of God.

This happens often in life where a chance word is later seen to have much deeper truth lying within. It’s why psychologists and psychiatrists pay attention to random associations. It’s why we catch a spouse or a friend saying, “See, that’s what you really mean.” It’s why a song I wrote the week before my wedding seemed to portend things I didn’t consciously understand until the marriage dissolved. It turns out I did know what I was getting into; I just didn’t know I knew.

So even if Solomon’s noble prayer is shallow with self-interest – the depths are there. And scripture can’t escape them. God is the God of all. Not just Israel. Not just the church. Not just the believing. Not just any subset of humanity. God hears the prayers of all.

Of course, the other shallow water to be avoided is the notion that it doesn’t really matter what you call God because there is only one God of all. But it does matter what you call God, because what you say of God shapes our encounter with God. So Solomon doesn’t pray to a nameless divine power, but to the God whose name is LORD, who walked with Abraham promising to bring blessing to the world. This God named LORD wrestled with Jacob and inspired Joseph and called Moses to lead a people out from bondage. This God named LORD spoke laws that may seem archaic to us, but were radical justice and mercy in their day (and still today for those with ears). This God named LORD raised up prophets and a king named David who sought a world at peace and planned for a temple where all came to pray and rejoice.

And we can look at it all and imagine it self-serving, but the words remain and their depths emerge and the prophets push the insight further, and then a child is born who is called Son of David and Son of God who pushes the boundaries yet further, gathering the outcast and the foreigners. And God vindicates this Son of David, reversing his death sentence, and his Spirit flows out upon his followers and they are baptizing Samaritans and an Ethiopian Eunuch and Gentiles, beginning with a Centurion named Cornelius. Paul takes the Gospel to the center of the Mediterranean world – embodying the commission to make students to Jesus of all nations.

And we still fight, in our frail and unredeemed humanity, about who should be allowed in and kept out, but the truth is that whether Solomon realizes it or not, he is praying that God will hear every prayer and all the earth will sing God’s praise. We build walls, but God builds an altar where all may be fed – and a holy city where the light never fails. And again and again God bids us all come to pray and to learn and to feast at God’s table.

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKing-Solomon-Russian-icon.jpg By 18 century icon painter (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Russia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For all

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Watching for the Morning of May 29, 2016

Year C

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 4 / Lectionary 9

So the festal season has come to an end and we return now to our readings that take us (more or less continuously) through the Gospel of Luke. It’s been three months since we heard Jesus preaching in Nazareth that the promise of God’s reign was fulfilled in himself – and the crowd tried to throw him down the bluff because he suggested that God’s mercy and gifts were for all not just for Israel.

Following his sermon in Nazareth, Jesus goes to Capernaum, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, calls Peter, James and John to follow him (the wondrous catch of fish), frees a man from a dreaded skin disease, forgives and heals the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends (scandalizing the Pharisees) and calls the tax collector, Levi, to follow him – banqueting at Levi’s house with “sinners”. Conflict grows over the rules about purity and healing on the Sabbath and, after night in prayer, Jesus appoints the twelve apostles (a Greek word meaning an authorized messenger or envoy).  Jesus then teaches the twelve and crowd about the nature of the kingdom in a long section of teaching similar to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Our reading on Sunday follows that teaching:  Jesus returns to Capernaum and elders of the city meet him to request his help with a centurion’s ill servant. This commander in the occupation army becomes, for Jesus, the supreme example of faith for he sees Jesus as a man with authority to speak and act on God’s behalf.

It is this theme of the outsider that weaves through our readings on Sunday. Solomon prays at the dedication of the temple for God to hear the prayer of foreigners who come there to pray. The psalmist sings for God’s glory to be declared throughout the earth and for all the nations to sing God’s praise. And at the center of Paul’s stern rebuke of his Galatian congregation is his ire that they have tuned away from the central dominical message that God’s reign is at hand and all nations are being gathered into God’s grace and life.

The festal season may be over – but the festal age is at hand.

“O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth”!

The Prayer for May 29, 2016

Heavenly Father,
who names all nations as your own,
grant us confidence in your word of grace,
trust in your commands,
and faithfulness to the way of your kingdom;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for May 29, 2016

First Reading: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.” –
Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple, asking God to hear the prayers of all who come – including the prayers of foreigners.

Psalmody: Psalm 96:1-9
“Sing to the Lord a new song… Declare his glory among the nations.”
– The psalmist calls for all peoples to sing God’s praise.

Second Reading: Galatians 1:1-12
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ.”
The abrupt and shocking opening of Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia in which Paul moves immediately to a defense of his ministry, declaring there is no other Gospel than the one he preached to them.

Gospel: Luke 7:1-10
“I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes” –
Jesus acknowledges the great faith of a centurion who trusts the power of Jesus’ word, confident that Jesus’ has the authority to speak for God and dispense God’s benefits.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFrench_milouf_DF-ST-99-05511.JPEG  By DoD photo by: SSGT ANDY DUNAWAY ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The glory and end of the church

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Saturday

John 14:8-17, 25-27

26 The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

The rehearsal this morning and all the food in the kitchen fills me with anticipation for tomorrow (there’s a barbecue after worship). Sometimes I wish the culture had some connection to Pentecost like it does to Christmas and Easter. I would love there to be a big crowd tomorrow with the energy that comes from a crowd and a holiday. But, at the same time, I am glad that this holy day hasn’t been coopted by the culture. It still belongs to the church.

So the sanctuary is ablaze in red and candles. The bells will lead a festive procession. We will hear people reading in a host of different languages. We will be invited to come for a laying on of hands and a prayer for the Spirit to heal and renew. And this is the Sunday the bread and wine are brought down and blessed in our midst with an adaption of the ancient anaphora of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church attributed to John, the son of Zebedee.

It is a unique worship service in the year, the third of the three great festivals of Christian faith: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost; the mystery of the incarnation, the wonder of the resurrection, the miracle of the Spirit given.

The festivals are linked, of course. The birth of Jesus would be little remembered but for the cross and empty tomb. The Spirit poured out on Pentecost is the Spirit present in Jesus. And the gift of the Spirit to all nations is connected to the dawning of the new creation in the resurrection.

The world is being reborn. The Spirit of God is given. Death is losing its hold. The scattered are gathered. The broken made whole. The dead raised. The corrupt judged. The hungry fed. The peacemakers inheriting the world. The world may war around us, but the day is begun when swords are beaten into plowshares. And we are inspirited to live that new creation.

It is common for people to say that Pentecost is the birthday of the church. But it is more accurate to say that Pentecost bears witness to the end of the church, to the day when every heart is filled with the Spirit and preachers and teachers are no longer needed.

No longer shall they teach one another,
or say to each other, “Know the Lord,”
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.

 

Picture: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A2004_orford_03.JPG  By Ziko-C (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

All Nations

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Chapel of the New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, BC

Watching for the Morning of May 1, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

It is still Easter. It will be Easter forever, but this is still the Easter season, and the empty tomb, and the New Jerusalem, and the Lamb upon the throne, and the river of life, and the gathering of all creation, continues to vibrate through our readings and song.

Paul and his companions have set out on their second missionary journey, visiting congregations they have planted and hoping to go into new regions. But the door is continually blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas and a vision leads them across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia and Greece and the ancient heart of Greek culture. There, across the sea, in the Roman colony of Philippi, the planted word takes root, beginning with Lydia and growing into Paul’s most beloved congregation.

The psalmist calls all nations and peoples to the ends of the earth to join the praise of God. John of Patmos sees the holy city, a light on a hill, beckoning all peoples. From the throne of God flows the river of the water of life and the tree of life brings healing to the nations. And then Jesus speaks to his followers of the gift of the Spirit, the advocate/defender who will stand with us and call to mind all that Jesus has said. The new creation dawns, and the peace of God is given.

The Prayer for May 1, 2016

God of might and tenderness,
who makes the mountain shake
but breaks not the bruised reed
and sustains the flickering flame.
Help us to dwell in your peace,
and ever to take refuge in the Holy Spirit
whom you have sent as our advocate and defender,
our teacher and guide.

The Texts for May 1, 2016

First Reading: Acts 16:6-15 (appointed: vv. 9-15)
“During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” – On his second missionary journey, the plans of Paul and his companions are blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas where Paul’s vision leads them across the Aegean to Philippi are received by Lydia.

Psalmody: Psalm 67
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.” – A harvest song calling upon all nations to praise God

Second Reading: Revelation 21:9-10; 21:22 – 22:5 (appointed: vv. 21:10; 21:22 – 22:5)
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.”
– In this culminating vision of the Book of Revelation of all things made new and the heavenly Jerusalem coming to dwell on earth, the prophet sees a city that is a beckoning light to all people and the tree of life brings healing to the nations.

Gospel: John 14:18-19, 23-29 (appointed: vv. 23-29)
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” – On the night of the last Supper, Jesus declares that he will not abandon his followers, but will send the Spirit to be their guide and defender.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVictoria%2C_BC_-_Christ_Church_Cathedral_-_stained_glass_28_-_Chapel_of_the_New_Jerusalem_(20623905782).jpg  by Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), 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