Ten

File:Holy Embers.jpg

Friday

Genesis 18:16-32

“For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

There are so many wonderful lines in the readings for Sunday. This is one of them. In the face of the terrible violence of Sodom and Gomorrah – a violence that will be revealed when the men of the town encircle Lot’s house and demand to have his visitors turned over to them that they might abuse, demean and rape them, a show of their dominance and power in the ancient world. In the face of that community renowned in the ancient world for its arrogance, wealth and power, God declares that if he finds ten “righteous”, ten people who show faithfulness to others, he will not destroy the city.

It’s a powerful indictment of the city that God could not find ten. But, more importantly, it is a powerful declaration of the power of goodness.

It is not hard to catalog the ills of our world. There have been some terrible examples of terroristic violence. Nice. Istanbul. Orlando. Brussels. Paris. Santa Bernardino. Thanks to the ubiquity of cell phones, we have all become witnesses of police violence. What these communities have always known is now visible to all. And we have also become witnesses to revenge killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge. David Duke feels emboldened by the times to run for senate. The upcoming games in Rio have revealed some of what is being dumped into the seas. Flint reminds us of the terrible consequences of our neglect of the poor. The noble art of governance is reduced to name-calling.

The news coverage tries to “balance” all this distress with an occasional feel-good story of individual triumph or kindness, but those stories don’t offset the litany of woes that begin the hour.

But then comes this simple line: “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Ten good people living ordinary lives is enough to save a city. Ten.

We often feel helpless before the onslaught of the news. But God declares that ten good people is enough. Such is the power of mercy, compassion, kindness, generosity, courage, hope. Ten will save a city. Our small acts of kindness are not lost. They are lights in the darkness. Contagious lights. Inextinguishable lights. Lighted by the one who is the light that enlightens all the world, the one who embodied God’s mercy, the one who showed God’s faithfulness, the one who shines like the sun.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHoly_Embers.jpg By Eric Vernier from France (Holy Embers) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

How shall we pray?

Thursday

Genesis 18:16-32

16“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?”

File:AbrahamIcon.JPGThe assigned reading from the Old Testament for Sunday omits these first two verses, but they are the verses upon which the whole story pivots:

16Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

The visitors have come. Abraham has feted them properly. They have spoken the promise that by next year Sarah will have a son. And Sarah has laughed. This is, after all, quite preposterous, given their age and the truths of biology. But, asks God, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” And that question haunts the story to come.

So Abraham escorts the three visitors (God and two angels?) on their way and God pauses to tell Abraham that he is on his way to discern the truth of the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah. The implication is that, if true, God will execute his judgment. But in light of the wondrous grace of God that gives to withered Abraham and Sarah a future, a son, Abraham asks whether grace is not also possible for Sodom.

We do not pray easily for the wicked. We are children of vengeance. No one grieves for the man who drove the truck in Nice, or the shooters in Paris, Dallas or Orlando. We do not even count them among the dead. No tears are lost on suicide bombers.

But the truth is a human life was lost long before they armed themselves and decided to kill. A soul perished. A human with the capacity for love and kindness and joy and generosity was extinguished by ideology or poverty or violence or rage. No one defends their actions. But do we pray for their destruction? Is this the god we serve, a god who smites?

The story of Abraham isn’t about whether God is a god who smites. It is about whether Abraham will live up to his calling to be an agent of blessing in the world. Will Abraham who is blessed by God’s grace do grace? Will we who live by grace live grace?

It is a haunting question, knowing as we do our capacity for righteous indignation and wrath. But we stand before the one who saved Noah from the flood and forgave his executioners. We live in the knowledge of the mystery that “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.”

So, God stands with us on the hill looking down over the wicked city, the wounds on his hands visible in the breaking of the bread, and how shall we pray?

 

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

Lord, teach us to pray

File:Saint Margaret of York Catholic Church (Loveland, Ohio) - stained glass, Holy Spirit.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 24, 2016

Year C

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 12 / Lectionary 17

Sunday we read of the disciples coming to Jesus and asking him to teach them to pray. Prayer was a part of every day for the descendants of Abraham. It is not as though they had not learned the prayers for the blessing of bread and fields and the dead. It is not as though they did not know the prayers said on entering or leaving the house, or the Sabbath prayers as the family gathered at table. They knew the forms of prayer, the words, the spirit of prayer. They are asking Jesus for a prayer that marks them as his followers – “as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus gives them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. It hasn’t yet settled into the fixed and somewhat richer form that will be used in worship and among the faithful for generations to come, but its core is there: “Your kingdom come.” The prayer Jesus teaches is a prayer for God to come and rule in our hearts and in our world. It is a prayer for God’s name to be regarded as holy as it will be in that day when all things are made new. It is a prayer for God’s will to be done as it will in that day when the lion and the lamb lie down together. It is a prayer for the bread of that day to be given us now as it will be when all are gathered to God’s banquet on Mt. Zion. It is a prayer for forgiveness to reign in us and for us to be delivered in the great tribulation, the birth pangs of the new creation when the world rises up against God’s dawning grace and truth. It is a prayer for God’s tomorrow to come, God’s new day. Today. Here. In us.

Every religious tradition has prayers for the god or gods to grant some favor or protection or to ward off some evil or enemy. There are prayers for healing, for rain, for the fields and the harvest. There are prayers for childbirth and marriage and the time of death. They all seek to garner some favor, some benefit, some mercy from the heavens for the petitioner. But the prayer Jesus teaches is for God’s healing of the world to come. It connects with my worries and needs; but it is bigger than them. It is mindful of the needs of the world. It is a prayer for the whole fabric of our existence to be changed, for the imperishable day to dawn. So, in the way Christ teaches us to pray, when we pray for some specific need – a healing, for example – we are asking for a share of the healing that awaits all creation to come now into the life of the one for whom we pray. A taste today of the bread of tomorrow.

It is this quality that make’s the Lord’s Prayer so enduring, so transcendent, so sacred. It asks for what we would not think to ask, as focused as we are on our selves and our needs. The prayer itself changes us. Recreates us. Heals and transforms us. The prayer carries us into the presence of God and into the truth proclaimed by the cross and empty tomb.   The prayer brings God’s reign of peace and life.

So Sunday Jesus will talk not just about God’s eagerness to hear and answer our prayer, but God’s eagerness to answer with the Holy Spirit (God’s spirit reigning in us). And we will hear the psalmist’s joy at answered prayer and ponder the great wonder and example of Abraham who dared to challenge the Almighty by interceding on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. And we will hear the author of Colossians remind us to live our lives in Christ in whom we are raised to newness of life.

The Prayer for July 24, 2016

Faithful God,
you teach us to call upon you in every time of need,
as a child speaking to a dear father,
and promise to answer us with the gift of your Spirit.
Give us confidence in prayer
and hearts that seek for your kingdom to come
and your will to be done
in our lives and in our world;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 24, 2016

First Reading: Genesis 18:16-32 (appointed: 18:20-32)
“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” –
Abraham has hosted the three visitors and now, as he escorts them on their way, God informs Abraham of his intention to discern the truth of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham intercedes on their behalf, urging God to save the cities for the sake of the righteous who dwell there.

Psalmody: Psalm 138
“On the day I called, you answered me” – The poet praises God for answering his prayer.

Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-19
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit.” –
The author moves to a central theme of the letter, urging the community in Colossae not to be led astray by teachings other than the message of Christ they received.

Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
“One of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’”
– Jesus teaches his followers about the content of prayer, giving them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Then he urges them to faithfulness in prayer assuring them of God’s eagerness to respond to their cries with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASaint_Margaret_of_York_Catholic_Church_(Loveland%2C_Ohio)_-_stained_glass%2C_Holy_Spirit.jpg By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

A holy revolution

File:US Marshals with Young Ruby Bridges on School Steps.jpg

Ruby Bridges being escorted by U. S. Marshals to and from school.

Watching for the Morning of July 17, 2016

Year C

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 11 / Lectionary 16

Sunday we have before us the story of Mary and Martha – Martha, the older sister, hosting Jesus, working to prepare the meal, and Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to the teacher.

It’s hard for us to appreciate the drama of this narrative. The family dynamics are too familiar: one overachieving, hyper-responsible sibling and one willing to go along for the ride. And so we hear a tale of family tension in which Jesus tries to calm Martha down. “Take a deep breath, Martha. The dinner doesn’t have to be perfect. Come enjoy the company.” Only it’s not that. It’s something far more profound. Imagine this is taking place in Pakistan where Malala Yousafzai – while riding a school bus – is shot by the Taliban for saying that girls should be able to go to school.

Sitting at Jesus’ feet means placing herself in the role of a disciple, a student. There is a reason we imagine the Jesus traveling the countryside with twelve men. They were acting in the public sphere. Women ruled in the private sphere, in the home, behind the walls, beneath a veil. But Mary has taken a seat.

She is Ruby Bridges with Barbara Henry, the only teacher at William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana willing to teach a black child. She is James Meredith enrolling at the University of Mississippi. She is Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals walking into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

She doesn’t know her place. Tell her, Jesus. Tell her to go back to her place.

But Jesus tells her she has chosen the good thing.

What is happening in Jesus is the dawning of God’s kingdom, the profound transformation of human existence. As we read in Colossians last week, He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.

The age to come is invading this old age, breaking down the walls, tearing down the barriers, transforming relationships, healing wounds, reconciling all people, recreating the world.

The world about us continues to shoot and kill and rant and rave. The world continues to drop barrel bombs and plunder the poor. But the form of this world is passing away. A new kingdom is coming. A new reign. A new reality. A new creation.

And we are its first fruits.

And we are its witnesses.

And we are its students. All of us.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

And so we listen this Sunday to the story of Mary and Martha. And we hear Colossians exult in the work of Christ. And we sing the psalm that asks who is worthy to enter the temple – and then talks not about purity but justice and compassion. And behind it all is the promise to Abraham and Sarah of a son – a promise beyond all hope – a promise that makes Sarah laugh – but a promise that is fulfilled nevertheless.

We are witnesses. We are guests at the banquet. We are participants into the new creation. We are sitting at the feet of Jesus.

The Prayer for July 17, 2016

Gracious God,
with courage and boldness
Mary dared to sit at Jesus’ feet as a disciple
and he defended her choice.
Give us hearts that yearn to hear your word
and, amid all the distractions of life,
help us see what is needful
and follow in your paths;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 17, 2016

First Reading: Genesis 18:1-15 (appointed: 1-10a)
“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.”
– At the Oaks of Mamre, Abraham and Sarah host three visitors, and God announces that the time for the fulfillment of the promise of a son is at hand.

Psalmody: Psalm 15
“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” – The poet speaks of the qualities required of those who enter the sacred precincts to offer their sacrifices.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-28
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” – The opening section of the letter continues, acclaiming Christ as the source and goal of all things

Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”
– Invited to dine at the home of Martha, Jesus defends her sister Mary’s decision to sit at his feet as a disciple.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUS_Marshals_with_Young_Ruby_Bridges_on_School_Steps.jpg By Uncredited DOJ photographer (Via [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Watching for the morning of July 21

Year C

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 11 / Lectionary 16

Bueckelaer, Joachim - Well-Stocked Kitchen, an...

Bueckelaer, Joachim – Well-Stocked Kitchen, and Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary in the background, the (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hospitality: the gracious welcoming of the stranger.  Abraham prepares a feast for the three men who visit his dwelling.  Martha, also, is preparing a banquet for Jesus and his followers.  Abraham hurries to get the fatted calf and Sarah quickly makes bread to set their best before these guests.  Martha, too, is hurrying to set before Jesus and his disciples a proper banquet.  The welcome and care of strangers is the highest moral value of the time, but Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet.  It is troubling to Martha but not to Jesus.  She occupies the place of a disciple, a student. She has chosen “the good portion.”  She has chosen the true banquet.

The Prayer for July 21, 2013

Gracious God,
with courage and boldness
Mary dared to sit at your feet as a disciple
and you defended her choice.
Give us hearts that yearn to sit at your feet
and, amid all the distractions of life,
help us dwell in your word
and follow in your paths

The Texts for July 21, 2013

First Reading: Genesis 18:1-15
“I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” – At the Oaks of Mamre, Abraham and Sarah host three visitors, and God announces that the time for the fulfillment of the promise of a son is at hand.

Psalmody: Psalm 15
“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” – The poet speaks of the qualities required of those who enter the sacred precincts to offer their sacrifices.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-28
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” –
The opening section of the letter continues, acclaiming Christ as the source and goal of all things

Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” – Invited to dine at the home of Martha, Jesus defends her sister Mary’s decision to sit at his feet as a disciple.

 

PS  The appointed reading in the Revised Common Lectionary for the first lesson is Genesis 18:1-10a which cuts the narrative in the middle in order to fit with the Gospel.  This misuses the Genesis text where the promise is met with laughter (because the years for having children are long past) and the penetrating question is asked “Is anything to hard for the LORD?”