Life even in death

File:Voronet murals 2010 64.jpg

Friday

Psalm 91

11For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

In the account of the temptation of Jesus in Matthew and Luke the devil uses this text to deflect Jesus from his path. The temptation is simple enough: “God has given a promise; test it to be sure. Why would you dare walk into the future without knowing for sure that God will catch you?” But Jesus’ asks for no proof of God’s faithfulness. He knows it. He trusts it.

It is a wonderful psalm, rich in faith

1You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”

and rich with promise of God’s protecting hand.

5You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
6or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.

A colleague and friend of mine read this to her dying husband – also a colleague and friend. He was the victim of a medical mistake. A stupid, senseless mistake.

He should have come home from the hospital. He should have rejoined our text study. He should have stood again at the altar to celebrate the wondrous gifts of God. He should have proclaimed to us again the faithfulness and mercy of God. But he did not. Instead he lay perishing in the hospital as his wife read these words: “You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.”

It was the psalm for which he asked.

He saw no contradiction between the promise of the text and the reality of his suffering. He saw the promise as something so much larger than a promise of physical protection that these words were only comfort. He heard in the psalm the assurance “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The devil hears none of this in the text. He sees only a promise God cannot possibly keep. Life is full of tragedy and woe. We are driven by our fears and sins. Sometimes we harm ourselves. Sometimes we harm others. Sometimes it’s the simple mistake of a nurse’s aid. Sometimes we live. Sometimes we die. Sometimes we live wounded. Life is random. God’s promise of protection is silly in the devil’s ears.

But those who know the goodness of God hear nothing silly. They hear boundless love. They hear faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness. They hear strength greater than our weakness, mercy greater than our imagining, forgiveness beyond limit. They hear life even in death.

 

Image from the Murals of the Voroneţ Monastery, Romania. Photo: By Man vyi (own photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Provoking a choice

Watching for the Morning of August 23, 2015

Year B

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 16 / Lectionary 21

File:Track Choice - geograph.org.uk - 129367.jpgSo what do you choose? It is a question Joshua asks the Israelites and Jesus asks his followers. “What do you choose?”

Israel has come through the desert and, as presented in Joshua, God has led them on a victorious march to claim the land from its Canaanite inhabitants. There are hints in the text that the process was more complicated than this – but the author wants to emphasize God’s fidelity in fulfilling his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all their descendants. The God who opened the Red Sea and freed them from every enemy has fulfilled his promises. Now what will this people do? Its time to choose: the LORD or the gods of the land?

It’s a tougher choice than we imagine, because we are by nature syncretists. We think we can worship God and the gods of our land: we can worship God and mammon, God and country, God and success, God and power, God and sexuality, God and family, God and self – or God and some of all of these.

Joshua demands they choose. Jesus makes us choose. With audacious, provocative, even offensive words he forces us to either see with new eyes or walk away. And many depart, many who were disciples. But the twelve respond: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There is no true life in those other things, no enduring life, no imperishable life.

As we face this challenge, the psalmist reminds us of God’s faithfulness and Ephesians bids us put on “the whole armor of God.”

The Prayer August 23, 2015

Keep us, O God, in your eternal Spirit
that, when challenged by your word, we may never turn back from following you,
but always confess and believe that you have the words of eternal life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 23, 2015

First Reading: Joshua 24:1-3, 13-18 (Appointed 24:1-2a, 14-18)
“‘Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’” – Joshua gathers the people following the forty year wandering in the wilderness and the occupation of the promised land and challenges them to put away their foreign gods and serve the LORD with fidelity.

Psalmody: Psalm 34:15-22
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.”
– The concluding section of an acrostic poem declaring God’s fidelity to those who are faithful to him.

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
– The author uses the metaphor of a Roman soldier’s armor to call the community to faithfulness to God.

Gospel: John 6:56-69
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’” – The words of Jesus about eating his flesh has revealed that many even among his followers do not understand the meaning of the sign of the bread (the feeding of the five-thousand) and they turn away. Jesus then asks the twelve: “Do you also wish to go away?”

 

Picture: Kate Jewell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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 royal table

Saturday

Psalm 23

File:Cava (5303223614).jpg5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

The wine flows freely at God’s banquet.

And it is good wine.

The poet switches metaphors in the middle of his psalm, but both are royal images: God as shepherd and God as banquet host. They are themes that weave throughout the scriptures going back to the exodus when God led the people out from slavery and provided them food in the wilderness.

The leaders of the nation are condemned through the prophets because they feed off the people rather than protect and provide for them.

2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. (Ezekiel 34:2-3)

And in the face of such worthless shepherds God promises both that God will raise up a righteous shepherd and that God himself will be our shepherd. Promises that get woven together in Christ who declares: “I am the good shepherd.”

The message of Jesus was that the reign of God was at hand, and in him we see and hear that reign. The sick are healed. The outcasts are gathered in. Sins are forgiven. Grace abounds. All are fed at God’s bounteous table. Five thousand from five small “loaves” (it’s hard to call a flat bread the size of your hand a “loaf”) and two small dried fish – with twelve baskets left over. Water is turned to overflowing wine, wine strained clear.

It is what the prophet declared:

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make
for all peoples
a feast of rich food,
a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear.
7And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8)

And we hear it in the Gospel this Sunday: “He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things…”

He began to teach them, because it is not just about bread; it is about joy and deliverance and the way of being human. It is about living the compassion of God. It is about forgiving one another and loving our neighbor and having the burden of humanity’s shame lifted away. We who are all created in the image of God have lived war and greed and cruelty. We have ben Cain rising against Abel. We have been Abraham protecting himself rather than his hosts. We have been Sodom and Gomorrah, abusing others in our power. We have been Job’s self-righteous friends. We have been Jonah fleeing from our mission. We have been the man building bigger barns rather than sharing God’s bounty. We have been Peter denying. And this incomprehensible burden of shame, our dishonoring of God, has been carried away by a royal pardon, a king who bears it all.

“He began to teach them,” teach them about God’s mercy, God’s abundance, and our true path. He is indeed our shepherd. And he invites us to his table where grace abounds like wine, and all are fed, and goodness and steadfast love don’t just follow us – the Hebrew word means to pursue – God’s goodness keeps chasing us. Forever.

 

Photo: By cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark (Cava  Uploaded by FAEP) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

God answered Job

Saturday

Job 38

Mojave Dust Devil1The LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:

I love this text, but every attempt to write a reflection on it this week has seen the comment grow too long.

The book of Job was a puzzle to me when I was young. In my early adulthood, I didn’t have the patience or experience to appreciate the struggle behind the poem. But my appreciation for the skill of the poetry has improved with age. My perspective on the conversation between God and the satan has changed. And my understanding of Job’s complaint has grown as I have tasted some of life’s bitterness.

I see now that the text overflows with grace. Yet I know many people may have trouble seeing that, so let me offer just this one sweet word: “The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.”

God answered Job. God is under no obligation to answer our cries and complaints. God owes us no explanation. God is, after all, God, and we are not. (The book of Job puts it so much more graciously and beautifully than that, but that is the substance of God’s answer.) God owes Job nothing. But God answers.

God answers. God answers our cries in the night. God answers our grief. God answers our bewilderment at the inhumanity in our world. God answers our rage at injustice. God answers our despair and hopelessness. God answers when we are full of ourselves and empty of ourselves. God answers. The immortal and timeless one speaks to us mortal and ephemeral creatures.

God speaks. God speaks words that lift our sorrows, that carry our burdens, that forgive our sins. God speaks words that raise our spirits that they may soar like the eagle. God speaks words that cut to the heart like a dagger. God speaks to our vanity and to our brokenness. God speaks to our hate and to our experience of hate. God speaks.

God does not remain aloof in the heavens. We are a people with a book through which God speaks. We are a people with a worship through which God speaks. We are a people with a community through whom God speaks. We are a people to whom God speaks even in the silence.

“The Lord answered Job.”

And he answers us. Not with explanations, not with principles and doctrines and rules, but with words of love, fidelity, assurance, hope, promise. Words that call us out from ourselves and back into relationship with God. What happened to Job in his complaint was that he was cut off from God by his complaint. Demanding God give an account of himself makes God a stranger. When one person demands that of another, whatever trust was between them, whatever sympathy of spirit, is ruptured.

But God does not ignore Job. God does not condemn Job. God answers. He speaks. And by his speaking God calls Job back into a relationship of trust. He draws him back into God’s fidelity and love.

This is the font of all grace in this wondrous poem: God answers Job.

And he bends to speak to us.

 

Photo: adapted from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mojave_DustDevil.jpg  By Jeff T. Alu (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The true vine redux

Watching for the Morning of May 10, 2015

Year B

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

File:Grapes growing in Valpolicella.jpgOur readings this Sunday continue those from last Sunday. Jesus is still talking about abiding. First John is still talking about love. Acts gives us another remarkable baptism that pushes back the boundaries of the church to welcome all. And in the psalm, all creation sings God’s praise.

There is a joke about a congregation whose deacons hired a new pastor. When the people came that first Sunday to hear him preach, they all agreed it was a wonderful sermon. At the door after service, everyone thanked him for the great message. They came the next Sunday with raised expectation, but were surprised to hear the same sermon again. They graciously tried to make excuses for him, imaging that other pastoral duties had consumed his time, but when they got the same sermon the third Sunday the deacons called him into the vestry: “Don’t you realize you’ve preached the same sermon three weeks in a row?!” “Yes,” he answered, “and when you start living that one, I’ll give you another.”

Jesus has one message, told again and again in myriad different ways, but always coming back to the same central point: God is steadfast love and faithfulness and we should show steadfast love and faithfulness to one another. God has not abandoned his creation, though we have turned from him. God is faithful though we are faithless. God has drawn near to us, the true light has come, the word has been made flesh, the new wine of the Spirit is poured out in abundance, the true bread from heaven lavished upon us with a dozen baskets left over. He comes to heal though we look for healing elsewhere. He opens blind eyes, though we remain unseeing. He is the living water, the new birth from above. The faithful God has come to us and been lifted up to gather all people to himself. The grave has been opened and the life of the age to come bestowed upon us. The Spirit is breathed upon us. All that waits is for us to abide in this great estate God has brought to us.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

The Prayer for May 10, 2015

Gracious heavenly father,
you have chosen and appointed us to go and bear fruit,
abiding in your joy and love.
Make us faithful to your call and command
that we may love as you have loved us;
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 May 10, 2015

First Reading: Acts 10:44-48
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” –While conveying to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household what God has done in Christ Jesus, God pours out his Spirit, and Peter has no choice but to baptize them, for they have received the baptismal gift.

Psalmody: Psalm 98
“O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things… All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” – A hymn from the ancient liturgies of the temple that celebrates the reign of God over all creation. It uses the imagery of a deliverer who frees the people from every foe and, acclaimed by the people, ascends the throne to reign in justice and righteousness.

Second Reading: 1 John 5:1-6
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.”
– the author of First John continues to weave together the themes of God’s love for us and the command and necessity to love one another while challenging the false teaching and practice of those who have denied the full humanity of the Christ.

Gospel: John 15:9-17
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” – Continuing the image of the vine and the branches, Jesus urges his followers to abide in his love and teaching.

 

Photo: By Ilares Riolfi (originally posted to Flickr as DSC_2286) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The martyr’s path

Thursday

1 John 4:7-21

File:Preparing to enter Ebola treatment unit (5).jpg16God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

I remember the dinner table argument with my stepfather after I came home from a high school youth retreat filled with joy and zeal. I talked about the “trust walk” where we divided into twos. One person was blindfolded and trusted the other to lead him or her through the wooded paths of our retreat center. It was a metaphor for trusting God, and a practical application of loving one another. But something in that story set my stepfather off, and pretty soon we were arguing whether I would let a member of the Black Panthers lead me blindfolded through the streets of Oakland. He was certain I was foolish, and the militant African-American foot soldier would lead me out into the middle of traffic.

I know better, now, that there is evil in the world. I also know that evil does not come easily. I stand by my argument that I would not have been harmed in Oakland; I am not sure if that would apply just now in the battlefields of ISIL

“God is love” can seem pretty simple-minded in the hard-nosed world. And my stepfather was right to think me naïve. But God is love. And loving as we are loved requires great strength of character. It is a far more difficult, costly, and sometimes dangerous, path than I imagined as a teen.

“God is Love.” God is steadfast fidelity to the world, to humanity, to each of us. God is a determined allegiance, a zealous choice to see each of us as members of his household despite the ways we use, abuse and defame him and one another. “Every imagination of the human heart was only evil continually,” is God’s observation at the time of Noah, yet God rescues Noah and his family – not because they were so righteous, but because God was faithful and would not abandon the world he had made. Humanity is no different when they descend from the ark. The disaster does not change them; but God is changed. God hangs his Kalashnikov in the heavens – pointing no longer at humanity but, if anywhere, at himself. God will take the bullet.

God is Love. Determined to create a world without slavery, he rescues Israel and Egypt. At great cost. Human willfulness does not die easily. Children were dying under slavery. In the end, God had to let all Egypt see the death they were dealing.

God is Love. Determined to create a just and merciful world. And the price has been terribly high. Not just the fall of the northern kingdom, nor the brutal siege and sacking of Jerusalem. Ultimately it comes to a cross outside Jerusalem where God lays his own life on the line. And still we persist. Still children perish. Still God confronts us with our terrible works: death camps, razed cities, nuclear weapons, impoverished communities, refugees, a child with a broken neck dragged into a police van. God makes us see all the crucified.

God is Love. We are slow to learn. There is a terrible price. But there are some who understand.

The martyr’s path is holy. Not the martyr’s path chosen by radical Islam – that is the great and wide path of violence. But the narrow path that risks all to feed the hungry, to teach the children, to tend the sick. The martyr’s path is holy, the path that sets aside the self for the sake of another. The path that treats a stranger as brother and sister. The path that gives what cannot be returned: tender love to the dying, faithful care to the troubled, friendship to the lonely.

This martyr’s path is holy. We tend to denigrate it. And the concept is often misused. But there is something sacred about those who sacrifice self for another, something that goes to the very heart of God. For God is love.

 

Photo:  Dr. Joel Montgomery, Team Lead for CDC’s Ebola Response Team in Liberia, adjusts a colleague’s PPE before entering the Ebola treatment unit (ETU), ELWA 3, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders.  By CDC Global (Preparing to enter Ebola treatment unit) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Here to stay

Mark 16:1-8

HeQi_035-large8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Easter doesn’t undo Good Friday. We are still troubled and troublesome creatures on this planet. Instead of showing faithfulness to God and faithfulness to one another we tend to put faithfulness to ourselves as our first priority. We are capable not only of surprisingly selfish words and deeds – we are capable of surprisingly cruel words and deeds. Terrifyingly cruel.

We know that Jesus was crucified between two others. That little fact reminds us that crucifixion isn’t something that was just done to Jesus it’s something we routinely do to others. It was part of the show in the Roman Coliseum, to line the perimeter with crosses facing the crowds so the could watch and jeer at slaves and enemies suffering.

We are shocked at the barbarity of beheadings by ISIS, but being beheaded was a privilege granted to the apostle Paul because he was a citizen of the empire. Peter, who wasn’t a citizen, got crucified. And, because torturers are always marvelously inventive, when Peter said he wasn’t worthy to die like Jesus, he was crucified upside down.

Easter doesn’t undo Good Friday. We still live in a world of sin, death and evil. But neither does Good Friday undo Easter. We may be troubled and troublesome creatures, but God is a faithful God. He does not surrender the world to sin, death and evil. God will not be crushed by our cruelty. He will not be driven from the world by our bigotry or blasphemy. He is here to stay.

And God will work his work of redemption, rebirth, recreation until all creation is his.

The resurrection means many things. And the women who run away terrified have good reason for doing so. But one thing the resurrection does declare to us is that God is here to stay. He is here to stay in the world. He is here to stay in the church. He is here to stay in our lives. Our sin does not – and cannot – drive him away. He just rolls the stone away and continues his business.

Image: He, Qi. Easter Morning, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46116 [retrieved April 4, 2015]. Original source: heqigallery.com.

Renewal

Watching for the Morning of February 22, 2015

File:Ilya Repin Tempation of Christ.jpg

Ilya Repin, Tempation of Christ.

Our theme for the season of Lent this year is Renewal: renewing faith, renewing friendships, renewing families, renewing the earth. We will still read the texts in our Sunday service; they will still infuse our worship, but our hearing of them will be shaped by the theme of renewal.

It makes me nervous, of course. I don’t like preaching on themes.   I remember reading a little book on preaching my senior year in seminary where Gerhard Von Rad (I think) said that every young preacher has about six sermons in him – and after that, he or she has to start preaching the text. There is nothing eternal in my words. But there is life in the words that come to us as scripture.

Still, every text is shaped by the time and place in which it is read, by the health or weariness of the community, by the cries and joys that surround us. The text is shaped by the day. It speaks to a moment in time. And our moments in this Lenten season will be shaped by our hope for renewal.

The readings this coming Sunday are rich and wonderful, starting with God’s promise to Noah and all the creatures aboard the ark that God will never again war against humanity. God binds himself with a promise, and sets a sign of that promise in the sky.

1 Peter will use the story of those eight saved in the ark as an image for baptism and God’s promise to carry us safely to a world washed and renewed.

And Mark will tell us of Jesus in the wilderness, tested by Satan, and attended by angels. He is the faithful Son. He is the new Adam – dwelling in peace with the “wild animals”.

The psalmist rightly sings of God’s faithfulness. So it will be proper to speak about renewing our trust in God, and praying with the psalm “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.”

The Prayer for February 22, 2015

In the wilderness, O God, you watched over Jesus
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, rooted in your Spirit and in your Word,
our trust in you may be deepened,
and we may prove faithful to you and to all;
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 February 22, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 9:8-17
“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you.’” – God establishes an eternal covenant with Noah and all the creatures of the ark to never again destroy the earth.

Psalmody: Psalm 25:1-10
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.” – The poet entrusts himself to God and asks God to teach him God’s way.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.”
– With imagery that is somewhat foreign to us, Peter proclaims Jesus the victorious one, ascending through the heavens, announcing God’s just judgment on the wicked angels imprisoned since the flood. Then, building on the imagery of the flood, proclaims the saving work of baptism, comparing it to the ark by which the righteous were saved.

Gospel Mark 1:9-15
“He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” – Mark’s narrative of the temptation of Jesus is sweet and to the point. Jesus shows himself to be worthy of the great honor conveyed by God at his baptism when God declared him “my beloved son.”

 

Image: By Ilya Repin (Bukowskis) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Majesty and mercy

Mountains of the Olympic Peninsula 2Watching for the morning of February 8

Year B

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Majesty and mercy echo through the readings for this Sunday. Jesus leaves the synagogue for Peter’s home (across the street) where he brings God’s healing to Peter’s mother-in-law. When evening comes and Sabbath is over, the town brings all their sick and troubled to Jesus and they are healed.

Such authority to heal and renew belongs to God of course, and of this power and grace the prophet and the psalmist sing. With memorable poetry, Isaiah declares to the exiles in Babylon that God is creator and lord over all creation and will bring deliverance to the people. And in one of the five ‘Hallel’ psalms that conclude the psalter – psalms beginning with Hallelujah, “Praise the Lord” – the poet sings of God’s majesty and mercy: gathering the exiles, rebuilding Jerusalem, and reigning over all creation and every heavenly power.

Majesty and mercy, power and grace, Lord of all and tender healer of the brokenhearted, God knows every star by name – and the name of each one of us.

The people of Capernaum would like to keep such a wonder-worker close at hand, but there is a mission to be fulfilled in the world.

The Prayer for February 8, 2015

Almighty God, healer of all our sorrows,
grant that we might not seek to possess you for ourselves,
but joyfully bear your word and grace to all people;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 8, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31
“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” – The prophet addresses the exiles with a promise that the God who laid the foundations of the earth has not forgotten this people but will restore them:

Psalmody: Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
“Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God.”
– A psalm of praise proclaiming God’s power and grace as revealed in God’s work of creation and in his mercy to Israel.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
“I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” – In the middle of Paul’s response to the question whether believers can partake of meat that has been offered in sacrifice to other gods – a response that begins with the necessity of not acting in a way that derails another person’s faith – Paul offers himself as an example of serving others in love.

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
“Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
– Having summoned Simon, Andrew, James and John, and astounded the crowds in Capernaum with his teaching and authority over the unclean spirits, Jesus dispenses the gifts of God, healing Peter’s mother-in-law and many others in the community. The next morning he announces that they must take this message and ministry to all the towns and villages in Israel.