I am the way

File:Campion Hall Jesus.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 10, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 14:1

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Our hearts are troubled.  They are troubled by the fear of Covid-19.  They are troubled by the tears of those who have lost loved ones.  They are troubled by the cries of frustration from nurses and doctors.  They are troubled by the lies and incompetence of our leaders.  They are troubled by the injustices that weave through our land.  They are troubled by those who talk about freedom as the privilege to do as they please not the responsibility to do as they ought.  They are troubled that love of self seems to trump love of neighbor.

Our hearts are troubled.  And the words of Jesus seem weak to the task.  Should there not be prophetic outrage?  Should we not hear Jeremiah shouting: “They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds”! (14:14). Should we not tremble before the voice of God declaring “I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” (13:9)

Our hearts are troubled.  And what will the texts this Sunday speak?  Will we hear Stephen pray for his murderers as Jesus did?  Will we understand that Christ in us is to be Christ for the world?  Will we hear Peter say, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,” and take up the mantle as those who bear Christ to the world?  Will we hear the poet speak the words that Jesus recited upon the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” and entrust ourselves so fully into the hands of God?

Will we understand what Jesus means when he says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”?  Will we hear a triumphalist song of the superiority of our ‘team’ or the summons to walk the path Jesus walked?  Will we recognize that the way, the truth, and the life – the living face of God – is shown in the outstretched arms that bore the sins of the world and prayed that God would yet forgive a world so inured to the suffering and dying of others?  We are not gaining a privilege, but shouldering a cross.

Our hearts are troubled.  And maybe this is something we share with the disciples who sense something terrible is afoot with Jesus.  Some spectre haunts their night when Jesus will be betrayed and handed over.

Nothing is as it should be in this night.  But we are given words of assurance.  God is working in ways hidden but sure.  And we have work to do, a priestly people not called to privilege but sent as servants of our foot-washing, suffering, redeeming, teacher and Lord.

The Prayer for May 10, 2020

Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way;
keep us in your truth;
enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for May 10, 2020

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” – Stephen becomes a victim of communal violence for his preaching and teaching about Jesus, and in his dying embodies the faith and love Jesus modeled.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:1-5
“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” – A prayer of lament.  The trust in God embodied in the psalm is reflected in Stephen and quoted by Jesus on the cross.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –
Expounding on baptism, the author urges the believers to “grow into salvation” as living stones in a “spiritual house” (a spiritual temple).

Gospel: John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” – Jesus makes provision for his followers in lieu of his impending death, urging them to remain faithful and assuring them that God’s resources are more than adequate to provide all their needs.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Campion_Hall_Jesus.jpg Gownley at English Wikipedia / Public domain

Grace in the wilderness

A message from Easter morning

The Resurrection of Our Lord, year A

April 12, 2020

Jeremiah 31:1-6: At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
Thus says the LORD:
The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
….the LORD appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
….therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
….O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
….and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
….on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
….and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
….in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
….to the LORD our God.”
(NRSV)

Matthew 28:1-10: After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (NRSV)

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A note as we begin: Often, as I read the text, I notice things that I’d like to stop and point out.  One of these, this morning, is this word ‘greetings’.  The Greek word for ‘greetings’ is ‘rejoice’, and I have to think that might have been a better translation in this particular instance when the risen Lord greets the women as they run to tell the others. 

Matthew’s text is a wonderful accounting of the resurrection.  It conveys the earth-shattering nature of what has happened in Christ Jesus.  The earth quakes at Jesus’ death and, now, a shaking earth accompanies his resurrection.  That notion of the earth convulsing at the death and resurrection of Jesus, of all creation being changed, is a wonderful part of Matthew’s proclamation of the resurrection.

Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

The reading from Jeremiah, today, contains one of my favorite verses:

The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness.

There is much in this passage from Jeremiah that is sweet.  It is a promise of a future for the people when all seems lost.  But this verse, in particular, carries profound sweetness for me.  It is the simple promise that we will find grace in the wilderness.

Jeremiah spent much of his life preaching against the leadership of his nation.  God gave the prophet a task of warning the people they were heading towards disaster.  They had turned away from God’s fundamental commands to do justice and mercy.  Greed and power dominated the leadership of the country.  The leaders listened to house prophets who told them everything was great, the king was wonderful, that everything he did would prosper, and the only thing awaiting them was blessing.  These house prophets were fed at the king’s table.

The independent prophets God raised up, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were perceived as a thorn in the side of the king and an enemy of the country.  Jeremiah was called a traitor, people wanted to kill him and, at one point, was thrown into the mud at the bottom of an empty cistern.

When Jeremiah was banned from the temple courtyards, he had his secretary, Baruch, write down all the prophetic messages he had received from God, and had Baruch go read them.  There were faithful people in the palace who succeeded in getting the prophet’s message before the king but, as they read from the scroll Jeremiah had dictated, the king took his knife, sliced off each ‘page’ of the scroll as the reader finished, and tossed it into the fire burning next to him for warmth.

The nation was living on an illusion that nothing could hurt them.  The leadership had a vain and exalted image of themselves.  And the incompetence and folly of the king and leading wealthy families led ultimately to the destruction of the nation.

Perhaps, the most chilling story is that even after all that Jeremiah had warned came to pass, after the Babylonians had destroyed the temple and palace and carried off the ruling citizens in chains, there were zealots willing to murder the good and faithful person the Babylonians appointed as governor for being a collaborator.

In the chaos after the collapse of the nation, a group of refugees came to Jeremiah, acknowledging that they hadn’t listened to God’s warnings and promising that they would now do whatever God told him they should do.  Jeremiah went off in prayer and returned with a word from God that the people should stay in the land.  But they accused Jeremiah of lying and wanting to harm them.  Taking Jeremiah captive, they fled to Egypt as they had wanted to do.

Jeremiah watched his nation come apart, watched his people ignore all that God said to them about justice and mercy and care for those in need, watched the Babylonian armies come not once but twice – ultimately killing all the king’s sons, looting and destroying the temple, burning it to the ground, tearing down the city walls, and carting off thousands in chains as prisoners and slaves.

Caught up in their vanity and idolatry, the leadership of the nation failed profoundly and persistently.  They ignored God’s commands to keep sabbath, to care for the poor, to protect the vulnerable, to seek justice and live mercifully.  Filled with arrogant folly, they drove the nation off a cliff.

War came.  Marching armies and brutal siege brought devastating hunger followed by devastating slaughter and bottomless despair.  But when tragedy struck, God’s message turned to grace and hope, and “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness.”

There would yet be mercy for them.  There was hope.  There was a word from God that said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  Dancing will come again.  Vineyards will be planted and they will enjoy the fruit.  It will not be plundered by an enemy.  It will not be sucked dry by drought.  They will sing again and they will dance.

The scripture tells the human story without any varnish.  Years of piety tend to shine things up, but the scripture paints a pretty sad – and sometimes graphic – portrait of human folly and sin and the sufferings and desolation we can face.  Yet this book is also persistent in proclaiming that a new life will come.  We will find grace in the wilderness.

The hate and lies that dominate our public square will not endure.  The world doesn’t belong to tyrants and kings.  It doesn’t belong to emperors.  The world has its beginning in God and it will have its ending there.  The world that began in goodness and life will be brought back to goodness and life.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is part of this story of human folly and divine faithfulness.  We will find favor in the wilderness.  When everything seems lost, there God will be found gathering the dry bones and breathing into them new life.  There God will take hearts of stone and turn them into hearts of flesh.  There God will make a new covenant when we have broken the old.  There God will gather us to God’s table and set before us the finest banquet.

The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness.

God loves with an everlasting love.  God’s faithfulness abides.  The time of singing will come.  Tambourines await.

Whatever sorrows life may bring, Christ is risen.  Whatever wilderness we must traverse, Christ is risen.  Whatever fear and uncertainty we confront, Christ is risen.  Human greed and violence and sin and incompetence shall not prevail.  Death does not win.  Grace wins.  Goodness wins.  Life wins

The leadership of Jesus’ day may have called him a liar and a deceiver and a threat to the public good.  But God has overturned their decision.  God has proclaimed Jesus faithful and true.

What he taught is from God.  What he did is from God.  There is grace for the thief on the cross.  There is grace for the woman caught in adultery. There is grace for Zacchaeus the tax collector.  There is grace for the deranged man living among the dead.  There is grace for the synagogue ruler and blind Bartimaeus and the woman who reached through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe.  There is Grace for all.  And there is grace for you.

The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness.

Amen

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Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg,
(so named because it was built on the site where the Russian
Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881).
(a wide view of the previous image).

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© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.

Photos: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%9F%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%B7%D0%B0%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0.jpg  Timin Ilya / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) [cropped].

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:M25A9895.jpg   Timin Ilya / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Joseph forgave his brothers

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“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

This is the message from Sunday, February 24, 2019, based on the first reading Genesis 45:3-11, 15, (Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers) and Luke 6:27-38, the Gospel for the day when Jesus commands us to “love your enemies.” The other readings were Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 . An introduction to this Sunday and its texts is posted as An audacious and generous love.

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Because of my cough, I need to keep things short and concise this morning. This poses a challenge, since these texts are all so important.

Every time you hear someone talk about how the Old Testament is all about violence and wrath, you need to say simply: “Joseph forgave his brothers.”

The story of Joseph takes up the last fourteen chapters of the book of Genesis. This is the book that begins with the wondrous creation of all things and then tells how the harmony of God’s world was lost, how Cain killed Abel, how violence multiplied in the earth until God felt it necessary to wipe the slate clean and start again. Genesis tells us of Noah, of the tower of Babel, of the call of Abraham, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the birth of Ishmael, of the birth of Isaac and the command to offer Isaac in sacrifice.

Genesis recounts how Abraham sends a servant to search for a wife for Isaac: his beloved Rebekah. It tells of the birth of the twins, Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob stole the birthright and the blessing. Jacob had to flee from his brother’s murderous wrath and has his dream of the stairway to the heavens with angels ascending and descending. Jacob meets Rachel and negotiates seven years of labor that she might be his bride and, on the morning after his wedding, finds Leah in his bed and realizes that he, the cheater, has been cheated. He works another seven years for Rachel and cheats his father-in-law out of the best of the flocks until he has to flee, taking his wives and possessions. Jacob is caught between an angry father-in-law behind him and a murderous brother ahead of him – and then God jumps him while he is sleeping alone at the river Jabbok. They wrestle all night. Jacob wants to know God’s name and God refuses. As dawn nears, God dislocates Jacob’s hip with a touch to force Jacob to let go, but Jacob demands that God bless him. Then there is the climactic scene when his brother Esau comes galloping towards him with 400 armed men.

All of this and so much more is in Genesis – including all those “begats” – but the book still devotes a fourth of its narrative to Joseph.

The Joseph story is critically important – and it is a story that reaches its climax with an act of unmerited forgiveness. Joseph forgives the brothers who hated him and intended to kill him.

The Old Testament is not about wrath; it is about mercy. It is about a troubled and violent world that is not the world God created, but is the world God chooses to forgive, to redeem, to save, to heal.

The forgiveness of which Jesus speaks – the forgiveness that is the heart of the Old and New Testament alike – is a real forgiveness lived in a broken world. It is not carefree young people singing “All you need is love;” it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, love.

The beatitudes we heard last week, “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep,” – these are not romantic ideas; they are real world ideas. And those exclamations about what is honorable and what is shameful in God’s sight lead immediately to this one sentence: “Love your enemies.”

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call it the Golden Rule but, as I have said, it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, kind of rule.

And understand why Jesus says this:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36)

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. God is faithful to us when we are not faithful. God is generous when we are not generous. God is kind when we are not kind. God is merciful when we are not merciful.

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. And we are not talking about generalities. They tried to kill Joseph. They did kill Jesus. They showed no mercy. They showed no generosity. They stripped him and beat him and pierced his hands with spikes and his side with a spear. They mocked him as he hung there in shame. And the soldiers, after they had had their sport of dressing him up like a king and beating and spitting upon him, demanding that he prophesy – after they had done their Abu Graib cruelties, they callously ignored him on the cross and threw dice for his few meager possessions. But there were no thunderbolts from heaven, only a sad darkness. And there were no curses from the cross, only mercy and forgiveness.

God is merciful though we are not merciful. God is kind though we are not kind. God is faithful though we are not faithful. And this merciful God summons us to follow, summons us to spread wide the net that gathers all into God’s grace.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38)

Joseph forgave his brothers.

Amen

© David K Bonde, 2019. All rights reserved.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Afghan_girl_begging.jpg Evstafiev [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D

An audacious and generous love

File:Fog of War (18986349660).jpgWatching for the Morning of February 24, 2019

Year C

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Having declared that the poor, the hungry, and the grieving are honorable in God’s sight (they embrace the values of God’s reign), and calling the rich shameful for enriching themselves at the expense of others, Jesus moves immediately to Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Our obligation as participants in the reign of God is to live the way of God: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

A new administration has come, with a new set of values. These are not the values of empire that amasses great fortunes from conquered peoples; these are the values of a God who makes the makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous,” who anointed Jesus to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

At the heart of this new administration is showing to all people the fidelity and allegiance we show to our own people. Israel knew the command to love the neighbor, but who falls inside the circle? Who is one of us? Even the Roman soldiers, says Jesus, and foreign mercenaries marching through their lands, even the tax gatherers helping Rome and Judea’s elites to plunder the people, even the sinners pushed beyond the limits of proper behavior, even the pious full of self-righteousness and judgment.

And why such audacious and generous love? Because such is the love of God. Such is the reign of the Spirit. Such is the new world born in Jesus.

So Sunday we will hear about Joseph’s extravagant grace to the brothers who sought to kill him but settled for selling him into slavery and telling their father his favorite child was dead, dousing Joseph’s special coat in blood to show a lion got him. But Joseph will see beyond their vengefulness to the bounty of God, and will provide for them all during the five years of famine to come. And Sunday we will hear the poet remind us not to “fret because of the wicked…for they will soon fade like the grass.” “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath,” for “the wicked will be no more,” “but the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”

…In abundant prosperity. In overwhelming grace. In an audacious and generous love.

The Prayer for February 24, 2019

God of truth,
make us attentive to the teachings of your Son
that in his words we may find the path of life.

The Texts for February 24, 2019

First Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” –
Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and receives them with grace.

Psalmody: Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
“Do not fret because of the wicked…Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more…But the meek shall inherit the land.” – the poet meditates on the destiny of the corrupt who ignore our God-given obligations to one another and promises the fulfillment of God’s promise (the land) to those who remain faithful.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
“But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”
Arguing against those in Corinth who deny the bodily resurrection, Paul now attempts to convey the notion that the resurrected body is different than our present existence.

Gospel: Luke 6:27-38
“Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
After opening Jesus’ teaching about the dawning reign of God with Jesus’ declaration of those who are honored and shameful in God’s eyes, Luke immediately sets forth Jesus teaching, “Love your enemies,” for this is the pattern of God’s action in the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fog_of_War_(18986349660).jpg 1st Lt. Danielle Dixon [Public domain]

Rage and redemption

File:Smoldering ruins of African American's homes following race riots - Tulsa Okla 1921.jpg

Aftermath of the Tulsa Riot that destroyed the homes and businesses in the black community of Greenwood, killing more than 100.

Watching for the Morning of February 3, 2019

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

An outbreak of communal violence is an ugly thing. We shouldn’t think first of the mindless behavior of hometown fans when their team wins the final game. Nor should we think first of the violence that rocks nations when oppressed communities respond to state violence with outrage. We need to think about lynchings: the angry, outraged mobs that insist on immediate vengeance for some fundamental violation of communal norms.

And we need to think about our stories, not what’s happening in some other country.

Emmett Till was 14, visiting from Chicago, when he encountered 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant at the small country store she owned with her husband in Money, Mississippi. He may have whistled at her; he may have whistled to his friends; he may have whistled softly to himself as he had been taught in order to control his stuttering. He was taken from the home where he was staying with his great-uncle in the middle of the night by Carolyn’s husband and his half-brother. Emmett’s naked, shot, and brutally beaten body was fished from the Tallahatchie River three days later, barbed wire wrapped around his neck and attached to a weight.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice records that “more than 4400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.”

What happened to Stephen in Acts 2 is this same kind of outbreak of communal violence. A mob outraged by his claim to see Jesus at the right hand of God rose up in violent revenge. It happened repeatedly to the apostle Paul – indeed Paul participated in the murder of Stephen and was dedicated to arresting followers of Jesus when the risen Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. The arrest that led to Paul’s eventual execution in Rome followed a riot begun with a rumor that he had desecrated the Jerusalem temple by bringing a gentile into the inner court.

Communal violence is an ugly thing. The crucifixion of Jesus was a deliberate act of the governing families in Jerusalem allied with the Roman imperium. It was an act of state violence. But what happened to Jesus in Nazareth after his sermon was a more visceral outbreak of rage. We paint pictures of Jesus with children and lambs and it takes some work to understand what part of his message was so offensive his hearers rose in fury to kill him.

Jesus has laid claim to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. He is the embodiment of God’s reign to rescue the poor and release the captive. But such a claim is a scandal in a culture where every

Jesus is uppity, acting out of his station in life. Jesus calls the people on their implicit rejection of his ministry – and then he dares to say that God’s reign is not for Israel but for all people. The people assert his obligation is to care for his family and village, but Jesus points to Elijah and Elisha who dispensed God’s favors to a poor widow and an afflicted leper among Israel’s enemies. This is what leads to rage, to the ugliness of communal violence. Jesus might as well have whistled at a white woman.

It is deep within us, this conviction God should care for us more than others. Donald Trump milked and manipulated it into the presidency. It took Jesus to the cross. But in the empty tomb God declared Jesus the one who speaks the truth.

So Sunday we will hear about Jeremiah’s prophetic call and God’s command he should speak fearlessly. The psalmist will declare God is his rock and his fortress. Corinthians will speak to us about the ultimate importance of love – not romantic love, but fidelity and care for all people. And then comes the abortive attempt on Jesus’ life. They will not get him this day; they will not get him in the end, for we follow one whose love is not silenced by hate.

The Prayer for February 3, 2019

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you revealed your gracious rule
to bind up the wounded and set free the captive.
Let us not fail to understand your will and your way,
but grant us willing hearts to receive your word and live your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 3, 2019

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” – God calls Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 71:1-6
“In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
– The psalm writer cries out to God for protection “from the hand of the wicked.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” – Paul continues to teach his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the gifts of God’s Spirit and their life together as a community. All gifts serve the community and the greatest gift is love – concern for and fidelity to one another

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
– The message Jesus announces in Nazareth that the age to come is dawning even as Jesus speaks is met with hostility and a murderous attempt on his life.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smoldering_ruins_of_African_American%27s_homes_following_race_riots_-_Tulsa_Okla_1921.jpg Alvin C. Krupnick Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Is Jesus a monster?”

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Sunday Evening

Christ the King / Reign of Christ 2018

“Is Jesus a monster?” she asked with the rising inflection that indicates both surprise and a struggle to understand. I had brought to the children’s sermon an icon of Jesus and asked them who it was. When we settled on Jesus, one little boy announced “Jesus is dead.” I answered “Yes, Jesus died, but God made Jesus alive again.” When he then asked if Jesus would die again, I said “No, God made Jesus alive in a way that would never die.” That’s when the eyes of the little girl grew puzzled as she confronted the thought that Jesus was a zombie.

I hadn’t intended to talk about the resurrection. Last Sunday was the final Sunday of the church year celebrated in our tradition as Christ the King. I was showing the children a famous icon of Jesus where one half of his face doesn’t match the other. Two faces have been painted together. It has an interesting effect as you look at it. You see one face, but it gives you this strange experience that there is more here. And so it is with Jesus. He is fully and completely human, yet we sense there is more here. The face of God is present here with this human face. The hands of God with these human hands. The voice of God in these human words.

File:Composite christ pantocrator.pngAll I wanted to talk about was that sense of something more in Jesus. Something of God comes to us in him. But then the little boy said Jesus was dead, and now we were speaking of an even greater mystery than the incarnation. Now it is Easter without the bunnies and flowers. Now it was just the raw, unvarnished mystery that he who died is not dead, and the promise that we too shall live in God. Hard concepts for children. Even harder for adults.

I tried to rescue the conversation by talking about how much they love their parents and their parents love them. Their parents would never want to be separated from them. In the same way God loves us so much that God never wants to be separated from us. It’s a mystery how this happens, but the love of God is sure.

I don’t know whether it worked. But I tried.

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Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_Icon_Sinai_6th_century.jpg Saint Catherine’s Monastery [Public domain]

Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Composite_christ_pantocrator.png JustinGBX (me) created the composite. “anonimus” uploaded the original photograph. Painter is from the 6th century so clearly public domain. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Small hands and eager eyes

I love the way children receive communion. There was a very young child at the altar last week, his parent teaching him by gently unrolling his fingers so that his open hands might receive the bread. (It’s hard when you’re small and the rail is high.) There was a child receiving the bread hungrily and stuffing it in his mouth with one quick sweep of his open hands straight to his mouth. Another received the bread with happy, twinkling, dancing eyes. A sleeping infant received the blessing gently without a stir, trusting completely the arms that held her.

A young girl lingered at the rail, deep in prayer, never noticing that everyone left and the next group came forward, filling in around her. There is a child always eager to remind me that he takes the gluten free wafer – apparently a bit too enthusiastically for his parents’ comfort. When the altar used to be up three steps and near the back wall, there was a child who left the rail running and jumped the steps to the sanctuary floor. There was a child, years ago, who went home and lined up his stuffed animals for communion, using poker chips for wafers.

When my daughter was three we attended a midweek Lent service at a neighboring church. At the distribution we stood in a circle around the altar, Anna in my arms, and she watched intently as the pastor went round the circle handing out the bread. I whispered to her, “What is that?” “Bread,” she answered. “Who gives us that bread?” “Jesus,” she responded. “Why does he give it?” “Because he loves us.”

The table is a wondrous miracle in a world much too loud and harsh. Here we stand or kneel, a people from all nations and walks of life, side by side in peace. Here grace and wonder reign. Here even a small child recognizes the presence of the divine.

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Image: Carl S. Gutekunst, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

An immeasurable mercy

File:Fisherman in Myanmar.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 21, 2018

Year B

The Third Sunday after Epiphany

Jonah opens our readings from the scripture on Sunday. The great fish has vomited him onto the shore and God tries again to send him to warn the Assyrians that God is about to destroy them for their wickedness. Unless they repent. Every prophetic warning includes the possibility of repentance. It’s why Jonah tried to run away when he was first commissioned. He was afraid the people would turn from their wickedness and God would forgive them. They didn’t deserve forgiveness.   Of course, none of us do. Some of us certainly seem like saints. Some of us certainly are saints. But living well and living faithfully doesn’t put God in our debt. We are still frail creatures, still caught in our selves. The true saints know this. It fills them with compassion for sinners. The rest of us less complete saints want a little credit. It makes us a little judgmental. Those people should know better, behave better, try harder, make better choices. And if they don’t, they don’t deserve God’s mercy. But mercy isn’t earned; it’s given.

So we will hear of Jonah half-heartedly marching into Nineveh and the people hearing and repenting. And God forgives, just as Jonah feared.

Jonah resists the call of God. Tries to, anyway. But the call of God doesn’t let us get away. It pounces on us in unexpected ways – as it did to Peter and Andrew, James and John as they were tending their nets. Suddenly the summons is there and a lifetime of fishing is suddenly turned in a new direction. They will be gathering the world into the arms of mercy, the “fishnet” of heaven’s grace.

The summons is compelling. There is no resisting the eternal voice. Christ stands before them and calls them to follow. And what shall we say? We have work to do? No, we have mercy to do. The world awaits the embrace of God. The world awaits healing and life. The world awaits care and compassion. The world awaits the message that a new kingdom is at hand, a new spirit, a new governance of the human heart.

To choose hardness of heart in such a moment seems unthinkable, though we do make that choice. Often, it seems. Our hardness of heart becomes unrecognizable to ourselves. We cheer what we should not cheer. We trust what we should not trust. We show allegiance to things we ought not serve. Jesus will have things to teach – even as God tried to teach Jonah. The cross and resurrection will be the final lesson: it’s not about what we deserve; it’s about an immeasurable mercy.

It will be sung in the psalm on Sunday. Paul will speak of it in the reading. And Jesus will name names. We are summoned by mercy. We are summoned to live mercy.

The Prayer for January 21, 2018

Almighty God,
as Jesus summoned Simon and Andrew, James and John,
to leave their nets and follow,
you summon all people to lives of faith and love.
Grant us courage to follow where you lead,
and confidence to cast wide the net |
that gathers all people into your gracious embrace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 21, 2018

First Reading: Jonah 3:1-10
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’” – In this delightful tale of Jonah fleeing God’s call to bring warning to Nineveh, choosing death (tossed into the sea) rather than repentance until he is swallowed by a great fish and vomited onto the land, he now finds himself compelled to accept his commission and the thing he feared happens: the wicked city repents and God forgives.

Psalmody: Psalm 62:5-12
“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.”
– Speaking to the community more than to God, the poet expresses his confidence in God and calls the people (warns his opponents?) to also put their trust in God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
“From now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning.” – Paul concludes his guidance on matters of sex and marriage by reminding the community that they live in the light of the dawning reign of God and their lives should be defined by the age to come not the age that is passing away.

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
“Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’”
– Jesus summons Simon and Andrew, James and John, to join him in gathering the nation and instigating a new era of faithfulness.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFisherman_in_Myanmar.jpg By Pupuce22 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The strange and wondrous truth of God

File:Afghan day laborers help Marines fill sandbags (5224388587).jpg

Afghan day laborers filling sandbags outside Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 14, 2010

Watching for the Morning of September 24, 2017

Year A

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 20 / Lectionary 25

Sunday we are jumping ahead to chapter 20 of Matthew’s gospel. We are skipping the Pharisees’ challenge about the legality of divorce and the strange saying about being eunuchs for the kingdom. We are skipping past the disciples’ harsh words to those who would bring their children to receive a blessing from Jesus – and Jesus’ welcome of those children. We are skipping past the words of Jesus to the young man seeking the life of the age to come, telling him to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor, and past the disciples’ astonishment that “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.”   All of which leads us once again to the truth that “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” The reign of God is a profound reversal of the way of the world.

And so, Sunday, we come to the story of a landowner hiring day laborers for his vineyard and the remarkable choice to pay even those who worked but one hour a full day’s wage. It is not the act of an accountant; it is the act of a patron taking care of those who depend upon him. Except these day workers are not his people. He has no long and established relationship with them. He is not their patron. But he chooses to be.

And what shall we do with this portrait of a God who chooses to treat all people as their patron? What shall we do when our long and historic fidelity to God gains no privilege? What shall we do with a God who shows faithfulness to those who deserve none? The landowners’ final words are painful: “Are you envious because I am generous?” The Greek is literally “Is your eye evil because I am good?”

We don’t understand mercy. We don’t understand the breadth and depth of the compassion of God. We don’t even truly understand the notion that God is the god of all. We claim to be monotheists, but we are more likely to think that God is our god and he can be your god too, if you become one of us. But the truth is there is no ‘us’ and ‘them; we are all ‘them’. We have no claim on god’s mercy; it is gift given to all. Rich, abundant, overflowing, fidelity to a world as corrupt and violent, greedy and cruel as ours. Yes, we are capable of great kindness and generosity – but we are also fully capable of its opposite. We are not God’s people. Not really. We are strangers to the reign of God. We don’t really understand the language or culture of heaven. Nevertheless, God comes to us. Nevertheless, he speaks. Nevertheless, he shows faithfulness. Steadfast love.

So Sunday we will hear once again that “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” We will listen as Jonah wrestles angrily with God because God chooses to forgive the cruel and barbarous Ninevites. We will sing with the psalmist in praise of God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” We will listen as Paul exhorts us to live our lives “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And we will once again shift in our seats as Jesus speaks of the just injustice of a landowner who is generous to all, pushing us to see something of the strange and wondrous truth of God.

The Prayer for September 24, 2017

Wondrous God,
whose mercy knows no bounds,
and whose salvation is offered to all:
renew us by your Holy Spirit
that we may walk in the paths of your kindness
and bear your grace to the world;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 24, 2017

First Reading: Jonah 3:1 – 4:11 (appointed: 3:10 – 4:11)
“When God saw what [the people of Nineveh] did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. 4:1But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.”
– Jonah sought to avoid his mission to the Assyrian capital for fear God would forgive the city that had destroyed Israel. Now, when this has happened, God seeks to help Jonah understand God’s compassion for its people.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:1-8
“I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.” – Psalm 145 is an acrostic hymn, each line beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet, in which the poet sings God’s praise “from A to Z.”

Second Reading: Philippians 1:21-30
“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”
– In prison in Rome, Paul is faced with the possibility of his execution and writes to his beloved congregation in Philippi to encourage them to remain faithful to their Lord, living “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” – As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he tells this story comparing the reign of God with a vineyard owner who chooses to relate to his workers not on the basis of what they deserve, but on the basis of his goodness.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAfghan_day_laborers_help_Marines_fill_sandbags_(5224388587).jpg By Marines from Arlington, VA, United States (Afghan day laborers help Marines fill sandbags) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The gateways of the morning

File:Canada Geese and morning fog.jpg

Wednesday

Psalm 65:5, 8-13

8 You make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

We forget, sometimes, that the bulk of scripture is poetry. It is part of why we get in trouble if we read the scriptures too literally. When we point to the transcendent, we are inevitably in the realm of metaphor. And it is impossible to speak about things that truly matter without metaphor and simile. The truth of life can’t be told by an equation. My love isn’t actually “a red, red rose.” When we speak of God’s throne, or God’s right hand, or say that “the LORD is my rock” or “my shepherd” – they are all metaphors. We are creatures who think in images.

And the best images are the ones that make us see in new ways.

File:Gate in the evening - May 2012 - panoramio.jpg8 You make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

The creation stands in awe. The furthest bounds of the East and West glory in the goodness of God. Where the first light of dawn breaks upon the world to the place where the last rays of the sun dip below the horizon, all the earth exults. It exults in the awesome deeds, the deliverance wrought by God: slaves set free, the homeless given a home, the hungry provided with land, the persecuted delivered, the lost gathered, the forsaken welcomed.

8 Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs.

Signs. Deeds and words that point to the deeper truth. The deliverance from Egypt points to a God who frees the bound. The path through the Red Sea is a sign pointing to the God who is the source and goal of every journey to freedom. The water in the wilderness, the manna from heaven – the daily rising and setting of the sun – point to the persistent, determined, faithful love of God.

You are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.

The farthest seas. Every place. Even in my place. In my home.   In my heart. Praise for God’s deliverance. Hope. Hope based on past actions. Hope based on the signs that point to the heart of God.

9 You visit the earth and water it.

At the end of the dry season, at the end of the long summer months without a wisp of cloud when the future stands in doubt, when the haunting question lingers: “Will there be rain? Will there be water for the cisterns and refreshment for the cattle? Will there be a sowing and harvesting to come? Will there be bread?

File:Overflowing Stream after prolonged rain - geograph.org.uk - 1481335.jpgYes.

“You visit the earth and water it.”

God’s saving grace comes. God’s redemption. God’s gift of a future. God’s abundant mercy. New wine and oil. New grain. New sowing and harvesting. New banquet and song. New sharing and compassion. New joy.

8 You make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

The creation stands in awe. The whole human community is as a city, and at the eastern gate the song of joy arises to the sun and rain and care of God. And across the vast expanse of humanity to that western gate where the sun sets, there is joy.

File:Takhte Jamshid.jpg

Images:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Canada_Geese_and_morning_fog.jpg By Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [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
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gate_in_the_evening_-_May_2012_-_panoramio.jpg Forester2009 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Overflowing_Stream_after_prolonged_rain_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1481335.jpg John Darch [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Takhte_Jamshid.jpg By Omid Izanloo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons