As no fuller

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Watching for the Morning of February 11, 2018

Year B

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Elijah is taken up in the whirlwind this Sunday. The psalm sings of God as a devouring fire. Paul refers to the glory of God in the face of Jesus. And Mark speaks of shining white garments “as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3RSV).

We don’t know what fullers are anymore, so our current translation will say “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them,” but I like that old word. There are people whose job it was to cleanse fabric. The Wikipedia article linked above says: “In Roman times, fulling was conducted by slaves working the cloth while ankle deep in tubs of human urine.” It’s valuable for us to take the scriptures down from their pious mountains and remember the reality in which they speak: No amount of the ammonia in human urine could get Jesus’ clothes as white as they became in the cloud of God’s presence.

It was at the fuller’s field that Isaiah spoke to Ahaz promising the sign of a child named Immanuel. Malachi declares that one is coming who will be like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap

Slave work. Divine work.

Sunday speaks of the event known as the Transfiguration. This is the festival that brings this season of the Sundays after Epiphany to its conclusion. Once again we hear a voice from heaven testify to Jesus. As we heard at Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of this season, so again we hear: “This is my Son, the Beloved.” Unfortunately, most of us have become so used to them that they will not make us quake.

Pick an empire ruling in majesty and might over vast domains and then imagine you, a mere peasant, hear the shout: “Behold the king’s son!” We would fall on our faces. We would tremble with awe at the radiance of royal majesty. But we will likely hear Sunday’s text without terror and awe.

Perhaps that’s appropriate. The one who has come has come to save. He has shown himself our healer and redeemer. He has declared the Father’s love. But the divine command ought not be neglected: “Listen to him.”  There is a radiance here that comes from no fuller on earth.

The Prayer for February 11, 2018

Holy and Wondrous God,
hidden in mystery yet revealed in your Son, Jesus,
to whom the law and prophets bear witness
and upon whom your splendor shines:
Help us to listen to his voice
and to see your glory in his outstretched arms.

The Texts for February 11, 2018

First Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-14
“Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.” – As Elijah heads toward his end in the whirlwind, Elisha seeks a “double share” of Elijah’s spirit, an expression drawn from the inheritance that goes to the eldest son.

Psalmody: Psalm 50:1-6
“Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.”
– With the imagery of a storm over Jerusalem the poet speaks of the majesty of God who comes to speak to his people.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6 (appointed 2 Corinthians 4:3-6)
“It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – Paul expounds on the story of Moses, whose face radiated with the glory of God after God spoke to him in the tent of meeting.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
“He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
– Peter, James and John serve as witnesses when God appears to Jesus (and, like Moses, his appearance is transformed) and testifies that he is God’s beloved son to whom we should listen.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATransfiguration_of_Jesus_Christ._Novgorod_XVI_Russia.jpg By Новгородская живопись XIV века [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Christ is entered into the world

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This is a lightly edited reprint of a posting in 2014

Thursday

Luke 2

28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God

Christmas lingers. At least it should linger. Not because of the twelve day ecclesiastical season, but because the Christ is born. The Christ is entered into the world. The Christ of God, the anointed one, the embodiment of God’s Word – the embodiment of God’s self-expression, God’s communication, God’s voice that creates all things, that reveals God’s own heart and will and passion, that calls all creation into a living relationship, that gathers the creation to himself – is incarnate in this infant/child/man of Bethlehem and Nazareth, this infant/child/man of temple and town and wilderness, this infant/child/man of cross and empty tomb.

The Christ is entered into the world. The true and perfect son, who honors the Father with his every breath, is come. The son we should be but were not. The son we are in him.

The Christ is entered into the world. He cries as a hungry infant. He laughs as a delighted child, playing the ancient equivalent of “peek-a-boo.” He shouts as a rambunctious boy, sporting with friends. He labors as a man with sweat and satisfaction. He prays and ponders the holy writings as a child and as a man. He weeps at the sorrow of death in the village, and witnesses the reality of Roman might. He enjoys the village wedding feast and ponders the feast that has no end. He reflects on the bonds of friendship and the pains of betrayal. He recognizes the beauty of the world around him and the beauty of human kindness. He sees the brutality of the world around him and the human capacity for violence. He knows the joy of song and dance. He never has the privilege of chocolate, but he knows the sweetness of honey. He knows the wonder of the temple and the mystery hidden within. He watches prodigal sons perish at the gates of far away cities, and witnesses the shame of their parents. He knows the blind and lame who depend upon village charity, and sees those who give nothing. He watches foreign soldiers slap down old men on the road and shame their women. He sees those who collude and those who resist and the many who keep their heads down and hope against the knock in the night.

The Christ is entered into the world. And he abides in the world. Risen, yet embodied still in his people. Risen, yet present in the poor. “As you did to the least of these you did to me…”

Christ is entered into the world. He abides in this world where human creativity and craft have made weapons of unimaginable destruction. He abides in this world where some cannot breathe and others fail to understand. He abides in a world of mothers shielding children from bombs in the night. He abides in a world of vineyard weddings and children making sandcastles at the shore. He abides in a world where those who celebrate Christmas are threatened and abused and others worry over the cost. He abides in a world where fear creeps and violence claims authority. He abides in a world where some children rise carefree and others scrounge the trash heaps. He abides in us who weep and sing. He abides in us who are mindless and mindful of all that transcends.

The Christ is come. The voice at the beginning and end of time that, in love, calls a world into being and, in love, calls a world to new beginnings, speaks in human form and human actions and human words.

He calls the world into peace. He calls the world into joy. He calls the world into giving. He calls the world into love.

He calls us into peace, into joy, into giving, into love.

Christmas lingers. Christ lingers. And our adoration of the wondrous child lingers. For Christ is entered into the world.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASimeon_with_the_Infant_Jesus_Brandl_after_1725_National_Gallery_Prague.jpg By Janmad (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

God sees

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Thursday

Jeremiah 23:23-32

23Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off?

It is a question that will have great power in the years that follow Jeremiah’s preaching, when Jerusalem has been destroyed and its citizens carried off in chains to exile in Babylon.

Is God with them in this far off land? Or do they now inhabit another’s realm? Can we end up so far from home that God is not with us? When we are broken, is God present? Or is God a god who prefers greatness, who stands with those on the victory platform?

It seems that way, sometimes. The stories of some Christian communities are so filled with success and answered prayers that those who walk through the valley imagine God walks only with others.

But the Biblical story is that God is god even in exile, even in Egypt, even in the wilderness. The shining light at the heart of Christianity is a cross: Christ among the degraded, Christ among the broken. God among the exiles.

Yes, God is present.

But Jeremiah’s challenge is spoken to a nation and a leadership enamored with the voices of prophets who speak their own thoughts and passions and dreams: “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name,” says the LORD.

Yes, God is present in the valley. But God is also present on the stage where the name of Jesus is whipped around in support of ideologies and bigotries and zealous agendas. God is present where nations are led to the adoration of might and away from the adoration of the true. God is present where peoples are led to the worship of success and not to the honoring of mercy, where people are enamored with promises of glory and not justice. God is present – to judge, as the divine representatives of the nations gathered before God in the psalm will hear.

23 “Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” says the Lord.

God sees.

The word is comfort to the fallen, great comfort. But the word is danger to our idolatries.

God sees.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJakarta_slumhome_2.jpg By Jonathan McIntosh (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fire and Wind

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Watching for the Morning of May 15, 2016

Year C

The Festival of Pentecost

Worship this coming Sunday is filled with powerful words and images: fire, stormy winds, life-giving Spirit, humanity’s rebellion from God and the collapse of the tower-building, empire-building, attempt by humanity to make a name for themselves. And behind the wind and fire stands the voice of God speaking at Sinai and the Israelites pleading for God to speak instead through Moses. And, ahead, the day when Babel is undone and all humanity gathered in perfect communion – a day that is dawned in Christ Jesus.

We begin on Sunday with the narrative from Acts 2 about Pentecost – the festival 50 days after Passover, at the end of the grain harvest, that remembered the revelation at Sinai when God gave the newly freed slaves the commandments that would guide them to be a just and merciful community. We hear how the Spirit fell upon Jesus followers, amidst the roar of wind and sight of flame, empowering them to proclaim God’s praise in every language. And in worship we will hear people reading Acts 2.38 (“Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”) in many languages evoking that great and powerful day in which began the mission of the believers to the world.

Fire and wind – signifying the holy presence of God – and the voice of God sounding forth through Jesus’ followers. And then we will read of Babel and how humanity’s rejection of God’s command lead to confusion. We will hear the psalm sing of God’s Spirit that renews all life. We will hear Paul remind us that we have received God’s Spirit, that we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters, that we may walk in freedom and fidelity. And then we are again in John 14 hearing the promise of the Spirit, a promise fulfilled by the risen Christ.

And though worship will be fun and dramatic, and unique from all others in the year, it will also bid us come and kneel and pray for the Spirit to be stirred up within us – that we may know its healing and its power, that we might be faithful witnesses to the world.

The Prayer for May 15, 2016

O God of every nation,
who by the breath of your Spirit gave life to the world
and anointed Jesus to bring new birth to all:
breathe anew upon us
and upon all who gather in your name,
that in every place and to all people
we may proclaim your wondrous work.

The Texts for May 15, 2016

Pentecost Reading: Acts 2:1-21
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” – With the sound of wind and the image of fire, evoking God’s appearance at Sinai and fulfilling the promise of Joel, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon the first believers.

First Reading: Genesis 11:1-9
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” – Humanity’s rebellion against God’s command to fill the earth, in order to build a city and a name for themselves, leads to the multiplicity of languages and the confusion of human speech.

Psalmody: Psalm 104:24-31 (appointed: 24-34, 35b)
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures…When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.”
– The poet sings of God’s wondrous creation and life-giving and renewing Spirit.

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17 (Appointed: 14-17)
“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”
Paul writes that we are heirs of God’s promise, adopted as God’s sons and daughters and sharing in the Spirit.

Gospel: John 14:8-17, 25-27
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” – Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to be our guide and defender.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMildorfer%2C_Josef_Ignaz_-_Pentecost_-_1750s.jpg  By Creator:Josef Ignaz Mildorfer (http://www.gnadenquelle.eu/meditation.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Greeted with a kiss

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And she laid him in a manger

Wednesday

Luke 2:1-20

20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

I don’t know what people say as they leave worship on Christmas Eve. Probably, hopefully, that it was a nice service. Probably, hopefully, that they liked the music. Who doesn’t enjoy the change to sing Silent Night by candlelight? Maybe there is a sense of community, or perhaps nostalgia – or, possibly, just eagerness to get home to dinner or to presents.

I wish they went home “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,” – meaning not the worship service, but the news that “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

That’s the stunning news. God’s anointed has come. The one who will deliver us and reign in righteousness is born. And not just born into the world but he lies in a manger! And the news is given to us, mere shepherds!

We should disabuse ourselves of any romantic notion of the shepherds. And maybe we can oversell how low on the social totem pole they stood – but they were clearly nowhere near the top. The Christ is born among the many, not the few. And he is proclaimed to the many, not the few. He is born among and proclaimed to those who lack status in the eyes of the world. Their twitter feed is followed by 6 not 6 million.

The Messiah is announced to those who tend the gardens and clean the homes and care for the sick. The Messiah is born among Uber drivers trying to make ends meet, and greeters at Walmart hoping to stretch their limited retirement income. The Messiah is born among those working the night shift pretty much anywhere. The Christ is born among the truckers on the road, away from family. Perhaps that’s the image we should ponder: Christ born at a truck stop and laid in a packing crate.

But we cannot work this image too strongly. We want to be sure that we don’t put the baby Jesus out there among “them”; he is born among us. In our homes with their secret sorrows and joys. In our homes with their struggles and successes. In our homes with our stresses and fears. In our homes with our sins and mercies.

Christ is born here, with us, where he is unexpected. To us the angels’ sing. We are the ones invited to see. We are the ones who should go home rejoicing. For this night the world is changed. Heaven has bent to earth and greeted it with a kiss.  Heaven has bent to us and greeted us with a kiss.

 

Image: By DFID – UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The light of God’s presence

Looking back on Sunday

Sanctuary light.blog.medium

The sanctuary lamp in the darkness

Sunday was sweet. The children who came forward for the children’s message were young and inexperienced in this little ritual of church life. They were shy and, perhaps frozen by the crowd behind them and this relative stranger asking them questions.

They were simple questions. Questions about candles. What are they for? Where do we use them? Apparently they couldn’t remember ever seeing candles, though grandparents assured me after that they had candles everywhere from the fireplace to the dinner table.

Since I wasn’t getting anywhere, I took them up behind the altar to look at the perpetual light that hangs in a red globe from the ceiling. And there, sitting on the floor, behind the altar, the Christmas tree, the advent wreath and flowers, we were out of sight of the congregation – and they finally began to talk.

Darling children.

We use candles for light. We use them for celebration (birthday cakes and Christmas dinners). There were lamps in the ancient temple in Israel – the only light in a windowless room where God was understood to be present. The red lamp is a sign that God is always present – not just here where people come to pray, but with us always.

On the way back we stopped and I brought down the pillar candles on the altar so each could light one. Apparently that was the moment of success. When I walked into the fellowship hall for coffee hour, one of the little ones jumped up and said, “There he is!” (the man who let them light candles).

It’s too complicated to explain to him that he is the true light of God, the true sign of God’s presence in the world: not only now because of that fresh simplicity and innocent love characteristic of early childhood, but because we were all made in the image of God, fashioned of the earth and the breath/spirit of God, and freed in Christ to be light to the world, to be the gracious, redeeming presence of God’s love in an often dark and terribly wounded world.

Hopefully he will come to understand all this.

The song lingers

Sunday Evening

Isaiah 51 (as sung in the psalmody today)

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Western Meadowlark. Kevin Cole from Pacific Coast, USA

11 “The ransomed of the Lord will return,
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads;
sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

The hymns from this morning linger in my mind. I find myself humming or singing or just hearing in my mind the words “A-a-a-le-lu-u-jah, A-a-a-le-lu-u-jah, A-a-a-le-lu-u-jah, Christ the-e Lord [something] comes to reign.” (I had to go find my hymnal and look it up. That uncertain line is “Christ the Lord returns to reign.”)

At different times in the day different phrases from that hymn has rattled through my mind.

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain

But, since I don’t know this hymn very well, after these few words I resort to the “dah, dah, dah”s. Still, the music of the hymn, the majesty and – not quite joy, but ‘uplift’? – of the hymn I remember. It is like an echo coming back across a broad valley, or the aroma from yesterday’s bread that reveals itself when I return to my apartment.

Worship is meant to do this, to linger. The words spoken, the readings, the songs, the prayers, the actions of standing and sitting, giving an offering, and coming to the table, the sharing of the peace – they are all meant to work not only on our conscious mind but our subconscious. The peace is meant to linger. The sense of our lives being connected to something greater than ourselves is meant to ripple through our day, our week. A warmth of human connection, a hug, a smile, a gesture as simple as sharing a bulletin, may waft through our day with positive emotions. Of course, a harsh word, a cold shoulder can also haunt the day. This is the risk we take in being with others.

The liturgy didn’t go smoothly this morning. It was storming outside. Between the storm and the holiday weekend, the gathered community was small. The Assisting Minister didn’t show up, nor the acolyte. I had forgotten I agreed to get someone to sing the verse of “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” that transitioned us from announcements into the lighting of the Advent Wreath before the entrance hymn. And I didn’t know who, if anyone, was prepared to light the wreath – the person assigned to that task was late arriving. Then the printer wouldn’t work for my sermon. We weren’t quite prepared for the beginning of this Advent season that is about preparation. Ah, well.

We do enter God’s presence stumbling. We do not arrive with manicured nails and tailored suits; we arrive as we are: frail in our best times, capable of great ugliness in our worst. We come as representatives of a humanity that is rioting in Ferguson, shooting children with toy guns in the assumption they are criminals; bombing cities, kidnapping children, assaulting women for indecent clothing. We come disillusioned by fallen heroes – the world has lost some of its remaining innocence with the revelations about Bill Cosby. And the missing football player is added to a tragic list of suicides. We come as members of a human community that has profoundly betrayed our creator’s intention for us – and yet also as members of a human community capable of remarkable generosity. Who could imagine Bloods and Crips standing together to protect another’s property? For every one who throws a rock there are others helping to clean up. For every killing marred by racism there are acts that transcend the most fundamental human divides. For every act of violence, manifold kindness.

We come together to sing our frail song and, somehow, God in his infinite grace transforms our song into true praise – into a meadowlark’s evening call, into the sound of wind in the aspens, into the harmonies of the spheres.

Our small words become vessels of God’s words, our bit of bread a vehicle of Christ’s presence, our prayers draw eternity to us and us to the eternal.

It is truly wondrous. And, in spite of ourselves, the tune lingers.