Majesty and Mystery

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Watching for the Morning of June 11, 2017

Year A

The Feast of The Holy Trinity

We begin with the creation story from Genesis 1 this Sunday. Then we join in Psalm 8, the paean of praise and wonderment of the God who made us “a little lower than the heavenly beings.” These images of creation are then paired with the Trinitarian commission of the risen Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” and the salutation by Paul: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Set before us on Sunday is the majesty of God: wondrous, grace-filled, life-giving, life-renewing – the beginning and end, source and goal of all things. Jesus’ command to “make disciples” is not to recruit for the home team; it is to gather all people into the holy purpose of God – a beautiful, noble and good world. A world in harmony with God and one another, where we may not necessarily be naked, but there is no shame. Where God dwells with us in the morning that has no end, in the Sabbath rest of all creation, in the holy kiss of heaven and earth. Though it is not assigned for this week, the words of the prophet/poet seem appropriate:

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky. (Psalm 85:10)

Preaching Series: Genesis 6-9: Noah

Our preaching series on Sunday will take us to the account of the flood in Genesis 6-9. On a day that stands in awe before the majesty of God and the beauty of creation we will hear of the grief of God and a world that nearly falls back into the primordial chaos. We need to linger there before the prospect of a world fallen back into chaos by the spread of violence. We need to hear the voice of God weep that the earth is filled with violencebecause of human beings, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” But we also come to hear of the faithfulness of God who, in the face of our violence of body and mind and spirit, works to save his world, vowing never to destroy it: “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” This is the one who has come to us and, with spikes through his wrists and feet, prayed Father, forgive them.” And this is the one who sends us to wash the world in the name – the power and grace and presence – of the God who called forth the world and calls us yet to himself.

The Prayer for June 11, 2017

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder,
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully;
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 June 11, 2017

First Reading: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” – The first chapter of Genesis tells of the creation of all things by God’s word, God’s declaration that the creation is good, God’s blessing of humanity, and their commission to care for the earth.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” – The psalm celebrates the majesty of God and marvels at the position of honor and responsibility God has given to humanity by entrusting his wondrous creation into their care.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” –
In his final greeting at the close of his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul uses the familiar language that ultimately leads to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Following Pentecost we return to the Gospel of Matthew, resuming here at the end of the Gospel because of the Trinitarian name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With these concluding words, the risen Jesus declares his abiding presence among his followers and sends them to make disciples of all nations.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AV%C3%A4imela_M%C3%A4ej%C3%A4rv_2011_09.jpg By Vaido Otsar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Inhabiting joy

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Thursday

Luke 15:1-10

10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The angels are not singing because morality has been restored. They are singing because some small part of the torn fabric of life has been mended. Reconciliation has happened. Those long separated are reunited. The coin is back with its sisters. The sheep back with the flock. The brother back with his family.

Yes there has been repentance. But we have to be careful with that word. In what way does a coin repent? No, it gets found and restored to its place. And no sheep repents: sheep, when they discover that they are lost, lie down helplessly and cry. It’s why the shepherd must carry it. And carry it home he does. The “sinner” who “repents” is the rejected one who is reconciled, who is carried towards home, who finds himself embraced in the arms of the father – and who, in that moment of embrace, yields to the love that holds him. No games, no pride, no rationalization, no manipulations, just the overwhelming truth of overwhelming love.

When the prodigal son shows up on the edge of town he isn’t looking for restoration, he is hoping to be a slave in his father’s household. Perhaps, with years enough of service, he could repay his debt. But grace finds him. The debt is forgotten. The ring thrust on his finger before he can deliver his well-planned speech.

We don’t read the prodigal son story this Sunday – the third of three parables about being lost and found – just the first two. And it’s good that we don’t, because we jump so quickly towards that idea of moral reform. But the story isn’t about reform. It is about stunning, even senseless grace and the invitation to the whole village to rejoice at being made whole. The lost son is back – even as the coin is found and the sheep returned.

It is God’s purpose to heal the torn and tattered fabric of his creation. We were not made to hide from one another – or to hide from God in the shrubbery. We were not made to stain the earth with blood. We were not made to build weapons of war and towers to the sky. We were created to inhabit a good garden together.

We are created for connection, and whenever the angels see any part of God’s garden restored, they sing for joy.

And we, we are invited to inhabit that joy.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHappy_face_makes_us_happy.jpg  By Meghana Kulkarni from Pune, India (Happiness) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“When a foreigner comes”

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Wednesday

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

It is his promise

File:Tractor Teamwork - geograph.org.uk - 545872.jpgSaturday

Isaiah 2:2-5

2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Personally, I think this message in Isaiah is so priceless and profound it deserves to stand without comment; our comments can never be worthy of it. Yet here I am, wanting to be sure we are captured by this promise.

I don’t know if it’s true that Jerusalem is the most contested pieces of land in human history, but it will do as a symbol of our warring. We call it the city of peace, but peace has been difficult to find.

On the spot where the holy temple once stood now stands a holy mosque, and those who pray in the mosque are divided from those who pray at the base of the foundation stones. Nearby are holy churches – churches that also pray separately.

We will come here, says the prophet, to this holy embattled ground, to learn God’s way of peace. We will come here, to the place where the holy body of Jesus lay slain, to learn to beat swords into plowshares.

That nations will come, says the prophet, to this land where armies have marched for thousands of years – Assyria, Babylon, Medea, Persia, Egypt, Rome, the Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks, Fatimids, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, Germans, Great Britain. And how shall we describe the bloodletting since?

Tiglath-Pileser, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, Pompey, Titus, Saladin – many have marched here. They shall come, says the prophet, not for conquest, but to learn the way of peace.

It is important to let the text say what it says – we will learn God’s ways. This will not be the triumph of one religious people over every other religious people; it will not be the triumph of one tradition over every other tradition or one law over every other law; it will be the “triumph” of God over our fallen humanity: our selfish humanity, our warring humanity, our “us against them” humanity, our divided-into-holy-camps humanity, our bent and broken image-of-God humanity.

We who were made in the image of the creative, life-giving presence at the heart of all existence have become creators of the tools of violence and death: club, knife, sword, catapult, bow, rifle, cannon, bomb, bigger bomb, nuclear bomb, hydrogen bomb, missile, RPG, drone. Ever more clever. Ever more deadly. And when big is not available to us, then suicide vests and swords for beheading and kids turning pressure cookers into death and maiming.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”

Christians say that the nature of this God who will teach us his ways is revealed most profoundly in Jesus of Nazareth who did not take up the sword to protect himself. When one of Jesus’ followers drew his sword to protect Jesus (John says it was Peter), Jesus rebuked him saying, All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” When Peter offered to forgive seven times, Jesus made it seventy-seven times and, when he hung upon the cross, prayed for God to forgive his torturers.

When Jesus eats at the house of Zacchaeus, when he eats at the house of Simon the Pharisee, when he eats with his followers on the night he is snatched in the dark, when he welcomes women as disciples, when he forgives the lame man or heals the leper or defends the woman caught in adultery, when he speaks to the woman at the well as if she were a member of his own household or welcomes Matthew the tax collector – all these are part and parcel of the way of God who is teaching us the way of peace.

Most of us go to church to feel better. But God’s purpose there is to summon us to be better. Again and again we hear the stories. Again and again God speaks forgiveness. Again and again God gathers us to one table. By word and example God teaches, though we learn poorly.

God wants us to be better – not better, as in trying harder, but better as the doctor wants us to be better. God wants to recover in us our true humanity. God wants to straighten what is bent and heal what is wounded. God wants to cast out what is harmful and give birth to what is good. God wants us to live and breathe the way of peace, the way of mercy, the way of compassion, the way of truth, the way of life. God wants us to live and breathe his Spirit. God wants us to live and breathe his love.

And all this is not just God’s desire; it is his promise.

 

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