The journey towards the neighbor

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The Gospel from last Sunday, the 2nd Sunday in Advent in 2018, was Luke 3:1-18, combining the Gospel readings for both the second and third Sundays in Advent. For an introduction to this Sunday see the post “And us? What should we do?

I want us to keep in mind, this morning, where we are in Luke’s Gospel. The passage we just read is from chapter three when John and Jesus are now adults. It begins the main section of Luke’s account of God’s work in Jesus.

I would remind you that Luke didn’t write his work in chapters. The chapter breaks were added at the beginning of the 13th century and the verse numbers don’t appear until the 16th century. For Luke this is one continuous account. It was meant to be read as a whole and not cut up into little pieces like we tend to do.

Reading the Gospels in these little fragments needs to be like an old movie you have watched again and again. When you know a movie so well, it’s possible to talk about just one scene, because you know where we are in the whole movie. If you don’t know the movie, the scene may be compelling, but we don’t understand all that it means.

I like the image of saying that somewhere along the way, we broke up the pearl necklace of the gospel into a box of pearls and lost track of its overall beauty. To make matters worse, we had four beautiful necklaces and lumped all the pearls and precious stones into one big box. The problem with the metaphor, of course, is that it still tends to look at the gospel stories as separate pieces when they are better understood as part of a whole – like scenes in a movie.

Because we have four “movies” of Jesus, when we talk about one of these individual scenes we sometimes loose track of which movie we are talking about. So I want to remind you where we are now in Luke’s “movie”. Luke’s story is the one with Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. It tells the story of the shepherds and all heaven singing (it doesn’t tell us the story of the magi, the wise men). Luke is the Gospel with the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s in Luke that Jesus tells us the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s in Luke we hear about the rich man who ignored Lazarus at his gate. Luke is the Gospel where Jesus on the cross prays for the soldiers saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” It’s Luke who tells us about the women who followed Jesus. And it’s Luke who tells us not only about the mission of the twelve during the life of Jesus, but the mission of the seventy.

And Luke’s story doesn’t stop with the resurrection; he tells us of the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the mission of those first followers. He tells us about the baptism of Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. He tells us how Paul participated in the murder of Stephen for blasphemy, and was then met by the risen Lord on his way to Damascus. It tells the story of Paul’s journeys to spread the message about Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world, and his eventual arrest in Jerusalem and transfer to Rome to have his case heard by the emperor

This is the movie we are talking about. It’s a powerful movie. And I want to emphasize again that it’s in this movie from Luke that we get the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and Lazarus and the Rich Man. It’s also here we get this message from John when his listeners ask him “What then shall we do?” and John says: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

As I wrote in the blog post at Watching for the Morning earlier this week, “The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.”

So, where are we are we, today, in Luke’s Gospel? Luke has opened his narrative with the account of the wondrous events that reveal God’s hand in the birth of Jesus. Zechariah is a priest who is chosen by lot to go into the temple and tend the candles and the incense. In the scriptures, things that happen through the religious practice known as casting lots are understood to have been directed by God. So Zechariah is chosen by God to go into the interior of the temple. There he is met by the heavenly messenger, Gabriel, who tells him that his wife, Elizabeth, will have a child. This is a wondrous thing, because Zechariah and his wife are old and barren – and so Luke’s story begins like the Old Testament with the story Abraham and Sarah and the promise of a child. The story of Jesus is going to fulfill the story of Israel. And this is one of the deep themes of the scripture: When it seems like there is no future, God creates a future.

Zechariah, however, doesn’t trust the message of the angel and asks for a sign. The sign the angel gives him is that he will not be able to speak until the child is born. (The song we sang today, by the way, are those first words Zechariah said after the child is born and Zechariah obeys the angel by naming him John.)

Six months after Elizabeth gets pregnant, Gabriel comes again – this time to Mary and announces that she will have a child and she is to name him Jesus. “He will be great,” says the angel, “and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary trusts the angel’s message an offers herself to God’s service.

Gabriel also tells Mary that Elizabeth is pregnant and Mary goes to visit her. At their encounter, Elizabeth’s child leaps for joy in her womb, and Mary sings that beautiful song we know as the Magnificat (that’s the song we will sing next week). In that song, Mary talks about God’s righting of the world. The powerful will be cast down from their thrones and the poor lifted up. The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich elites sent away empty.

After this, John is born and Zechariah sings his prophetic song. (Poetry in the ancient world was understood to be divinely inspired.) Then Jesus is born and the heavens sing and the good news is proclaimed to lowly shepherds. This child is for the poor.

Mary and Joseph go up to the temple to keep their religious obligations after the birth of Jesus. When they arrive, Simeon is guided to them by the Holy Spirit and he sings a song: “Lord, now let you servant go in peace according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” This child is for the whole world.

The 84-year-old prophetess, Anna, sees the child and begins “to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” That word redemption is important. It says the city and nation have become prisoner to greed, wealth and power – and God will buy it back, God will gain it’s freedom, God will make it God’s own again. Indeed it is the whole world that God has come to reclaim.

The child, Jesus, grows “full of wisdom and the favor of God,” and we get one story that gives evidence of Jesus’ destiny: at the age of twelve, Jesus travels with the family to Jerusalem for Passover (remember it’s at Passover when Jesus is crucified and raised). When the village caravan leaves, Jesus is left behind. His parents go back to find him, and they find him after three days! Jesus is in the temple among the teachers, and he answers his parent’s fear and anxiety by saying: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The whole narrative to this point is filled with anticipation, with signs from God, with prophetic words, with grace to the poor and promises of the healing and transformation of the world. And then we hear our text for this morning: Into this world ruled by Imperial Rome and its client kings, priests, and rulers, God’s mighty, transformative Word comes to John in the wilderness. Beyond the Jordan, in the wilderness where long ago Israel had been made ready to enter the Promised Land, John calls the people to a new allegiance to God’s reign.

I was tempted to talk about who all these people are and what these names represent to Luke’s hearers – but it’s enough to just say this: Luke’s people live in the aftermath of the Judean war with Rome and these names all represent the people and powers that led them to destruction. Rome is not the great and glorious empire; it is the oppressive regime that crushed the nation. Annas and Caiaphas are not great spiritual leaders, but the high priests who were in bed with Rome and held a vice grip on power and wealth in Jerusalem for half a century. Into this broken world the Word of God comes to announce the dawning of a new governance.

John announces “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” a washing in the river Jordan to signify a new beginning for Israel. It is a baptism of ‘repentance’ meaning a washing that signifies a new allegiance to God. And it is a baptism for ‘the forgiveness of sins’ meaning that God foregoes God’s right to seek satisfaction for all their offenses against God.

The imagery is of Israel starting over, going out into the wilderness and coming anew into the promised land. But with this new beginning, John warns the people to bear the fruit that is appropriate to God’s reign.

These words of John are not just about John and the people out there at the Jordan River. These are words for all of us. This is what it means to show allegiance to God’s transformation of the world. This is what it means to be ready for the Christ. “The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.”

And the journey toward the neighbor is not only sharing bread; it is about love of neighbor. It is about seeing others as members of your own household. It is about seeing their humanity, about seeing your connection with one another and living out that connection.

I want to tell you again a story about two soup kitchens in Detroit. One was at a large, beautiful old church on Jefferson Avenue on the East Side of Detroit. It was a very blighted area at the time, yet right on the edge of a very wealthy suburb called Grosse Pointe.

The members of that congregation wanted to serve their community so they set up a soup kitchen. The members of the congregation were all white; the people they were feeding were all African–Americans. The doors of the building were locked while they cooked the food and set the tables. At the appointed time they opened the doors and the people filed in down the stairs into the basement. White folks stood behind the counter and dished out the food. The black folks sat down at the tables, ate it, and filed out.

It was important; people were getting fed. But on the other side of town there was another soup kitchen where they opened the doors in the afternoon when the first person arrived to start cooking. People from the neighborhood would drift in and help in the kitchen and set up chairs and tables, and have coffee as others came. When it was time to eat everyone sat down together and ate as one community. The second soup kitchen was a community meal where they knew each other’s names – or had the chance to learn them.

The journey to God is a journey to the neighbor. And the journey to the neighbor is not just an outward act of care; it is about seeing all others as members of your own household. It is about knowing that people have names and a story that matters.

There was a third soup kitchen in Detroit. The woman who was the heart of this soup kitchen was virtually blind. She was in the kitchen in the church basement preparing that night’s soup when she heard a terrific roar. The roof of the church had collapsed in on the sanctuary above her. After they dug her out, she said, “I knew something happened and figured you’d find me, so I just kept making soup.” They hauled out the tables from the basement and served soup for the community on the sidewalk. And in the days after they continued to cook in the basement and eat out on the sidewalk.

“The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.” The woes of the world are many, but we just keep making soup.

Amen

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If you’d like to know or follow up on some of the references in the message from Sunday, here are some of the links:

Because we have four “movies” of Jesus, when we talk about one of these individual scenes we sometimes loose track of which movie we are talking about. So I want to remind you where we are now in Luke’s “movie”. Luke’s story is the one with Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. It tells the story of the shepherds and all heaven singing (it doesn’t tell us the story of the magi, the wise men). Luke is the Gospel with the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s in Luke that Jesus tells us the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s in Luke we hear about the rich man who ignored Lazarus at his gate. Luke is the Gospel where Jesus on the cross prays for the soldiers saying, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” It’s Luke who tells us about the women who followed Jesus. And it’s Luke who tells us not only about the mission of the twelve during the life of Jesus, but the mission of the seventy.

And Luke’s story doesn’t stop with the resurrection; he tells us of the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the mission of those first followers. He tells us about the baptism of Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. He tells us how Paul participated in the murder of Stephen for blasphemy, and was then met by the risen Lord on his way to Damascus. It tells the story of Paul’s journeys to spread the message about Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world, and his eventual arrest in Jerusalem and transfer to Rome to have his case heard by the emperor.

This is the movie we are talking about. It’s a powerful movie. And I want to emphasize again that it’s in this movie from Luke that we get the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and Lazarus and the Rich Man. It’s also here we get this message from John when his listeners ask him “What then shall we do?” and John says: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

As I wrote in the blog post at Watching for the Morning earlier this week, “The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.”

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maximilien_Luce_-_Le_bon_samaritain.jpg Maximilien Luce [Public domain]

 

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A Journey towards God

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From last Sunday

The First Sunday of Advent, 2018, Year C

The children were given binoculars on Sunday – as we look on this Sunday to the horizon of history. The theme for the day was “A Journey towards God,” and the texts for Sunday can be found with the post: “The season of hope.” These are a few passages from the day’s sermon. The full message can be found here.

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When we describe this first Sunday in Advent as being about our Journey towards God, we aren’t just talking about my individual spiritual journey, but the journey of the whole world to its re-creation.

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We are moving towards a creation made new. We are moving towards the day when the Spirit of God reigns in every heart. This means we are fundamentally and profoundly people of hope. We don’t look on the sorrows of the world around us with despair. We don’t lay our dead in the ground imagining this is the end. We don’t see the triumph of lies and deceptions and hate as the end of civilization.   It may be the end of our civilization, but it is not the end of God’s work with the world. It’s not the end of the human story.

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What is present to us in Jesus is a new birth of the world. And the followers of Jesus are the messengers of Jesus carrying that new birth to the world.

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We are not waiting with dark pleasure at the thought that the wicked are finally going to get their due. We are rejoicing in the rebirth and transformation of the world. We are sowing the seeds of mercy and light. We are living our reconciliation. We are bearing witness to the mercy of God. We are bold in the face of death, for death has lost its sting. We belong to God. The world belongs to God. And we are headed toward life. Even if it were possible for heaven and earth to pass away, says Jesus, his promise will not pass away.

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The shaking of the powers of the heavens doesn’t mean literal changes to the physical universe – the reference is to the governing powers that oppress human life. The powers that are shaken are hate and fear and racism. The powers that are shaken are tribalism, greed and falsehood. The powers that are shaken are all the tyrants that rule – because a new king is coming: one who reigns in justice and righteousness, one who fills all creation with faithfulness to God and one another, one who sets right the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2014041_465556_21255545_161244.jpg Suvendra.nath [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

For all

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Watching for the Morning of May 29, 2016

Year C

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 4 / Lectionary 9

So the festal season has come to an end and we return now to our readings that take us (more or less continuously) through the Gospel of Luke. It’s been three months since we heard Jesus preaching in Nazareth that the promise of God’s reign was fulfilled in himself – and the crowd tried to throw him down the bluff because he suggested that God’s mercy and gifts were for all not just for Israel.

Following his sermon in Nazareth, Jesus goes to Capernaum, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, calls Peter, James and John to follow him (the wondrous catch of fish), frees a man from a dreaded skin disease, forgives and heals the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends (scandalizing the Pharisees) and calls the tax collector, Levi, to follow him – banqueting at Levi’s house with “sinners”. Conflict grows over the rules about purity and healing on the Sabbath and, after night in prayer, Jesus appoints the twelve apostles (a Greek word meaning an authorized messenger or envoy).  Jesus then teaches the twelve and crowd about the nature of the kingdom in a long section of teaching similar to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Our reading on Sunday follows that teaching:  Jesus returns to Capernaum and elders of the city meet him to request his help with a centurion’s ill servant. This commander in the occupation army becomes, for Jesus, the supreme example of faith for he sees Jesus as a man with authority to speak and act on God’s behalf.

It is this theme of the outsider that weaves through our readings on Sunday. Solomon prays at the dedication of the temple for God to hear the prayer of foreigners who come there to pray. The psalmist sings for God’s glory to be declared throughout the earth and for all the nations to sing God’s praise. And at the center of Paul’s stern rebuke of his Galatian congregation is his ire that they have tuned away from the central dominical message that God’s reign is at hand and all nations are being gathered into God’s grace and life.

The festal season may be over – but the festal age is at hand.

“O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth”!

The Prayer for May 29, 2016

Heavenly Father,
who names all nations as your own,
grant us confidence in your word of grace,
trust in your commands,
and faithfulness to the way of your kingdom;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for May 29, 2016

First Reading: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.” –
Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple, asking God to hear the prayers of all who come – including the prayers of foreigners.

Psalmody: Psalm 96:1-9
“Sing to the Lord a new song… Declare his glory among the nations.”
– The psalmist calls for all peoples to sing God’s praise.

Second Reading: Galatians 1:1-12
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ.”
The abrupt and shocking opening of Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia in which Paul moves immediately to a defense of his ministry, declaring there is no other Gospel than the one he preached to them.

Gospel: Luke 7:1-10
“I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes” –
Jesus acknowledges the great faith of a centurion who trusts the power of Jesus’ word, confident that Jesus’ has the authority to speak for God and dispense God’s benefits.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFrench_milouf_DF-ST-99-05511.JPEG  By DoD photo by: SSGT ANDY DUNAWAY ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tested

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Watching for the Morning of February 14, 2016

Year C

The First Sunday in Lent

We are reading Luke out of order now that we have entered the festal season of Lent, going back and jumping forward (and even adding a Sunday from John) to capture themes for this season that leads us to the three days from the Last Supper on the evening of Maundy Thursday through the cross and resurrection. So where we had been reading about Jesus in Nazareth, we jumped forward to the Transfiguration last Sunday (to match the words from Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of the previous season) and now, on this first Sunday in Lent, we are looking back to the narrative of Jesus tested in the wilderness.

It’s a little disorienting and leads to the perception that the Gospels are like bags of marbles rather than dramas with a beginning, middle and end that bear a message for a time and a place. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is not a collection of sayings from the time of the Salem Witch Trials; it is a narrative for a nation in the midst of the anticommunist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era.  It intends to help us see ourselves and our time.  It intends to change our hearts – and so, too, the Gospels.

So as we hear the Gospel read on Sunday we need to remember where we are in the story: We’ve heard of the wondrous birth of John, the angel’s message to Mary, the promise of a kingdom without end, Mary’s song of the righting of the world, John’s exhortation to begin now to live the life of the coming kingdom, and Jesus, baptized, anointed with the Spirit, with the voice from heaven declaring: “You are my son.” It is a claim that must be tested, and tested it is. The devil comes to urge him to be less than he is – to be like God’s people who clamored for bread, bowed down before the golden calf, and tested God in the wilderness.

But Jesus proves true. He does not break faith. He trusts fully in God’s word.

Created

File:Heavens Above Her.jpgDuring Lent each year our parish focuses upon one portion of the catechism – this year, the Apostles’ Creed. The themes of the coming five Sundays are: Created, Redeemed, Called, Gathered, Enlightened.

“God has created me and all that exists” is the line from Luther’s Small Catechism that guides our first week. The genius in Luther’s brief explanation to the first article of the creed is the word ‘me’. The creed does not set out a doctrine of God; it is proclaims a relationship. God has created me. God has surrounded me with all the bounty of creation. God provides me with all I need for no reason other than God’s goodness. It is all gift – and that proclamation leads to the recognition: “Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey him.”

It misses the point to argue creation versus evolution. What the faith confesses is not a theory of origins; the faith confesses a loving presence to whom I belong, to whom I owe fealty, to whom I owe praise and thanksgiving.

The Prayer for February 14, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you called forth the world
and formed us from the dust of the earth and the breath of your Spirit.
In the wonder of your Son, Jesus,
you show the pattern of true faithfulness.
Make us ever true to your Word
and confident of your mercy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 14, 2016

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…” – When Israel enters into the land, they are to bring an offering of the first fruits, recite the story of what God has done for them, and celebrate God’s goodness.

Psalmody: Psalm 91 (appointed: 91:1-2, 9-16)
“You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
– The psalmist proclaims the protective love of God (a psalm the devil quotes in testing Jesus).

Second Reading: Romans 10:8b-13
“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Paul is arguing that we are restored to a right relationship with God not by outward acts of obedience to the law, but by trusting allegiance to God’s promise.

Gospel: Luke 4:1-13
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”
– Following the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon Jesus and the declaration from God “This is my Son”, the devil tests Jesus, seeking to show him unworthy of such a title.

 

Image: Briton Rivière – The Temptation in the Wilderness [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHeavens_Above_Her.jpg  By Ian Norman (http://www.lonelyspeck.com) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Centered in God

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Friday

Luke 9:28-36

29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Prayer is given a central place by Luke in his Gospel. He begins his Gospel with an answer to Zechariah’s prayer. Anna spends her time in the temple with fasting and prayer night and day.” The Spirit comes upon Jesus after his baptism when he is praying. Jesus withdraws from the community to pray. Jesus spends the night in prayer before choosing the twelve. He is praying alone when he asks his disciples the fateful question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” He goes up to the Mount of Transfiguration in order to pray and is in prayer when “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

It is because the disciples see him in prayer that they ask Jesus to teach them to pray – in answer to which we get the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray always and not lose heart. And Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is so intense that Luke tells us the sweat dripped off him like large drops of blood.

The 120 believers are gathered in prayer after the resurrection. They pray for boldness when they are threatened to silence – and their prayer is answered immediately. There is prayer for the Spirit, and prayer of intercession and prayer before healing.

Saul is in prayer after his encounter with Jesus on the road top Damascus left him blind. Cornelius is in prayer when the angel visits him, and Peter is in prayer at the house of Simon the Tanner when he has his vision of the net where no one is unclean.

Paul and Barnabas are sent on their mission after a period of prayer and fasting, and with prayer and fasting they, in turn, appoint elders in the churches they found.

What happens to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration happens in prayer. This is not just pious talk for Luke. He understands that deep and significant things happen in prayer – things that have much less to do with obtaining divine favors and much more to do with being guided and empowered.

And that’s what happens on the Mount of Transfiguration: Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about his coming “departure’ (in Greek, ‘exodus’), the road that awaits him in Jerusalem.

There is a kind of prayer that intercedes for others, that asks for God to do something. But at its core, prayer is a deep listening, a communing, a syncing of our hearts with the heart of God.

We can see it on the face of others when they are troubled within. We can also see it when they are centered in God.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADesert_Rose_Labyrinth.jpg. By AliveFreeHappy (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

The dawn of a new world

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Watching for the Morning of January 24, 2016

Year C

The Third Sunday after Epiphany

All that has happened in Luke’s Gospel – the angelic visitations, the remarkable birth, the backdrop of the rulers of this earth and the promise of a new king, the outpouring of God’s Spirit and the voice from heaven declaring that Jesus is God’s beloved son (a royal title) – all this now crashes upon the shores of Galilee in the village of Nazareth, among Jesus’ own people. This Sunday we watch the majestic wave sweep across the beach. Next Sunday we will hear how the people receive this news.

It’s unfortunate that the lectionary committee decided to split this story. Much is lost by watching Act One this week and waiting a week for the second act – especially since we have as our first reading on Sunday the reading of the Law to the people by Ezra and their tearful response. We shouldn’t separate the proclamation that Jesus is the Christ from the response that proclamation evokes.

But we linger here, in the sweetness of the dawning light of the world’s new morning. The work of this Jesus, declared the royal son, empowered by the Holy Spirit, triumphant over all the temptations of the devil, and acclaimed by the people, is to bring the setting right of the world:

He has sent me 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.”

Jesus is burning the mortgage. God is releasing the world from its debtor’s prison. This is the Emancipation Proclamation for the whole world.

He is freeing the slaves.

Paul will speak about what this means for us in the new community of those who are gathered into Christ and have received the Spirit’s gifts. We are one body. And the Psalmist speaks of the wondrous order of the world visible in creation and in God’s Law. And there is Ezra, reading and teaching the word, comforting the people with the words: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” and summoning them to the feast that marks the beginning of a new year and the dawn of a new world.

The Prayer for January 24, 2016

Gracious God
who has drawn near to us in your Son, Jesus,
to open eyes that do not see and release all that is bound.
Grant us clear eyes, open ears and free hearts
that we may serve you truly;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 24, 2016

First Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-12
“The priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding… and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” – The Torah reaches its final form in Babylon during the exile. After some have returned to begin to rebuild Jerusalem, Ezra brings the Torah from Babylon and reads it before all the people.

Psalmody: Psalm 19
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.”
– The psalm sings of God’s wondrous ordering of the world, beginning with the majesty of creation, and then the gift of God’s law.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.” – Paul continues to teach his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the gifts of God’s Spirit and their life together as a community.

Gospel: Luke 4:14-21
“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.”
– Jesus returns to his own people in Nazareth and, reading Isaiah’s words “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,” announces that Isaiah’s promise is now fulfilled.

 

Image: By Henry Mühlpfordt (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

And in his temple all say, “Glory!”

File:Jacopo Tintoretto - The Baptism of Christ - WGA22551.jpg

Sunday Evening

Luke 3:15-22

19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

It’s a little odd that Luke interrupts his story to tell us that John has been imprisoned. Indeed, the assigned lectionary skips over this little interruption – but it is important that we read it: We hear of John’s appearing in the wilderness. We hear of his preaching. We hear the crowds wonder whether John himself might be the expected Messiah – and John declare that “one who is more powerful than I is coming” who will wash us in the Spirit. And just before we hear that Jesus is baptized along with “all the people” John is swept from the scene. Herod locks him up in prison.

All of us know that it was, in fact, John who baptizes Jesus. But the way Luke tells the story, John’s ministry is over when the Spirit comes upon Jesus. Jesus is praying when the Spirit is descends upon him.

Luke want to be sure we understand that what happens to Jesus is not “John’s baptism.” It is something new. It is the baptism in the Spirit that John predicted. The baptism in the Spirit that falls on the 120 at Pentecost. The baptism of the Spirit that falls upon the Samaritans in our second reading today. The baptism of the Spirit that falls upon Cornelius (and forces Peter to baptize him with water – for Cornelius and his household have received the gift that comes with baptism into Christ).

The outpouring of the Spirit that comes upon Jesus is not linked to John’s baptism; it is a new work of God. It is the outpouring predicted by Joel, as Peter will tell the crowds on Pentecost. It is the fulfillment of the prophetic promise of John. It is the sign of God’s drawing near, the sign of God’s gathering of all nations, the sign of God’s redeeming work, the sign of the dawning reign when the Spirit of God will be our every breath.

We watch the tribalism and slaughters of the world around us and it is easy to think there is nothing new in the world except our ever more sophisticated weapons for hurting one another. But there is something new in the world. Something that happened on the banks of the Jordan River. Something that happened when the risen Christ breathed his Spirit upon his followers. Something that happened when the believers were gathered together 50 days after the resurrection. Something that continues to happen when we lay hands on one another in the name of the Lord. The Spirit is poured out. The spirit is at work. The first light of the new creation is shining. Grace, mercy and peace are loose among us. Justice and compassion, healing and hope are rippling out like shockwaves traversing the world.

The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness and summons us to enter a new land, to inhabit a new realm, to dwell in the Spirit, to walk with the risen one. Like a mighty thunderstorm sweeping across the land, “The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

 

Painting: Jacopo Tintoretto – The Baptism of Christ.   [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The new and better wine

File:Mural - Jesus' Baptism.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 10, 2016

The Baptism of Our Lord

The voice from heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit are moved away from John’s hands in Luke’s telling of Jesus’ baptism. What Mark and Matthew tell us happened as Jesus was coming up out of the water, now happens while he is praying. It is a subtle thing, but Luke wants to be sure this story is not about John’s magic hands, but the wondrous work of God to pour out his Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is important to Luke. It has inspired the prophetic utterings of Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna. The angel says that John will be filled with the Spirit before he breathes his first breath, and John declares that the coming one will immerse us in the Spirit. Now the Spirit comes upon Jesus so powerfully it evokes the fluttering descent of a dove. Jesus will be full of the Spirit when he departs from the Jordan and comes to Galilee and the scripture he will read in the synagogue in Nazareth is “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. It is the Holy Spirit that is the Father’s good gift to his children, and the gift of the Holy Spirit that provides the opening drama and center stage all through the book of Acts. Jesus is the one in whom the promise is fulfilled that the Spirit will be poured out on all people. The day has come when all creation shall be governed by the life-breath of God.

So Sunday is not a simple remembrance of the event that began Jesus’ public ministry. It is the Gospel condensed in all its exquisite flavor like a fine chocolate truffle. The reign of God, the Spirit’s governance of the world, the dawning of the age to come, the restoring of the world’s lost innocence, the power that drives out every evil is at hand. It is not just Jesus who is washed in the Jordan, but all of us. The creation is made holy. The new and better wine has come.

Of course, Luke has already told us that the Spirit’s reclamation of the world will be opposed. A struggle is underway. But the new and better wine has come in abundance.

(Yes, the transformation of water into wine at the wedding in Cana is next week’s text – but it’s hard to open only one Christmas present when the tree is so full.)

The Prayer for January 10, 2016

Heavenly Father, Eternal God, Holy and Gracious One:
in the waters of the River Jordan
you anointed Jesus with your Holy Spirit
and declared him your beloved Son.
Make all the earth radiant with your glory
and pour out upon all your children the abundance of your Holy Spirit;
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 January 10, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” – with language that evokes the creation and exodus and promises their return from exile, the prophet declares God’s abiding faithfulness to the people.

Psalmody: Psalm 29

“The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing upon the slope of Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 8:14-17
17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them [the new believers in Samaria], and they received the Holy Spirit.” – When the Greek speaking (Hellenized) Judeans are driven from the city following the communal violence against Stephen, they carry the message of Jesus to Samaria. The message is received with faith and representatives from Jerusalem are sent to affirm that this surprising development is of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 3:15-22 (appointed 15-17, 21-22)
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”
– The prophetic ministry of John comes to its conclusion with his arrest, and the baptized and praying Jesus is anointed with the Spirit.

 

Image: Icon in the John the Baptist Church at the Jordan River.  Photo by David Bjorgen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

An Easter life

Thursday

Mark 1

File:Rembrandt Heilung der Schwiegermutter des Petrus.jpg

Rembrandt, Christ Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law

30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Matthew and Luke’s gospels have a different temper than Mark. The crisis years of the Jewish War are further behind them. Their communities are not swollen with refugees and feeling the urgency of the moment. They are the householder faithfully plowing the ground, sowing the seed and living out the Gospel day by day. The same claim is there: God has come into the world in Jesus and he is our risen Lord who will reign over a world made new. The same mission is there, but the elements of teaching and faith formation receive greater accent, and these later Gospels attend to matters of daily life in the church and to practical questions like “How often should I forgive?” Mark is focused on this moment, not the long haul.

But what we hear in Mark is not a mere youthful exuberance or a desperate time. What we hear is this profound and stunning news that a dramatic new reality is loose in the world. Satan’s realm is being beaten back. The oppressed are being freed. The hungry are being fed. The light of a new world is shining.

It is easy to be swamped by the weariness of the world, its endless warfares and sorrows, the waste of its wraths and sorrows. But Mark’s urgency reminds us of the grace, power and urgency of our mission. For whether the kingdom of God is coming today or centuries from now – today it came to Peter’s mother-in-law. Today she was ill. Today she was in need. Today her life was diminished by fever. Today life’s woes had its grip on her – and they brought Jesus to her. Here was a healer, here was the voice that commands demons, here was the word of life that sets people free, here the anointed of God, the Christ who raises us up.

Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and “raised her up.” It is the same word that is used of Jesus’ resurrection. It overdoes it to say Peter’s mother-in-law was resurrected by Jesus, but she was raised into an Easter life.

She was raised into a restored life. She is returned to her place in the family and community. And though this phrase, “she began to serve them,” rings oddly for us in our time, it is important to see that she was given her life back. And her service is of special significance, for this word “to serve” is the verb of ‘diakonia’, service, from which we get deacon. It is a word of great import for us, for the Easter life, the raised-into-wholeness life, is a life of service.

Immediately, they brought Jesus to Peter’s mother-in-law, and by Jesus’ hand she is raised into an Easter life. For such a mission we should all feel Mark’s urgency. And for such an outcome, we should all feel the hand of Christ in ours.

 

Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Let me try again

A second attempt at: ‘He’ who?  Me?

I received feedback that people had trouble following my last posting, I hope this revision is clearer.

For Wednesday

John 1:43-51

File:Montréal - Oratoire Saint-Joseph (04).jpg

Philip, Andrew and Nathanael at the la basilique de l’oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, à Montréal.

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

Our translator puts Jesus’ name at the beginning of this sentence. It’s not unreasonable, given the Greek, but the name ‘Jesus’ is actually connected to the word ‘said’ at the end of the sentence. Literally it says: “He decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip, and Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

It’s unusual for there to be a question about grammar in John’s Gospel. His writing is elegant, simple, poetic. But here, there is a puzzle. Does John intend us to understand that Peter (the subject of the preceding line) went to Galilee and found Philip, or does our author mean that Jesus himself went to Galilee and found Philip?

In the preceding verses, John the Baptist points to Jesus saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God,” and two of John’s disciples follow Jesus and ask, “Where are you staying?”

This question has a literal meaning about where Jesus is spending the night. But, like so much in John’s Gospel, it has a deeper, more profound dimension. The word these disciples use is ‘abide’. They want to know where Jesus abides. And the answer to this, as we will come to learn in this Gospel, is that Jesus abides in the Father. Jesus answers them saying, “Come and see,” inviting them to come with him and see that he abides in the Father and the Father abides in him.

That this encounter with Jesus is much more than a simple question about residency is clear in what happens next: Andrew goes to get his brother, Simon (Peter), saying, “We have found the Messiah/Christ.” Andrew’s encounter with Jesus – the invitation to see –results in the confession that he is the Messiah, the Christ.

Andrew brings Peter to Jesus, and Jesus gives him the name Cephas. Peter’s encounter with Jesus – like that of the two before him – seems strangely simple on the face of it. But Jesus has not just given Peter a nickname; giving a name means calling someone into a new reality, a new destiny.

Our verse immediately follows this giving of a name. Unfortunately, my Bible adds a paragraph break and a section header that makes it seem like we’ve moved on to a new topic. But John, our gospel writer, didn’t give us section headers (or paragraph breaks or periods, either, for that matter). So, once Jesus says, “you will be called Cephas,” the gospel continues saying ‘he’ decided to go to Galilee and gets Philip. Thus our question: who is this ‘he’?

If the ‘he’ that begins this verse is Peter, then the narrative goes like this: John points Andrew to Jesus, Andrew gets Peter, Peter gets Philip, and Philip finds Nathanael.

Each of these is brought to Jesus, has an encounter with him and makes a confession about his identity: Lamb of God, Messiah/Christ, the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Son of God and King of Israel.

The problem is that we are so used to the story from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke where Matthew and Luke follow the basic outline created by Mark), where Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee summoning disciples, that we tend to bring that picture to bear in our hearing of John. We assume Jesus is summoning disciples. But John shows us believers bringing others to Jesus who then ‘see’ and acclaim him.

Mark gives us a story where Jesus calls disciples, but the disciples are dimwitted and don’t understand anything. Matthew softens the picture a little, and adds that the risen Jesus opens their minds to understand. Luke adds the dramatic story of Pentecost, where the disciples are transformed from fearful refugees to bold witnesses.

But in John, the present and past combine. In John, then as now the followers of Jesus are participants in the gathering of a community around Jesus. They see and bring their friends to see. This combining of past and present is also seen in John when the voice of Jesus sometimes morphs into the voice of the community. When, for example, does Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus end and the testimony of the community begin? What seems like Jesus speaking switches to the plural pronoun in 3:11 when he says “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” Similarly, is it Jesus who says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son?” or is that the voice of the community? The truth is, it is both. John’s story is not just about Jesus; it is about us.

The Gospel of Mark wants to be sure that we hear in Jesus the power of God’s word/command: “Follow me.” This is the same voice that stills the storm and casts out demons. Jesus is empowered by God to speak with God’s authority and power. In John, Jesus is more like us, a witness pointing towards the wonder and mystery of God. Jesus gives us signs –signs that are meant to help us see that he is the new wine and the bread of life and the living water.

The Jesus in John’s gospel teaches rather than commands. He doesn’t speak the Word; he is the Word made flesh, the word that makes free.

And we are witnesses, bringing people to this living Word.

John’s Gospel is about Jesus and also about us. It is about then, and also about now.  We are a community in Christ and Christ in us, bearing witness to the light and life of the world. Like Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael, we are gathering others to Christ that, together, we might share in the Life that does not perish.