With arms wide open

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Watching for the Morning of October 28, 2018

Reformation Sunday

The name ‘Lutheran’ was originally a slur cast by Luther’s opponents against those who were persuaded by Luther’s profound insight into the scriptures and the central truth of Christian faith.

Perhaps some heard only a call for the reform of the church’s life. Perhaps some saw the possibility of personal advancement or enrichment. But I suspect these came later. In the beginning there was only a compelling explosiveness to Luther’s teaching that the favor of God is freely given not earned.

Their opponents called them ‘Lutherans’. The name implied they were something separate from the Christian community, followers of a heretical and sectarian leader rather than of Christ and Christ’s church. Luther insisted that ‘Christian’ was the correct term; they were followers of Christ. He also accepted the term ‘evangelisch’.

The German word ‘evangelisch’ translates as ‘evangelical’, from the Greek word for ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’. Though ‘evangelical’ has come to have a different meaning in the modern American context, it was powerful and accurate for Luther and his movement. They believed that God had revealed anew the ‘evangel’, the news of a victory won for us over sin, death and the devil. We are not soldiers on the moral battlefield of life; we are hostages rescued and set free. We do not have to become holy; Christ has enveloped us in his holiness. Where we see too well our sins and failings; God sees only the image of his beloved son with arms stretched wide.

Yes, wrapped in Christ, graced by God’s spirit, there is a path to follow, a new creation to be. But the favor of God does not depend on us but on Christ. We are free from rites and rituals thought to appease God so that we can be about those things that truly please God – loving and serving our neighbor.

The celebration of the Reformation on this coming Sunday is not about the Lutheran church or the protestant communion. It poses no cheers for ancient heroes or the teams that now bear their names. It speaks to us of this Gospel, this fundamental truth that lies at the heart of our life together: our hope is not in ourselves and our accomplishments, but in this God who forgives sins and raises the dead, not because we deserve it – for we surely do not – but because God delights to give.

Church bodies shaped by such an insight cannot be self-righteous or judgmental; they can only be communities with arms wide open and feet ready to walk with those in need.

The Prayer for October 28, 2018 (for Reformation Day)

Gracious and eternal God,
who by your Word called all things into being,
and by your Spirit sustains and renews the earth,
send forth your Word and your Spirit upon your church,
that ever renewed they may bear faithful witness to your grace and life.

The texts for October 28, 2018 (assigned for Reformation Day)

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
– Though the covenant formed between God and the people at Sinai lies broken (what God’s people promised they have failed to do and kingship and temple have perished) God’s promise abides and God will establish a new covenant where God’s teaching/commands are written on the heart.

Psalmody: Psalm 46
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A hymn proclaiming the power of God to protect and preserve the people and expressing their confident trust in God’s saving work. It provided the inspiration for Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” – Paul’s classic expression of his understanding of the function of law and gospel and the idea that we are brought into a right relationship with God (justified) not by the law, but by the free gift of God (by grace) apprehended by our trust in that gift (through faith). This phrase “Justification by grace through faith” becomes a summary statement of the 16th century reforming movement and subsequent Lutheran churches.

Gospel: John 8:31-36
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – This promise of freedom in Christ – freedom from authorities or powers that would prevent their living in service of God – is spoken to followers who do not abide in Jesus’ teaching, and his challenge will reveal their true heart.

Sunday we will also make use of the assigned Gospel for the Sunday from October 23 to October 29:

Appointed Gospel for Proper 25 B: Mark 10:46-52
“As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.” – Once again in Mark’s Gospel opening blind eyes follows an account of the disciples failing to understand Jesus and his mission.

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Follow these links for other posts on Reformation Sunday.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luther-Predigt-LC-WB.jpg Attributed to Lucas Cranach the Younger [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The true breaker of chains

File:Hitda-Codex-Healing of a man with a withered hand.jpgWatching for the Morning of June 3, 2018

Year B

The Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Sabbath command takes center stage on Sunday. We hear Moses recall the commandment in his sermon to the Israelites before they cross the Jordan to enter Canaan. They are not to be an enslaved or enslaving people: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”

The psalm also speaks of God’s deliverance from bondage: “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I rescued you.” But law intended to free can also be used to bind, and so conflict erupts between Jesus and the Pharisees. The disciples dare to pluck a few grains of wheat to snack on as they walk through the fields and the Pharisees accuse them of doing the work of “harvesting” on the Sabbath. Then comes a man with a withered hand into the synagogue. To the Pharisees this is a chronic condition and Jesus nothing but a village healer, so the “work” of doctoring can wait until the Sabbath is over. But to Jesus the Sabbath is God’s deliverance from bondage and deliverance ought not wait. Nothing is more appropriate to the Sabbath than freeing those who are bound. The Lord of the Sabbath is come. In Jesus the reign of God, our true Sabbath rest, is at hand.

It is a claim to so radical, so profoundly challenging to “what everybody knows,” so powerfully transformative of “the way things are,” that it cannot go unanswered: “The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

We can turn Christianity into a new set of velvet lined manacles – or we can trust and show allegiance to the true breaker of chains.

The Prayer for June 3, 2018

Gracious God,
whose will it is to gather all creation into your eternal peace,
send forth your Spirit
that we may ever dwell in your healing presence.

The Texts for June 3, 2018

First Reading: Deuteronomy 5:12-15
“Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” – The book of Deuteronomy is composed as an exhortation from Moses to the people at the end of their journey through the wilderness. He reminds this new generation of their covenant with God and the commands God has given – including this Sabbath command. The God who freed slaves intends they stay free and commands a day of rest for all.

Psalmody: Psalm 81:1-10
“It is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.”
– The community is called to worship and reminded of God’s deliverance and commands.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
“We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” – Paul writes to the conflicted congregation in Corinth reminding them that his ministry – and the struggles he has endured – have been for their sake, that life in Christ may be made known to them

Gospel: Mark 2:23-3:6
“Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent.”
– Conflict erupts with the Pharisees over Jesus apparent violation of the Sabbath command.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hitda-Codex-Healing_of_a_man_with_a_withered_hand.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A new beginning of the world

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A reflection on Mark 1:1-11 on the Baptism of Our Lord.

King David is, for Israel, like George Washington is for us. He is the noble leader that represents the best of his country. We don’t really want any dirty laundry about George Washington. We like the story about the boy who could not tell a lie and the young man strong enough to throw a silver dollar across the Potomac. We don’t really want to know that they didn’t have silver dollars in his day and that, even if they did, a dollar was worth a lot in those days and George wouldn’t have thrown that kind of money away – nor do we want to know that the original story is about chucking rocks across the Rappahannock.

We like the myth rather than the reality, because the myth has an important function. The word ‘myth’, in its best sense, doesn’t mean a false or made up story; it means a story that embodies and communicates some important truth. Our first president was indeed strong and honest, concerned about what was good for the republic rather that what might profit himself. And the ‘myth’ of the cherry tree lifts up these important qualities that embody core values of our national identity. The stories are meant to inspire us to our best selves.

The myth is important, but we do not deny reality. We know, for example, that Washington owned slaves. Though technically they belonged to his wife, he would have had the authority to free them had he chosen to do so. So we value the ‘myth’ for what it says to us, but we also acknowledge the truth.

David is the hero of Israel. And the story about Goliath sounds remarkably like one of those cherry tree stories. We respect the story about David’s courage and his trust in and fidelity to God. But the scripture is also willing to tell us that David conspired to order the death of his noble warrior, Uriah, in order to hide David’s crime of taking Uriah’s wife that would have been exposed when Bathsheba she got pregnant.

What makes David a hero, by the way, is that, when confronted with his crime, he confesses and repents. He doesn’t deny and obfuscate and lie and blame. He turns back to God.

But there were consequences to David’s crime. He had allowed power to corrupt him and lead him to betray God and the people by taking what belonged to another – and then to a cover-up that ended in violence. The result would be that his family would be troubled by corruption and violence.

So the scripture tells us that David’s eldest son, Amnon, lusted after his half-sister, Tamar, and after manipulating her into his bedchamber by pretending to be sick, he took her – by force – and then discarded her.

Tamar’s brother, Absalom, quietly plotted against his half-brother and two years later took his vengeance and murdered him. Absalom fled Jerusalem, but David refused to hold him accountable and eventually allowed him to return, though he would not allow Absalom to come to court.

Absalom got tired of that and sent for Joab who was the head of the army and one of David’s closest advisors. Joab, however, wouldn’t come so Absalom set Joab’s fields on fire to force him to come. Absalom then pressured Joab into making a way for him to return to the king’s presence. At which time, Absalom began to plot to seize the throne. He told the people that they wouldn’t get justice from David but that they could get justice from himself if he were king.

Eventually, Absalom arranged a coup and David and his advisors were forced to flee Jerusalem. (Absalom set up a tent on the roof of the palace for all to see and went in to sleep with his father’s concubines. What David had done in secret to Uriah, Absalom did to him in public.)

War ensued – and now I am getting close to my point. David gave instructions to his commanders that they were not to hurt his son, Absalom. But Joab, his leading commander, knowing the kind of threat Absalom posed, disobeyed the order and killed him. When the battle was over, a young man named Ahimaaz wanted to run back to the king to deliver the good news that his forces had been victorious. Joab tried to discourage him and sent someone else, knowing that the king would be dismayed by the news and would not reward the runner.

The Greek translation of the original Hebrew uses the word ‘euanggelion’ for the “good news” of victory. ‘Euanggelion’ is the word that comes into English as ‘gospel’. That Greek root gives us the family of words like ‘evangelism’ and ‘evangelical’. And it is the Greek word in our Gospel reading today that is translated as ‘good news’.

This is a very long introduction to the fact that the Greek word we translate as ‘gospel’ is a very ordinary word. It is not a religious word. And it has two basic semantic fields. The one is the story I have just told: the news of victory from the battlefield. The other idea at work in this word is that of a royal proclamation. When a new king arises, he issues a proclamation to the citizens of his new lands declaring amnesty and announcing his benefactions to the people.

So this document that is before us from an unknown author who, by tradition, we call Mark – this document presents itself as a royal proclamation and news of victory from the battlefield.

The translation “good news” doesn’t seem like it has enough gravitas to be an effective translation of this word. But we don’t have a word in English that will accomplish all that this Greek word conveys. So we have to remember that the Gospel that is proclaimed to us is like the announcement of peace at the end of World War II that has people cheering in the streets and a sailor sweeping a nurse off her feet with a kiss.

The Gospel that is proclaimed to us is like the emancipation proclamation of Abraham Lincoln to the three million enslaved people in the South. It is royal amnesty, a word that we are released from every debt.

This story of Jesus is ‘gospel’. It is ‘euanggelion’. It is incredible news. It is the end of war and emancipation. God has come to reclaim his world. God has come to drench us in the Spirit. God has come to wipe away the whole history of human sin that began with Adam and Eve. God has come to shatter the gates of hell and set all its prisoners free. God has come to break the grip of fear and guilt and sorrow and death.

This is the ‘gospel’. And when we call ourselves an Evangelical Lutheran Church we mean we are bearers of this proclamation.

Now if someone were hearing this ‘gospel’ for the first time, they would naturally ask, “Who is this Jesus that he should be making a royal proclamation?”

Mark tells us that this Jesus is “Son of God”, which means that he is the person God has authorized to act on God’s behalf. He is the one appointed to reign. This is a culture in which to speak to the son is to speak to the father. To hear Jesus is to hear the Father. This is a society in which the kings of Israel were referred to as “son of God”. They weren’t gods, but they reigned on God’s behalf.

This Jesus is the Christ, the anointed of God.

This Jesus is the one to whom the prophets bear witness.

This Jesus is the one upon whom the Spirit of God has descended. The heavens have been torn open. A breach has been made in the vault of heaven and the mighty wind and holy breath of God has invaded the world and courses through this Jesus.

Through this Jesus the whole world will be flooded with this Spirit of God.

This Spirit that is upon Jesus is upon us.

And God is delighted. “With you,” says the voice from heaven, “I am well pleased.” This is such a pale translation of powerful words. This is good in God’s eyes. It echoes the creation story when God looks upon what God has created and declares it good.

This is a new beginning of the world.

It doesn’t matter to Mark that armies are marching and it seems like the world is coming apart. It doesn’t matter to Mark that he has seen Rome’s brutal power impale this Jesus to a cross. He has seen the empty tomb. He has seen the sick healed and the lame walk and the blind see. He has seen sinners forgiven and outcasts restored and withered hands made whole. He has seen the unclean made clean and heard demons cry out and flee. This is a new beginning of the world.

This is a new beginning of the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AF_Mochi_Bautismo_de_Cristo_1634_P_Braschi.jpg Francesco Mochi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

He goes ahead

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Wednesday

This is a reposting of a reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday in 2014

John 10:1-10

4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Palestinian shepherds are different than most shepherds worldwide. Most places in the world the shepherds come behind, driving their flock. In Palestine they walk ahead and the sheep follow.

This contrast alone makes this chapter of John priceless. How much religion consists of people being driven? Driven by guilt, by rules, by demands, by self-righteousness, by the psychological needs of the leadership, by history, by desire. Most of life is driven. Driven by our need to provide, our need to succeed, our need to feel safe. Driven by our fears, our wants, our restless sense that we are missing something. Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden in their shame. The prodigal son is driven home by his desperate hunger – but the prodigal father runs to welcome his son with open arms.

Jesus leads his flock. He goes before. He goes ahead. And though that often results with us running to catch up, it means we are not going anywhere that Jesus has not already been. Every sorrow he has tasted first. Even the grave. But also the resurrection.

He is our elder brother. He goes ahead. He paves the way. He opens the door. He does not ask us to wash feet before he has washed our feet. He does not ask us to take up the cross before he has taken up his cross. He does not ask us to give what he has not given. He does not ask us to walk where he has not walked. He does not ask us to love anyone he has not loved or forgive anyone he has not forgiven.

There is all the difference in the world between the command to go and the invitation to “Come with me.”

My brother got me to do all kinds of things by doing them first. I learned to swim because my brother went first. I learned to ski because he went first. I learned to hold a pigeon, I walked the streets of Brussels, I picked up a live crab, I left home for college. And there were some things I didn’t have to do because he did them, battles he fought I didn’t have to fight.

God does not sit on a throne spouting orders; he has come as our elder brother, leading the way. There are commands in the scripture, to be sure. We know of the ten, even if we can’t name them all. Jesus himself gave a new commandment – and tightened the others. He talked about forgiving seventy-seven times. But he went first. He goes ahead. He calls our name and bids us walk with him.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APikiWiki_Israel_19308_Settlements_in_Israel.JPG ארכיון עין השופט [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

They invited him to stay

Friday

Acts 10:44-48

File:Israel Egypt 2009 4092554859 f56e3c720a Baptism O (9198123663).jpgThen Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

At the end of the first reading this Sunday are these few little words: “Then they invited him to stay for several days.” It is the climax of a story that began with an angelic visitation to Cornelius to send for Peter, a thrice repeated vision to Peter to prepare him to accept Cornelius’ invitation, and then this event where, before Peter can finish telling Cornelius about Jesus, the Spirit of God comes upon the whole household just as it came upon the believers on Pentecost. Peter has no choice but to baptize them, for they have received the baptismal gift.

The significance of this event is hard for us to appreciate. The house of a gentile is unclean. Peter acknowledges that to even enter Cornelius’ home “is against our law”. Yet he steps across that threshold. He daringly follows the vision he has received, declaring: “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean”

And now Peter has not only walked across this deepest divide in the human community, he is invited to stay. To eat and sleep in their company – and, presumably, to sing and pray and teach among them. The line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is utterly erased.

The believers who had been driven from Jerusalem by persecution had brought the word to Samaritans. Then Philip is sent to the Ethiopian eunuch. Now Peter himself is in the home of a gentile. A centurion, no less. And they have all been baptized. They have all been graced with the Holy Spirit. They are all members of that community living in anticipation of the final dawning of God’s reign of grace and life.

Of course there’s hell to pay when Peter get’s back to Jerusalem. This argument will rumble through the entire book of Acts. It’s why Paul will be beaten, stoned and imprisoned. It’s why the gift faithfully gathered from the gentile churches will not be received by those in Jerusalem. It is why a riot starts in the temple and Paul is taken into Roman custody – then whisked away in dead of night to avoid a plot to kill him. It is why the freedom riders were beaten, and Medgar Evers murdered: they dared to cross a line that others wanted to keep firmly in place.

But you cannot silence this message of an empty tomb. This is not “good news” this is “the-world-will-never-be-the-same news”. Jesus is not a religious reformer urging us to forgiveness, love and renewal; he has been raised. The day is at hand when sin’s hold on us is broken, when God’s Spirit is poured out on “men and women, young and old”, when all creation is gathered to God, when human tyrants fall and a new Jerusalem rises.

All humanity yearns for an end to war, an end to hunger, an end to suffering and sorrow. We watch the rubble in Nepal and see the suffering of refugees in Africa. We recognize that Syria turned over its chemical weapons so now they are using chlorine gas that can’t be traced. We know that domestic violence lies hidden around us and witness the tragedies of the nightly news. We yearn for peace. And now before us stands the risen one who is the promise and presence of that peace.

This is not one among the many world religions; this is the embodiment of all our longing. Of this we cannot be silent.

All this is present in those sweet little words: “Then they invited him to stay for several days.”

 

Photo: By someone10x (4092554859_f56e3c720a Baptism_O) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Mrs. Boone’s Dance Academy

Friday

Mark 1

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La Barca de la Fé, Templo Parroquial de San Andrés Buenavista, Tlaxco, Tlaxcala, México

17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

I understand that we can’t translate this as “fishers of men” anymore. But it sounds wrong to me when we change from a noun to a verb. “I will make you a painter” is a different thing than “I will make you paint.” The first is a about my transformation into an artist; the second sounds like an obligation. A painter finds his or her identity in painting; making me paint is a task I end up doing because someone else thought the room needed a fresh look.

God is making us musicians; he’s not making us sing. God is making us dancers; he’s not making us dance. With all due respect to Mrs. Boone’s Dance Academy in ninth grade, I learned the steps to the waltz and the fox trot – and how to properly escort a girl and hold my pinkie when drinking punch from a teacup – but it didn’t make me a dancer. Mrs. Boone was a dancer. When she and her husband took the floor we might have thought it silly (we were new and awkward adolescents), but we were watching someone express the very core of her being. No one was making her dance; she needed to dance. She loved dancing.

I don’t think Jesus makes his followers fulfill an obligation to gather others into the reality of God’s grace and life. I think that in their encounter with him they become fishers of people.

Visit a fly fisherman and you will know what I am talking about. They love their flies. They love their little containers. Those who don’t tie their own wish they could. They long to find new rivers and lakes and watch their line cast out and curl gently down to light their fly upon the waters. It fills them with joy and satisfaction even if they land nothing.

Every congregation I have served had an “evangelism committee,” a group assigned the unenviable task of persuading others to do their duty of sharing the faith. Jesus had no “evangelism committee”; he had a gospel. An evangel. A proclamation of grace and hope. A word that gathered people into the reality of God’s reign. And you can’t drink that water without wanting to share it. You can’t see that sunset without going in the house to tell everyone else.

My mother came home one October day when I was maybe 10 – this is a California story – and piled all the kids in the car and drove us to see a maple tree that had turned a glorious red. The beauty was too exquisite not to share. She had been captured by its glory.

Jesus is making fishermen. His followers are being captured by the glory of God. They are becoming a community of people who can’t help but cast wide the net that gathers all into God’s embrace.

 

Image: By Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

World-changing words

Thursday

Mark 1

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Mosaic of John the Forerunner (John the Baptist) in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

We think we know what all these words mean, but they sound different in the first century than in ours.

The Greek word ‘gospel’, translated here as ‘good news’, is not yet a religious word. Neither is the word ‘Christ’, nor the phrase ‘Son of God’. They all have their home in the world of empires. Caesar was ‘Son of God’ – next to the gods in glory and honor and acting on their behalf. ‘Christ’, transliterated from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word transliterated as ‘Messiah’, means ‘anointed’. Kings were anointed, not crowned. So were priests. And a ‘gospel’ was a message of victory brought back by runner from the battlefield, or a heraldic proclamation announcing a royal birth or great benefaction: the emperor is gracing your city with the funds to build a temple, coliseum or aqueduct.

This simple line at the start of Mark’s Gospel is composed of dramatic words – and we haven’t talked yet about ‘forgiveness of sins’! John proclaims “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” ‘Repentance’ is about changing allegiances, and ‘forgiveness of sins’ is the language of release from debt – stuff that happens when a new king takes over.

These are dramatic words, the kind of words that shake the foundations of a society, words that suggest the coming of a new regime.

This John is the fulfillment of the ancient scriptures and he, himself, is a prophet summoning the people to prepare for a new act of God. He is dressed like Elijah whose divine message threw down old kings and raised up new ones. When the prophet Samuel showed up in Bethlehem during Saul’s reign, the village was frightened. The prophetic act of anointing a new king would make the whole city an enemy of the existing king. There is a reason Matthew envisions Herod sending his soldiers to slaughter every small child in Bethlehem.

These are big words. When Mark speaks them, armies are marching. Judea has rebelled against Rome. Competing rebel leaders, each affirmed by their followers as God’s anointed, God’s Christ/Messiah, hold Jerusalem while Titus marches his legions through the surrounding countryside subduing every city before he encircles Jerusalem and begins to starve it into chaos and weakness, while he builds his machines to breach the city wall.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – The beginning of the royal proclamation of God’s anointed representative.

John says he is unworthy to touch the shoes – remembering that feet were the lowliest part of the body, that pointing your feet (or throwing your shoe – “Duck, President Bush!”) was the greatest imaginable insult, that no Hebrew slave could be compelled to wash your feet. John (a prophet of God!) is unworthy of touching the feet of the one who is coming, the one who will flood the world with the Spirit of God.

These are dramatic words, dramatic words that call for a critical decision. Will we join the new king or stay with the old one?

To whom will I bend my knee? To whom will I show fealty. Whom shall I follow?

In the story to come we will meet the one who comes to claim our allegiance, to free us from our debts, and to wash us in the Spirit of God.

Send the runners

Watching for the morning of June 8

Year A

The Festival of Pentecost

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Mosaic of the City of God on the ceiling at the entrance of the Cathedral of Aachen

Sunday is the third great festival of the church year and culmination of the Easter season. The crucified, risen and ascended Lord, who commissioned his followers to bear witness in all the world to the dawning reign of God, now empowers them with the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is the companion to Christmas and Easter. These are the three days that are not simply the architectural frame of the church’s year, they are the superstructure of the church’s faith: incarnation, crucifixion/resurrection, and kingdom. Pentecost is not merely the gift of the Holy Spirit, nor just the inauguration of the church’s mission; it is the ongoing dawning of the reign of God. A new king has come to the throne and runners are sent to announce his reign. The former rulers have been defeated. As the word spreads from town to town the prisoners of the former dominion are released, the local allies of the fallen prince flee or are taken captive, and the gracious benevolence of the new king dispensed to the old tyrant’s former victims.

This Spirit is not a birthday gift for the church’s comfort and pleasure. The mission is not an assignment to build up an ecclesiastical institution. Spirit, mission and kingdom are part of the same reality, heralding the end of tyrant’s reign until every corner of the realm is freed – until every human heart is brought under the rule of the Spirit, into the fullness of mercy, light and life.

The story of God’s work is only beginning. God has taken the palace where sin and death and evil exercised their fearful dominion. We have seen it. We are the witnesses. Now word must go out. Now the prison camps must be liberated, the jails emptied, the conscripts released. Now those bound in fear must be brought out from hiding. Now those exiled must be brought home. Now the goods stored for war must be distributed to the hungry. Now swords must be beaten into plowshares. Now neighbors must be reconciled and all brought to the table of peace.

This is Pentecost. We are not recruiting soldiers to the army of God; we are not sailors on a lifeboat hauling in the survivors of a wrecked ship; we are runners going from town to town ringing the church bells announcing the end of the war. We are troops handing candy bars to flag-waving townspeople. We are heralds of liberation, bearing forth into the world the breath of the divine, the wind from above, the Spirit of Jesus, the sacred and Holy Spirit of God.

The Prayer for June 8, 2014

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;
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 8, 2014

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, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” – 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: Numbers 11:24-30
“The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to [Moses], and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.” – When the burden of hearing every complaint of the people in the wilderness becomes too great for Moses, God has him appoint seventy elders to receive a share of his spirit. The text contains the prophetic remark of Moses Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Psalmody: Psalm 104:24-31
“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” – In a psalm celebrating the wonders of creation, the poet marvels at the manifold creatures of the world, and the breath/spirit of God that gives them life.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” –
Paul teaches the troubled Corinthian congregation about the gifts of the Spirit, emphasizing that they are given for God’s purpose to the benefit of others.

Gospel: John 7:37-39
“‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive – During the celebration that prays for the autumn rains and remembers Ezekiel’s promise of a life-giving river flowing from the temple, Jesus calls those who are thirsty to come to him.

He goes ahead

Wednesday

John 10

File:PikiWiki Israel 19308 Settlements in Israel.JPG

A Shepherd in Israel, 1965

4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Palestinian shepherds are different than most shepherds worldwide. Most places in the world the shepherds come behind, driving their flock. In Palestine they walk ahead and the sheep follow.

This contrast alone makes this chapter of John priceless. How much religion consists of people being driven? Driven by guilt, by rules, by demands, by self-righteousness, by the psychological needs of the leadership, by history, by desire. Most of life is driven. Driven by our need to provide, our need to succeed, our need to feel safe. Driven by our fears, our wants, our restless sense that we are missing something. Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden in their shame. The prodigal son is driven home by his desperate hunger – but the prodigal father runs to welcome his son with open arms.

Jesus leads his flock. He goes before. He goes ahead. And though that often results with us running to catch up, it means we are not going anywhere that Jesus has not already been. Every sorrow he has tasted first. Even the grave. But also the resurrection.

He is our elder brother. He goes ahead. He paves the way. He opens the door. He does not ask us to wash feet before he has washed our feet. He does not ask us to take up the cross before he has taken up his cross. He does not ask us to give what he has not given. He does not ask us to walk where he has not walked. He does not ask us to love anyone he has not loved or forgive anyone he has not forgiven.

There is all the difference in the world between the command to go and the invitation to “come with me.”

My brother got me to do all kinds of things by doing them first. I learned to swim because my brother went first. I learned to ski because he went first. I learned to hold a pigeon, I walked the streets of Brussels, I picked up a live crab, I left home for college. And there were some things I didn’t have to do because he did them, battles he fought I didn’t have to fight.

God does not sit on a throne spouting orders; he has come as our elder brother, leading the way. There are commands in the scripture, to be sure. We know of the ten, even if we can’t name them all. Jesus himself gave a new commandment – and tightened the others. He talked about forgiving seventy-seven times. But he went first. He goes ahead. He calls our name and bids us walk with him.