Choose your kingdom; choose your king

File:Tomato vender at the Covington Farmer's Market in Covington, LA.jpg

“You that have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55)

Watching for the Morning of August 6, 2017

Year A

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

I live in a place and time where there has always been food in the grocery store. I understand that privilege. And even in the years I lived in a place that is now referred to as an urban “food desert”, I had a car with which to reach the suburban stores where milk and meat were fresh, and bread and fruit plentiful. I understand the privilege.

I have seen parts of the world where privilege is lacking. I have sat in a board meeting discussing whether we should help a companion church body in a region of the world where, after multiple years of drought, they had no seed corn. It disturbs me still, as it disturbed me then, that there was any hesitation. (We did commit to send the funds immediately, prior to the effort to raise them.)

The scripture is full of stories about famine. Famine takes Jacob (Israel) and his family to Egypt. Drought and famine had Elijah hiding in the wilderness and taking refuge with the widow of Zarephath. Famine takes Naomi to Moab where Ruth becomes her daughter-in-law (and David’s great-grandmother). Locusts (and the subsequent famine) are the occasion for the prophet Joel’s message. Subsistence farmers lead a precarious life, especially in the years of Jesus when the burden of taxes took nearly half the crop, and the necessity of keeping seed and feed left landowners with maybe 20% for food – far less for tenant farmers.

Hunger is a constant companion for too much of the world through too much of human history. And it is those who have known the anxiety and uncertainty of daily bread who recognize the full drama and grace of that day when five loaves feed five thousand.

It is food for today. And it is the bread of tomorrow. It is bread for those who hunger and a taste of a world without hunger. It is manna in the wilderness and a foretaste of the feast to come. It is the prophetic promise made present. It is a world reordered, a world set right, a world born from above. As Mary sang, “the hungry are filled with good things.

In contrast to Herod’s banquet, where Salome will dance for strangers, where the king’s daughter is used to inflame the king’s consorts, where plots conspire and the king’s vanity and shamelessness ends with the head of John on a platter – in contrast to Herod’s banquet is the banquet of Jesus where the people are healed and fed, with an abundance left over.

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

+       +       +

Sunday we hear of the feeding of the five thousand. And the backdrop assigned for this narrative is the prophet of Isaiah 55 giving voice to God’s offer for all who are hungry to come and eat: bread freely given, wine and milk overflowing, the voice of God that is true life. And the psalm will speak of God’s gracious providing, “The LORD” who “upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down”:

15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

Sunday we will also hear Paul willing to be cursed for the sake of God’s people. And in that sentiment we recognize the spirit of the one who took the curse for our sake. The one who opened the grave. The one who poured out the Spirit. The one who brings the feast without end.

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

The Prayer for August 6, 2017

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you set a table
for all the world to come and feast.
Grant us hearts that are eager to hear your word,
share in your banquet,
and live your reign of mercy and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 6, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-5
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” – After the return from exile, the prophet calls to the community like a vendor in the marketplace, inviting them to “feast” on God’s promise that the eternal covenant once established with David is now transferred to the whole nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” – A psalm of praise and thanksgiving for God’s grace and bounty.

Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
“I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”
– Having laid out his message of God’s reconciling grace apart from the law, Paul now takes up the problem that God’s people have largely ignored the message of Christ Jesus. He begins with an expression of his great grief that Israel has not received this fruit of all their promises.

Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21
“All ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.” – Following the parables of chapter 13, Matthew tells of Herod’s banquet where all act corruptly and John is beheaded, and of Jesus’ banquet on the mountain where he has compassion for all.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATomato_vender_at_the_Covington_Farmer’s_Market_in_Covington%2C_LA.jpg By Saint Tammany [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A torn world made whole

File:Frankfurt Liebfrauenkirche Innenhof Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg

Watching for the Morning of October 4, 2015

Year B

The Commemoration of St. Francis and The Blessing of the Animals

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 22 / Lectionary 27

File:Nicolaes Maes - Christ Blessing the Children - WGA13814.jpgDivorce. St. Francis. Jesus blessing children. The blessing of the animals. The praise of God who is the author of all. Eden and the creation of a good and perfect partner equal to the first human. All the readings and elements of our worship on Sunday actually fit together rather nicely – though you wouldn’t expect it. Why preach about divorce on the day you invite friends and neighbor to have their pets blessed? Because we are a people created for Eden and living outside it. Because Christ has come to restore the lost harmony, the lost grace, those lost fidelity, the lost joy and life of the world.

Christ is not come to give us a new and stricter rule about divorce. It just sounds like it if you are not listening carefully. Jesus changes the conversation, steering us away from the commands in the law to the gift in creation. Jesus changes the conversation from what rules we have to follow to what does righteousness look like and where does it come from? How do we find our way to the life for which we were created?   How do we find our way to innocence and joy? How do we find our way from the broken world after humanity turns from God when “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you,” back to the original exultation: “this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”? How do we find our way from the curse to the blessing?

The Pharisees are on the attack trying to trap Jesus with a politically explosive question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The king, Herod Antipas, (technically a tetrarch) has divorced his wife, Phasaelis, and the country is now at war the with the spurned wife’s father (the king of Nabataea). The Queen, Herodias, has divorced her first husband Herod II (called Philip in Mark) to marry Herod Antipas, Philip’s brother. John the Baptist has attacked the marriage as a violation of the Law – and, as a consequence, he has been beheaded. So when the hostile Pharisees ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”, it’s a very dangerous question.

It’s a dangerous world, far from the goodness for which God created us. And it’s a wounded world, where humanity tried to kill the wolves rather than preach to them. Where humanity neglected the poor rather than cared for them. Where the crows were hated rather than beloved. Where we did not see the earth as brother and the moon as sister and all creation joined in a great song of praise, as St. Francis expresses in that great hymn we will sing: “All Creatures of Our God and King”

We live in a world of rent relationships. And the answer is not a strict enforcement of a stricter law. The answer is that Christ has come to heal the creation’s wounds, to restore the world’s lost grace, to reconcile all things to God and one another. Christ has come to open the way to the tree of life.

Christ has come to be the tree of life.

And so this Sunday we will hear of the gift of a partner to the first human and our need to live in relationship with others, with God and the creation. We will sing the psalms praising God for God’s wondrous creation. We will hear the promise of the world made new. And we will rejoice in the blessing that has been spoken, and the blessing that is come and the blessing that will be.

The Prayer for October 4, 2015

Holy Father,
who holds all creation in your loving arms,
guard and keep us, that we may not rend what you unite,
nor reject whom you receive;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 4, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 2:15, 18-24 (appointed: Genesis 2:18-24)
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” – When all the animals of the world will not do, God creates an equal to the first human.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
– The psalm sings of the wonder of creation and the mystery of humanity’s place as those “a little lower than the heavenly beings” into whose care the world is given.

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-3a (appointed: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12)
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”
– We begin to read from Hebrews where the author assembles a rich witness to Christ from the Hebrew scriptures.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-16 (appointed: Mark 10:2-16)
“Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – Jesus is back in public, teaching, when he is faced with a challenge from the Pharisees and turns the table from what is allowed in scripture because of our hardness of hearts to what God will create in us.

Texts in the liturgy for the Blessing of the Animals:

Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.”
– The poet calls all heaven and earth to join in praise of God

Isaiah 11:6-9
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.’” – Isaiah’s vision of the earth healed and restored to the innocence of Eden, when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frankfurt_Liebfrauenkirche_Innenhof_Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg  By Sr. Maria Ludgera Haberstroh  Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolaes Maes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

The Dance of the Seven Veils

Wednesday

Matthew 14

https://i1.wp.com/lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/cph/3b40000/3b49000/3b49700/3b49748r.jpg

Ludwig Hohlwein poster for a Richard Strauss music festival

13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

“When Jesus heard this.” The reading for Sunday requires us to look back and see what the “this” is. “This” is the beheading of John.

You have probably heard of this “this”. It was made famous as the “Dance of the Seven Veils” in Richard Strauss’ opera Salome. Salome is the daughter of Herodias from her first marriage to Herod II. His brother, Herod Antipas, scandalously took Herodias as his wife against Biblical law. (Herodias divorced Herod II when he was dropped from his father’s will, perhaps for someone still in line to inherit the throne. To take Herodias, Herod had to divorce the daughter of the Nabataean king. This led to war with the father of the spurned wife.) John dared to preach against the illicit union and Antipas eventually had John arrested. He was, however, hesitant to kill the prophet.

Herodias apparently had no such compunction towards the prophet who called her marriage incestuous. And, according to the Biblical account, at a great palace banquet for his birthday (attended only by men, remember) Antipas allows his daughter to dance for their entertainment. It is shameful to allow a family member to dance before men who were not family. And it is yet more shameful to show oneself aroused and out of control by such a dance. But Herod – again shamefully – promises her anything, up to half his kingdom. Salome consults with her mother and returns to ask for the head of John. Herod is bound by his public oath and has the head of John brought on a platter and given to her.

The feasts of the elite were decadent affairs by almost any standard, made more so by the progressive impoverishment of the poor who were losing their lands to the wealthy. Against this background we see Jesus hold a banquet that feeds the poor.

When Jesus hears about the death of John – his cousin according to Luke – he leaves town. Whether he is avoiding Herod, troubled by grief, or on a spiritual retreat to ponder what John’s death portends for himself, the text doesn’t say. Only that the crowds followed, raced around the lake, and were waiting for him when he got off the boat. Though he sought solitude, he had compassion for them and began to heal their sick. As the day grew late, he is urged to send the crowd away. The five loaves and two fish are not, in Matthew’s telling, brought forth by a small boy; it is all Jesus’ disciples have. But placing their all into the hands of Jesus, it becomes enough to satisfy the whole crowd.

Herod serves a banquet leads to death. But in the wilderness, Jesus serves a banquet that leads to life.

“Are you the one?”

Wednesday

Matthew 11

JUDAEA, Herodians. Herod Antipas. 4 BCE-39 CE....

JUDAEA, Herodians. Herod Antipas. 4 BCE-39 CE. Æ 18mm (4.98 g). Dated year 34 (30 CE). Palm branch; L LD (date) across fields / Legend in two lines within wreath. Hendin 517; RPC I 4926. VF, black patina with reddish earthen deposits, a little rough. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3 “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

John is in prison.  Herod Antipas has tried to silence him.  Herod Antipas is one of the sons of Herod the Great, a ruler of a fourth of Herod’s kingdom, hence the title Tetrarch. (Rome was skittish about allowing people to all themselves kings – including Jesus.)  Antipas governed Galilee and Perea from his capital city of Tiberias – named for the Roman Emperor, of course.  Client kings had always to curry favor with those who had power to elevate or depose them.

John is in prison.  He has criticized Antipas for violating Jewish law by divorcing his wife and (this is the problem) marrying Herodias, the former wife of his brother.  Such marriages always lead to problems in the human community, and this one fed a war.   Eventually his nephew, Agrippa I, will accuse him of conspiracy against Caligula and he will be sent into exile – with Agrippa gaining his lands and dominion.  But before then he will behead his critic, John.  Politics is a brutal sport.

In this era of brutal and corrupt rule, John hears of the deeds of Jesus.  Messianic deeds.  Things that the awaited one was expected to do: heal the sick, open blind eyes, release debtors, proclaim good news to the poor.  He hears of these deeds and sends his followers to ask, “Are you the coming one?”

Jesus simply points to the deeds.  They speak.

Jesus is not simply a healer.  He is not a wonderworker.  His deeds have a special ring about them.  They are the deeds spoken of by the prophets, the works that God’s anointed would do in that day when God draws near to reclaim his world.

We see the tumult and sorrow of the world around us.  We hear of the tragic violence that tears families and communities.  We know of the refugees on the Syrian border and the hunger in North Korea – though the leaders are safe and well fed.  We listen to the corruption of truth that comes from the mouths of politicians throughout the world – and from their media.  We see the power of large corporations to control governing authorities.  We know that people go hungry while others discard unused food.   We experience the gap between marriage as it is and marriage as we hoped it would be.  Even those at the top of privilege’s ladder feel the tension between what is and what might be, should be, could be.

3 “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Are you the one who rights the world?  Are you the one who restores life?  Are you the one who renews the face of the earth?

We have an instinctive longing for the world to be put right.  We have an innate hunger for justice.  An inborn yearning for peace, goodness, righteousness.  And we see the things Jesus is doing.  And, with John, we wonder.   Are you the one?

Jesus simply puts the question back on us.  What do you see?  Do you dare to trust your eyes?

He is the one.