Creation

File:A break in the clouds - Flickr - rachel thecat.jpg

25Then he [Jesus] said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

When Jesus walks with his followers on the road to Emmaus, he takes them back through the scripture to help them understand the fundamental witness of the Biblical writings. He is not proof-texting the resurrection, but opening their eyes to see that the fundamental narrative of the scripture concerns the sacrificial love of God – love that has its fulfillment in the cross and resurrection.

So the sermon series in which our parish has embarked has as its purpose not only to tell these pivotal stories in scripture, but to show how they bear witness to the God whose face we see in Christ.

As we developed this idea, our sanctuary arts people proposed placing a series of pictures in the sanctuary that related to the story of the day. That led to the production of a booklet that summarized the story and identified the pictures.

Here is the text of the booklet from week 1 on Genesis 1.  This Sunday we will talk about Genesis 2.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_break_in_the_clouds_-_Flickr_-_rachel_thecat.jpg By rachel_thecat (A break in the clouds) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 1:1-2:3


“A wind from God swept over the face of the waters”


File:Wea00816.jpg

At the beginning of God’s creating, there is nothing but the breath of God hovering over a storm tossed sea.

And then God speaks.

It is God’s word that brings order, beauty and life. Before God’s word, apart from God’s speaking, there is neither order, beauty or life.

Speech is relational. It connects. It creates. It enlivens. For God to speak, means that God is relational. (When the author of 1 John writes that “God is love”, he is describing the kind of relationship God has with the world: God is faithful to us.)

Though our words can also create division and harm, God’s word creates community, goodness and life.

The Biblical account is set down in this form when Jerusalem has been destroyed and the leadership of the nation carried off into exile in Babylon. Those surviving peasants who hadn’t fled the war were left to farm the land. They posed no threat of resistance or rebellion. But the people of the city now inhabit the ancient equivalent of a refugee camp. They live in the aftermath of the chaos of war: grief, suffering, disease, dislocation. The temple and priesthood, symbols of God’s presence are destroyed. The sacrifices that were the means of grace and connection to God are lost to them. They are a people in the darkness of a storm-tossed sea.

But the Spirit of God is present.

And then God speaks.

North Pacific storm waves as seen from the M/V NOBLE STAR
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWea00816.jpg by NOAA (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/bigs/wea00816.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“God called the dome Sky”


File:Milky Way over Devils Tower.jpg

God’s first act is to create light and to separate the light from the darkness.

The ancient world imagined darkness as a thing in itself, rather than the absence of light. So into the stuff of the world which is darkness God calls into being a new stuff: light.

And the light is good.

God gathers the light together so we can live in the light. There is now day and night.

Next God speaks into existence the dome of the sky. Imagine a glass bowl upside down in the bathtub: water all around, but a bubble of air under the dome. God has made a space in the midst of the primal, chaotic waters where goodness and life can happen.

A panoramic image of the Milky Way galaxy stretching across the sky over America’s first national monument, Devils Tower. 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMilky_Way_over_Devils_Tower.jpg by NCBrown (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Let the earth put forth vegetation”


File:Lotus flower (978659).jpg

Now, God gathers the water together so that land appears. And the land is summoned to bring forth all the living, growing stuff we see.

The text calls these ‘days’ though there is yet no sun or moon or stars to mark the days and seasons. But the cycle of day and night suggests images of labor, God is working to call forth his world. And the language of days suggests time; God is building something that takes time. And time itself is moving towards its completion, towards Sabbath.


“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky”


On the fourth ‘day’ God calls forth the lights that span the dome of the heavens and appoints them “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.”

The ancient words for ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ were the names of gods. The lights in the sky were considered spirit beings, creatures of fire and light rather than earth, divine beings to be adored and called upon for help. But the Biblical author doesn’t call them ‘Sun’ or ‘Moon’; these are but lanterns in the sky, placed there by the word of God. We use them only to count days.

It is a startling claim for a people whose god has been crushed in battle by the (presumably) more powerful gods of Babylon. The Lord could not protect his own house, his temple. The Lord could not protect his household staff, his people. Yet here our writer proclaims that these powerful so-called gods of Babylon are no gods at all.

Flower of an Indian Lotus
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALotus_flower_(978659).jpg by Hong Zhang (jennyzhh2008) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“ Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind”


File:A butterfly feeding on the tears of a turtle in Ecuador.jpg

Now God begins to summons forth the creatures of the earth. The waters proliferate with creatures and birds fill the skies. It is good. And God utters a blessing: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

God will also speak this blessing over humans. They are among the living creatures. They are not creatures of the air. They are not spirit beings. They are part of the good world God calls forth in all its wondrous diversity.

The fish and birds are called into existence on the fifth ‘day’, creatures of the land and humans on the sixth day.

We are creatures. We are one with the creation and yet the crown of creation. The care of the earth is entrusted into our hands. We are blessed as the creatures are blessed. But we are also charged to exercise “dominion”, governance, stewardship, lordship. And the model of true lordship is not one of control and domination, but the God who provides and cares, and the lord who lays down his life for the sheep. St. Francis is correct when he speaks of the creatures of the world as our sisters and brothers.   The world is to be tended not plundered.

Two Julia Butterflies (Dryas iulia) drinking the tears of turtles (Podocnemis expansa?) in Ecuador. Turtles bask on a log as the butterflies sip from their eyes. This “tear-feeding” is a phenomenon known as lachryphagy.  
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_butterfly_feeding_on_the_tears_of_a_turtle_in_Ecuador.jpg amalavida.tv [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“In the image of God he created them”


File:Heavens Above Her.jpg

The word ‘image’ in the ancient Greek translation of Genesis comes into English as ‘icon’. An icon was an image that represented the presence of another – like the United States planting a flag on Iwo Jima to represent the authority and presence of the nation. Humans represent the presence of God. Or, at least, we are supposed to so represent. We are the agents and signs of God’s presence, the agents and signs of God’s care, the agents and sign of God’s love. Or at least, again, this was God’s intention. This is our calling. This is our true identity.

Perhaps the ancients thought we shared the same physical appearance as God. But the truth is we have no other language or imagery to talk about a loving, speaking being.

These humans are given fruit to eat. And the grazing animals grass. In the beginning we did not yet kill and eat each other. It’s why the prophets say that in the end, when God’s creation is finally restored, the lion can lie down with the lamb.

Milky Way lying above a lady’s silhouette, at Trona Pinnacles National Landmark, California.
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

Sabbath Rest

“On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done.”


File:Paints of sunrise on Langtang National Park.jpg

So now we come to the final day, the consummate day, the goal toward which all things move: Sabbath. Rest. Completion. Perfection. Shalom. Peace. Wholeness. Harmony. This ‘day’ is holy, sacred, radiant with the divine. Jesus will call it “the reign of God.” St. John the Divine will call it the “New Jerusalem”.

The world is not complete in six days. It is complete with Sabbath.

And Jesus will declare that the reign of God is at hand, so it makes perfect sense for him to heal on the Sabbath. He is not working, doctoring; he is bringing that final Sabbath when all things are made new.

The Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the deep now breathes in all people. The promise of Joel is fulfilled (Joel 2:28-29). Pentecost has come (Acts 2). The Torah is written on every heart (Jeremiah 31:31). The heavenly banquet is begun (Isaiah 25:6-8). Swords are beaten into plowshares (Micah 4:1-3) and the lion eats straw like the ox (Isaiah 65:17-25).

It is all “very good.”

View from mountain pass Laurebina-la
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APaints_of_sunrise_on_Langtang_National_Park.jpg  by Q-lieb-in (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
 © Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017
Advertisements

The warring drums are silenced

File:Furienmeister.furie.jpg

Watching for the Morning of June 12, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 7 / Lectionary 12

It is hard to hear the Gospel reading appointed for this Sunday of the man consumed with rage, alienated from civic life, and dwelling in death’s shadow, and not think of those young men who have taken up assault rifles and become servants of death. Jesus has just calmed the storm at sea (an assault by spiritual powers) and now he calms the storm within this anguished man among the tombs.

There is irony, even mockery, in the story. The demons do not wish to be sent into the abyss so they beg to be sent into a nearby herd of swine. But what they fear, they find – for the pigs plunge themselves into the deep.

The story is set against the background of warring armies, the rage of earthly kingdoms. Gerasa was founded by Alexander the Great on his march to conquer the world. And the demons are legion – as in the legions of the Roman Empire that enforce the Emperor’s will on a captive people. But the oppression and chaos endemic to the rulers of this world are cast out by the command of Jesus who brings the peace and reconciliation of God’s reign.

Sadly, the people of Gerasa choose the familiar world of violence and beg Jesus to leave.

The cry for deliverance – and the cry of God to a people who will not receive it – occupy our readings this Sunday. In the first reading from Isaiah, God reaches out to a people who will not draw near and perish in their idolatries. The psalm is the familiar cry for deliverance uttered by Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a cry God answers. The possessed man among the tombs cries in anguish as the evil within is confronted with the presence of God in Christ, but deliverance comes. And in Galatians we hear Paul exulting in the new creation that has come in Christ: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

There is a battle raging in the world – not the battle between competing human empires or ideologies, but the battle between humanity’s wars of domination and God’s work of liberation, between our rage and God’s peace, between the forces of chaos and the grasping passions of the human heart, and the passion of God who suffers for the redemption of the world. For those who come together to hear these stories on Sunday, the warring drums are silenced, and we are brought together in peace at God’s table.

The Prayer for June 19, 2016

Gracious God,
like the man who lived among the tombs,
we are bound by our fears and wounds, sins and failings.
Restore and renew us by your word of Grace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 19, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9
“I was ready to be found by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.” –
Through the prophet God cries out against a rebellious and idolatrous people.

Psalmody: Psalm 22:1, 16-28 (appointed, Psalm 22:19-28)
“For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”
– This psalm associated with the passion of Jesus, that begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” cries out to God for deliverance form affliction and becomes a song of thanksgiving.

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-29
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” – Paul describes the Mosaic law as the servant/slave charged with escorting a child to school and correcting him with a rod, but now in Christ we have entered God’s new reality

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
“Then Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him.”
– A man possessed by a legion of demons (as in the Roman legions) – consumed by rage, cut off from society, and dwelling among the dead – is restored by the dawning reign of God in Jesus.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFurienmeister.furie.jpg Master of the Furies [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Easter in the Rubble

File:Spring in Somerville, NJ - 2012 File 4.JPG

Sunday Evening

Isaiah 65

No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

Our Easter day was very nice, with the Easter Breakfast and the crowded sanctuary and the handbells ringing in procession and joining the organ and trumpet to lead the congregation in “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” and ending the day with the children’s Easter egg hunt and the leftovers from breakfast for what was now an Easter brunch. It was sunny and warm and happy and sweet.

What I remember about Easter as a child was its innocence. It was about eggs and bunnies and jellybeans. It was about flowers and spring and family gatherings. It was pastel colors and my little sister looking priceless in a darling new dress.

But this morning there is news about the targeting of Christians – mostly women and children – near the children’s rides in a park in Lahore, Pakistan. As of now the news says more than sixty were killed and two hundred injured. And Brussels is still in the news. And Paris before that. And the refugees from Syria. And the violence from ISIS. And the angry words of our own election season.

The images of our happy Easter and the sorrows of the world clash in my mind and heart.

Of course, this is nothing new. That picture in my mind of Kathy in her darling new Easter dress hunting for colored eggs at Uncle Victor and Aunt Evelyn’s home on an Easter afternoon is from the years when the war in Vietnam was ramping up and we were practicing nuclear attack drills in my grade school. And somewhere in there was the Cuban missile crisis and my brother’s night-terror that there was a nuclear bomb under our bunk bed – but Easter was still innocence and candy.

I want to protect that innocence. There was a taste of it all through this last week. When Natalie arrived for work each morning she would place our large pastel, Easter eggs in different places on the lawn or “hiding” in the flower beds. And the children from the music school would get wide-eyed at these giants eggs that were as big as they – and they would climb on them and push them around and parents and nannies would be taking pictures with their cell phones. Every time I walked by I couldn’t help but smile.

We need innocence. We need simple delight. We need laughter and bright, shining eyes.

There is an element of Easter that is about innocence. We saw it in our first reading this morning where the prophet speaks to a broken and war-torn people about a time to come when all things are made new, when Jerusalem is a joy and the sound of weeping is no more, when invading armies no longer strip your fields and take your houses, when children are no longer laid in the dust of death, when peace comes even to the wolf and the lamb.

I suppose if the prophet were preaching to us he would speak of a world without fear of terrorism and war, without angry rhetoric, without police violence or violence of any kind, when the water is safe to drink in every city and the rains are gentle and reliable, when there is no fear of strange new diseases or familiar old ones.

There is a yearning in the human heart for lost innocence. But the Biblical promise isn’t about going back to a lost innocence –it is about going forward into a new innocence, a new creation, a rebirth of the human heart and a healing of the world. The Biblical promise isn’t about going back to the Garden of Eden, but going forward to the New Jerusalem.

When Jesus announces the dawning of the kingdom of God he is speaking about that healing and transformation of the world where our lives and our world are brought under the governance of God’s Spirit. The prophet Jeremiah spoke about this as the law, the teaching of God, being written on our hearts. Joel talks about it as the Spirit of God poured out on every person, young and old, slave and free. Micah talks about swords being beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. And Isaiah about light shining in the darkness.

The promise of scripture is that God will give new birth to the human heart and to our world. And the witness of Easter is that that new birth has begun. God has his foot in the door and no matter how ward we try to push him out, God is coming in.

But he’s not coming in on a horse; he’s riding a donkey. He’s not coming with a sword but in peace. He is not coming as a tyrant but a servant. He is not coming with an army of men or angels to drive out the wicked; he is healing the sick and gathering the outcast. He is washing feet. He is forgiving his betrayers. He is offering his life for the sake of the world.

Though we delight in the innocence and the Easter eggs, the story we are here to tell is of a world rescued and redeemed.

Easter speaks its truth most profoundly not on those perfect spring mornings when we were having our picture taken, dressed in our Sunday best, in front of the flower covered cross outside the church. Easter speaks its truth most profoundly in the rubble where people are crucified. There comes the message that the grave is empty. There comes word that God walks with us amidst death and sorrow that we might walk in his light and life.

 

Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/Spring_in_Somerville%2C_NJ_-_2012_File_4.JPG By Siddharth Mallya (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Here I am! Here I am!

Thursday

Isaiah 65:1-9

with open arms 両手を広げて

with open arms 両手を広げて (Photo credit: jessleecuizon)

1I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
      to be found by those who did not seek me
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
      to a nation that did not call on my name.

The prophet’s poetry is exquisite; the cry of God plaintive.  A God eager to be found.  A God of fabulous promises and great mercy.  A God who brought the people back from exile in Babylon, home again to the land once promised to their ancestor Abraham.  A God with outstretched arms, both here and on the cross.  “Here I am!  Here I am!”  But we do not call on his name.

2I held out my hands all day long
      to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
      following their own devices;
3a people who provoke me
     to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
      and offering incense on bricks;
4who sit inside tombs,
     and spend the night in secret places;
who eat swine’s flesh,
     with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
5who say, “Keep to yourself,
      do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
      a fire that burns all day long.

Fabulous, brutal poetry, speaking the truth of a people who look everywhere for prosperity and goodness except to the one who has already given it, the one who holds out his hands and cries “Here I am!”

Our constant worship of the gods of security and profit, the sacrifices offered in the bodies of the poor for the clothing we covet at bargain prices, the sacrifices offered in the lives of our children who are sexualized before their time, the sacrifices we offer of family life to the gods of work and wealth.  “Here I am!  Here I am!” cries the one who is the bread of life, the living water, the light of all creation.

We think we are special, elite, ‘holy’, when our honoring of such gods is an acrid scent before heaven: a face full of diesel exhaust on an urban street, the inescapable smoke in the eyes that follows you round a campfire.

I will measure into their laps
      full payment for their actions.

There will be consequences.  We suffered some with the greed that led to our last economic near collapse – and many suffer still.  We have laid many in the ground for our trust in violence to bring peace.  Sexual diseases repay our worship of sex.  But God is not done with us or the world.

8Thus says the Lord: As the wine is found in the cluster,
      and they say, “Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,”
so I will do for my servants’ sake,
      and not destroy them all.
9I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
      and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
my chosen shall inherit it,
      and my servants shall settle there.

Português: Igreja da Misericordia, Pernes,Portugal

Português: Igreja da Misericordia, Pernes,Portugal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The God who gathers, the God who blesses, the God who redeems the earth, the God who loves without limit, who remains faithful despite all human faithlessness, will bring joy from sorrow, goodness from evil, life from death.

Here I am!  Here I am!  Waiting to be found.