Rage and redemption

File:Smoldering ruins of African American's homes following race riots - Tulsa Okla 1921.jpg

Aftermath of the Tulsa Riot that destroyed the homes and businesses in the black community of Greenwood, killing more than 100.

Watching for the Morning of February 3, 2019

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

An outbreak of communal violence is an ugly thing. We shouldn’t think first of the mindless behavior of hometown fans when their team wins the final game. Nor should we think first of the violence that rocks nations when oppressed communities respond to state violence with outrage. We need to think about lynchings: the angry, outraged mobs that insist on immediate vengeance for some fundamental violation of communal norms.

And we need to think about our stories, not what’s happening in some other country.

Emmett Till was 14, visiting from Chicago, when he encountered 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant at the small country store she owned with her husband in Money, Mississippi. He may have whistled at her; he may have whistled to his friends; he may have whistled softly to himself as he had been taught in order to control his stuttering. He was taken from the home where he was staying with his great-uncle in the middle of the night by Carolyn’s husband and his half-brother. Emmett’s naked, shot, and brutally beaten body was fished from the Tallahatchie River three days later, barbed wire wrapped around his neck and attached to a weight.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice records that “more than 4400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.”

What happened to Stephen in Acts 2 is this same kind of outbreak of communal violence. A mob outraged by his claim to see Jesus at the right hand of God rose up in violent revenge. It happened repeatedly to the apostle Paul – indeed Paul participated in the murder of Stephen and was dedicated to arresting followers of Jesus when the risen Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. The arrest that led to Paul’s eventual execution in Rome followed a riot begun with a rumor that he had desecrated the Jerusalem temple by bringing a gentile into the inner court.

Communal violence is an ugly thing. The crucifixion of Jesus was a deliberate act of the governing families in Jerusalem allied with the Roman imperium. It was an act of state violence. But what happened to Jesus in Nazareth after his sermon was a more visceral outbreak of rage. We paint pictures of Jesus with children and lambs and it takes some work to understand what part of his message was so offensive his hearers rose in fury to kill him.

Jesus has laid claim to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. He is the embodiment of God’s reign to rescue the poor and release the captive. But such a claim is a scandal in a culture where every

Jesus is uppity, acting out of his station in life. Jesus calls the people on their implicit rejection of his ministry – and then he dares to say that God’s reign is not for Israel but for all people. The people assert his obligation is to care for his family and village, but Jesus points to Elijah and Elisha who dispensed God’s favors to a poor widow and an afflicted leper among Israel’s enemies. This is what leads to rage, to the ugliness of communal violence. Jesus might as well have whistled at a white woman.

It is deep within us, this conviction God should care for us more than others. Donald Trump milked and manipulated it into the presidency. It took Jesus to the cross. But in the empty tomb God declared Jesus the one who speaks the truth.

So Sunday we will hear about Jeremiah’s prophetic call and God’s command he should speak fearlessly. The psalmist will declare God is his rock and his fortress. Corinthians will speak to us about the ultimate importance of love – not romantic love, but fidelity and care for all people. And then comes the abortive attempt on Jesus’ life. They will not get him this day; they will not get him in the end, for we follow one whose love is not silenced by hate.

The Prayer for February 3, 2019

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you revealed your gracious rule
to bind up the wounded and set free the captive.
Let us not fail to understand your will and your way,
but grant us willing hearts to receive your word and live your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 3, 2019

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” – God calls Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 71:1-6
“In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
– The psalm writer cries out to God for protection “from the hand of the wicked.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” – Paul continues to teach his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the gifts of God’s Spirit and their life together as a community. All gifts serve the community and the greatest gift is love – concern for and fidelity to one another

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
– The message Jesus announces in Nazareth that the age to come is dawning even as Jesus speaks is met with hostility and a murderous attempt on his life.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smoldering_ruins_of_African_American%27s_homes_following_race_riots_-_Tulsa_Okla_1921.jpg Alvin C. Krupnick Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lynching: A hometown response to Jesus

File:Angry mob of four.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 31, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 4:21-30

28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

Jesus has dared to suggest that the grace and mercy of God are not the possession of God’s people but are God’s gift to all. It nearly gets him killed. We take our religion pretty seriously. We want to hear that God is on our side, that God’s wants us to be happy, healthy and wise, that God will protect us in the day of famine or disease and not someone from our hated enemies.

Jesus’ problem is twofold. First, he acts like a prophet when he is just a construction worker. He’s too big for his britches. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” is just a snarky way to say “Who does he think he is?!” and to begin the process of cutting him down to size. This is what leads to the second accusation: “What does he think he’s doing spreading God’s gifts around! Charity begins at home. He should be doing his healing here among his own people, not wasting them on people from other towns and villages.” And so we are into the argument and Jesus is confronting them with reminders about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and Elisha healing Namaan the Syrian.

Jesus seems pretty rude in this exchange. But he is exposing the poison in their hearts. He is lancing the boil. He is provoking them to reveal their hardness of heart. And they oblige – wanting to throw him from the brow of the hill.

This story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry foreshadows the end – the cross and resurrection. For they will indeed kill Jesus, but he will “pass through their midst.”

So Sunday we hear of corrupt religion and the violence it can engender. And we hear that God’s work is not stopped by it. And we will hear of Jeremiah’s call to preach God’s message – for which he will be afflicted, but God’s word will do its work. And we hear the psalmist cry out for protection against enemies. And in the background of all this embattled preaching is Paul singing about faith, hope and love enduring forever – and the greatest of these is love. This is the life to which these followers of Christ have been brought. Here we are invited into the dawning of that new age that Jesus has told us is fulfilled in himself.

The Prayer for January 31, 2016

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you revealed your gracious rule
to bind up the wounded and set free the captive.
Let us not fail to understand your will and your way,
but grant us willing hearts to receive your word and live your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 31, 2016

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” – God calls Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 71:1-6
“In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
– The psalm writer cries out to God for protection “from the hand of the wicked.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” – Paul continues to teach his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the gifts of God’s Spirit and their life together as a community. All gifts serve the community and the greatest gift is love – concern for and fidelity to one another

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
– The message Jesus announces in Nazareth that the age to come is dawning even as Jesus speaks is met with hostility and a murderous attempt on his life.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angry_mob_of_four.jpg by Robert Couse-Baker (Flickr: angry mob) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The dawn of a new world

File:Babisnauer pappel morgen.JPG

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

A fistful of dollars

Tuesday

Mark 6:1-13

File:American Cash.JPG5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

If you are standing on a street corner trying to hand out one-hundred-dollar bills and no one trusts you, you are going to have a lot left over at the end of the day.

Jesus is in Nazareth – though Mark tells us that he came to his people, his father’s place. So, yes, Jesus is in Nazareth, but the story is a parable about all God’s people. (Not “the Jews” mind you, but you and I, all who consider themselves God’s people.) Jesus has come to the place of his father. He is there in the power of the Spirit. He is proclaiming that God’s day of new creation, the reign of God, is at hand. And they say 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”

It is not a puzzled inquiry. It is a rejection. “We know this guy. He’s a carpenter. What’s he doing talking like this? Who does he think he is?” They are words designed to cut this uppity peon down to size.  “You are no better than us, Jesus.”

And he could do no mighty work there.

Jesus has a fistful of one-thousand-dollar bills and no takers.

Why is it so hard for us to receive the gifts of God? Is there something intrinsic to religious life that closes us off to the life of the Spirit? Do we spend so much time going to the golf club for lunch that we think we are golfers and never go out to play the game?  Do we hang out in the faculty lounge and think that we are scholars and have no reason to study anymore?  Are we “Republicans in name only” (or Democrats, or pick-your party/organization) and think we need never donate our time and money?  Do I give to the World Wildlife Fund and have their little sticker on my car, and think that makes me an environmentalist, without ever setting foot in the woods or taking thought for my carbon footprint?

We are like this in many ways.

And when our kids come home and challenge our lifestyle we say things like “Who do you think you are? This is what paid for your college education?”

“Who do you think you are Jesus. You are no different than we are. You are a common laborer. Don’t imagine that you are worthy of greater honor than us.” Of course, in our time, it comes out more like: “That’s all very well and good, Jesus, but we live in the real world.”

Does it break the heart of God when he sends prophets and teachers to those who name themselves as God’s people and they want none of it? “I like my religion my way, thank you.”

And Jesus has his fistful of one-hundred-thousand-dollar bills and no takers.

 

Image: By Revised by Reworked (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons