That all should be fed

Watching for the Morning of August 2, 2020

Year A

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

Our psalm for this Sunday speaks of God’s gracious providing for the world:

The eyes of all look to you,
….and you give them their food in due season.

The world entrusted into our care is rich and abundant.  It is God’s purpose and gift that all should be fed.

The prophet stands in the marketplace and calls out for all to come eat and drink “without money and without price,” and though God’s welcome table is here God’s word of grace and wisdom, the truth remains: It is God’s purpose and gift that all should be fed.

It is no wonder that we should hear of God feeding the crowds through Jesus.  It is God’s purpose and gift that all should be fed – and Jesus is come to fulfill God’s purpose.

I have lived in places where food is not abundant – at least not abundant to all.  When I make rice, I have a compulsion to be sure that every grain left in the pan is either saved or eaten.  I cannot look at it without remembering images of desperately hungry children picking a few fallen grains from the dirt.

I waste food; I know I do.  Despite myself.  I had to throw away bread that had molded, today.  I have tossed unhappy leftovers from the back of the refrigerator.  I have dumped pasta when bugs found their way in.  Reluctantly.  Guiltily.  But it is those grains of rice that trouble me most, because I have seen the hungry children.  It is God’s purpose and gift that all should be fed.

It troubles me, too, when I hear people speak falsehoods, especially when they use the name of God to support their deception.  It is not without reason Jesus calls the devil the father of lies.” 

Too often – either casually, ignorantly, or corruptly – people speak falsehoods about God.  God is invoked for the slaughter of war or the hatefulness of bigotry, cruelty and neglect.  False comforts are dispensed, false promises of riches, false judgments and condemnations.  I marvel at God’s patience with the human family.

But before this human family – before us – God sets a banquet.  Before us Jesus lifts up the bread and blesses it.  Before us bread is shared.  Before us great crowds are fed with twelve baskets leftover, signifying the feeding of all Israel (as God fed the people in the wilderness).  Later, it will happen again, with seven baskets left over, signifying the feeding of the nations.  It is God’s purpose and gift that all should be fed.

Whatever else we may hear in the wondrous texts this morning – and there is much to hear – we should hold fast to this simple truth that God comes to work mercy, to nourish the hungry in body and soul, to gather all creation to one table of peace.

The Prayer for August 2, 2020

Almighty God,
who through your Son, Jesus,
sets a table for all the world to come and feast:
Grant us hearts and minds eager to hear your word,
share in your banquet,
and live your reign of mercy and life.

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.

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Image: dkbonde, stained glass of the feeding of the 5,000 at Los Altos Lutheran Church.

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved

 

Where the pious pout

File:Pouting boy in Shamar, Iraq.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 26, 2020

Once more about this coming Sunday (Proper 12 / Lectionary 17, Year A)
A reprint from July 24, 2017

A mustard seed doesn’t become a tree. It can be a big bush, but not a tree. And it was improper to plant mustard in your garden. It had something to do with the mixing of kinds and the unruliness of mustard. God’s commands to ancient Israel were to keep such things separate. But it’s not like Matthew doesn’t understand this. Matthew does indeed. There is a scandal, here. Like leaven hidden. You don’t ‘hide’ leaven in the loaf unless it’s not supposed to be there – like maybe someone intentionally desecrating the Passover bread.

Flaunting boundaries. Jesus has been doing this all along. Not just welcoming outcasts, but laying hands on the dead and touching lepers and not observing the fasts, and eating with unwashed hands and sharing the gifts of God with a Canaanite woman (well, those last two stories come after this one, but we who hear the text know something about the audacity of Jesus).

So why does Matthew let Jesus call the mustard shrub a tree? So that Jesus can say that “the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” It is an allusion to the prophetic word in Ezekiel about the splendid cedar that will rise from the broken twig God will plant.

We are still proclaiming the wondrous and unexpected harvest that will certainly come. God’s scandalous kingdom where sinners are welcomed and the dead are raised and the pious pout and fume. But those who see and hear will sell all to possess it. The priceless pearl. The surprise treasure. The dawn of grace.

So Sunday we hear Solomon ask for wisdom and receive all things. We will hear the psalmist sing of the glories of God’s teaching and hunger to hear what is now proclaimed in Jesus. And Paul will describe the creation groaning for that day when the promise is made complete and exult that nothing can separate us from the love of God. And Jesus will tell us that the reality dawning in this audacious Jesus is worth selling everything to possess.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APouting_boy_in_Shamar%2C_Iraq.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© David K Bonde, 2017, All rights reserved

Priceless

File:Pearls wwalas 1.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 26, 2020

Year A

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 12 / Lectionary 17

Matthew 13 is a beautiful necklace of gold and pearls, but the lectionary disassembles it and hands us pieces at a time.  We seem to do this often with the Gospels.  The wonder of their narrative – their proclamation of this Jesus, anointed of God – is carved up and sold like so often happened to the treasured ancient manuscripts found in the caves of the region.  The parable of the mustard seed doesn’t stand alone; it is told with the story of the feuding farmers and the yeast and Jesus’ unexpected allusion to Isaiah.  They lead to a private word with his disciples about the meaning of the feuding farmers, and then to the radical sacrifice to gain the treasure in the field and the priceless pearl.  And it is all topped off by the sorting out of the great catch of fish.

Grace, warning, and summons to discipleship, are wondrously woven together in this chapter.  Seeds have been sown.  The word is proclaimed.  It will bring forth a wondrous harvest.  It is not stopped by the enemy’s weeds any more than it was stopped by the birds of the air or the hardened earth.  It will shelter the birds of the air, gathering all nations into the protection of its branches.  It will transform the world like yeast the dough.  It is a treasure worth selling all to gain.  And there will be a sorting.  A harvest is coming.  The weeds will become fuel for the fire.  The useless fish will be thrown out.

Some people will hear and understand.  Others must struggle to see with new eyes.  But the stories are there, pushing, prodding, offending, assuring, challenging us to see the true glory of God’s healing of the world and to stop at nothing to share in it.

We are not talking about getting to heaven.  We are talking about heaven coming to earth, about the hungry fed and the sick healed and the bound set free.  We are talking about a human community abiding in love – a world that has forgotten violence, greed, hate, and division.  A world where the child is not endangered by the asp.  A world gathered to one table.  A world of shalom.

Right now, we can’t even persuade everyone to care about the health of others and wear a mask.  Right now, we can’t even agree on the humanity of all.  We are a long way from the garden.  The New Jerusalem eludes us.  Right now, there is just this tiny seed.

But it will grow.  It will shelter the birds of the air.  It will shelter us all in its branches.  What can possibly be more valuable than this?

Sunday, before we come to the table, we will hear Solomon pray for wisdom.  It is more precious than life and wealth and winning.  The psalm will sing of the wonder of God’s teaching.  Paul will exult in the hope for which all creation is groaning.  And Jesus will remind us to give up everything to gain this priceless treasure.

The Prayer for July 26, 2020

Eternal God,
whose promises never fail
and whose purpose for the world
will be brought to its fulfillment in Christ Jesus:
grant us wisdom to recognize the riches of your grace
and to live now the joy that awaits us.

The Texts for July 26, 2020

First Reading: 1 Kings 3:5-12
“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’” – After David’s death, Solomon gains the throne and comes to worship at the ancient holy site of Gibeon where he asks God for wisdom.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:129-136
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” – In a majestic tour de force in praise of God’s law/teaching/word, the poet celebrates the guiding commands of God in twenty-two eight-line strophes that proceed from Aleph to Taw (A to Z) with each of the eight lines in every strophe beginning with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Second Reading: Romans 8:22-23, 26-39 (appointed 8:26-39)
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”
– Paul’s argument that we have been reconciled us to God through Christ by God’s favor (grace) apprehended by our trust in, and allegiance to, God’s promise (faith) now culminates in an ecstatic declaration that nothing in the heavens or on earth can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field.” – From unlikely beginnings – a tiny seed, a bit of yeast – comes an extraordinary end, so it is with the reign of God.  What is sown looks frail and powerless – a Galilean rabble and a crucified ‘messiah’ – but from it will come an exceptional harvest.  Like a merchant finding a priceless pearl or a farmer finding a great treasure, the wise will do all in their power to obtain it.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pearls_wwalas_1.jpg  WWalas / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved

 

The invitation stands

File:The water transfer.jpgWatching for the Morning of July 5, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

It’s hard to get away from the language of kingship in the scriptures.  This was the governing reality of the time.  People are always under the dominion of some reigning ruler (and only very rarely a queen).  If God is to govern the world, if the Spirit is to direct every heart, if the creation redeemed shall flower, the people can only imagine it as the arrival of a just and righteous king.  It is imagery that still resonates with us, though our experience of kingship and rulers is so often bitter.  Though our rulers falter, we still imagine things could be truly good if only we had the right person to lead us.

In the grey days of Judah’s life under Persian dominion, Zechariah bears witness to the light of a new day when one shall ride up from the Jordan river valley upon a donkey like kings of old – a bringer of peace not conquest.  “His dominion shall be from sea to sea,” and “he shall command peace to the nations.”

The poet sings of a world governed by God, shaped by God’s faithfulness and compassion.  It is a world where “The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.”

The promise of the psalm echoes in the Gospel where we hear Jesus’ tender and challenging words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  He is speaking of a yoke.  It is an image of kingship, as Jeremiah spoke of Judah taking up the yoke of Babylon, submitting to its rule (a yoke they rejected, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and its holy site of encounter with the divine).  But this king is “gentle and humble in heart;” his “yoke” brings life not sucks it away.

There is some sadness and regret in Jesus’ voice; the nation has not welcomed this dawning reign of grace.  We are too full of ourselves.  But the arms remain open.  The invitation stands.

The Prayer for July 5, 2020

Gracious God,
in Christ Jesus you invite all people
into the path of your teaching and life.
By your Holy Spirit,
open our hearts and lives to your message
that, following your Son, we may find true rest for our souls.

The Texts for July 5, 2020

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – In the weary years after Babylon has fallen and Judah is but a poor backwater of the Persian empire, comes a prophetic message from the book of Zechariah promising a king who shall arrive like the kings of old and command peace to the nations,” reigning “from sea to sea.”

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-14
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” – A hymn of praise to God who reigns as earth’s just and faithful king.

Second Reading: Romans 7:21-25a (appointed: Romans 7:14-25)
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Paul uses the image of possession (compelled to act against our own will) to expound his notion that the death of Christ has freed us from our bond-service to sin and made us servants of God.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus rebukes the fickle crowd (who criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for being a libertine) and praises God for opening the eyes of the poor and marginalized to see and take up the yoke of God’s reign of grace and life.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_water_transfer.jpg
Mikhail Kapychka / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© David K Bonde, 2020

Oops

Saturday

My mistake!  I included the wrong texts in my post this week.  Below are the correct ones for this Sunday.  And to make up for my mistake, here is a repost from another year:

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Matthew 10:34

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

File:Musée Cinquantenaire Roman dagger.jpgEverything depends upon hearing a text in its right context.  Cut this verse away from its place in Matthew’s Gospel, cut it away from the life and ministry of Jesus, cut it away from the Biblical witness as a whole, and we have justification for violence.  Or, if not violence, justification for whatever commotion causing things we want to do.  Place this word of Jesus on their march up to Jerusalem, with Jesus astride a donkey and the people waving palm fronds (symbols of kingship) and you have a very different message than its place here in the missionary discourse.  We have to be careful about the way we use scripture.  Indeed, the central question is always, “Are we using scripture or is scripture using us?” It’s not an easy question to answer.  It takes a continual listening.  There is a reason Jesus talks about abiding in his word.

So Jesus brings a sword, but this cannot be a sword of armed struggle; after all, Jesus rebukes his followers saying, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” And how should we love our enemies and take up the sword at the same time?  This is not the sword born by gladiators; this is the knife that divides.  It is not the long sword used by troops in combat; it is the short sword, the dagger, used for everything from personal protection to cooking.  It is the boning knife used in Hebrews for the Word of God that “divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow.” It is the priestly knife used in sacrifice.

How differently we would hear this verse if we translated it, “I have not come to bring peace, but a scalpel.”  Jesus is, after all, in the business of heart surgery.  Only his surgery is not just on the individual human heart; he comes to operate on the whole human community.  There is surgery to be done.  The warlords and drug lords and patrons of young victims of human trafficking.  The abusive parents and abusive governments.  The active and passive participants is communal violence.  There is surgery to be done.  And we should not imagine than when power is challenged, when individuals and “businesses” that profit from evils are confronted, there will not be resistance.  Fierce resistance.  Many miners were beaten and killed in their attempt to stand up to the coal companies.  Many young men and women were assaulted, slandered and murdered for their resistance to Jim Crow – even some children.  There is heart surgery to be done.  There is truth to be spoken.  There is compassion to be waged.  Neighbors oppose the building of churches and soup kitchens.  It is illegal to baptize in many countries.  Congregation’s themselves resent the changes new people bring.  Our hearts, too, need the surgeon’s scalpel.

And what if we translate the text, “I have not come to bring peace, but a knife of sacrifice”?  What will such words say to us as we listen to Jesus declare that the fields are waiting for harvest?  When he sends us out to cast out demons and heal and declare the reign of God?

Jesus doesn’t bring a quiet and peaceable life.  He brings the peaceable kingdom.  He brings the dawning of that day when swords are beaten into plowshares – a day that won’t come easily, given our great faith in the power of violence.

There is surgery to be done, so don’t be surprised when Jesus says, “I have come with knives.”

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The Texts for June 21, 2020

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
“O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.” – The prophet raises a lament towards God for assigning him a message of judgment and destruction that has resulted in nothing but hostility and persecution.  And when he tries to be silent, God’s message burns like a fire within him.

Psalmody: Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
“Zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – The poet cries out to God in the midst of persecution and trouble.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
“Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!”
– In the course of setting forth his message that all are justified (in a right relationship with God) by grace (God’s merciful action) through faith (trusting God’s promise), Paul anticipates the objections of his opponents that if our sin shows how great is God’s mercy, why not continue to sin? Such a notion is rejected because joined with Christ in baptism we have entered into a new reality.  We have come under Christ’s dominion, being transferred from the realm of sin and death and living now in the realm of grace and life.

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – the path of discipleship is not an easy one.  The world will resist God’s claim on life, but the followers of Jesus are sent as agents of God’s transforming justice and mercy.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mus%C3%A9e_Cinquantenaire_Roman_dagger.jpg Michel wal / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Promise

File:Pordenone Holy Trinity.jpgWatching for the Morning of June 7, 2020

Year A

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

The Trinity is not an abstract concept.  It is not an attempt to define the indefinable.  It is not an ontological description of the divine.  It is a promise.  It is the promise that Jesus the crucified is the face of God.  It is a promise that the Spirit that inflames, comforts, teaches, guides, empowers, confronts, and upholds is the breath of God.  It is a promise that the birth of the world is in the same suffering, healing, forgiving, love manifest in Jesus.  It is a promise that the breath that blew over the primal waters is the same life-giving breath in us and the same breath that will, in the age to come, govern every human heart.

The Trinity is a promise.  God is not a judge on a throne waiting to weigh everyone on eternal scales; God is the mercy that lays down its life for the sheep.  God is not the prime mover, winding up the world like a newly formed watch to let it run; God is the living heartbeat that calls forth life in every nook and cranny of existence.  God is not fickle, like the gods both ancient and modern, whose favors and wraths are petty and unpredictable – bestowing bounty one moment then stealing it away.  God is five loaves feeding five thousand and an ever-flowing stream.

The Trinity is promise, promise that the sorrows we see in the world, the hates, the fears, the grieving, the thieving, the suffering, the silencing, the extinguished breath – these are not our truth.  Our truth is in the word that called forth the world, saw that it was good, and blessed it.  Our truth is in the word made flesh who brought joy to a wedding, transforming water into wine.  Our truth is in the Spirit poured out that proclaimed the praise of God in every language on earth.  Our truth is creation made whole, Babel undone, hearts of stone become living beating hearts, the tree of life, and a river flowing from the throne of God like the river of Eden.

The Trinity is promise.  And all that is to come rests in the arms of this promise.

The Prayer for June 7, 2020

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder,
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully;
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 7, 2020

First Reading: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” – The first chapter of Genesis tells of the creation of all things by God’s word, God’s declaration that the creation is good, God’s blessing of humanity, and their commission to care for the earth.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” – The psalm celebrates the majesty of God and marvels at the position of honor and responsibility God has given to humanity by entrusting God’s wondrous creation into their care.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” –
In his final greeting at the close of his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul uses the familiar language that ultimately leads to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Following Pentecost, we return to the Gospel of Matthew, resuming here at the end of the Gospel because of the Trinitarian name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  With these concluding words, the risen Jesus declares his abiding presence among his followers and sends them to make disciples of all nations.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pordenone_Holy_Trinity.jpg; Il Pordenone / Public domain

If you love me

File:Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles.jpg“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
John 14:15

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Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you love.

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A message from Sunday morning

The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year A

May 17, 2020

John 14:15-21: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (NRSV)

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

At first this was an emergency.  As the threat of this novel corona virus grew, we had to think through what we would do in worship to limit our risk.  Then, as the shut-down came, we had to quickly figure out a way to continue to worship online with the few resources we had.  It was a challenge, a puzzle to be solved.  And I was entirely focused on figuring out a way for us to worship – and then to do Holy Week and Easter online.  I didn’t have much time to do anything else.

But now, as the days drag on, I find myself grieving the loss of something that has been so important to me for the last 42 years.  I’ve been a pastor of the church.  And it’s been a great privilege.  I’ve been able to embrace those who grieve.  I’ve been able to hold hands and pray for those in need.  I’ve been able to lay my hands upon those in the hospital and say the blessing.  I’ve been able to lay hands upon the newly baptized, and upon confirmands at their confirmation, and upon the dying with the last rites.  I’ve been able to hold a child in my arms and walk her through the sanctuary following her baptism, introducing her to all those who now share in her spiritual life and growth.  Now all I have is this moment when I can see a few of you on the screen and talk to you about a text that seems far away from the realities of our daily life

I’m not able to invite you to be involved in care for others.  I’m not able to celebrate silly occasions like talent shows or youth dinners.  There are no confirmation retreats.  We can’t share a moment over a cup of coffee.  There are no delightful surprises that Tom has brought donut holes or that Elaine has made Kringle, or that Yolanda and Bill have made those amazing little sandwiches.  And I don’t see an end.

At some point it might happen that a few would begin to gather in the building and I could at least see faces – but those faces are likely to be covered by masks.  And we are going to have to sneak in and out without getting closer than six feet to each other.

We are reduced to waving at each other rather than shaking hands.

Jesus touched the man with leprosy.  He made mud and put it on the eyes of the man born blind.  He took the synagogue ruler’s daughter by the hand and raised her up.  He touched the bier upon which lay the body of the widow’s son.

Jesus broke bread.  He washed feet.  And shall I risk any of that?  I will not be able to sit with children for a children’s sermon.  I cannot take a child’s hand as we go outside to look at the tiny seeds of the Redwood trees and think about how they grow into giants.

I stand here on Sunday mornings and look out into an empty sanctuary.  I know you are there.  I know we are still connected in spirit.  I know we are still gathered around this wondrous book and a table set with bread and wine.  And I know we are keeping our physical distance because we care for one another.  But I would like to be in your living room or at your dining table or watching a football game together.  There are other words to be spoken, stories to be heard, lives to be shared.

I am struggling.  So many simple and ordinary joys are gone.  And I don’t want any more losses.

I want to sing the liturgy.  I want to feel the energy of an Easter crowd.  I want to see familiar smiles.  I want to share coffee and talk about the Sunday crossword puzzle.  I want to hear Natalie’s voice and see her face in the office.  I want to feel like this place is a sanctuary in all the best sense of that word.

I want to listen to the Swedish children’s choir singing in the next room when I’m here on a Saturday working on the sermon.  I want to hear the laughter of children on the playground during the week.  I want to chat with parents from the neighborhood who bring their children to play.  I want to pet the occasional dog being walked.  And, yes, there were times I needed to hide away in my basement office for some quiet uninterrupted time to study or write, but the music school was banging their drums in the next room, and there were children walking back and forth before my window with whom I could smile and wave.  I wasn’t just alone in my office.

I am frustrated, frustrated that all this social distancing was supposed to buy time for our leaders to put a plan in place – to get the equipment we needed, to get the testing we needed, to establish a process and hire the people that were necessary to trace and contain this virus.  But we have fumbled that effort.  We have wasted that time.  And it is the weak and the vulnerable and the poor who have born the worst of it.  Some are being forced to go back to work no matter how risky it is for them – or how fearful they might be – or how many children or seniors depend on their care – they are forced to go back or lose their unemployment coverage (if they’ve been able to get it).

On Saturday evening last week, the death toll from COVID-19 stood at 79,696.  Last night it was 89,420 – almost 10,000 more.  10,000 more families have lost loved ones in this last week despite the heroic work of doctors and health workers.  10,000 more have had to die alone, without a parent or a child or a partner to sit at their side and hold their hand.  And the best we can say is that maybe it will hold steady – not because we are helpless before this virus, but because we fumbled the ball and turned it over on the ten yard line.  We have more deaths than any country in the world.

10,000 more this week.  80,000 thousand people so far.  Each with family and friends and neighbors.  Each with lives they have touched.  Each with contributions they have made.  Each with stories to tell.     Each with sadness and loss left behind.

And for each of those 10,000, there are doctors and nurses whose hopes and spirits have been worn down because they couldn’t save them.

We raised an army and built ships and airplanes to fight fascism in Europe and imperialism in Japan.  We created a Marshall plan to rebuild Europe.  We kept Berlin alive with an airlift – planes taking off and landing every 90 seconds, night and day, when the Russians closed the rail lines.  We went to the moon.  We ended polio.  We ended smallpox.  We should have been able to fight this, not throw up our hands and say tests aren’t important and masks are a socialist plot.

I appreciate the fact that on Friday mornings the CBS morning news is beginning to show some of the people who are perishing.  We talk too often about numbers and not often enough about the people whose lives are being stolen away.  Five names, one day a week, however, is not enough when 10,000 are dying.

Paul and Iris shared with the council this week that their nanny’s sister has died from this Corona virus.  These are not numbers; these are real people.  We should not have to fight to have them recognized as such.

The children of Syrian refugee camps are also real people.  As are the children of the border detention centers.  As are the children of Flint, Michigan, and every other place where people are not only absent from our minds, but absent from our hearts.

When Jesus says to us this morning: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he is asking an important question.

The way you express a conditional statement in Greek – an “if/then” statement – can tell you what you expect.  The grammar reveals whether the “if” part of the statement is true or not.  So, one way to express this in Greek says: “If you love me (and we know that you do), you will keep my commandments.”  Another way says: “If you love me (and we know that you don’t), you would keep my commandments.”  And the third possibility says: “If you love me (and we don’t know whether you do), you will keep my commandments.”

When Jesus says this to his followers, he uses this third way.  The statement doesn’t assume that we love Jesus.  Whether we do or not will be revealed by whether we keep his commandments.

The word ‘commandments’ is in the plural.  It refers to all that Jesus has taught.  But there is really only one commandment.  That is the commandment Jesus has just given moments before when he washed the disciples’ feet and said: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.”

And let’s not be mistaken.  When Jesus talks about loving one another, he isn’t drawing that circle around a few close friends.  He is drawing that circle around the whole human community.

If you love me, you will show faithfulness to all I have taught.  If you love me, you will treasure and observe my teaching.  If you love me – if you feel an obligation and allegiance to me as if to a member of your own family – you will keep my commands, you will show faithfulness to all, you will treat every person as if they were family.

Jesus ends this passage with the same point he made at the beginning: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”  Fidelity to Jesus means fidelity to all.

Jesus will not leave us orphaned.  (I rather liked the old translation: “I will not leave you desolate,” but the word does mean ‘orphaned’.)  We are not abandoned.  We are not alone. Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the night he will be taken by the mob and thrust before Pilate and impaled upon the cross.  Jesus knows what is coming, but he will not leave his disciples abandoned and alone.  He will come to them.  It is a reference to that Sunday evening when Jesus revealed himself in their midst.  And Jesus will also come to them – come to us – in the Spirit that he breathed out upon his followers.

The Spirit is the living presence of Jesus in the community.  It is our ongoing teacher and guide.  It is the breath of life and font of grace.  It is the wonder of inspiration and the courage of love.  It is the comfort that comes to the downtrodden through simple acts of kindness and bold words of forgiveness – or simple words of forgiveness and bold acts of kindness.

The Spirit is the ongoing presence of Christ in our midst, the ongoing presence of Christ in the world.

It is a truthful Spirit.  It inspires no deceit, tells no lies, creates no illusions.  It doesn’t deceive or manipulate or confuse.  It does not lead to doubt or despair.  It inspires mercy and forgiveness and courage and truth.  It inspires love and patience and kindness.  It inspires hope and joy.  It carries us from the sorrows of the world to the joy of God’s table.  It carries us from the brokenness of the world to a new birth from above.  It carries us from a wedding that has run out of wine to the eternal wedding feast.  It carries us from our isolation into community.  It carries us from death into life.

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2020.  All rights reserved

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_Apostles.jpg  Duccio di Buoninsegna / Public domain.

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

I am the way

File:Campion Hall Jesus.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 10, 2020

Year A

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 14:1

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Our hearts are troubled.  They are troubled by the fear of Covid-19.  They are troubled by the tears of those who have lost loved ones.  They are troubled by the cries of frustration from nurses and doctors.  They are troubled by the lies and incompetence of our leaders.  They are troubled by the injustices that weave through our land.  They are troubled by those who talk about freedom as the privilege to do as they please not the responsibility to do as they ought.  They are troubled that love of self seems to trump love of neighbor.

Our hearts are troubled.  And the words of Jesus seem weak to the task.  Should there not be prophetic outrage?  Should we not hear Jeremiah shouting: “They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds”! (14:14). Should we not tremble before the voice of God declaring “I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” (13:9)

Our hearts are troubled.  And what will the texts this Sunday speak?  Will we hear Stephen pray for his murderers as Jesus did?  Will we understand that Christ in us is to be Christ for the world?  Will we hear Peter say, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,” and take up the mantle as those who bear Christ to the world?  Will we hear the poet speak the words that Jesus recited upon the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” and entrust ourselves so fully into the hands of God?

Will we understand what Jesus means when he says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”?  Will we hear a triumphalist song of the superiority of our ‘team’ or the summons to walk the path Jesus walked?  Will we recognize that the way, the truth, and the life – the living face of God – is shown in the outstretched arms that bore the sins of the world and prayed that God would yet forgive a world so inured to the suffering and dying of others?  We are not gaining a privilege, but shouldering a cross.

Our hearts are troubled.  And maybe this is something we share with the disciples who sense something terrible is afoot with Jesus.  Some spectre haunts their night when Jesus will be betrayed and handed over.

Nothing is as it should be in this night.  But we are given words of assurance.  God is working in ways hidden but sure.  And we have work to do, a priestly people not called to privilege but sent as servants of our foot-washing, suffering, redeeming, teacher and Lord.

The Prayer for May 10, 2020

Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way;
keep us in your truth;
enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through us;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for May 10, 2020

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” – Stephen becomes a victim of communal violence for his preaching and teaching about Jesus, and in his dying embodies the faith and love Jesus modeled.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:1-5
“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” – A prayer of lament.  The trust in God embodied in the psalm is reflected in Stephen and quoted by Jesus on the cross.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –
Expounding on baptism, the author urges the believers to “grow into salvation” as living stones in a “spiritual house” (a spiritual temple).

Gospel: John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” – Jesus makes provision for his followers in lieu of his impending death, urging them to remain faithful and assuring them that God’s resources are more than adequate to provide all their needs.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Campion_Hall_Jesus.jpg Gownley at English Wikipedia / Public domain

Thieves and bandits

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Watching for the Morning of May 3, 2020

Year A

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

It’s not hard to look at the leadership of our country, whether in politics or business, and see thieves and bandits.  Large corporations scooping up huge swaths of the federal Paycheck Protection Program’s forgivable loans is only the latest evidence that, too often, profit trumps decency.  Profiteering from personal protection equipment, profiteering from inside information of the pending collapse of the stock market, profiteering from friends in high places hawking your unproven medication, manipulation of public opinion for personal gain…thieves and bandits.  Only Jesus isn’t looking at Judea’s Roman overlords he is looking at synagogue leaders who insist the man born blind was conceived in utter sin and that his healer, too, is an obvious sinner.

The sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd, says Jesus.  The true shepherd is the one who doesn’t need to sneak into the sheepfold or come to plunder; the true shepherd enters through the gate and leads them to goodness.  The sheep follow him.  They know his voice.  He knows their names.

The fourth Sunday of Easter every year takes us to John 10 and Psalm 23.  It evokes songs and prayers about Jesus the Good Shepherd.  Pictures rise in our minds of lambs around the shoulders of Jesus, still waters, green meadows, and peace.  But Jesus is in a struggle with the leadership of the nation.  The grace and mercy of the Good Shepherd is true, but the text before us is more pointed.  Jesus is the gate – the door – to rich pastures; Jesus is the path to wholeness.  Jesus is the bringer of an overflowing life.  But all this is asserted in response to pharisees who claim to see, but see nothing.  All this is asserted when leaders have no love for the sheep, when leaders take life rather than lay it down for others.  When the man who now sees is cast out, Jesus is the open door to life.

Sunday we will hear about the life that follows in the train of Jesus as the book of Acts describes the community gathered around word and table, living in faithfulness to one another.  We will recite Psalm 23 with its portrait of the bountiful faithfulness of God even amidst the ruthless scheming of the royal court.  We will hear 1 Peter reminds us “you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls,” and we will ponder again the mystery of the true shepherd who is also the gate to a life awash in mercy, faithfulness, and joy.

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The Prayer for May 3, 2020

Gracious God,
guardian and shepherd of our souls,
keep us in your Word
that, hearing and following your voice,
we may know your abundant life;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for May 3, 2020

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” – Luke presents one of his summary descriptions of the early Christian community, an ever-expanding community manifesting God’s faithfulness and love.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – a song of trust born of reflection upon God’s gracious care and providence through the challenges and trials of life.  In the midst of the dangerous intrigues of the royal court, God is the true shepherd who has guarded and guided the poet’s way.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25
“Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” –
this portion of 1 Peter is presumably appointed for Good Shepherd Sunday for its line: “you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls,” but this section of the homily speaks to the pattern of enduring suffering given by Jesus.

Gospel: John 10:1-10
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” – Several metaphors from the world of shepherding are taken up as parables of the access to ‘Life’ found in Jesus.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sch%C3%A4ferei083.jpg Rainer Halama / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:S_Buckingham_Glass_1.JPG  Mjbhoney / Public domain

We will go with him

 

Watching for the Morning of February 23, 2020

Year A

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Sunday is the last of the Alleluias.  By tradition, they are omitted during Lent; we do not sing them again until the cry goes out: “Christ is risen!” and the darkness turns to light in that night that dawns into Easter morning.

Sunday we are on the mountain peak.  The cloud of God’s presence surrounds Jesus and he is made radiant by God’s glory.  It is a vision that confirms the word spoken at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.”  It is a vindication of all that Jesus has said and will yet say.  “Listen to him,” the heavenly voice says.  Listen to him.  Dare to hear what he says about the cross and resurrection.  Dare to follow him to Jerusalem.  Dare to see the arms stretched wide and the blood outpoured.  Dare to trust the word of the women who will see the vision of angels and the empty tomb.  Dare to trust and live the redemption of the world that happens here where shame is suffered and mercy given.  Listen to him.

Sunday we are made ready for our Lenten journey.  In our first reading we are reminded of Moses ascending into the cloud of God’s presence at Sinai.  In the psalm, we hear the divine voice say of the king “You are my son; today I have begotten you,” words that gain their fullest meaning as they are spoken of the lamb who shall reign over a world made new.  We hear the author of 2 Peter testify to their vision: “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”  And we will hear Matthew’s account of that moment, and how Jesus came and touched Peter, James, and John, telling them not to be afraid.

There is a path ahead that is full of wonder and mystery that Jesus’ followers will not fully understand until the Spirit beats in every heart.  But we are made ready for the journey.  This is God’s beloved.  And we will go with him from death into life.

The Prayer for February 23, 2020

Holy and Wondrous God,
hidden in mystery yet revealed in your Son, Jesus,
of whom the law and prophets bear witness
and upon whom your splendor shines:
Help us to hear his voice
and see your glory in his outstretched arms;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for February 23, 2020

First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’” – God speaks to Moses from the cloud on Mt. Sinai.  Both the cloud as a symbol of God’s presence and the tradition that Moses’ face shone from speaking to God face to face lie in the background of today’s Gospel narrative of the transfiguration of Jesus.

Psalmody: Psalm 2
“Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” – A royal psalm that contains a declaration by God to the king “You are my son; today I have begotten you” similar to that spoken by God to Jesus in the story of the transfiguration.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21
“He received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
– The author of 2 Peter alludes to the events on the Mount of the Transfiguration.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
“He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” – After Peter has confessed Jesus as the Christ only to be told that the Messiah must suffer and be killed, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain where they have a visionary experience of Jesus transfigured by the radiant presence of God.

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Image: dkbonde