His body the temple

File:Giotto di Bondone - No. 27 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 11. Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple (detail) - WGA09210.jpg

Watching for the Morning of March 4, 2018

Year B

The Third Sunday of Lent

We start with the Ten Commandments on Sunday, though the reason is not the commandments themselves, but the covenant they represent. We have heard, during this season, of God’s covenant with Noah and with Abraham. We will yet hear the promise of a new covenant. God is a god who keeps covenant. Who makes promises. Who binds himself in relationship to the world, to Abraham, to Israel. The commands God gives are the shape of that relationship. Those bound to God will share God’s hopes and dreams and fundamental commitments, just as those bound in any other relationship. And who is this God? One who shows fidelity – and so should we – to God, to neighbor. So I won’t trouble another’s family life. I won’t neglect the elderly. I won’t kill or steal. I won’t lust after the things of my neighbor. Such things rend relationships and this is a god who builds them. We are a faithful people because we have a faithful God.

After these words of the faithful God, we will take up the psalmists words that sing of the wondrous order of creation and God’s wondrous ordering of life revealed in God’s law/torah/teaching: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” There is a good order to the universe, a noble pattern, a beautiful harmony – the work of a faithful God.

Then Paul will speak to us about the word of the cross. The shape of faithfulness is outstretched arms, pierced yet open to embrace. The cross shows the terrible face of a world that has embraced power over others rather than faithfulness to them. But the crucified one remained faithful. In him, love triumphed over power.

File:Giotto - Scrovegni - -27- - Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple.jpgWe come, then, to Jesus, with a whip of cords in his hands, driving the sellers and moneychangers from the temple, setting free the animals destined for sacrifice. He is not cleansing a temple practice; he is overthrowing it. Fidelity to God does not consist in ritual sacrifice, but in faithfulness. And Jesus’ faithfulness will be the sign, his body the temple where God encounters us, where grace pours out, where life is given.

With these texts we march on toward the three days, towards the great mystery of death and resurrection, to our passage through the sea from death into life.

This Sunday we continue our Lenten series on Baptism. “Through the Watersoffers an introduction to the Lenten theme. Daily Bible verses and reflections are posted at Holy Seasons as well as the first two sermons in the series: “A great and terrifying promise,” and “Taking hold of the promise.”

The Prayer for March 4, 2018

Almighty God, Holy and Eternal,
who bound yourself to Israel by a promise
and revealed to them your holy will,
cleanse our hearts and lives by your favor
and make us a holy temple of your Spirit;
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 March 4, 2018

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – God gives the Ten Commandments to Israel at Sinai.

Psalmody: Psalm 19
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” – A majestic hymn celebrating God’s good ordering of the world.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– The Word which comes from the cross is a power that casts down and raises up, foolish in human eyes, but the power of God to set us in a right relationship to Him who is eternal.

Gospel John 2:13-22
“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their table.” – Jesus engages in a prophetic action declaring God’s coming judgment upon the temple system, and proclaims his death and resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGiotto_di_Bondone_-_No._27_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_11._Expulsion_of_the_Money-changers_from_the_Temple_(detail)_-_WGA09210.jpg Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGiotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-27-_-_Expulsion_of_the_Money-changers_from_the_Temple.jpg Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The wedding has begun

Dessert Table at Megan's Wedding

Monday

John 2:1-11

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

I am not ready to move on to next Sunday’s texts. The story of the wedding at Cana still lingers in my mind.

During the sermon yesterday I commented in passing on the difficulty of preaching from the Gospel of John. The reason is that the Gospel is so wonderfully rich. No story is a single story; they all interconnect. No image stands alone; there are layers upon layers of meaning. It is a single collage of a hundred images, not a photo album of a hundred pictures. And while I recognize the difficulty that creates for preaching, it is wonderful for abiding in a text.

If John only wanted to tell us that Jesus had magic hands and could turn water into wine, it would have been a much shorter story. But that is not his purpose. The message is not that God can do wondrous things – that is something we all know. The message is that God has done the wondrous thing above all wondrous things in this Jesus; God has brought the wedding feast to us.

We are not told to go gather grapes to make wine. We are not told to plan and hope. We are not told to create the wedding for ourselves. The wedding has come. The union of heaven and earth; the reconciliation of two realms long divided is at hand. In the midst of our sorry world, there is wine beyond compare. In the midst of our regrets there is grace. In the midst of our tired bones there is dancing. In the midst of our sorrows there is song. In the midst of our rubble there is new creation.

All that is good – eternally good – has come among us in this Word-made-flesh incarnation of all God’s creating, life-giving, self-revealing speech. The Word that brought forth light shines in Christ. The Word that blessed all creation, blesses us in Christ. The Word that spoke freedom to those in bondage, speaks freedom to us in Christ. Let all creation sing and dance; the wedding has begun. The new wine is poured out in overflowing abundance.

I love the kinds of movies that capture your thoughts for days and insist on being talked about. This story of the wedding in Cana is such a vision.

My daughter married last year in Sonoma, and through the process of the planning I had to learn what was meant by a destination wedding that took place over days rather than an hour in church and a few hours after at a reception. This was a time of picnics and dinner with friends and breakfast with other friends and lunch with new friends and a dessert table of many goodies rather than a single wedding cake.

And so it is with John’s Gospel and this story of the wedding at Cana. It requires far more than one fifteen-minute sermon. And so it is with the wedding feast that has begun in Christ. It is not one Easter day, but an Easter life.

Beulah

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Paolo Veronese, The Wedding at Cana

Watching for the Morning of January 17, 2016

Year C

The Second Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 62:1-5

4You shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married.”

The King James transliterated the Hebrew words that mean ‘My Delight Is in Her’ and ‘Married’ and gave us the names Hephzibah and Beulah. They are not used much anymore as personal names, but they contain a wonderful message. A nation that had been desolated by war, and seemed to have been forsaken by God, hears the voice of the prophet declare that God cannot keep silence at the sorrows of his people and will not rest until they become “a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,” and he rejoices over them “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride.”

The joy of the wedding feast governs our readings this Sunday. The prophet speaks the promise of God. Jesus embodies that promise at the wedding in Cana. And the psalmist sings of God’s faithfulness declaring:

7How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

The wedding feast in Cana is a weeklong affair, a festivity that involves the whole village and the two clans being joined. But the honor of the families and the joy of the community is threatened by a shortage of wine. In the moment when shame and disaster looms, Jesus graces the wedding with an abundance of fine wine. Tears are turned to joy, and the first glimpse of the kingdom, the first sign of the dawning reign of God, is seen. The joy of the eternal wedding feast is come. The new wine of the Spirit of God is poured out. The first taste of the great banquet of all nations on Mt. Zion is granted. And it is the finest of wines.

The Prayer for January 17, 2016

Gracious God, source of all life and joy,
as you graced the wedding at Cana with an abundance of the finest wine,
grace us with your Spirit,
turning the water of our tears into the joys that are eternal.

The Texts for January 17, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5
“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate.” – To a people in the dismal aftermath of war and reconstruction, the prophetic promise comes that God shall restore the nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 36:5-10
“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” – In a psalm that exposes the deceits and delusions of the grasping “wicked”, the poet sings of the wondrous faithfulness and righteousness of God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” – Paul teaches his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the true nature of the gifts of God’s Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit all witness to Christ as Lord and are given to each for the sake of the community.

Gospel: John 2:1-11
“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.”
– Jesus turns water into wine, the first of the ‘signs’ that points to the truth of God’s work in Christ Jesus.

 

Image: Paolo Veronese, The Wedding at Cana, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The new and better wine

File:Mural - Jesus' Baptism.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 10, 2016

The Baptism of Our Lord

The voice from heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit are moved away from John’s hands in Luke’s telling of Jesus’ baptism. What Mark and Matthew tell us happened as Jesus was coming up out of the water, now happens while he is praying. It is a subtle thing, but Luke wants to be sure this story is not about John’s magic hands, but the wondrous work of God to pour out his Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is important to Luke. It has inspired the prophetic utterings of Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna. The angel says that John will be filled with the Spirit before he breathes his first breath, and John declares that the coming one will immerse us in the Spirit. Now the Spirit comes upon Jesus so powerfully it evokes the fluttering descent of a dove. Jesus will be full of the Spirit when he departs from the Jordan and comes to Galilee and the scripture he will read in the synagogue in Nazareth is “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. It is the Holy Spirit that is the Father’s good gift to his children, and the gift of the Holy Spirit that provides the opening drama and center stage all through the book of Acts. Jesus is the one in whom the promise is fulfilled that the Spirit will be poured out on all people. The day has come when all creation shall be governed by the life-breath of God.

So Sunday is not a simple remembrance of the event that began Jesus’ public ministry. It is the Gospel condensed in all its exquisite flavor like a fine chocolate truffle. The reign of God, the Spirit’s governance of the world, the dawning of the age to come, the restoring of the world’s lost innocence, the power that drives out every evil is at hand. It is not just Jesus who is washed in the Jordan, but all of us. The creation is made holy. The new and better wine has come.

Of course, Luke has already told us that the Spirit’s reclamation of the world will be opposed. A struggle is underway. But the new and better wine has come in abundance.

(Yes, the transformation of water into wine at the wedding in Cana is next week’s text – but it’s hard to open only one Christmas present when the tree is so full.)

The Prayer for January 10, 2016

Heavenly Father, Eternal God, Holy and Gracious One:
in the waters of the River Jordan
you anointed Jesus with your Holy Spirit
and declared him your beloved Son.
Make all the earth radiant with your glory
and pour out upon all your children the abundance of your Holy Spirit;
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 January 10, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” – with language that evokes the creation and exodus and promises their return from exile, the prophet declares God’s abiding faithfulness to the people.

Psalmody: Psalm 29

“The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing upon the slope of Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 8:14-17
17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them [the new believers in Samaria], and they received the Holy Spirit.” – When the Greek speaking (Hellenized) Judeans are driven from the city following the communal violence against Stephen, they carry the message of Jesus to Samaria. The message is received with faith and representatives from Jerusalem are sent to affirm that this surprising development is of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 3:15-22 (appointed 15-17, 21-22)
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”
– The prophetic ministry of John comes to its conclusion with his arrest, and the baptized and praying Jesus is anointed with the Spirit.

 

Image: Icon in the John the Baptist Church at the Jordan River.  Photo by David Bjorgen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Where heaven touches earth

Watching for the Morning of March 8, 2015

The Third Sunday of Lent

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Mosaic in Monreale Cathedral

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection takes an entirely different form in John’s Gospel than we read last week in Mark, but once again the Gospel points us towards Jerusalem (and towards our keeping of the Paschal Triduum, the three day observance of the cross and resurrection). The one who transformed water into wine, turning tears to joy and bringing the joy of the wedding feast to come, is the true temple where heaven touches earth.

In the background stands God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai: the stunning encounter wherein the people pledge their loyalty to the one who brought them out of slavery – and God proclaims his loyalty to them: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

But being the people of God requires fidelity to the character and values of this God who delivers the oppressed. And so we have the “ten words”, numbered differently by different faith communities, but expressing the fundamental obligations of a people freed from slavery lest they enslaves themselves again – or enslave others.

The psalmist sings his praise of the ordering work of God, shown in creation and in God’s law/teaching.

It is that broken covenant that jeopardizes the temple. Instead of becoming a refuge for all nations it has become a “marketplace”, a commercial center for the exploitation of pilgrims. It no longer proclaims justice and mercy. It no longer bears witness to light and life. It no longer is a place of encounter with the mercy of heaven. Now all this is found in Jesus, destroyed and raised up, crucified and risen.

Paul knows that the message that encounters us from the cross is power, power to save, power to cast down and raise up, power to kill and make alive, power that carries us into the new creation. It is judgment against all human sin – and the stunning proclamation that God has dismissed our debt to him, opening the path to new life.

(For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.)

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for Lent 3: Renewing Families

The Prayer for March 8, 2015

In the temple, O God, Jesus cried out
against what was unholy and untrue
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our families
that, cleansed of all selfishness,
our love may be deepened,
and we prove faithful to you and to all.;
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 March 8, 2015

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – God gives the Ten Commandments to Israel at Sinai.

Psalmody: Psalm 19
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” – A majestic hymn celebrating God’s good ordering of the world.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– The Word which comes from the cross is a power that casts down and raises up, foolish in human eyes, but the power of God to set us in a right relationship to Him who is eternal.

Gospel John 2:13-22
“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their table.” – Jesus engages in a prophetic action declaring God’s coming judgment upon the temple system, and proclaims his death and resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

 

Photo: By Sibeaster (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Like a bride

Sunday Evening

Sunday was my daughter’s wedding – that’s why there were a few missing reflections on the texts for last week.

The wedding was in the wine country, a “destination wedding”, since no matter where we held it, family and friends would have to fly in from all over the country. But there was something sweet and profound in the blend of accents from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Colorado, New Hampshire, and I’m not sure where else. Isaiah 25 declares that God will prepare a feast for all peoples; a world whose primal unity was broken will be gathered back together for God’s great banquet. In Matthew 14 that feast is anticipated in the feeding of the 5,000. In John 2 that banquet is anticipated in the new wine at Cana. In Revelation 21 that banquet is portrayed as a new Jerusalem, adorned like a bride for her husband.

Every wedding exults in the joy of creation and declares the promise of the banquet to come. In every wedding the bride is beautiful and the groom handsome, every flaw forgotten. In every wedding there is joy and dancing. In every wedding the woes of the world are forgotten for a moment.

It’s not that the woes are not there. An empty chair with daisies stood on the aisle for Megan’s missing sister. This date was the birthday of my missing brother. There are losses and wounds among us all, but they cannot overshadow the joy of the wedding. Hope, joy, the presence of possibility and future, the mystery and delight of two who find in one another a deep and enduring bond and dare to promise it no matter what comes – here joy trumps sorrow, hope trumps despair, life trumps death. There is a reason Jesus uses the wedding feast as a metaphor for God’s reign.

We live as believers – those who know the resurrection and trust the promise that God will fulfill his purpose of bringing life to us and to the world.

So we sing and dance and break the bread of the eternal feast.

(If you would like to read the sermon from the wedding, it is posted at jacoblimping@wordpress.com)