Awash in the Spirit

File:Caban-coch dam overflowing - geograph.org.uk - 148870.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 14, 2018

Year B

The Baptism of Our Lord

(See the note below on why we are celebrating The Baptism of Our Lord this Sunday)

The heavens were torn open.

As he was coming up out of the water “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” It is the word that will show up again in Mark when the curtain of the temple will be torn from top to bottom. Mark doesn’t use a subtle word to describe what happens at the banks of the Jordan. Mark is rarely subtle. His story is urgent, compelling. Something powerful has burst into the world, tossing demons aside and healing all who come near. Bursting the bonds that bind. Tearing open the heavens to bring all heaven’s gifts down. This Jesus is the coming one, the promised one, who will flood the world with God’s Spirit.

So Sunday’s texts will take us to the beginning, when God’s spirit/breath/wind blew over the face of the great deep and God called forth light for the world. And the psalm will proclaim the mighty voice of God that shakes the wilderness and shatters the cedars of Lebanon. And the book of Acts will tell us of the believers in Ephesus who had not yet heard of the Holy Spirit, but will receive it in abundance. And we will hear again of John the Baptist and the promise of the Spirit, and we will see Jesus come and the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending.

And in our liturgy we will remember what it means to be a people awash in the Spirit, to be witnesses of a world forever changed, to be agents of that Spirit, a people empowered, the body of this Christ in the world.

The Prayer for January 14, 2018 (for the Baptism of Our Lord)

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.

The Texts for January 14, 2018 (for the Baptism of Our Lord)

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” – The opening words of that profound vision of God creating a good and ordered world, assembled by a people who have lived through the chaos of war, social disintegration, famine and the destruction of their nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and rising over Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” – Paul connects with disciples in Ephesus who knew only the baptism of John.

Gospel: Mark 1:1-11
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
– The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus in his baptism and God declares him God’s ‘Son’.

As noted the last two weeks, our parish departs from the appointed texts for the Christmas season in order to present the birth narratives with some integrity: reading Luke 2:1-20 on Christmas Eve (and John 1 on Christmas morning), then the reception of the child by Simeon and Anna on the Sunday in Christmas. The second Sunday after Christmas (nearest January 6) is celebrated as the Sunday of the Epiphany and provides us with Matthew’s account of the Magi and Herod’s attempt to kill the infant Messiah.

Occasionally, as in this year, this puts us out of sync with the appointed lectionary. So this Sunday, the first after our celebration of the Epiphany, we will celebrate as the Baptism of our Lord and next Sunday we will skip to the texts for the third Sunday after the Epiphany.

A post about the Second Sunday after Epiphany in year B and its readings from 2015 can be found here. For other comments on the readings for Epiphany 2 B follow this link.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACaban-coch_dam_overflowing_-_geograph.org.uk_-_148870.jpg Mark Evison [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Sweet, but so profound

File:02014 Krippenspiel in Sanok.jpg

Watching for the Morning of December 10, 2017

Year B

The Second Sunday of Advent

The children of the parish take center stage during the portion of the worship service called “the service of the word.” I don’t want to call it a “Christmas Pageant”, because it is not a little show stuck into the middle of the service, it is the vehicle through which the story is proclaimed to us of a wondrous God who comes to a world, frail and vulnerable as a child. A God who trust himself into our hands, though those hands will scourge and pound nails and press a crown of thorns into his head. Yet our hands will also reach out to touch the edge of his cloak, and his hands will touch and heal.

The message of the child in the manger is profound.   Sweet and terrible. It is fitting for children to tell it.

When I first held my daughter, I was overwhelmed not only by her vulnerability, but by my own. Suddenly my heart was thoroughly exposed. Here, indescribable joy and terror were woven together. I was attached to a child whose every wound would tear at my heart.

The story of the nativity is sweet, but so profound. Here is God risking all. Here is God come to dwell. Here is God desiring only to heal and redeem, whatever the cost to God’s own self.

So Sunday the children will tell the story. And because of that story we will adapt our service, hearing the prophet’s fabulous words that begin “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God,” then turning to the story of Zechariah in the temple learning that he and Elizabeth are to be given a son. They are to name him John. He will go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijahto make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The last words of that story will invite us to sing with Zechariah that great prophetic song that begins: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.” And then the children will speak to us the priceless story. And we will think it cute. We will laugh and smile and sing the carols.   And in between the sweetness will be the awe and wonder at such a God who shows our frail flesh a fit vessel of the holy, and fills all creation with light and life.

The Prayer for December 10, 2017

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and grant us the peace of your kingdom.

The Texts for December 10, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 40.1-11
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” – A prophet is called to speak a word of comfort to the people in exile in Babylon. Forgiveness is at hand, and the cry goes forth to build a highway through the desert to bring God’s people home.

Gospel: Luke 1:5-20, 57-67 (“The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.) The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah while he is serving in the temple to announce the birth of a son and, when the child is born and obediently named, Zechariah’s tongue is released and he sings the Benedictus:

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (the Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” –
Zechariah sings a prophetically inspired song celebrating the mighty work of God and the special calling of his son, John

+   +   +

The appointed texts for December 10, 2017

Psalm: Psalm 85.1-2, 8-13
“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
– The poet prays for renewal of Israel’s life in the land after the return from exile, acknowledging God’s previous help and expressing prayerful trust that God, in his faithfulness, will come to their aid.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 3.8-15
“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” –
In the circular letter where we hear the familiar words “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” the author writes to encourage the fledgling Christian community to patience and faithfulness as they wait for the day of the Lord.

Gospel: Mark 1.1-8
“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” – Mark begins his Gospel with the language of royal decree and the prophetic words of John pointing to the one who will wash the world in the Holy Spirit.

During Advent our parish departs from the appointed psalms and sings Isaiah 51:4-11, the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and Isaiah 12 on the four Sundays. We also adjust the readings between the Sundays to allow for the celebration of a children’s Christmas program during worship in Advent. Next Sunday we will read Mark’s account of John the Baptist that is assigned for today.

During Advent we provide daily verses and brief reflections that can be found by following this link to Advent 2017.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A02014_Krippenspiel_in_Sanok.jpg By Silar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Choose your kingdom; choose your king

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

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

Watching for the Morning of August 6, 2017

Year A

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

+       +       +

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

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

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

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

The Prayer for August 6, 2017

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

The Texts for August 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Like children in the marketplace

File:Mayan girls playing sack race on the market of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.JPG

Watching for the Morning of July 9, 2017

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

There’s a sweet word coming in the Gospel text for Sunday. Jesus is going to say those familiar and comforting words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And God knows, we are weary: Weary of the cacophony in Washington. Weary of the rush of modern life. Weary of the challenges of health. Weary of the press of finances. Weary of the drumbeats of war. Weary of the fear that seems to seep into every corner of our lives.

But before we get to that promise, there is a rebuke: we are like children in the marketplace pouting that we don’t get our way. Maybe Jesus is quoting something like a nursery rhyme. Maybe he is just acknowledging the taunts that get made when people won’t go along with the game. But it is clear Jesus is rebuking those whose excuse for not listening to John the Baptist was that he was too rigorous and demanding. But they won’t listen to Jesus because he isn’t rigorous enough. He laughs. He tells jokes. He teases. He dines with sinners and tax collectors. They mocked John because he lived on locusts and wild honey and Jesus because he didn’t.

Hypocrisy comes pretty naturally to us. Trump makes a career of denying the validity of Obama’s birth certificates and then accuses the media of being “fake news”. McConnell says his highest priority is to deny Obama a second term and then accuses the Democrats of being obstructionists. I tell my children they can only have two cookies but, when they go to bed, I help myself. Jesus did say something about not worrying about the splinter in my neighbor’s eye when I have a log in my own – but we do.

Hypocrisy is pretty natural to us. It allows us to do and say what we want without the work of self-examination or amendment of life. It’s comfortable to make excuses for ourselves but grant no grace to others. So Jesus has blunt words for the self-righteous before offering rest to the weary: If Sodom and Gomorrah had seen what you’ve seen, they would never have been destroyed.

The ‘righteous’ are hard to reach; it is the poor and burdened who can see the joy and freedom of serving Christ.

So Sunday we will hear the prophet Zechariah speak of the coming king who comes humbly on a donkey and sets prisoners free. And we will sing with the psalmist of God’s gracious deeds. And we will struggle to understand the latest section of Paul’s letter to Romans – but resonate to the word of thanks to God for delivering us from the bondages of our human condition. And we will hear Jesus welcome the weary and speak of the yoke of service that is not always simple, but lifts the heart.

The Prayer for July 9, 2017

Gracious God,
in 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;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 9, 2017

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 but Judah is 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” and reign “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 7:14-25
“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.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMayan_girls_playing_sack_race_on_the_market_of_Quetzaltenango%2C_Guatemala.JPGright By Erik Albers (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

With the Holy Spirit and fire:

The promise of the Spirit

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Watching for the Morning of December 4, 2016

Year A

The Second Sunday of Advent

As always, the second Sunday in Advent takes us to the Jordan River and the fiery preaching of John the Baptist. He is the wild man, the challenger of the social order, the prophet who walks away from life in the land and calls the nation out into the wilderness. “We must begin again,” he says. “We must start over from the beginning when God first led us from the wilderness through the Jordan into the Promised Land.” “Repent,” he says, “choose again the God of the exodus and Sinai, the God who gives manna in the wilderness and calls us to lives of justice and mercy.” The urgency of that call is shaped by the promise that the long awaited one is near, the one who is greater, whose sandals he is not worthy to touch, who washes us in the Spirit and fire.

Is it the fire of judgment or the fire of passion? Is it the fire that rained down destruction on wicked Sodom and corrupt Gomorrah or is it the fire of God’s presence as at Sinai? Is this thunderbolts or the fire and Spirit of Pentecost? The sound of the ax can be heard. The old order, the fruitless tree, is coming down. Now is the time for allegiance. Now is the time for fidelity. Now is the time for all the world to be aflood with the Spirit.

The fiery preaching of John awaits us on Sunday – but now it is wrapped in blue. It is folded into the season of hope. The coming of the Spirit is not threat but gift, filled with the promise of a world under new management, a world governed by the breath of God, a world we have seen in the mercy of Jesus and the end of death’s dominion.

And so, on Sunday, we will hear the promise of a shoot from the stump of Jesse. The fallen royal line, named from David’s father, shall bloom again. The Spirit will be upon him and, under his reign, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

We will hear Paul pray that “the God of hope” may fill the Christian community in Rome “with all joy and peace in believing,” so that they may “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”

And we will recognize in John the Baptizer the one promised in Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”

And we will await the fire.

The Prayer for December 4, 2016

Gracious God, who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of our journey homeward
and wash us in the fire of your Spirit,
that the reign of Christ might dawn among us;
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 December 4, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
– like new growth from the stump of a felled tree, a new king shall arise from the fallen line of David, a king filled with the Spirit of God, who will govern in righteousness and bring all creation to peace.

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” – In place of the appointed Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, we sing the song of Zechariah, sung at the birth of his son, John, whom we know as John the Baptist, praising God and predicting his role as the one who “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

Second Reading: Romans 15:4-13
“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” –
Speaking to that fundamental divide between observant Judeans and those who had become thoroughly enmeshed in the culture of the Greek world, between ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile’, Paul calls for the believers to live the reconciliation that has occurred in Christ, giving multiple examples from the Scriptures in support of God’s mission to gather all nations.

Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”
– John comes as a prophet of old, heralding the dawning of God’s reign and calling all people to ‘repent’, to turn and show allegiance to God.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGalunggung.jpg By R. Hadian, U.S. Geological Survey (image from NOAA website) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And in his temple all say, “Glory!”

File:Jacopo Tintoretto - The Baptism of Christ - WGA22551.jpg

Sunday Evening

Luke 3:15-22

19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

It’s a little odd that Luke interrupts his story to tell us that John has been imprisoned. Indeed, the assigned lectionary skips over this little interruption – but it is important that we read it: We hear of John’s appearing in the wilderness. We hear of his preaching. We hear the crowds wonder whether John himself might be the expected Messiah – and John declare that “one who is more powerful than I is coming” who will wash us in the Spirit. And just before we hear that Jesus is baptized along with “all the people” John is swept from the scene. Herod locks him up in prison.

All of us know that it was, in fact, John who baptizes Jesus. But the way Luke tells the story, John’s ministry is over when the Spirit comes upon Jesus. Jesus is praying when the Spirit is descends upon him.

Luke want to be sure we understand that what happens to Jesus is not “John’s baptism.” It is something new. It is the baptism in the Spirit that John predicted. The baptism in the Spirit that falls on the 120 at Pentecost. The baptism of the Spirit that falls upon the Samaritans in our second reading today. The baptism of the Spirit that falls upon Cornelius (and forces Peter to baptize him with water – for Cornelius and his household have received the gift that comes with baptism into Christ).

The outpouring of the Spirit that comes upon Jesus is not linked to John’s baptism; it is a new work of God. It is the outpouring predicted by Joel, as Peter will tell the crowds on Pentecost. It is the fulfillment of the prophetic promise of John. It is the sign of God’s drawing near, the sign of God’s gathering of all nations, the sign of God’s redeeming work, the sign of the dawning reign when the Spirit of God will be our every breath.

We watch the tribalism and slaughters of the world around us and it is easy to think there is nothing new in the world except our ever more sophisticated weapons for hurting one another. But there is something new in the world. Something that happened on the banks of the Jordan River. Something that happened when the risen Christ breathed his Spirit upon his followers. Something that happened when the believers were gathered together 50 days after the resurrection. Something that continues to happen when we lay hands on one another in the name of the Lord. The Spirit is poured out. The spirit is at work. The first light of the new creation is shining. Grace, mercy and peace are loose among us. Justice and compassion, healing and hope are rippling out like shockwaves traversing the world.

The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness and summons us to enter a new land, to inhabit a new realm, to dwell in the Spirit, to walk with the risen one. Like a mighty thunderstorm sweeping across the land, “The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

 

Painting: Jacopo Tintoretto – The Baptism of Christ.   [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Practicing joy

 

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Wednesday

Luke 1:39-45

45“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

In one of his potent and perceptive quips, Martin Luther said that the miracle of Christmas isn’t that God became flesh; it’s that Mary believed. Mary trusted a promise that she would give birth to a son through whom God would fill the world with grace and mercy.

We are still waiting on the fulfillment of that promise.

We are still waiting for swords to be beaten into plowshares, for that banquet that gathers all people to God’s table, for walls to come down and people to live in peace. We are still waiting for truth to be spoken and sung and heard. We are still waiting.

Advent is, after all, a season of waiting.

But we are not just waiting. The child in the womb leaps for joy. The mothers sing. They have confidence in the promise of God. They believe.

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

The women are singing. And we are singing. We are welcoming one another in peace. We are sharing bread with those who hunger. We are speaking words of reconciliation and mercy. We are living with arms open. We are receiving the bread broken. We are listening to the words of Jesus. We are practicing – practicing the kindness, compassion and generosity that are in keeping with a world filled with grace and mercy.

We are practicing. Conflicted sometimes. Struggling often. Our frail humanity wrestling with the Spirit of God calling us to our noblest humanity, our Spirit-filled humanity, our image-of-God humanity, our love-your-neighbor-as-yourself humanity.

We are practicing. Practicing for that day when he who embodied perfect love is revealed as the source and goal and measure of all.

We are practicing. Practicing faith, hope and love. Practicing Joy.

For a promise has been spoken.

 

Image: By Ailura (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Without fear

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Friday

Luke 1:68-79

69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,…that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear.

In the aftermath of the shooting in San Bernardino, people are not only frightened of possible terror, Muslim Americans are frightened of their neighbors. I can’t imagine how I would feel if the situation were reversed: a minority Christian in a Muslim dominated country when some Christians are making bombs and proclaiming, “Jesus is Lord,” as they shoot up a crowd. If the majority culture knew little about Christianity, I would fear they would view all Christians as possible terrorists – or terrorist sympathizers. It disgraces the name of Christ. It would disgrace me.

Some Christians already disgrace me (and, I think, Christ), but there are enough of us around for people to recognize that shooting up abortion clinics, church prayer groups or black youth on the street isn’t intrinsic to Christianity. But if people didn’t know Christians or Christianity…

I would keep my head down. I would be on constant guard.

Living in fear is corrosive of the human spirit. It restricts our joy. It limits our freedom. We live in the shadows, even as children of an abusive parent find places to be out of sight and mind. It is not the life God intended for us. For any of us.

It takes courage to go on national television and speak of your shock and sadness when your brother has inflicted mass casualties. It takes even more courage to wear a headscarf. Hate is made easier when you are easily identifiable, when you look ‘different’.

69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,…that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear.

I hear these words and think of the Judean experience under Antiochus Epiphanes IV who tried to stamp out what he and his cultured despisers regarded as a backward religious belief and practice that refused to embrace the values of the ruling powers. When there is the threat of death for circumcising your child – or soldiers going village to village with drawn swords demanding you eat pork – fear becomes your daily bread. It is a much different fear than the dominant culture’s fear of terrorism. It is a fear for your very being. The fear that makes you withdraw and hide.

When I served in Detroit, the kids in my parish made fun of white folks. But beneath the laughter was a buried fear. Away from their turf, an encounter, any encounter, with the dominant culture could go south quickly and unexpectedly. You needed to always be on guard. And they are not the only ones who live with such a low grade, chronic fear.

There is no want of fear in our world. It seeps into relationships and homes and communities and human hearts. It corrodes the human spirit. Compassion rusts. Tolerance wears thin. We divide. We arm ourselves. Then someone breaks into a school a workplace, a holiday party and starts firing. And then nations rise up and go to war.

To a fearful world Zechariah sings his song:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David.
70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.”

Maybe Zechariah was thinking about the occupying Roman forces. Maybe the song is older, from the days of Antiochus. But maybe Zechariah understands perfectly that the enemy from which we are delivered is not Muslims or jihadis, terrorists or troubled teens, but the brokenness of our own existence.

And into this world where our brokenness has wrought its evil for generation upon generation, into this world comes a child, his child, John who will be called “the baptizer”. This child he holds in his very own hands will open the door for the one in whom the world finally begins to change:

You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

To guide our feet, yours and mine, out of fear and darkness into the way of peace.

 

Image: By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia (Portrait of Refugee  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Even from stones

Thursday

Luke 3:1-18

File:Feofan predtecha.jpg

Icon of John the Baptist, the forerunner

8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

“Shape up or ship out.” That’s the way we usually hear this. We tend to equate repentance with moral reform. We see it as sorrow for the mistakes of our past and a determination to do better. Only Jesus never asks anyone to “do better.” He asks them to “follow me.”

And sometimes he asks them to “Go and tell how much the Lord has done for you.”

Jesus asks nothing of Zacchaeus, yet the simple act of inviting himself into Zacchaeus’ home brings Zacchaeus to stand up and declare that he will give away half and restore fourfold anyone he has cheated. That is not about moral reform. It is about a new orientation.

We talk a lot these days about sexual orientation, but the important topic is our spiritual orientation.

Repentance is not reform. It is a new orientation. A new direction. A new allegiance. Both the Greek word and its Hebrew antecedent means simply to ‘turn’. To travel a new direction. To bend the knee before a new Lord. To show fidelity to the reign of that new Lord.

So here is John, summoning the nation not to moral reform, but to a faithful allegiance to God’s way, God’s values, God’s justice and mercy.

It means sharing bread. And when we listen carefully, we will see that John doesn’t have in mind a few canned goods for the occasional food drive. He starts by saying, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” The Greek word is tunic. Whoever has two garments must share with the one who has none.

This is not about sharing clothes we no longer wear. It is about a fundamental change in our orientation. It is about how we see our neighbor. It is about how we see God. I wouldn’t have two pair of shoes if my brother had none. The world God is creating, the world where the Spirit of God governs every heart, is a world where bread is shared. This is not a so-called communist idea. It is a world where all dance at the banquet of God. It is a world where joy abounds. It is a world set free from its hungers and fears. It’s a world where there are no shooters.

John’s call is for us to show allegiance to that world. John’s call is to live now the joy that is to come. And we shouldn’t worry about how we could ever become so compassionate or generous. For God is able to make joyful children of God even from stones.

 

Image: John the Baptist by Feofan Grek (Unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Prepare the Way

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Watching for the Morning of December 6, 2015

Year C

The Second Sunday of Advent

This Sunday we shift our focus from the horizon of human history to the ministry of John the Baptist who announced the coming one. We are not turning our eyes in a new direction, just shifting the focus from the far horizon to the foothills. It is as in the movies when the camera shifts our focus from one character to another, revealing by that move something significant for the story.

The coming of “the Son of Man”, the “Day of Christ”, the “Kingdom of God” that was the subject of our readings last week are still part of this Sunday – only now we see John and hear the call to prepare the way for God’s advent. The kingdom is shared bread. The dawning reign does justice. It washes us in God’s Spirit. John calls us to begin to live the day that is coming.

Luke makes it clear that this reign of God dawns into a world ruled by empire: Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas, Caiaphas – Luke names them all. Names that evoke powerful responses among the people. Names that do not speak of shared bread or justice.  Names linked to the death of Jesus and the imperial rule that crushed Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Into this world of kings and empires comes a new empire, a new reign, a reign of God.

With Luke’s account of John this Sunday we hear Malachi speak of God’s advent in judgment and grace. We sing the song of Zechariah at the birth of his son, John, as he proclaims the advent of “a mighty savior.” And amidst this call to prepare for the dawning reign of God, Paul urges us to “work out [our] salvation”: to be and become the people of the age to come.

The prayer for December 6, 2015

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Teach us the way of your kingdom
that we may ever honor you with lives of faith, hope and love;
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 December 6, 2015

First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
“I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.”
– The prophet known as Malachi spoke to a people who complained of God’s absence, but neglected their offerings and worship of God. He declares that God will come to this people, but warns he will come as a purifying fire.

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” – On this Sunday when we hear of the ministry of John the Baptist, we sing the song known as the Benedictus (from its first words in Latin). This prophecy is sung by Zechariah when he regains his voice after following the divine command to name his son John, glorifying God for his work of deliverance and declaring that John is the one who “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:12-16 (appointed: Philippians 1:3-11)
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” –Paul writes from prison, urging his beloved congregation to faithfulness in their life together. (Our congregation read Philippians 1:3-11 last week.)

Gospel: Luke 3:1-18 (appointed: Luke 3:1-6)
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” – We combine the Gospel readings for 2 and 3 Advent this Sunday where John is located in the midst of the ruling powers but speaks of the ruler to come – and calls the community to a life in keeping with the dawning reign of God.

 

Image: By uploader Koperczak (talk) 06:28, 24 March 2009 (UTC) [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons