Pretzel Sunday

Sunday Evening

You can find Sunday’s sermon on Lent and renewal and a daily verse and thought for this season at our Lent blog site.

 

Psalm 25

File:Absolute bretzel 01.jpg5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Sunday was Pretzel Sunday – or so I refer to it with the children in the children’s message. The pretzel apparently is designed for the season of Lent, having the shape of arms folded across the chest in repentant prayer, salt for tears of repentance, and an absence of yeast in keeping with Jesus warning to “Beware the yeast of the Pharisees.”

We adapted the Kyrie in a new way this year, using the spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.” The words of the Kyrie are spoken during the long final note of each line so that it looks like this:

A   For the reign of God in our lives and in our world,

I want Jesus to walk with me;

      For peace and justice among the nations,

I want Jesus to walk with me;

      for the well-being of all people.

all along my pilgrim journey,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

A   For your people gathered here and your church throughout the world,

In my trials, Lord, walk with me;

      for courage to trust your promise,

in my trials, Lord, walk with me;

      for strength to live your Word.

when my heart is almost breaking,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

A   For charity and compassion to abound.

When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me;

      For joy and beauty to advance.

when I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me;

      For your renewing Spirit.

when my head is bowed in sorrow,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

From here we go straight into the Prayer of the Day.  It was nice, and fit well with our Lenten them of Renewal.

Edna Hong taught me to break bread. She and her husband Howard Hong were responsible for the English translation of Søren Kierkegaard’s letters and papers, but I learned much more from her than Kierkegaard and bread. Her book on Lent, The Downward Ascent, is a wonderful exploration of the human heart and the journey of this season.

It takes time for bread to rise. It requires that we wait. We must adjust ourselves to the bread rather than the bread to ourselves. Spiritual renewal takes time, its own time. We seek it. We work it. We add the right ingredients. But it’s not in our control. It is something we seek, we pray for, we trust – even as we trust the bread to rise in its time.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
7let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord,
that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55)

 

Photo: By Jonathan M (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Renewal

Watching for the Morning of February 22, 2015

File:Ilya Repin Tempation of Christ.jpg

Ilya Repin, Tempation of Christ.

Our theme for the season of Lent this year is Renewal: renewing faith, renewing friendships, renewing families, renewing the earth. We will still read the texts in our Sunday service; they will still infuse our worship, but our hearing of them will be shaped by the theme of renewal.

It makes me nervous, of course. I don’t like preaching on themes.   I remember reading a little book on preaching my senior year in seminary where Gerhard Von Rad (I think) said that every young preacher has about six sermons in him – and after that, he or she has to start preaching the text. There is nothing eternal in my words. But there is life in the words that come to us as scripture.

Still, every text is shaped by the time and place in which it is read, by the health or weariness of the community, by the cries and joys that surround us. The text is shaped by the day. It speaks to a moment in time. And our moments in this Lenten season will be shaped by our hope for renewal.

The readings this coming Sunday are rich and wonderful, starting with God’s promise to Noah and all the creatures aboard the ark that God will never again war against humanity. God binds himself with a promise, and sets a sign of that promise in the sky.

1 Peter will use the story of those eight saved in the ark as an image for baptism and God’s promise to carry us safely to a world washed and renewed.

And Mark will tell us of Jesus in the wilderness, tested by Satan, and attended by angels. He is the faithful Son. He is the new Adam – dwelling in peace with the “wild animals”.

The psalmist rightly sings of God’s faithfulness. So it will be proper to speak about renewing our trust in God, and praying with the psalm “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.”

The Prayer for February 22, 2015

In the wilderness, O God, you watched over Jesus
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, rooted in your Spirit and in your Word,
our trust in you may be deepened,
and we may 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 February 22, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 9:8-17
“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you.’” – God establishes an eternal covenant with Noah and all the creatures of the ark to never again destroy the earth.

Psalmody: Psalm 25:1-10
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.” – The poet entrusts himself to God and asks God to teach him God’s way.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.”
– With imagery that is somewhat foreign to us, Peter proclaims Jesus the victorious one, ascending through the heavens, announcing God’s just judgment on the wicked angels imprisoned since the flood. Then, building on the imagery of the flood, proclaims the saving work of baptism, comparing it to the ark by which the righteous were saved.

Gospel Mark 1:9-15
“He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” – Mark’s narrative of the temptation of Jesus is sweet and to the point. Jesus shows himself to be worthy of the great honor conveyed by God at his baptism when God declared him “my beloved son.”

 

Image: By Ilya Repin (Bukowskis) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Time to plow

Watching for Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Monday

File:A Stiff Pull.jpgWednesday we begin our Lenten journey, our spiritual pilgrimage to the three days in which the great mystery of God’s healing and reconciling work in Christ are celebrated. The “holy city” to which we travel are those events in which Christ kneels to wash our feet, breaks with us the bread of life, is arrested and stripped of all honor and glory, is debased and broken upon the cross, and laid in a tomb. The work of God to heal and reconcile and save our sorry world is brutally rejected. No single act could reveal the collective rebellion of humanity from the way of God than this. Among us, when the emissary of a king is so treated, it is cause for war. But God chooses not to take revenge. He raises Jesus from the dead, bearing witness to us that Jesus is the perfectly faithful one whose words and deeds are true.

We have to prepare ourselves to experience again that story. It’s not that we are cleansing ourselves by some outward ritual to participate in a sacred rite – we are tilling the ground, breaking up the soil of our hearts, so that we will be ready to hear and receive all the power and grace of this message – so that it can take root in good soil and bear abundant fruit in us.

We need time to get ready. We need to plow the ground. We need to pull the stumps and clear the weeds.

Ash Wednesday is the first step of this spiritual journey. It points the direction we must travel. Repentance is not about guilt; it is the recognition that we need to turn back to the path, renew the journey, remember the stunning grace of God and live it anew.

The Prayer for Ash Wednesday

By your prophets, O God, you call us to repentance and faith
leading us on a journey into wholeness and life.
Watch over us, renewing our lives and our world
that, abiding in your grace, we may prove faithful to you and to all

The Texts for Ash Wednesday, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12 (We are using the alternate this year)
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” – After the return from exile in Babylon, life was hard and Jerusalem and its temple continued to lie in ruins. The people complained that God did not respond to their prayers. The prophet challenges the meaning of such prayers when the people fail to embody the life of justice and mercy to which God called them.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:8-14
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.” – In our parish, we use the appointed Psalm 51 (the famous cry of repentance by David after he has been confronted by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah and the taking of Bathsheba ) in the confession at the beginning of our liturgy. When we come to the time for the psalm we hear the poet speak of the tender love and faithfulness of God who has “removed our sins from us” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1 (Appointed: 5:20b-6:10)
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
– Paul calls his troubled congregation to live within the reconciling work of God in Christ.

Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Jesus declares at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that, in order to enter into God’s dawning reign, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now, having spoken about the meaning of the commandments (in contrast to the way they are taught by the scribes) Jesus turns to the acts of piety for which the Pharisees were known. Our prayer, fasting and charity must be done not for public acclaim but to please God.

Assigned First Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.” – Facing a terrible plague of locusts, the prophet calls for the people to turn to God, marking themselves with dust and ashes, rending their hearts that God may see their desperate plight and come to their aid.

 

Photo: Peter Henry Emerson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is my Son”

Saturday

Mark 9:2-9

File:Oak Cathdrl interior.jpg

Interior of Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart,

We read this story of the transfiguration every year at the conclusion of the Sundays after Epiphany.  It is a wonderful element in the architecture of the church year.

This season follows the celebration of the Epiphany, the feast day that tells the story of the Magi kneeling before the child Jesus. It echoes with all the great themes of the Epiphany: Christ Jesus revealed to the nations; Jesus the light of the world; Jesus the incarnation of God.

With the incarnation God declares that human life is a fit vessel of the divine, the finite can bear the infinite. And, in a stunning reversal of the natural order of things, the divine is not rendered ‘unclean’ by its contact with the fallen world, the world is made ‘clean’ by its contact with God in Christ.

Dropping ‘clean’ food on the floor doesn’t make the floor clean; but the Christ has made us clean. The earth, once holy and perfect and good, is made holy again. God, who once walked with us in the garden, walks in our midst again. The water set aside for cleansing has become wine.

On the first Sunday of this season we celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord and heard the voice of God declare that Jesus is God’s beloved son. It is the kind of declaration made by the emperor when he has chosen a successor and declares him his son. It is the Old Testament language for kingship. God has designated Jesus as second in rank only to the Father. In Christ God has come to reign in us and among us. And so, in the Sundays that follow, disciples are summoned, demons are driven out, the sick healed, sins forgiven, prisoners released. A new reign is begun.

With Lent the church calendar will turn with Jesus toward Jerusalem: the holy city that has bent the knee in service to Rome. The holy city that has chosen power and wealth over justice and mercy. The holy city that has exalted temple and cult over the spirit and truth. The holy city that reflects the truth of every human heart.

Jesus has a destiny there: to be rejected. To be condemned. To be branded a liar. To be shamed and degraded and killed. The holy one is rendered unholy. The apparent triumph of an ‘unclean’ and unholy world.

But before we start this path through Lent to Good Friday and Easter, the architecture of the church year gives us the Feast of the Transfiguration so that we hear one more time the voice from heaven declare, “This is my Son, the beloved.” And then the voice of God commands us: “Listen to him.”

Something unexpected is coming, and we need to not lose faith before we get there. Something unexpected is coming, and we need to see this journey through. Something unexpected is coming, and we need to hear the promise that death will lead to life, the grave will yield to the empty tomb, the violence of the world will not stop the kingdom.

Hate cannot conquer love. The darkness cannot overcome the light. The lie cannot defeat the truth. The Father of lies will be dethroned. The Spirit will be poured out. God’s reign of grace and life is begun. The world is being made holy. We are being made holy, fit vessels of the Spirit of God.

“This is my Son. Listen to him.”

 

Photo: By Skier Dude (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Purple

Sunday Evening

John 3

File:Mexican oil paint on copper retablo, 17th century, El Paso Museum of Art.JPG

Anonymous, Mexican oil paint on copper retablo, 17th century, El Paso Museum of Art.

14Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

I’m glad I am accustomed to leading the service without robes from our worship in the summer or I would have felt very strange today.

I was stunned into wakefulness at 5:00 this morning with the realization that my nose was bleeding again.  I tried desperately to keep the blood from flowing onto the sheets, but as I came back from the bathroom holding a wad of toilet paper up against my left nostril I saw that I had not been at all successful.  With one hand I pulled off the pillowcases, the fitted sheet, and fumbled with the buttons on the duvet cover trying to get all this, plus my shirt and a towel into cold water in the bathtub before the blood set.  It’s hard to do with one hand.  I’m at the Laundromat now, waiting to see if I was successful in rescuing my sheets.

I eventually got the bleeding to stop, but I didn’t want to risk bleeding onto my vestments this morning.  I suppose I could use a new white alb, but the purple chasuble was a gift from a friend who died of AIDs and it is not replaceable to me.  (And just so you know, I also did the prayers over the bread and wine standing well back from the altar linens; I wasn’t thinking only about me.)

Still, it is odd for me to stand unvested in Lent.  This rich, wonderful, season deserves the vivid image the chasuble provides.  The purple robe evokes the robe thrown around Jesus as the soldiers beat, tortured and humiliated this helpless “king” with a crown of thorns, a mock scepter, and this ‘royal’ robe.  I know that there are other historical associations with this ancient form of dress.  I know it once represented street clothes.  But it does so no longer.  Now it is a visible reminder that the taunted one is the host of the meal, a proclamation that the crucified is risen and even now stands in our midst as earth’s true king.  Though I say the prayers – it is Christ who serves us.

But I didn’t want to bleed on that purple robe – even though that would have been even more poetic, for surely the robe Jesus wore was stained with blood.  But it was not my blood.  It was not my suffering.  It was not my sorrow.  It was not my faithfulness and mercy in the face of hatred and violence.  I only stand in his place, speaking his words, acknowledging his mercy, his sacrifice, his incomprehensible love – and declaring it to you.  “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.”  “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

For you.  And for me.  And for those who are jogging past the church on Sunday morning oblivious to the sacrifice.  And for those dying in Syria who know it first hand.  And for those perishing from hunger in the Sudan, caught in violence in Venezuela, victimized by trafficking, and seduced by holy war.  For all those unseen by us, unseen by the media, unseen by all but God.  For all the world that God loved in this way in order that they may not perish but see and trust and enter into that eternal life of the world to come when swords are finally beaten into plowshares and every tear is swiped away.

PS  It looks like the stains have been lifted – but that’s a message for another day.

Hope and grace

Tuesday

Joel 2

File:Nube de langostas en el Sáhara Occidental (1944).jpg2Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes.

Some disasters give you no warning: the earth shakes and fear overwhelms you only in the moment you realize this is a big one.  But other disasters you see on the horizon: the thick dark clouds that tell of an impending storm, the sickly green sky that warns you this one has the potential for terror, the strange stillness that fills you with dread as you watch and wonder and wait to hear if the tornado sirens will sound.

I wonder if all the people see what the prophet sees: the dark cloud of the massive swarms of locusts advancing like waves – or if the prophet has been given a vision of what is yet beyond the horizon.

So much of the prophetic literature arises from what the prophets see that others do not yet see.  Isaiah sees the advancing storm of Assyria, Jeremiah the impending doom of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon.  The city is filled with illusion.  The elites do not see that their common life is corroded with injustice and near collapse.  The prophets are attacked as unpatriotic; they wouldn’t join the chorus that “We are the greatest country on earth.”  “God is on our side!”  “God will never let Jerusalem fall.”  The prophets saw instead the sufferings of the poor, the corruption, the greed, the end of compassion, the loss of justice.  They saw that God was ready to withdraw his protective hand.

In Greek mythology, Cassandra, the daughter of the king of Troy, received from the god Apollo the gift of prophetic sight, but because she spurned his sexual advances, he punished her with the curse that no one would believe her.  So she could see that Paris would kidnap Helen and prompt the Trojan War.  She could see the pending slaughter.  And she could see that Greek warriors were hiding in the belly of the great horse left by the (apparently) departing Greeks.  She cried out against the folly of tearing down the city gates to bring the horse into the city, but she was dismissed as crazy.  Perhaps it is the curse of every prophet to see that the nation is on the path of folly and have no one hear.

But Joel seems to be the exception.  The people responded to the sound of the shofar.  They came in repentance.  The poured out their prayers and turned their hope to God.  And “the LORD became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.”

We read Joel on Ash Wednesday, hear his call to “return to the LORD” and sing that verse all through Lent.  We have the option to read Isaiah – and the text from Isaiah is wonderful – but the first choice is Joel.  And maybe the first choice is Joel because the people listened to Joel.  They came.  They prayed.  They turned to the Lord.  And God heard.  This one time, the call for repentance was met with obedience.

It is good to begin Lent with hope and grace.

To dust you shall return – but dust you shall not remain

Watching for Ash Wednesday, March 5

Lent 2014

Monday

photo-10Palm fronds burn.  The joy of last Palm Sunday is consumed by fire.  Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

It is somber, but it is not dark.  Ash Wednesday is built on a foundation of joy – or, at least peace.  We face mortality as those who know Easter, as those who have seen the empty tomb, who have heard the joyful cry, who have faced the great mystery that God will not leave his creation in dust and ashes.  We come to remember that we are ashes; we are not gods.  But we come to be marked with the cross, the sign of the risen one who has erased our sin.  We are mortal creatures, but created anew in Christ.

Somber, because of the fearful price of our rebellion.  Somber because of the fearful brokenness of God’s good creation.  But gathered in the promise of heaven’s grace.  Gathered in the dawning light of the reunion of heaven and earth.  Gathered for the journey to Easter.

Remember that you are dust – but also claimed by the risen one.

The Prayer for March 5, 2014

Almighty God, Holy and Immortal,
who knows the secrets of every heart
and brings all things to the light of your grace.
Root us ever in your promised mercy
that, freed from every sin and shame,
we may walk the paths of your truth and love

The Texts for March 5, 2014

First Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.” – Facing a terrible plague of locusts, the prophet calls for the people to turn to God, marking themselves with dust and ashes and rent hearts that God may see their desperate plight and come to their aid.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:8-14
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.”Psalm 51 is used in at the beginning of our liturgy, the famous cry of repentance by David after he has been confronted by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah and the taking of Bathsheba.  When we come to the time for the psalm we hear the poet speak of the tender love and faithfulness of God who has “removed our sins from us” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
–  Paul calls his troubled congregation to be reconciled to God, not to accept the grace of God in vain, saying that now is the right time for them to return to God.

Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Jesus has declared that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.  Now, having spoken about the meaning of the commandments (in contrast to the way they are taught by the scribes) Jesus now turns to the acts of piety for which the Pharisees are known.  Our prayer, fasting and charity must be done not for public acclaim but to please God.

“This is my Son, the Beloved”

Sunday Evening

Matthew 17

5 “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

File:Châteauneuf-du-Faou 23 Eglise paroissiale Fresque de Sérusier.jpg

The Transfiguration, Baptism, and Resurrection of Jesus
By Moreau.henri

We sang the Gloria today for the last time: “Glory to God in the highest,” the song the angels sang before the Shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.  It is the last echo of Christmas.  Now our eyes turn towards Easter, towards the three-day celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the remarkable and unexpected outcome of the story that began with the equally unexpected announcement to Mary: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  What sounded like the heralding of a new king for Israel will crash and break to pieces against the rock of Roman power – only to be utterly transformed into a dawning reign of grace and life for all creation.

The star that has graced our sanctuary will be put away.  The candelabra that spoke of the one proclaimed as light of the world will also be put away.  The color will shift to purple – the color of the robe that the taunting soldiers threw over Jesus as they mocked and tortured him with a crown of thorns.  Royal purple.  Meant to shame Jesus.  Meant to discredit him in our eyes.  But we see its truth.

But today, before we begin that Journey to Jerusalem, we heard once again God declare, “This is my Son, the Beloved.”  These are the words spoken at the beginning of this season when Jesus was baptized by John.  They are spoken again here, not in wistfulness as a fading refrain of the season, but with confidence.  The one who journeys towards the cross is the holy one of God.

And we are invited to journey to Jerusalem with him and to wait there for the wonder to come: his vindication.  The breaking of the tomb.  The tearing of the curtain.  The harrowing of Satan’s realm.  The reconciliation of heaven and earth.  The dawning of the new creation.

It all awaits us as we tell again the story beginning that wondrous Thursday night when feet are washed and bread broken, when soldiers come in the dark and strip Jesus of all honor – and that Friday afternoon when the nails are pounded – and that Saturday evening when darkness turns to light, when we journey again through the waters of baptism into Christ and from death into life, and hear the great cry “Christ is risen!”  And then that Sunday morning we come back together to sing then, and through the next fifty days, the Alleluias and a new song, the hymn of heaven from Revelation 5:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Alleluia.  Alleluia.