Like showers watering the earth

File:08152 Bukowsko (powiat sanocki).jpgWatching for the Morning of January 6, 2019

The Epiphany of Our Lord

6He will be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.

We will read Psalm 72 on Sunday from the old 1984 translation of the New International Version because that version presents the psalm as promise rather than wish. The current NIV reads “May he be like rain falling on a mown field,” and the New Revised Standard Version reads similarly. ‘May’ is too soft a verb. It robs the prayer of passion. In our time, in our conflicted politics, it sounds more like a sigh than a song.

I understand the translators’ choice. But the text is not just a relic of an ancient coronation rite; it is now deep in the canon of scripture. It now bears the divine word to a broken world. It preaches. It declares what kings and presidents ought to be – and what the reign of God will be. It stands against those who use their office to bless themselves and proclaims the promise of God to all creation. It summons us to live the faithfulness that is coming, to be participants in the blessing of the world.

When we gather in worship and set this song next to the child of Bethlehem, the magi, and the murderous king, the song soars. We hear the yearning and joy of all heaven and earth: in the outstretched arms of Jesus is God’s true and lasting reign and the healing of the world. To him belongs the obeisance of the nations. To him belong the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In him is the end of every murderous regime. In him is the silencing of every deceitful tongue. In him is the end of the whip and the lash, the nails and the wood, the taunts and the dying. In him the grave is powerless. In him is the soft rain that brings life to the earth.

Sunday we read this song that is prayer and promise and proclamation. We hear of the magi kneeling before the child of Bethlehem, and of the kings of this earth with the blood of children on their hands to prevent his rising. The voice of the prophet declares: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” It is the feast of the epiphany, the feast of Christ revealed to the nations, the feast of light shining in the darkness. The wondrous grace of Christmas Eve blazes across the skies.

And, yes, the shadow of the cross lies across the day: Herod echoes Pharaoh’s murderous attempt upon the children of Israel. But the child will live. The child will come forth out of Egypt. The child will settle in Nazareth. And in his outstretched arms all creation is born of God.

The Prayer for January 6, 2019

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world bringing his perfect peace.

The Texts for January 6, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” – In the years after the return from exile, the prophet heralds a restoration of the nation: though Jerusalem and the temple are now only a pale reflection of their former glory, the Glory of God shall be upon them, the sons and daughters of Israel scattered throughout the ancient world shall return, and the people of all nations will make pilgrimage to “proclaim the praise of the LORD”.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)
“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – A royal psalm, likely composed to celebrate the ascension of a new king, has become a promise of the anointed of God (Messiah/Christ) in whom all creation is made new.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” – Paul is privileged to proclaim God’s plan, once hidden from our eyes but now revealed, to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:08152_Bukowsko_(powiat_sanocki).jpg Silar [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Fidelity and anticipation

File:Montreal - Plateau, day of snow - 200312.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 31, 2017

Year B

The Sunday in Christmas

Fidelity. The Sunday in Christmas shows us more of the faithful in Israel: Joseph and Mary fulfilling all that the law requires. Simeon and Anna waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise. But even now the texts begin to move towards Epiphany. “The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory,” says the prophet – and though the prophet is speaking of the restoration of Jerusalem, all the nations shall see God’s saving work. Righteousness and praise shall spring up as certainly as the seeds sown in the garden.

And so Simeon sings – sings of God’s dawning salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” And Anna praises God and testifies to this child “to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Fidelity and anticipation. Something big is happening. Something dramatic is occurring. God is fulfilling his promises. The wise elders see. The longed for day is come. The lowly are hearing good news proclaimed.

Much of the Midwest is under a thick blanket of snow. It was reported that Erie, Pennsylvania, received over five feet. Spring seems like an unthinkable promise when you are shoveling through such depths. But Simeon and Anna have eyes to see. And they testify to us of God’s faithfulness. The season has turned. The days are growing longer. The light is come.

The Prayer for December 31, 2017

Gracious God,
by whose word we live
and whose promises all come to fulfillment:
we give you thanks for those faithful among your people
who, like Simeon and Anna, have eyes to see your dawning work among us.
Grant that, with them, we might see where your hand is working
and share in its joy.

The Texts for December 31, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3
“The Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” –
In the years after the return from exile, the prophet speaks to a discouraged and weary people of a vindication to come.

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son.” – Paul recites the core message of what God has done in Christ for these Galatians, making them members of God’s household and heirs of God’s promise through the gift of the Spirit in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 2:21-40 (appointed: 22-40)
“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.”
– The narrative of Jesus’ birth continues with Mary and Joseph’s faithful obedience and the recognition and reception of Jesus by Simeon and Anna, representatives of faithful Israel.

For the psalm on the Sunday in Christmas we sing a Christmas carol. The appointed Psalm is: Psalm 148 – “Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth… He has raised up a horn for his people.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montreal_-_Plateau,_day_of_snow_-_200312.jpg

Great mercies for a world in need of mercy

File:Lacura2.JPGWatching for the Feast of the Nativity 2017

Christmas Eve / Christmas Day

Light for our darkness will echo through our service on Christmas Eve. We will hear the great prophetic word of Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” and be reminded of the promise that “all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.”

We will hear also from Isaiah that “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,” a new king from the line of David. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” The peace of his reign that will find the lion eating straw like the ox and all the earth will be filled with “the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Of course, the central story of the night is the remarkable birth during the imperial reign of the victorious Octavian – Caesar Augustus who was acclaimed as son of a god (son of the divine Julius Caesar) and savior of the world. Only this birth does not happen in Rome, but in a peasant home in Judea.

Two kingdoms clash – not a game of thrones like Octavian’s Victory over Antony and Cleopatra, but two profoundly different claims upon the world: one a rule of might, the other of grace. Augustus will claim all things for himself – and Jesus will give himself for all. The “census” was a listing of all properties when Rome took over a region so Caesar could claim what he wished. It led to riots and brutal repression under Quirinius. But in a manger in Bethlehem lies a true prince of peace, a true light for our darkness.

On Christmas Day we will hear John declare that the divine word that called the world into being“became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.” We will hear the prophet speak of God’s word that does not return empty but “shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” And the author of Hebrews will confirm that “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.”

Light for our darkness. Peace for our world. The mystery of the incarnation. The wonder of “God with us”. Rich and abundant themes. Great mercies for a world in need of mercy.

The Prayer for December 24, 2017

Holy God, eternal light,
source and goal of all creation:
in the wonder of this night,
you came to us in the child of Bethlehem,
seeking your lost and wounded world,
granting light for our darkness,
hope amidst doubt,
joy amidst sorrow.
Let your grace shine upon us
that we may receive you with open hearts
and know the fullness of your presence.

The Texts for December 24, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” – the prophet promises the end of war and the birth of a royal son in whom will come peace.

Second Reading: Isaiah 11:1-9
“A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
– The prophet heralds a coming king who shall bring perfect peace to the world.”

Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” – Into the world of Roman dominion and power, a new Lord is born.

The Prayer for December 25, 2015

Almighty and ever-living God,
in the mystery of the incarnation
you have entered into the fabric of our world
to find what is lost,
to gather what is scattered,
to unite what is broken,
to illumine what is darkened,
to heal what is wounded,
to bring to life what is bound in death.
Grant us wisdom, courage and faith
to receive your Son as he comes to us as your Word made flesh:
child of Bethlehem;
prophet and teacher of Nazareth;
crucified and risen Lord;
Immanuel, God with us.

The Texts for December 25, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-12
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” – Like grain sown into the soil, God’s promise will bear fruit: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty.”

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-3a
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.”
– The opening of the book of Hebrews proclaiming the work of God in Christ.

Gospel: John 1:1-14
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John’s Gospel begins with a rich and wondrous hymn that identifies Christ Jesus with

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALacura2.JPG By Lacura (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Salting the fire of the new creation

File:Salt from Timbuktu.jpg

Watching for the Morning of February 5, 2017

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

References to light and darkness rattle through the readings for Sunday, but the heart of the Gospel reading is about fire: the fire of the earthen oven in the courtyard of the cluster of simple peasant homes that uses a salt slab as a catalyst for the burning of the dung patties the youngest girls in the extended family are assigned to make. When the slab has lost its value (not it’s taste) as a catalytic agent, it is taken out and used as a stepping stone for those days when rains turn the pathways to mud.

We are that necessary element to the oven without which no bread gets baked. We are the light shining in the peasant house without which no one can see, for there are no windows to lighten the room. Jesus is talking to rural villagers, not the Jerusalem elite. He is talking to those who are poor, mourning and hungering for the world to be set right. He is talking to refugees in the camps when doors are shut. He is talking to mothers and children scratching out their existence in the rubble of wars. He is talking to those in fear of uniforms unrestrained by any law. He is talking to those who know hunger and thirst. “You are the salt that burns bright the fire of God. You are the light that is set on a stand.”

Jesus must have seemed a little nuts.

Yet here is this compelling word of grace that among the broken dawns the reign of God. Among the wounded arises the day of God’s healing. Among the grieving rises the songs of joy. For the anointed has come dispensing the gifts of God’s reign. And among these people shines the fire and light of the dawning redemption of all the earth.

So Sunday we hear that great prophetic speech from the book of Isaiah declaring that the religious observance God wants to see is not a great public fast but for us “to loose the bonds of injustice,” and “let the oppressed go free,” to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and clothe the naked. “Then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” And the psalmist sings of the righteous (the just, those faithful to God and others): “They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright.” And Paul writes of the wisdom of God that is so different from the wisdom of this age – an age that is passing away – the wisdom hidden in Christ crucified, the wisdom revealed through the Spirit: The mystery that the broken one is the risen one in whom all things are raised from the valley of the shadow of death into the realm of imperishable life.

The light shines. And we are the wick set upon a stand and the slab of salt that sustains the fire of the new creation.

The Prayer for February 5, 2017

Gracious God,
you have appointed your people to be in the world
as the fire and light of your justice and mercy.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit,
and shape our lives by your Word,
that through lives of faith, hope and love
we may bear witness to your reign;
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 5, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12
“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?” – In the hardscrabble life after the return from Exile, God confronts the complaint of the people that God has not answered their prayers by challenging the goal of those prayers. They have sought advantage for themselves rather than to live God’s justice and mercy.

Psalmody: Psalm 112:1-10
“Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.” – A description of the righteous who rest securely in God and the blessing they bring to the world, giving freely to the poor and conducting “their affairs with justice.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12
“We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” –
Paul’s message to the Corinthians was not dressed in the skills of rhetoric and human wisdom, but “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Yet there is a wisdom in this message: the wisdom revealed by the Spirit regarding God’s work and purpose in the world.

Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” – Comparing his followers with salt and light, Jesus summons the community of Israel (and his disciples) back to their calling as the medium through which God brings blessing/healing to the world.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASalt_from_Timbuktu.jpg By Robin Elaine (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Ten

File:Holy Embers.jpg

Friday

Genesis 18:16-32

“For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

There are so many wonderful lines in the readings for Sunday. This is one of them. In the face of the terrible violence of Sodom and Gomorrah – a violence that will be revealed when the men of the town encircle Lot’s house and demand to have his visitors turned over to them that they might abuse, demean and rape them, a show of their dominance and power in the ancient world. In the face of that community renowned in the ancient world for its arrogance, wealth and power, God declares that if he finds ten “righteous”, ten people who show faithfulness to others, he will not destroy the city.

It’s a powerful indictment of the city that God could not find ten. But, more importantly, it is a powerful declaration of the power of goodness.

It is not hard to catalog the ills of our world. There have been some terrible examples of terroristic violence. Nice. Istanbul. Orlando. Brussels. Paris. Santa Bernardino. Thanks to the ubiquity of cell phones, we have all become witnesses of police violence. What these communities have always known is now visible to all. And we have also become witnesses to revenge killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge. David Duke feels emboldened by the times to run for senate. The upcoming games in Rio have revealed some of what is being dumped into the seas. Flint reminds us of the terrible consequences of our neglect of the poor. The noble art of governance is reduced to name-calling.

The news coverage tries to “balance” all this distress with an occasional feel-good story of individual triumph or kindness, but those stories don’t offset the litany of woes that begin the hour.

But then comes this simple line: “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Ten good people living ordinary lives is enough to save a city. Ten.

We often feel helpless before the onslaught of the news. But God declares that ten good people is enough. Such is the power of mercy, compassion, kindness, generosity, courage, hope. Ten will save a city. Our small acts of kindness are not lost. They are lights in the darkness. Contagious lights. Inextinguishable lights. Lighted by the one who is the light that enlightens all the world, the one who embodied God’s mercy, the one who showed God’s faithfulness, the one who shines like the sun.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHoly_Embers.jpg By Eric Vernier from France (Holy Embers) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons