Doorways

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Watching for the Morning of December 3, 2017

Year B

The First Sunday of Advent

I had a profound dream many years ago that involved the discovery of a door. I was living (in the dream) in a small one room mountain cabin that seemed very much like a suburb with paved streets, an ordinary driveway and garbage pick up at the curb. But in the dream I realized there was a door behind the refrigerator which, when I succeeded in moving the refrigerator, opened into a large room with giant picture windows looking down over a sweeping vista of a clear blue mountain lake, surrounded with virgin forest.

Doorways are about discovery. Lucy Pevensie, in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe discovers a doorway into the wondrous world of Narnia in the back of a wardrobe. Daniel Jackson figures out how to open the stargate. Mary opens the door to The Secret Garden. In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins counsels his nephew saying “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” And, of course, the women discover angels at the door of the empty tomb. It sweeps the world off its feet.

A doorway to a new world. Advent looks through the doorway into the reign of God to come when the lion lies down with the lamb – and through that doorway Christ comes to us at the consummation of human history, in the present time of our lives, and in the child of Bethlehem.

So Sunday we begin our Advent journey. The sanctuary will be decorated with images of light and the blue of hope, of the night sky turning to day. And there will be photographs of doors waiting to be opened – and opened already that we might find our way to the hope, peace, joy and light that never ends.

On this first Sunday of the new church year we will hear the prophet Isaiah’s plea for God to open the heavens and come down to save. We will sing with the prophet of the everlasting joy of God’s redeeming work. We will hear Paul remind us that “are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And we will listen as Jesus warns us to be awake and aware, like servants waiting to greet their Lord.

Behold I stand at the door and knock,” says Jesus. Open it and life will never be the same.

The Prayer for December 3, 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 bring us to that day
when all the earth is redeemed by your presence.

The Texts for December 3, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” – The prophet speaks the lament of the people in the years after the return from exile, when life is hard and the former glory of the nation is absent. He calls upon God to relent and forgive their sins.

Psalmody: Isaiah 51:4-11 (appointed: Psalm 80.1-7, 17-19)
“The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads, sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
Our parish departs from the appointed psalm to sing this song of salvation from the prophet Isaiah.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1.3-9
“You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” –
Paul opens his letter to the believers in Corinth referring to the matter of spiritual gifts that has divided the community, setting them in their proper context as gifts of God to the whole body as they prepare for the consummation of God’s dawning reign.

Gospel: Mark 13.24-37
“Keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come.” – Having spoken of the destruction of the temple and what is to come for the community of believers, Jesus affirms that the Son of Man will come to gather his elect. For that day they should be awake, doing the work that they master of the house has entrusted to them.

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. This occurs on the second Sunday of Advent this year.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASur_le_chemin_cotier_a_cancale_-_panoramio_(4).jpg chisloup [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Children of Light

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Watching for the Morning of March 26, 2017

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

We hear the story of Samuel journeying to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse in the first reading this Sunday. It is a narrative fraught with danger, since Israel already has a king, and Saul has shown himself more interested in preserving his rule and his house than attending to God’s commands. Saul was the tallest in Israel. Strong, able, he looked the part of a kingly warrior. And the eldest of Jesse’s sons also looked the part – as, presumably, did the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth. But God sees the heart. And God saw fidelity in the heart of David – fidelity to God and to the people. (Yes, David sins when he murders Uriah to hide his infidelity with Uriah’s wife but, unlike nearly all later kings, he repents – he turns back to God and to the people.) This faithfulness of David is reflected in the familiar psalm for the day.

It’s not clear why this story of David is paired with the account of the man born blind in Sunday’s gospel except, perhaps, for the idea of seeing. The leaders of Israel are unable to see what is happening in Jesus, but the blind man comes to see.

Light and darkness are the theme of the reading from Ephesians. There we are exhorted to eschew the “unfruitful works of darkness” and “live as children of the light.”

For the ancients, darkness was not the absence of light; it was a substance. Light was something that was within and went out through the eyes to perceive the world. Those who are blind, therefore, had darkness within; what came out through their eyes was darkness. Jesus has filled the blind man with light. He has washed away the mud. And Jesus has not only filled him with a physical, material light, he has filled him with a spiritual light. So, if we are filled with this true light, this light of God, that light will go out not only to see clearly the gracious hand of God in the world around us, it will do the works of grace. On the other hand, if the ‘light’ within us is darkness, what will come forth from us are the works of darkness.

Why do we come to worship? Why do we set ourselves before the Word? Why do we take into our hands the bread of life? That we may be filled with light. Look around, the world sorely needs children of the light.

As We Forgive
Our focus on a portion of the catechism during Lent takes us into the Lord’s Prayer this year. Sunday we will consider the fifth petition: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray not only to be forgiven but, with that prayer, we choose to live the grace we desire.

Reflections on the themes of each week and brief daily devotions related to those themes can be found on the blog site for our Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 26, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and True,
who opened the eyes of the man born blind
that he might see and know you:
Remove from us all blindness of heart and spirit
that we might truly follow you in 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 March 26, 2017

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – Saul has proven himself unworthy of the monarchy and God commissions Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king. All Jesse’s sons look the part of a king, but God chooses the youngest, David, who is out guarding the sheep.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – David’s famous psalm acknowledging God as his ruler and protector.

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”
–Writing to the believing community in Ephesus, Paul (or someone writing on Paul’s behalf or in his name) urges the community to live faithfully the life into which they have been called in Christ.

Gospel: John 9:1-41
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” – Jesus heals a man born blind who is subsequently investigated by the authorities and evicted from the synagogue for his affiliation with Jesus.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWindow_Shadows_on_Ceiling_of_Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia_2010.JPG By Patrick Pelletier (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Salting the fire of the new creation

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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

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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

Words of power

Sunday Evening

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The congregation seemed to mutter the opening words of our liturgy this morning. During the Easter season we process with the paschal candle – the candle lit from the new fire at the Easter Vigil service, the candle we follow into the darkened church until the flame is shared with all, the candle that represents Christ the light of the world, risen from the dead. And with the candle burning, ready to walk forward into our midst, the opening words of the liturgy are the acclamation, “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World,” with the congregation responding: “The Light no darkness can overcome.”

It is a declaration that comes from the opening of John’s Gospel where the evangelist writes of the Word that became flesh: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

There is darkness in our world. Something is deeply wrong in the human heart when murder is exalted as service of God, when lies are spoken as truth, when children are kidnapped and violated, when workers are abused, and tainted milk sold to the parents of newborns. There is darkness in our world, but light shines. Human kindness and compassion shine in the darkness. People struggle for justice. People risk speaking the truth. And the risen Christ is proclaimed, robbing death of its power. The light shines and the darkness is not able to extinguish it. No matter how deep the darkness, it cannot overcome the light.

This is the church’s exalted cry! The light has come and no darkness can put it out! It is a profound and courageous and exultant acclamation.

Or at least it should be. Today, as we began worship, no one seemed convinced that the light shines in our darkness – at least it was not evident in our voices. The congregation seemed flat and the words rote, repeated without any real conviction.

So I made them say it again. And then a third time. These are words of great meaning. They deserve to be spoken with all their inherent power.

All the words of the church’s liturgy are words of great meaning. These are not nonsense syllables like the magician’s ‘abracadabra’. These are words of power proclaiming deliverance, freedom and hope. They confess sins – they confess our share in the darkness – and announce forgiveness. They recite the great deeds of God: creation, exodus, and the giving of a law/teaching that creates justice. They tell of sacrifice and love. They remember the Christ in such a way that what was long ago becomes part of our living moment. These words lay before God our fears and worries, hopes and dreams. They promise peace. These are words of great power, power to change lives. They deserve to be spoken as words of power.

But sometimes we forget. Or we get distracted. We repeat words without hearing them. Like a distracted parent saying “yes dear” to a child while worrying about dinner and bills and where the heck is your youngest.

Still, “I love you” should never be treated as mere words. These are great words, worth hearing, worth speaking in the recognition of the great gift they are in a world with too little love.

And so are the words like “Jesus Christ is the light of the world.” / “The Light no darkness can overcome.”

 

Photo: Annunciation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Toronto.  Paschal Candles lit at the Resurrection Liturgy to welcome the risen Saviour and commemorating the annual Miracle of The Holy Fire (Greek Ἃγιον Φῶς, “Holy Light”) that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Great Saturday.  By ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

From darkness into light

Watching for Easter

Year B

Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / The Vigil of Easter / Easter Sunday

HeQi_036-medium

He is Risen, He Qi

We gather to begin our observance of the three days on Thursday evening. There is a prelude that night and a confession and forgiveness – but the dismissal to “Go in peace,” and the postlude doesn’t happen until the end of the liturgy on Saturday evening. This is one great celebration in several acts over the three days.

Thursday we begin with a confession that connects to the ancient practice of the church when, on this night, those who had been under the public discipline of the church were reconciled. It is a good word with which to begin: we walk through these days as those who have been cleansed. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” We are gathered as a forgiven and reconciled people – a forgiving and reconciling people.

And so in the Thursday liturgy the forgiven/reconciled, forgiving/reconciling people hear Jesus speak the new commandment to love one another. We hear the splashing water and wrestle with that image of the living Christ at our feet as the paradigm of our life with one another. We encounter the Christ whose body is broken like bread, whose blood is poured out like wine. And we see the altar stripped as Christ was stripped of all honor and led away in the night.

Friday in that last hour of Jesus’ life we hear the prophet Isaiah speak of the one who was wounded for our transgression and John describe the one who was lifted up in the hour the Passover lambs were slain.  We listen and we adore and we pray for a world in need of his voice.

Saturday evening we gather to follow the light of the world through the darkness, we hear the great stories of salvation – and water again, this time the washing of baptism with all its echoes of passing through the Red Sea out from slavery into freedom. And then the Cry goes out: “Christ is Risen!” and the table of Maundy Thursday becomes the banquet of heaven, the foretaste of the feast to come.

In the full light of Easter morning we sing the great hymns that belong to a people who have come through the waters from darkness into light, from the realm of death into the realm of life.

In Detroit, one year, when the girls were young, I stopped at a party store for milk on my way home after the evening service on Good Friday. The man in front of me bought a bottle of cognac, received his change, and started to walk away when turned back to ask for two glasses. He was given two small plastic disposable cups, presumably to sit in a car in the lot and drink with his girl.

I was struck by the contrast that night between the faith community gathered in prayer on this holiest of days, and the guys hanging and drinking outside the store knowing only this was a Friday night. One group praying for the life of the world and the other thinking it was found in a bottle.

Most of the world will not care what we do these three days. But the one they do not see is the world’s true light and life.

The prayers and texts for this week

Maundy Thursday:

In the night of his betrayal, O God,
Jesus bent to wash feet
revealing your will and your way.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives
that, in union with Christ,
we may prove faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14 (The Passover)
Psalmody: Psalm 116:12-19 (I will lift up the cup of salvation)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (In the night in which he was betrayed…)
Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (A give you a new commandment)

Good Friday

In the desolation of the Cross, O God,
you watched over Jesus,
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, by the mercy of Christ,
we may prove faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (He was bounded for our transgressions)
Passion Reading: John 18:1-19:42 (The passion according to John)

Good Friday Evening Prayer – Tenebrae

Eternal Father,
in the shadows of the night we hear the echo of your voice.
Beyond the hammer and the nails,
beyond the jeering and the cries,
beyond the anger and the hardness of heart,
we hear the voice “Father, forgive them.”
Help us hear the prayer, trust its promise, and know its healing.

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6 (He was wounded for our transgressions)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:21b-25 (He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross)
Seven Last Words:
Luke 23:33-34: (Father forgive them)
Luke 23:39-43: (Today you will be with me in paradise)
John 19:23-27: (Woman behold your son)
Matthew 27:45-46: (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?)
John 19:28-29: (I Thirst)
John 19:30: (It is finished)
Luke 23:46: (Father, into you hands I commend my Spirit)

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil

In the night of his Passover, O God, you watched over Jesus
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, by your Spirit,
we may be born anew
in lives faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Genesis 1.1-2.2 (The Story of Creation)
Second Reading: Selections from Genesis 6-9 (The Flood) [whole text, Genesis 6:5-9:15]
Third Reading: Genesis 22.1-14 (The Binding of Isaac)
Fourth Reading: Exodus 14.5-14:30 (The Exodus)
Fifth Reading: Ezekiel 37.1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones)
Sixth Reading: Selections from Exodus 11 and 12 (The Passover)
Seventh Reading: Daniel 3.1-29 (The Fiery Furnace)
Epistle: Romans 6:3-5 (We have been buried with him in baptism)
Gospel: Mark 16:1-8 (The women run away from the empty tomb in fear and trembling)

Easter Sunday Morning

In the empty tomb, O God,
you bear witness to Jesus
that his word and his deeds are true,
and encounter all people with the promise of life.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, all heaven and earth
may be united in faithfulness and joy.

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9 (Isaiah’s vision of all people gathered at one table)
Psalmody: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-16, 22-24 (The stone that the builders rejected)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (Paul’s list of the witnesses to the resurrection)
Gospel: John 20:1-18 (The race to the tomb, and the risen Jesus meets Mary )

 

 

Image: He, Qi. He is Risen, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46117 [retrieved April 1, 2015]. Original source: heqigallery.com.

God loved the world in this way

Saturday

John 3:7-21

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Interior of the Church of the Light, designed by Tadao Ando, in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

I can’t think of any other Biblical reference that is held up as a sign at a football game. It is recognized as a simple, concise summary of the Christian message. God, love, Jesus, eternal life – it’s all there. But something of the power and glory of this verse is lost when it gets separated from the rest of John’s Gospel.

First, we should note that there tends to be a grammatical misunderstanding in the way we hear this verse. It doesn’t say God loved the world ‘so much’, but God loved the world ‘in this way’. The manner in which God shows his fidelity to the world is in giving his Son.

But does the word ‘give’ mean offer him up on the cross as a redeeming sacrifice? or does it mean sending him from above to grant us new birth ‘from above’? These are not entirely separate ideas, but the accent is very different. A sacrificial lamb may carry off my sins, but it doesn’t abide in me and I in it. I am still very much a child of the earth not a child of the heavens. Water is not turned into wine. Eyes are not given new sight. I am not reborn as a citizen of heaven.

This Jesus is not a mere sacrifice that happens out there on Golgotha to change God’s attitude to me or the debt I owe; he is the light shining in the darkness that illumines and transforms the human heart, my heart.

God loved the world in this way: he brought us light and new birth. He brought us the breath of God. He brought us the imperishable life of God. In his Gospel, John piles up the metaphors for us: bread of life, living water, light of the world, gate of the sheep, the way, truth and life – all pointing not to an objective act of sacrifice on our behalf (with a promise of life after we die), but a new and transformed existence as members of heaven’s household now.

God loved the world in this way: he sent the incarnate word to abide in me and I in him.

And we haven’t yet come to the truly surprising element in this simple little verse: God did this for the world. We take this for granted, that God’s love is for everyone. ‘The world’ just means ‘everyone’ to our ears. But this word, ‘the world’, in John’s Gospel is not morally neutral. The world does not know this word from above (1:10). It hates him (7:7). Its deeds are evil (7:7). It doesn’t know the father (17:25). It cannot receive the Spirit of truth (14:17). It rejoices when Jesus is killed (16:20). And yet, it is for the sake of this world that Jesus comes and that the believers are sent.

God loves a hostile and rebellious world, God shows fidelity to this hostile and rebellious world, and shows it by sending Jesus as light into the darkness.

God shows fidelity to the Oklahoma SAE chanting racist chants by sending his son. God shows fidelity to the Syrian regime dropping barrel bombs on its people by sending his son. God shows fidelity to a world largely ignoring the Syrian refugees by sending his son. God shows fidelity to the drug gangs in Central America by sending his son. God shows fidelity to the privileged elite protecting their wealth by sending his son. God shows fidelity to every torn and tormented home by sending his son who is the voice of heaven and the light of Grace and the possibility of new birth. God shows his fidelity to every grieving heart by sending his son who is the life of the age to come. God shows his faithfulness, his allegiance to us, his passion for the world, his love, in this way – a man who is the embodiment of the face of God, who is the path to life, who is the resurrection.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like enough. But what if those students could have seen at the front of their bus an African American with arms outstretched, covered with the spittle of their hate, yet radiant with light and truth and love? Do we not, at some point, begin to regret the hammer and nails in our hands?  How many does it take on that bus, how many must begin to see, before the song loses its voice?

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life. But he is more. He is the good shepherd who calls us by name and leads us out to good pasture. He is the gate that leads us into life. He is the vine to us, the branches, who through us bears much fruit.

God loved the broken and rebellious world in this way: he sent a son to bring us birth from above and make us children of heaven, sons and daughters of God.

 

By taken by Bergmann (ja:Image:Ibaraki_Kasugaoka_Church_Light_Cross.JPG) [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

“Arise, shine”

Wednesday

Isaiah 60

winter sunrise copy

Winter Sunrise, Anna Bonde, ca. 1996

1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

I hear the words to arise and shine, but I do not really hear them. They reach out to embrace me. They draw me into their sweetness. I slump into them as into the arms of a friend when troubles abound. What I hear is “the glory of the Lord has risen upon you,” and this seems a perfect embrace.

There is no want of darkness in the world, no want of cruelty, no want of evil men and women and even children, on occasion. The divide between whites and blacks in America is so profound that few can hear the other when they speak. I assume it is the same between Shia and Sunni in some parts of the world or they would not blow up each other’s sacred spaces or their children. And certainly there are other such divides. Men and Women. China and Japan, at least so I’ve read, the font if not the legacy of a brutal war.

The assaults on human dignity and freedom and life seem to lie all around me. So when I hear, “Arise, shine; for your light has come,” it sweeps my heart up in its grand arms.

But beyond the wonderful word that light has come are these two little commands to arise and to shine. Is the poet saying no more than “Get up, get up” in joy and excitement of God’s advent? Or is there a call to stand, though the forces around us would beat us down? Is there a call to stand tall and firm at the lunch counter, though milkshakes and mockery and hate and dumped upon your head? Is there a call to stand tall though a spouse or teacher or coach degrade you? Is there a call to stand, though adversity besets you?

And when the prophet says, “shine,” is this just the shining face, alive with excitement, bright eyes joyous at the present laden tree? Or is there a call to shine forth love and compassion into a world often lacking in both?

The voice of God that presents itself to us through the prophet, speaks a wonderful grace. But it also calls us to come stand in that grace. To come live that grace. To shine forth as a bright moon reflecting the sun’s light. To shine forth as Jonathon’s weary eyes are made bright by the taste of honey. To shine forth as one who knows the true heart of the universe is an imperishable and unconquerable love.

This is not something we can simply be commanded to do. A candle doesn’t light because you tell it to burn brightly; it shines when touched by the flame. We are meant to burn brightly. We are meant to be touched by the flame. We are meant for heaven’s exquisite embrace. We are meant to bring to our mouths the sweetness that is God’s dawning light, God’s wondrous glory, God’s unfathomable love.

And so to shine.

Our Light has come

Watching for the morning of January 4

The Sunday of the Epiphany

Mary and the baby Jesus.large

The Nativity Scene at Los Altos Lutheran church

Rich, wonderful words and imagery fill worship this Sunday as we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, the manifestation of God incarnate to the world.

In Isaiah 60 we hear the wonderful summons to “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” In Psalm 72 we hear the soaring proclamation of the faithful king whose reign brings prosperity and justice, the gathering of the scattered people of God, and the honor and praise of all nations. The author of Ephesians speaks of the mystery now revealed of God’s eternal purpose to unite all things in Christ. And then the voice of Mathew sounds forth with the wondrous and terrible narrative of a sign in the heavens and magi bearing royal gifts, kneeling in obeisance. Jerusalem trembles in fear, the king decides to slay the child, and soldiers go forth to defend the realm with the blood of every village toddler.

Our light has come. The light the darkness cannot overcome. The light of compassion, the light of truth, the light of justice, the light of God’s perfect reign.

Our light has come. Like a long awaited dawn on a cold winter night, the day of warmth is come.

Our light has come. The light to our path. Light for our homes. Light in our hearts.

And like the magi we come. We come to kneel. We come to offer our gifts. We come to bask in the light. We come that the light may shine in us and through us.

The Prayer for Epiphany Sunday, January 4, 2015

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;
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 4, 2015

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.

A single joy

Watching for the light of the new morn

Christmas Eve / Christmas Day

File:Ifinger Mountain - Herz Jesu Fires - South Tyrol.jpgMy youngest daughter was born in the wee hours of the morning of December 24th.  We had some good traditions to observe her birthday, but I still have regrets. I wish I could have given her and her day more time and attention. It’s hard to do at that time of year when you’re a preacher. At least it was hard for me.

I have similar regrets about our family Christmases. I never felt I could get it all done. One Christmas Eve I was outside in the snow after midnight sawing off the base of a tree in order to put it in water and bring it inside.

And yet there are things I don’t regret. It was not possible for my girls to lose sight of the fact that Christmas was the mass of Christ not the visit of Santa. Santa took a back seat to church, with multiple services on Christmas Eve. Opening presents on Christmas morning was kept in its rightful place by the fact that we had to pause our gift giving to get ready for and participate in worship.

Whether or not we have a tree, Christ is born for us. Whether or not we have all the presents wrapped, heaven has come down to us. Where or not we have a dinner to cook, God has set before us a banquet.

So when my eldest was killed, and emotions of loss threatened to swamp our next Christmas, Christ was yet the center. And the center held.

Whatever else Christmas may mean to us in our time and place, Christmas is still about light shining in the darkness. It is about the Word of God made flesh: God’s invitation and call and declaration of love for the world embodied in this child of Mary, the man from Nazareth. It is about the wonder of those first steps in the dance that unites heaven and earth in a single joy.

The Prayer for December 24, 2014

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;
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 24, 2014

Opening text: 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.

First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-9
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.” – From the stump of the fallen Davidic line comes a new king who shall establish justice and restore the peace of Eden.

Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7
“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.”
–We were slaves to our passions but have been freed in Christ by his mercy.

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, 2014

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;
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 25, 2014

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 1:1-4
“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 God’s word in whom all things are created.

Image: By Noclador (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