Boundless mercy

File:Messenger of Milky Way.jpg

Watching for the Morning of September 17, 2017

Year A

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 19 / Lectionary 24

164,383 years and 205 days – that’s how long it would take the servant in Sunday’s gospel to pay back his debt if he received the standard daily wage, worked 7 days a week and never spent a penny. Since this would include something like 41,095 leap years, but also 411 leap centuries, he would have this debt worked off sometime around August 3rd, in the year 166,286. It’s hard to think of that as an actual date. It’s 164,269 years from now. All of human recorded history is a mere 5,000 years.

It’s an unpayable debt.

If we tried to convert 10,000 talents to an 8-hour day at $15.00/hour, it would amount to some $7.2 billion. The hundred denarii debt he is owed, by contrast, would be a mere $12,000. $12,000 is a lot of money to people working for $15 an hour, but these are not common laborers. This is a story about a king and his agents plundering the colonies for taxes and tribute – and to be short $7.2 billion means we are probably talking about friends placed in power who live too large and pay too little attention to the running of a province.

There is hyperbole here, of course, but it’s closer to reality than we might expect. Ancient empires were talented at bleeding their dominions. Modern ones, too. And the wealthy houses were talented at spending.

What is disturbing in the parable is the hypocrisy or callousness of receiving great mercy and giving none. It makes a mockery of the faithfulness of the king who does not treat the servant as he deserves, but as a friend. It brings shame upon the king. It makes him look as though he has been played. He is made the fool. Honor requires mercy – but honor also requires that he throw the merciless servant into prison.

As a parable it works brilliantly, drawing the crowd along in mockery of the corruption and folly of the powerful. But then, suddenly, the light shines on our own lives and the dire warning about making mockery of a generous and merciful God.

So we should shift in our seats, a little this Sunday, as we hear Joseph forgive the brothers who sold him into slavery, as we sing the psalm of praise to God who “does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities,” as we hear Paul remind us of the practical realities that must flow from our “continuing debt to love one another,” and as we hear Jesus tell us to live boundless mercy.

The Prayer for September 17, 2017

Holy and Gracious God,
you choose to deal with a fallen world by your Word of Grace.
Wrap us in your mercy
that, abiding in your Grace,
we may live the forgiveness we have received;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 17, 2017

First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21
“Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’” – Doubting the sincerity of Joseph’s forgiveness, his brothers concoct a scheme invoking their father’s name. But Joseph reassures them and declares, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good”

Psalmody: Psalm 103:1-13
“[The Lord] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” – A hymn of praise for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12
“Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?” – Paul speaks of life in the community.

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
“Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” –
The parable of the forgiving king and the unforgiving servant.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMessenger_of_Milky_Way.jpg By Q-lieb-in (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Reconciliation

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Watching for the Morning of September 10, 2017

Year A

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 18 / Lectionary 23

Our first reading on Sunday sets the wrong background for the words of Jesus we will hear. The prophet takes up the image of a sentinel. If a sentinel gives warning of raiders sweeping down upon the land and the people ignore the warning, the people are responsible for whatever losses come. But if the sentinel fails to give warning, and the people are unprepared for the invaders, it is the sentinel who bears responsibility: “their blood I will require at the sentinel’s hand.” As so often with the prophets, Ezekiel has the crowd’s attention. They are nodding in assent, when suddenly the prophet turns the tables and Ezekiel himself is the sentinel warning the people of impending doom. Suddenly the sins of the nation are at issue; destruction is bearing down on them because of their failure to keep God’s way of justice and mercy. If they do not repent, their blood is on their own hands.

Such a word of warning is far different than the injunction given by Jesus that begins with the words: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault.” It sounds the same, perhaps, but it is not. Jesus is not calling us to warn the sinner; he is speaking to the one who has been sinned against. And the sins at stake here are not the failure to live God’s care for the neighbor; they are the assaults on the honor of another. Jesus inhabits a culture where every insult or dishonor must immediately be met with a corresponding insult – all very public – in order to right the balance. A person’s job was to defend his honor and the honor of his family in the eyes of the community. Any insult must be matched. Any challenge met directly and immediately. Jesus is not worried about a fellow believer’s transgressing of a moral code; he is concerned that we understand what it means that we have become members of the household of God. We are a single household in Christ. Any insult must be dealt with privately, as in a family.

But it is not the honor of the community that must be maintained. This is the trap into which churches fall when they sweep grave sins beneath the rug in the name of protecting the church. It is the tie between us that matters. It is reconciliation that is the goal, not honor. Secrets are not being kept; relationships are being mended.

Jesus isn’t concerned with the system of honor rankings; he seeks reconciliation. This is where this whole chapter began. The disciples came to Jesus to ask who was the greatest. And then Jesus is putting a child in the midst and talking about taking up the lowest station. He is talking about plucking out your eye rather than diminishing another. He is talking about the shepherd going after the one and leaving the ninety-nine. And in the verses that follow, that we will read next Sunday, he is talking about 77-fold forgiveness rather than 77-fold revenge.

We are not sentinels for one another – or for society. We are brothers and sisters seeking to live reconciliation. We don’t demand that our honor be restored when offended, we want our relationship to be restored. It is a challenging path. And so we will pray with the psalmist “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes…Give me understanding… Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.” And we will hear Paul write that all the commandments “are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” And we will realize that, while sentinels matter, reconciliation is the kingdom.

The Prayer for September 10, 2017

Almighty God,
you call us to walk as children of the light
and set before us the command to love one another.
Turn us back when we stray
and lead us in your pathways
that, clothed in Christ, we might bear your grace to the world;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 10, 2017

First Reading: Ezekiel 33:1-11
“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.” – God compares the prophet to a watchman against hostile enemies and charges him not to remain silent when God has given him a message of warning for the nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:33-40
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.” – Another segment of this magisterial psalm celebrating the gift of God’s Law/Teaching.

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14
“The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
– Paul urges his hearers to live the life to which they have been called in Christ where love (the solidarity of regarding others as members of your own family/kin) is the heart of God’s commands.

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
“If another member of the church sins against you…” – Following the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the declaration that God does not want any to be lost, Jesus instructs is followers on seeking reconciliation in the community.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AForgiveness_0001.jpg By scem.info [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Hell’s gate

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Watching for the Morning of August 27, 2017

Year A

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 16 / Lectionary 21

Sunday brings us to Peter’s confession when Jesus asks the question “But who do you say that I am?” It is the passage that contains the remarkable declaration: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

It is a play on the name ‘Peter’ (in Greek, ‘petros’) and ‘rock’ (in Greek, ‘petra’), but the words of Jesus have been swallowed up by arguments about the form of the church as an institution in the world rather than as a community of student/disciples comprising a beachhead of God’s reign in the world.

So we argue about precisely what is ‘the rock’ upon which Jesus builds. Is it Peter’s faith, his confession, his show of allegiance, his person or his office? But the punch line is not that Jesus is building a ‘church’ (the Greek word ‘ecclesia’ refers to an association of people) but that the gates of ‘hell’ (literally ‘hades’, the realm of the dead) cannot hold against this motley crew who hold the ‘keys of the kingdom’.

I have always heard that phrase about the gates of hell used in a way that suggests the church is the community under siege, that Satan is set to attack and destroy whatever is good. A wise, elderly black woman in a particularly poor section of Detroit warned us young, bright, optimistic (and white) pastors that the devil would try to destroy whatever goodness we tried to accomplish in the city. And we did eventually learn to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. But this is not what Jesus is saying. In this metaphor, it is the realm of the dead that is under attack, that is on the defensive, that is encircled by hostile armies determined to force it to give up its victims.

People worry about the fabled “War on Christmas” – and while churches are facing many obstacles in our modern world, Jesus is declaring that it is death that is under assault by those who have been given the “keys of the kingdom.” We hold in our hands the keys to the storehouses of heaven. We hold in our hands the authority to dispense the gifts of God. We have been given the privilege of serving as God’s agents. Grace and mercy and healing and life are ours to dispense. The realm of shadows cannot defend itself against the kingdom of light.

We live in a time of such dispiritedness. So many feel helpless against the evils of the world. Hate and violence seem to be on the rise. Ruthless greed seems ascendant. Ignorance flourishes. Love, mercy, compassion, generosity seem frail responses to the virulent infections to the human spirit. But here is Jesus, with a simple word to a ragtag band from Galilee of all places – they have the keys to set people free and nothing death might do can stop it.

Love wins.

And so this Sunday we will hear the prophet proclaim God’s message: “my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.” And we will join with the ancient community that sang: “ The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” And Paul will remind us that “we, who are many, are one body in Christ,” and urge us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice” – not one that is burned upon the altar but one that lives in and from the fire of God’s love. Finally, we will hear the promise that death’s dark realm cannot defend itself against the followers of Jesus who have at their disposal the boundless generosity of God. It’s what gives this image of Peter such a crazy little smile.

The Prayer for August 27, 2017

Eternal Father,
creator and redeemer of the world,
who shatters every bar and chain that binds;
grant us faith to see and courage to confess Jesus as your beloved Son,
and to be faithful stewards of your grace and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 27, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 51:1-6
“A teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.”
In the years after the destruction of Jerusalem, the prophet’s voice rises to declare that the relationship of God and this people is not at an end. From Abraham and Sarah God brought forth a great nation, so God’s purpose in Israel to bring God’s law to the nations shall not fail.

Psalmody: Psalm 138
“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” – a song of praise at God’s deliverance, extolling the certainty of God’s mercy.

Second Reading: Romans 12:1-8
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” – Paul’s begins the third portion of his letter, exhorting the community to faithfulness in their life together as a people gathered by the grace of God.

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” – Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed of God, and the disciples receive the promise and commission to serve as God’s agents in the world.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASimon_Pierre_Rouen_jnl.jpg By Jean-noël Lafargue (Own work (Own photography)) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons.

The ordinary

Sunday Evening

I wish there was something special to write about worship this morning, but it was all quite ordinary. Yes, we watched the slideshow from our summer program and thanked our youth director for her extraordinary work – so there were images of happy kids and crafts and tales of chimes and songs. And, yes, we had an accordionist for our special music this morning, taking up hymns and songs we are likely to hear this week of the Fourth of July. And, yes, there was laughter and heartfelt prayer and children for the children’s message and wonder of God’s invitation to come to his table and share the bread that is the sign and promise and dawning reality of that day when all creation shall be gathered to one table.

But it was also ordinary. A simple summer service in which the community gathers for a host of different reasons: some because of friends, some because of habit, some because they have found a new congregation with a message that speaks to them, some because they had tasks to do – from working the sound board to making coffee.

Worship is ordinary. And yet is also extraordinary. It is like the roses in the flowerbeds around the patio near the parish office. Always there. Always blooming. Always ordinary yet wondrous in their beauty if you stop and see.

Its not just that there is beauty in the ordinary. It is that all existence is extraordinary. The brilliance of the clouds against the sky. The courage and faithfulness of a blind and deaf dog. The love of his family for an animal of no economic value. The laughter of children. The kindness of strangers. The sharing of the peace. Ancient texts that still speak to our human condition and the divine promise. The aroma of morning coffee. The pleasure of a simple dinner. The crickets in the evening. Fresh corn on the cob. The smell of fresh basil. Rosemary. Bach’s Brandenburg concertos. The sound of a child plinking out the melody line of Jesus Loves Me on the piano.

We are surrounded by extraordinary goodness. We don’t really need fireworks. We need to feel the grass between our toes and the ocean lapping at our feet. We need to feel the cool breeze in the evening and the hand of a loved one in our own. We need the connection of family and friends and the reminder that such bonds should tie the whole human family.

Even where terrors seem to govern, there is goodness waiting. If we will see it. If we will be open to it. If we will live it.

Worship is ordinary. But it is oh so much more than ordinary, for it bids us to see that love and life reverberate through all existence and summons us to join the song.

Photo: dkbonde

Holy Spirit

Watching for the Morning of June 4, 2017

Year A

The Festival of Pentecost

Into a world filled with many destructive and deceitful spirits, God lavishes his life-giving, creative and transforming Spirit on the world. It is a holy spirit, unlike the spirits of anger, intolerance, revenge, desire, greed and hate that divide the world and fill it with violence and invective. It gathers a community of all nations. It speaks to the core of our hearts in our native tongue. It summons us to step onto the shores of the new creation, to be washed in the Spirit, to be participants in the life of the age to come. It is a spirit that bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

It is a spirit that inspires and empowers fidelity to God and neighbor. It is a spirit that teaches manifold forgiveness and love of enemies. It is a spirit that leads us to lives of service and sacrifice. It is a spirit that binds and heals, a spirit that sings and rejoices, a spirit that prays and praises, a spirit that speaks grace to the world.

We have seen it in Moses and the prophets. We have seen it in the skill of Bezalel. We have seen it in the courage of Gideon, the poetry of David, the song of Mary. We have seen it in the fidelity of Simeon and witness of Anna. We have seen it the forgiveness of Stephen and the generosity of Barnabas. We have seen it in the boldness of Philip and the obedience of Peter. We have seen it in the lives of those recognize as saints and martyrs. We have seen it in the kindness and generosity and faithfulness of any number of people who have touched our lives with grace and truth.

We have seen it wherever love prevails.

It is a holy spirit. The holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that shall govern every heart in that day when swords are beaten into plowshares and the river of the water of life washes over the world.

It is the Spirit given to us in Christ now.

It is the Spirit by which we are called to live.

(For those who follow this blog regularly, I apologize for the paucity of recent posts. Writing time has been taken up by the special preaching series underway in our parish.)

The Prayer for June 4, 2017

O God of every nation,
who by the breath of your Spirit gave life to the world
and anointed Jesus to bring new birth to all:
breathe anew upon us and upon all who gather in your name,
that in every place and to all people
we may proclaim your wondrous work;
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 June 4, 2017

Pentecost Reading: Acts 2:1-21
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” – With the sound of wind and the image of fire, evoking God’s appearance at Sinai and fulfilling the promise of Joel, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon the first believers.

First Reading: Numbers 11:24-30
“The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to [Moses], and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.” – When the burden of hearing every complaint of the people in the wilderness becomes too great for Moses, God has him appoint seventy elders to receive a share of the spirit. The text contains the prophetic remark of Moses Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Psalmody: Psalm 104:24-31 (assigned: 104:24-34, 35b)
“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”
– In a psalm celebrating the wonders of creation, the poet marvels at the manifold creatures of the world, and the breath/spirit of God that gives them life.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 (assigned: 12:3b-13)
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” –
Paul teaches the troubled Corinthian congregation about the gifts of the Spirit, emphasizing that they are given for God’s purpose to the benefit of others.

Gospel: John 7:37-39
“‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive – During the celebration that prays for the autumn rains and remembers Ezekiel’s promise of a life-giving river flowing from the temple, Jesus calls those who are thirsty to come to him.

(Our parish uses the alternate Gospel reading for Pentecost because the text from John 20 was used on the second Sunday of Easter.)

John 20:19-23
“‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this he breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” – On the evening of that first day of the week, the risen Christ commissions his followers and anoints them with the Spirit.

Image: Unidentified, may have been made by Hardman and Co.. Spirit with Sevenfold Gifts, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55828 [retrieved June 1, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/5827717752/.

“If you love me…”

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Watching for the Morning of May 21, 2017

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Again, this Sunday, we hear Jesus speaking after supper on the night of his betrayal. Again we hear him providing for his little band as he faces what he knows will be his death. Again we hear him speak of the Spirit who will come, an ‘advocate’ who will turn the hearts of the crowd in their favor. Again we hear the promise that Jesus will come to his followers. Again we hear about love and fidelity and abiding. And again we hear about living out Jesus’ teaching: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”

Fidelity to Jesus will mean fidelity to his teaching.  We are not joining team Jesus against team Pharisees. We are not joining team Jesus against team Humanists. We are not joining team Jesus against team Hillary or Team Trump. We are disciples, students, of the one who redeems the world: the one who forgives sins, who heals families and communities, who restores the world to its true source and life.

All the other promises weave together with this one: faithfulness is seen in the doing. There is no faith in concepts, ideas or doctrines. Nothing is gained by believing in a six-day creation or a literal ark. Nothing is gained by nodding to the notion of forgiveness. Those who have looked into the eyes of grace will live grace. Those who have fed at his table will feed others. Those who have been touched by his healing hand will extend their hand to others.

When I was about ten my step-father allowed a friend to store his sports car in our garage. We sat in the driver’s seat and roared through the gears, drinking in the wonder of this machine. But make no mistake; we were not driving it.

So, Sunday, Paul will call the citizens of Athens to hear the message that the “unknown God” has been made known in this Jesus. And the author of First Peter will summon us to do what is good even if it brings suffering. And the psalmist will speak of faithfulness in the midst of trial. And the table will be set that welcomes all and the songs will be sung that hint of the harmony to come, and we will be drawn again into the redemptive love made visible in this Jesus who sends the Spirit and comes to abide with us and in us.

Preaching Series: Genesis 3: Fall

We are in the third week of our series going through key stories of the scripture to see, as Jesus showed his followers on the road to Emmaus, that the scriptures bear witness to the sacrificial and redeeming love of God that is manifest ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The story before us this week is the moment when the harmony of God’s good garden goes wrong, when humanity reaches out for the knowledge of life’s joys and sorrows and finds itself now alienated from the world, one another and God.

We are capable of imagining a world of perfect peace and harmony, but we know that the world is full of woe. We are capable of ugliness of spirit and act. We hate. We fear. We abuse. We wage war. We build ovens. We harm even those who are closest to us with words that should have gone unsaid. We know the beauty of the world; why must we also know its ugliness? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars.”

The Prayer for May 21, 2017

Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you 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 May 21, 2017

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31
“Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’” – Paul, traveling by himself to avoid a conspiracy to murder him, comes to Athens where he seeks to engage the leaders of that city with the message of God, the creator all peoples.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:8-20
“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.” – The psalmist calls for all nations to praise God for his gracious deeds to deliver those in need.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” –
The author’s continuing exposition on baptism, now touches on the Ascension: “Baptism…now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” The author urges his hearers to remain faithful in the face of hostility, to do what is good and be ready to give account for the hope that is in them.

Gospel: John 14: 15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” – Continuing last Sunday’s reading, Jesus makes provision for his followers in light of his impending death, promising that God will send the Holy Spirit (the ‘Paraclete’).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Exhortation_to_the_Apostles_(Recommandation_aux_ap%C3%B4tres)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Garden

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“Say what you want about ‘all the killing in the Bible’, the Bible begins with two narratives about relationship with God and relationship with one another and a world in perfect peace.” – from today’s sermon.

We looked at Genesis 2 in worship this morning, the narrative about the creation of Adam and Eve. What follows is the content of the booklet that was handed out following worship explaining the images used in our sanctuary today. The sermon series is designed to help us understand what Jesus was telling his followers on the road to Emmaus about the fundamental witness of the scripture to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God.   (For more information about this series, see the explanation in the post for week 1.)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ANevuas.jpg By Géder Abrahão (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 2:4-25


“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”


File:Épaule musée archéologique de Naples.jpg

The creation narrative in the first chapter of Genesis is a sweeping and majestic portrait of a God who speaks and whose speaking brings order, goodness and beauty, calling all things into being. The creation story in this second chapter gives a more intimate portrait of a God whose first creation is a human. Where Genesis 1 views humanity as the crown of God’s creating, Genesis 2 presents humanity as God’s first thought. Where God speaks with a royal we in chapter 1, and like a great king his word effects what he speaks, in chapter 2 we meet an artisan forming humanity from the earth and breathing into him the breath of life.

And since the Hebrew word means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’, something is happening that is far more than mere respiration. Again we are in the realm of intimacy. God is not just our creator; God is our breath. And we are bound together even as God’s speaking (in Genesis 1) begets relationship.

Marbre antique, détail, épaule, musée archéologique de Naples
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%C3%89paule_mus%C3%A9e_arch%C3%A9ologique_de_Naples.jpg By photogestion [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden;
and there he put the man he had formed.”


File:Araucárias ao fundo Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina - denoise.jpg

Having formed a human, God plants a garden to provide him a home. There are notions of a royal garden in this image. This is a place where God will walk in the cool of the evening (3:8) and the human creature is given the responsibility “to till it and keep it”. We are the royal gardeners, granted the right to sustain ourselves from the fruit of the garden. But we are not hired hands; we are bearers of the divine breath and companions of God.

Sunrise with Paraná pines as seen at the Serra da Bocaina National Park, Brazil..
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArauc%C3%A1rias_ao_fundo_Parque_Nacional_da_Serra_da_Bocaina_-_denoise.jpg By Heris Luiz Cordeiro Rocha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground
trees that were pleasing to the eye…


File:Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms - Flickr - treegrow (14).jpg


…and good for food.”


File:Cornucopia of fruit and vegetables wedding banquet (cropped).jpg

God provides for the human all the goodness and beauty of the earth. It is God’s first act of faithfulness and love.

Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACapitol_Hill_Cherry_Blossoms_-_Flickr_-_treegrow_(14).jpg By Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA (Capitol Hill Cherry Blossoms) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A wedding cornucopia
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACornucopia_of_fruit_and_vegetables_wedding_banquet_(cropped).jpg By Jina Lee [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.”


File:Manavgat waterfall by tomgensler.JPG

Four great rivers find their headwaters in the garden – the rivers on whose banks human society will find life: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile (Gihon), and a fourth whose identity we no longer know (though there are satellite images suggesting an ancient river across the Arabian peninsula.) Perhaps it’s just as well we do not know this river: now all the rivers of the world can be seen as arising in the garden.

And it does not matter that these rivers don’t connect with one another. That is not our author’s message. The garden is the source of life for the world. Even when the garden is lost to us, its waters continue to flow, bringing their fertility and abundance to human society.

It is an image taken up by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47) when he describes a life-giving river flowing from the new temple, by Jesus when he declares that he is the source of the water of life (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38), and by the author of Revelation when the river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22).

Waterfall at Manavgat (Turkey).
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AManavgat_waterfall_by_tomgensler.JPG By Thomas Gensler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“It is not good for the man to be alone.”


File:Louis Rémy Mignot Solitude.jpg

Amidst all the beauty and abundance of the garden, it is not yet ‘good’, perfect, complete. Humans are meant for relationship. It is not good for this human creature to be alone. It is a fundamental truth. It is part of what is meant by the image of God. For there to be love, there must be an other, a beloved. We are meant for community.

Solitude, Louis Rémy Mignot
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALouis_R%C3%A9my_Mignot_Solitude.jpg Louis Rémy Mignot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.”


File:AberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg

And so God continues to create, bringing to the human all the other creatures of the earth.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, part of our connectedness. We know this in our pets, but also in the birds we hear singing in the morning or watch around a feeder. There is an intake of breath when we stumble across a rabbit or a deer. There is something familiar in sounds of the frogs in the pond or the sight of a lizard sunning on a rock. We talk to them without thinking about it. They are part of our community. And so the sight of a starving polar bear grieves us, or a wounded bird that has hit our picture window.

The creatures of the earth are part of our community, but in all these creatures there is not a companion equal to that first human.

The King James Version translated this as “an help meet for him.” It would have benefited us if they had added a comma after the word ‘help’, (an help, meet for him) for what popularly turned into a single word, ‘helpmeet’, actually means a helper “equal to him”, or “matching him”.

So God takes a portion from the first human and from it makes another.

Adam naming the animals, Folio 5 recto from the Aberdeen Bestiary.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man
he made into a woman.”


File:Tracy Caldwell Dyson in Cupola ISS.jpg

The woman is not made for the first human but from him. She is separate, but she is of the same stuff as he. She is not made like the animals are made. She is unique. And they are uniquely connected.

The Hebrew words here are tricky to translate comfortably into English. The creature God makes is an ‘adam’. It is a word that refers to human beings. There are other words to refer to male and female. And there are ordinary words for a man and a woman.

Clearly the Biblical writers imagined the first human as a male, but women are also “humankind”. In Genesis 5:1-2 it says: “When God created humankind (‘adam’), he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” (‘adam’) when they were created.” It is only with the appearance of this other that humanity emerges as ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

Self portrait of Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below during Expedition 24.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATracy_Caldwell_Dyson_in_Cupola_ISS.jpg By NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”


File:Adam Eve Storonov.JPG

Now come the words for ‘man’ (‘ish’) and ‘woman’ (‘ishah’). These are not the words for ‘male’ and ‘female’; they are words that speak of relationship, words that evoke the connection of men and women in family and community. We are made for one another, even as we are made to be in relationship with God.

Adam and Eve, sculpture by Oscar Stonorov
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAdam_Eve_Storonov.JPG By Smallbones (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

Christ is entered into the world

File:Simeon with the Infant Jesus Brandl after 1725 National Gallery Prague.jpg

This is a lightly edited reprint of a posting in 2014

Thursday

Luke 2

28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God

Christmas lingers. At least it should linger. Not because of the twelve day ecclesiastical season, but because the Christ is born. The Christ is entered into the world. The Christ of God, the anointed one, the embodiment of God’s Word – the embodiment of God’s self-expression, God’s communication, God’s voice that creates all things, that reveals God’s own heart and will and passion, that calls all creation into a living relationship, that gathers the creation to himself – is incarnate in this infant/child/man of Bethlehem and Nazareth, this infant/child/man of temple and town and wilderness, this infant/child/man of cross and empty tomb.

The Christ is entered into the world. The true and perfect son, who honors the Father with his every breath, is come. The son we should be but were not. The son we are in him.

The Christ is entered into the world. He cries as a hungry infant. He laughs as a delighted child, playing the ancient equivalent of “peek-a-boo.” He shouts as a rambunctious boy, sporting with friends. He labors as a man with sweat and satisfaction. He prays and ponders the holy writings as a child and as a man. He weeps at the sorrow of death in the village, and witnesses the reality of Roman might. He enjoys the village wedding feast and ponders the feast that has no end. He reflects on the bonds of friendship and the pains of betrayal. He recognizes the beauty of the world around him and the beauty of human kindness. He sees the brutality of the world around him and the human capacity for violence. He knows the joy of song and dance. He never has the privilege of chocolate, but he knows the sweetness of honey. He knows the wonder of the temple and the mystery hidden within. He watches prodigal sons perish at the gates of far away cities, and witnesses the shame of their parents. He knows the blind and lame who depend upon village charity, and sees those who give nothing. He watches foreign soldiers slap down old men on the road and shame their women. He sees those who collude and those who resist and the many who keep their heads down and hope against the knock in the night.

The Christ is entered into the world. And he abides in the world. Risen, yet embodied still in his people. Risen, yet present in the poor. “As you did to the least of these you did to me…”

Christ is entered into the world. He abides in this world where human creativity and craft have made weapons of unimaginable destruction. He abides in this world where some cannot breathe and others fail to understand. He abides in a world of mothers shielding children from bombs in the night. He abides in a world of vineyard weddings and children making sandcastles at the shore. He abides in a world where those who celebrate Christmas are threatened and abused and others worry over the cost. He abides in a world where fear creeps and violence claims authority. He abides in a world where some children rise carefree and others scrounge the trash heaps. He abides in us who weep and sing. He abides in us who are mindless and mindful of all that transcends.

The Christ is come. The voice at the beginning and end of time that, in love, calls a world into being and, in love, calls a world to new beginnings, speaks in human form and human actions and human words.

He calls the world into peace. He calls the world into joy. He calls the world into giving. He calls the world into love.

He calls us into peace, into joy, into giving, into love.

Christmas lingers. Christ lingers. And our adoration of the wondrous child lingers. For Christ is entered into the world.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASimeon_with_the_Infant_Jesus_Brandl_after_1725_National_Gallery_Prague.jpg By Janmad (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

O Come

File:Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci - Nativity, in an initial P - Google Art Project.jpg

Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore.

A solo voice sang that verse in the darkened sanctuary as she followed behind the processional cross as it entered last night. With the second verse another voice joined as the manger with the infant Jesus was carried in. Two more voices joined as the Bible came up the aisle. Then the whole choir was singing as they came and stood with the musicians on the platform behind the altar. With the final verse the lights came on and the whole congregation stood to sing:

Christ, to thee, with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and unwearied praises be:
honor, glory, and dominion,
and eternal victory
evermore and evermore! Amen

As the music faded, came these words from the altar:

You made the world a garden, O God,
And formed our first parents from the dust of the earth and the breath of your mouth.
You made the world a garden, O God,
And walked with us in the cool of the evening.
You made the world a garden, O God,
And provided every good thing to your children.

But they turned from you,
And weeds grew,
And lions roared,
And tears fell.
Brother rose against brother,
And the riches of the earth were pounded into weapons.
Empires marched,
And sorrow followed in their train.

You made the world a garden, O God,
But it lies wounded.
We lie wounded.
Your children are scattered
and your people divided.

But on this night the radiance of heaven shines forth.
Stars blaze. Angels sing.
And you bid us and all creation to come and dwell in your light and life.

With that the organ swelled and we all began to sing: “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

The liturgy of Christmas Eve is unlike any other in the year. Easter has its sugar-fueled, spring-fed energy. Pentecost has the fun of many languages. The Blessing of the Animals is out on the lawn with pets at our side. But Christmas Eve is a special mix of family reunions, candlelight, beautiful music and joy, peace and hope.

Some years the wounds of the world are more profoundly in our minds. But in every year the invitation still comes to gather for a moment of peace, captured so perfectly when every hand holds a candle and, in a church darkened but for the Christmas trees, we sing “Silent Night. Holy Night. All is calm. All is bright…”

Such a world is our yearning. And it is God’s promise.

The message from Christmas Eve is posted at Light for our darkness

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADon_Silvestro_dei_Gherarducci_-_Nativity%2C_in_an_initial_P_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Carrying the cross

File:Gelati Gospels MSS (2).jpg

Thursday

Luke 14:25-33

27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

When I was twelve or so I learned how to tie a hangman’s nose. I don’t know why it interested me. Perhaps it was due to the westerns I had watched on TV. Perhaps it was because my cousin, who showed it to me, invested it with a certain emotional energy – it was ‘cool’. Perhaps it’s just because the knot itself was an interesting puzzle. As a white boy in the California suburbs it had no other meaning to me. It did not speak of terrorism, of the brutal realities of Jim Crow segregation, of the violence we would come to see thanks to Bull Connor and his dogs, billy clubs and fire hoses. The knot had the vague numinous power of something associated with death, but it did not fill me with the fear of lynching for failing to respect the strict social requirements of the dominant culture. It is only later that I learned that this knot was a symbol of terror and oppression.

Such was the cross in Roman hands. It was an instrument of subjugation, a brutal demonstration of power and the consequences of challenging that power. Any sign of resistance on the part of a slave towards his master, any rebellion against the social order, was answered with this bloody instrument.

We wear crosses of gold and silver, now, adorned sometimes with precious jewels. We put them on bumper stickers and doorknockers and give them as wedding gifts for a new couple to put on their living room wall. Imagine giving a newly married African American couple in the 1950’s a hangman’s noose for their wall.

The cross has been robbed of its power. For the generation threatened with crucifixion in the arena, fed to the lions, or used as the ancient equivalent of cannon fodder for mass entertainment – for this generation the meaning of the cross was quite clear. They had taken the symbol of oppression and used it as a symbol of liberation. They took the instrument of Roman dominion and used it to proclaim God’s dominion. The symbol of Rome’s power became a witness to the ultimate triumph of the reign of God.

To take up the cross was to endure the hostility of the world for the sake of the world to come, the world God was creating, the world where all imperial powers are thrown down, all injustice overthrown, where debts are released and prisoner’s freed, where neighbors are loved and bread is shared, where the honored are not those who rule but those who serve.

Those who live in “the real world” mock the “starry-eyed dreamers.” But Jesus was not a dreamer. He saw the world clearly. He knew his fate. Yet all the might of imperial Rome could not silence his witness that a world in which the Spirit of God governed was coming – indeed, was already present. Sins were forgiven, the sick healed, the scattered gathered, the dead raised. Bread was already being shared, the light shining, a new creation dawning.

Those who would follow in Jesus’ footsteps must be clear-eyed, too. It’s not a requirement to give up everything to follow him; it’s just a fact. You can’t hold on to a dying world and participate in a new one. You can’t hold on to hate and follow love. You can’t hold on to fear and follow faith. You can’t hold on to wealth, power and privilege and follow hope, mercy and service.

The dying world doesn’t go away easily. Hate and fear, violence and shame abound in us and around us. And the dying world resists the birth of the new. Always. But the new is come. And those who would be disciples should recognize that we are not on a pilgrimage to the old Jerusalem (after which we all go home to our same old lives); we are on a pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem, the city God creates, the world God governs, the community where the fruits of the Spirit reign: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGelati_Gospels_MSS_(2).jpg By Anonymous (Center of MSS (Tbilisi, Georgia)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons