The river of life

File:Río Dynjandisá, Vestfirðir, Islandia, 2014-08-14, DD 118-120 HDR.JPG

Watching for the Morning of August 21, 2016

Year C

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 16 / Lectionary 21

How arid has faith become when you resent a person being healed on the Sabbath? How barren when we are so committed to the form of religion that we have lost its life breath?

And do not think this is a problem of those archenemies, the Pharisees. It is the problem of every religious tradition.

We have all been in that place where we resent the attention someone is getting, when we can feel the ground of our position, authority or respect weakened. Our innate tendency in such moments is to see the other’s faults – and point them out. We diminish the other in whatever way is available to us. We mark their errors. We minimize their accomplishments. We sneer and snicker, gripe and complain. We murmur. On a human level, we understand the Pharisees.

But however understandable it may be, humanly speaking, it is dark and haunted spiritually. Before us stands the anointed of God dispensing the gifts of that ultimate Sabbath rest when all heaven and earth are united in peace, when God’s spirit of grace and life governs every heart, and all that has gone wrong since Eden has been left behind with the grave clothes in the tomb.

Before us stands a foretaste of the final Sabbath – and in our resentment we see instead some upstart, untrained, Nazarene who should be working the construction site not presuming to speak for God. We don’t see healing; we see work that could have waited a day. We don’t see deliverance; we see doctoring. We don’t see salvation manifesting itself in our midst; we see the mundane. We miss the wondrous and dwell in the ordinary. Without realizing it, we have abandoned the rich green land of promise for the dry grass of a spiritual desert.

This Sunday, through the prophet, the poet, the author of Hebrews and by the voice of Jesus, God calls us to renewal: to reenter the promised land, to drink again from the river of the water of life, to feast on the bread of heaven and sing anew: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”

The Prayer for August 21, 2016

God of healing,
bring your reign of light and life
to all who are broken or bound,
touching us with foretaste of that feast where all are fed,
every wound healed
and every tear wiped away.

The Texts for August 21, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14
“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” – In the difficult years after the return from exile in Babylon, when Jerusalem still lay in ruins and faith had grown lackluster before the trials of daily existence, the prophet calls the people to renewed faithfulness.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:1-8
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” – A hymn of praise, celebrating God’s abundant mercies.

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”
– Having concluded his great recital of those who put their trust in the promise of God, the author contrasts the threats and fear experienced with the giving of the Law at Sinai with the promise and grace of life in Christ – urging us not to miss such a gift.

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17
“Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” – Jesus frees a bound woman on the Sabbath, incurring the hostility of the religious leaders. But Jesus was not “doctoring” on the Sabbath; he was bringing the Sabbath rest of God.

 

Reflection adapted from 2013. Follow this link for other reflections on the texts for this Sunday.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AR%C3%ADo_Dynjandis%C3%A1%2C_Vestfir%C3%B0ir%2C_Islandia%2C_2014-08-14%2C_DD_118-120_HDR.JPG by Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fruitless

File:Old fig tree.JPG

Saturday

Luke 13:1-9

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.

Several years ago when I was serving an inner city parish in Detroit, I was on a committee that had to decide what to do with one of the other parishes in the city. Partly this was about the allocation of mission dollars: should we continue to support this parish or let it die?

I was pretty passionate about the closing city parishes. Detroit at the time was in the midst of a terrible recession. The Lutheran church had once had many thriving parishes in the city, but as white flight occurred in the 60’s and 70’s, congregations moved – or closed up shop as their people moved. One congregation went from 1,500 to 500 members in the single year of 1967.

Detroit was dotted with buildings that had once been Lutheran congregations. My local precinct was one of “ours” that had closed up and sold its building to a Baptist church. I drove by another every time I came off the freeway. There was a former Danish church I passed regularly whose distinctive Danish architecture was a painful reminder every time I saw it. I read somewhere that the old Roman rite for closing a parish required the bishop to take an ax to the altar and thought were should make our bishop do the same every time he or she closed a parish – to make visible the wound to the body of Christ and its ministry in that place.

But then there was this parish we were examining. We recognized the blow to the ministry of this congregation when half the homes in its parish were bulldozed to create a freeway, but that was not the only problem. As we examined the life of the congregation itself, we came to the simple realization that “there were no fruits of the Spirit there.” There were a few people (bickering people), and regular worship, but no love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” no feeding of the hungry and clothing of the naked and care for the sick.

“For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’”

We closed the parish. It was the right decision…just painful to admit.

Jesus is looking at the leadership of the nation – a fig tree sucking up the nutrients from the soil of God’s vineyard and giving back nothing. Jesus could see the future of a city that failed to live God’s reign, that failed to do justice and mercy, to show fidelity to God and one another. He could see that Rome would come and blood would flow in the temple, even as the Galileans had been struck down. He could see that the towers would fall when Rome breached the walls and thousands would perish. He weeps for a city that rejects God’s voice.

God looks for fruit from his fig tree. God looks for fruit from his vineyard. God looks for his harvest from the tenants of his vineyard. God looks for justice and mercy from his church. God looks for justice and mercy from all people.

The warning that Jesus gave to Jerusalem abides. Those who take up the soil without returning fruit abide on dangerous ground. Jesus our gardener, pleads for more time, but now is the time to turn to the life where God’s Spirit rules.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_fig_tree.JPG#file

Now is the time

Clocktower

Watching for the Morning of February 28, 2016

Year C

The Third Sunday in Lent

Repentance, turning and showing allegiance to God, is the center of the readings this coming Sunday.

The prophet cries out in the marketplace like a merchant hawking his wares – except the prophet is offering food for free, the rich fare of God’s word. The promise once spoken to David of an everlasting covenant is extended to all the people and they are invited to return to God who will forgive – for his ways are higher than our ways.

Paul warns his congregation to watch out lest they fall and reminds them that those who passed through the Red Sea turned from God and perished in the desert.

And Jesus calls for his hearers to take heed lest they perish like the Galileans slaughtered by the Romans or those who were crushed beneath broken walls. God is looking for fruit like a landowner from his fig tree and the days for repentance are growing short.

It is the psalmist who provides the counterpoint, yearning to see God, yearning to stand in God’s presence in the sanctuary, finding God’s steadfast love better than life.

We are not used to such cries of urgency. We imagine there is always time to return home to God. But that is not the nature of things. The chance to do mercy comes and goes and can’t be reclaimed if missed. Now is the time to turn and show allegiance to the kingdom of God. Now is the time to live God’s mercy and grace.

Called

HeQi_017-largeThis week we are continuing our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He has purchased and freed me from all sins.” This week we come to the third article of the creed and the line from the Catechism: “He has called me through the Gospel.”

There are two accents in this line: first, that we are called. We are summoned. God is not the goal of our spiritual search; God is the one who speaks, who encounters us, who calls us to paths untrod. Secondly, it is the word of grace that beckons us, the gospel, the news from the battlefield that our defender’s forces have been victorious and our city delivered: Death is dead and Life summons us to joy. The author of life, the redeemer, the sanctifier, bids us come and dance the holy dance.

The Prayer for February 28, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you have called us by your word of grace
to lives that are holy and true.
Grant us ears ever open and hearts ever willing to hear your voice,
that your word may bear fruit in our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 28, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” – The prophet calls out in the marketplace like a merchant hawking his wares – only the prophet’s food is free.

Psalmody: Psalm 63:1-8
“O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land”
– The poet yearns for, and gives expression to, his intimate communion with God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength.” – Paul warns the congregation in Corinth to resist the temptations before them, citing the example of Israel in the wilderness when the rebellious perished without reaching the Promised Land.

Gospel: Luke 13:1-9
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.”
– Jesus is challenged to declare himself for or against Rome when the rumor of a slaughter in the temple is put to him. He deftly turns the question back on his challengers, summoning all to turn and show allegiance to the reign of God. With the parable of the fig tree he challenges the Jerusalem leadership and warns that the time for repentance is short.

Called: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the meaning of the second article of the creed and our theme for week 2: He has purchased and freed me from all sins.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Top Photo credit: C Kittle.
Second image: He, Qi. Calling Disciples, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46099 [retrieved February 23, 2016]. Original source: heqigallery.com.

Threats and sorrows and joy

File:Wankie Christ on the Cross.jpg

Watching for the Morning of February 21, 2016

Year C

The Second Sunday in Lent

Last Sunday showed us Jesus in the wilderness tested – attacked – by the devil. This Sunday he is under attack from the political powers in Galilee. But Jesus is not moved. He will fulfill his mission. And prophets don’t perish anywhere but in Jerusalem.

Are the Pharisees hoping to scare Jesus out of their neighborhood? Or are they concerned for him because they like Herod Antipas even less? Herod is in power only because of the arrangement of his ruthless father, Herod the Great, and his alliance with Rome. But there is no reason to think that Herod’s threat isn’t real, for any talk of God’s kingdom is a threat to the kings of this world.

There is a shadow over this Sunday. Abraham has an encounter with God that is both full of promise and “a deep and terrifying darkness”. The psalmist sings that “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” and then speaks of evildoers who “assail me to devour my flesh.” Paul writes to warn the members of his congregation in Philippi to watch out for false teachers whose “god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame,” yet reminds them that Christ will come: “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory”

There are foxes attacking the henhouse. Fire is coming that will destroy the city and temple. But, there is protection under the wings of the hen – in trust and allegiance to the kingdom Christ brings – but God’s people will not come. And so Jesus laments. Their ‘house’ is abandoned, the temple desecrated and burned, and they will not find the kingdom until they turn to welcome God’s reign and the one “who comes in the name of the LORD.”

Redeemed

File:Dmitrienko-Golgotha-1954-97X130.jpgLast week we began our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Our focus last Sunday was a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism “He has created me and all that exists.” This week we look at the second article of the creed and the line from the Catechism: “He has purchased and freed me from all sins.”

Between “Created” and “Redeemed” stands the rubble of Syria, the poverty of the slums of Mumbai, the machetes of Rwanda, the distended bellies of the Sudan, the tyranny of North Korea, the flooded homes of the 9th Ward, the tainted forests of Chernobyl, the polluted waters of the Cuyahoga, the toxic air of Beijing, the scarred lands of West Virginia, the rising seas, the rapid pace of extinctions, the long human history of oppression and violence, not to mention the very personal violence of home and street.

We are created in the image of God, given to the world as icons of God’s grace and love, entrusted with the care of the planet and one another. But we have lost our way, lost the garden, lost our souls. But the human story doesn’t end in dismay. It has its goal in Christ.

The story of redemption takes us to the crucifixion. In the mystery of this sacrifice something happens that changes everything. Our fate is no longer tied to our sins and brokenness but to Christ. Though the path to the garden was blocked, the path into the new creation has been opened. The gates of hell have not prevailed. Christ has set sin’s prisoners free.

The Prayer for February 21, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you came to us in your Son, Jesus
and by his sacrifice delivered us from death’s dominion.
Make us ever mindful of the depth of your love
and the price of our redemption
that we may live your grace and life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 21, 2016

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
“‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” – Abram (Abraham) has trusted God’s promise and journeyed to the land of Canaan – yet he and Sarai remain childless. God renews the promise of many descendants and confirms it with an ancient covenant ceremony.

Psalmody: Psalm 27
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
– The psalmist expresses his trust in God’s faithfulness and seeks God’s deliverance.

Second Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.” – Paul warns his beloved congregation about false teachers who put their confidence in the outward marks of circumcision rather than the grace of God in Christ who will bring to us the fullness of God’s reign.

Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
– Jesus is warned about Herod’s threat on his life, but he is not dissuaded from his ministry knowing that his destiny lies in Jerusalem – and over Jerusalem he laments, for they refuse God’s reign.

Redeemed: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the meaning of the first article of the creed and our theme for week 1: “He has created me and all that exists”. We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

First image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWankie_Christ_on_the_Cross.jpg by Creator:Władysław Wankie (cyfrowe.mnw.art.pl) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Second image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADmitrienko-Golgotha-1954-97X130.jpg by Rurik Dmitrienko – Pierre Dmitrienkko (Dmitrienko-Archives) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Unbent

Saturday

Luke 13

English: Tree near Chilton Taken from the new ...

English: Tree near Chilton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

11 Just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

Eighteen years.  We bear our burdens for a long time.  Grief.  Shame.  Fear.  Such things do not go away easily.

I will never forget the elderly woman who called me one day with a plaintive request that I come hear her confession.  It was a powerful moment, a wrenching story during the depression when there was not enough food to feed her children.  Now, late in life, unable to escape the memory, she cried out for mercy.  The story poured forth, lingered in the prayer of David’s psalm, to be swept away by that precious word of absolution.  For the first time in 50 years she stood free.  But a few days later I received another phone call.  She had a confession to make, would I come.  The word of grace had been forgotten, and the shame had returned.

I understood, then, there were issues of memory at work.  But I grieved for her – her memory of guilt was greater than her memory of grace.  She lived bent over, not 18 years but more than 50.

The miracle of healing is not what happens in our bones; it is what happens in our hearts.  It is what happens when a wounded and bent life is brought under the reign of grace.  It is not in the text, the text says he laid hands on her, but I imagine Jesus reaching out to lift this woman’s face – and in lifting her face, straightening her whole life.

Lifting our face is the hardest thing to do when we are ashamed, hard to do when we are carrying secrets.  Every impulse is to curl up, to look down, to look away, to slump over, to hide behind whatever masks or duty is at hand.  But there is that strong, tender hand of Jesus, lifting our face to his, meeting our shame with his healing light and freeing us to stand upright.

Each day we may call, and each day he will come back, until our memory of grace is stronger than our memory of shame.

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits–
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,  (Psalm 103)

 

Of wastelands and the water of life

Watching for the morning of August 25

Year C

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 16 / Lectionary 21

(Photo credit: dkbonde)

(Photo credit: dkbonde)

How arid has faith become when you resent a person being healed on the Sabbath?  How barren when we are so committed to the form of religion that we have lost its life breath?

And do not think this is a problem of those archenemies, the Pharisees.  It is the problem of every religious tradition.

We have all been in that place where we resent the attention someone is getting, when we can feel the ground of our position, authority or respect weakened.  Our innate tendency in such moments is to see the other’s faults – and point them out.  We diminish the other in whatever way is available to us.  We mark their errors.  We minimize their accomplishments.  We sneer and snicker, gripe and complain.  We murmur.  On a human level, we understand the Pharisees.

But however understandable it may be, humanly speaking, it is dark and haunted spiritually.  Before us stands the anointed of God dispensing the gifts of that ultimate Sabbath rest when all heaven and earth are united in peace, when God’s spirit of grace and life governs every heart, and all that has gone wrong since Eden has been left behind with the grave clothes in the tomb.

Before us stands a foretaste of the final Sabbath – and in our resentment we see instead some upstart, untrained, Nazarene who should be working the construction site not presuming to speak for God.  We do not see healing; we see work that could have waited a day.  We do not see deliverance.  We do not see salvation manifesting itself in our midst.  We have let go of the realm of heaven to dwell in this world of our wants and resentments.  Without realizing it, we have abandoned the rich green land of promise for a spiritual wasteland.

This Sunday, through the prophet, the poet, the author of Hebrews and by the voice of Jesus, God calls us to renewal: to reenter the promised land, to drink again from the river of the water of life, to feast on the bread of heaven and sing anew: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”

The Prayer for August 25, 2013

God of healing,
bring your reign of light and life
to all who are broken or bound,
touching us with a foretaste of that feast
where all are fed,
every wound healed
and every tear wiped away

The Texts for August 25, 2013

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14
9bIf you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” – In the difficult years after the return from exile in Babylon, when Jerusalem still lay in ruins and faith had grown lackluster before the trials of daily existence, the prophet calls the people to renewed faithfulness.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:1-8
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” – A hymn of praise, celebrating God’s abundant mercies.

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”
– Having conclude his great recital of those who put their trust in the promise of God, the author contrasts the threats and fear experienced with the giving of the Law at Sinai with the promise and grace of life in Christ – urging us not to miss such a gift.

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17
“Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.  And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” – Jesus frees a bound woman evoking the hostility of the religious leaders.  But Jesus was not “doctoring” on the Sabbath; he was bringing the Sabbath rest of God.