Beloved

File:Mural - Jesus' Baptism.jpgWatching for the Morning of January 13, 2019

Year C

The Baptism of Our Lord

1But now thus says the Lord,
….he who created you, O Jacob,
….he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
….I have called you by name, you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
….and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you… (Isaiah 43)

No sweeter word could have been spoken to the descendants of Jacob in the 6th century bce than these words of the prophet. For a people destroyed, scattered and deported in chains to Babylon, the prophet takes up the language of the creation and exodus to declare that God will gather God’s scattered people. A new creative and redemptive work is at hand.

The prophet’s words form the backdrop for the dramatic moment when the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends upon Jesus. This is a divine commissioning for God’s saving act. The language “You are my Son,” is royal language: Jesus is the one who brings the reign of God. He is the presence of God’s justice and mercy. He is the one empowered to deliver God’s people. He is the dawning of the new creation.

This descent of the Spirit upon Jesus is more than Samson inspired in the moment to burst the bonds that hold him or to tear down the temple of the Philistines. It is more than Gideon filled with courage to summon Israel to battle. Jesus is the one, as John has told us, who washes the world in the Spirit of God.

And so, on Sunday, we will hear not only the voice of the prophet, but sing with the psalmist of the voice of God that thunders over the waters and hear from the book of Acts about the Spirit poured out upon Samaria, and we will know the dramatic hand of God is at work.

And we will ponder the mystery that, in the waters of baptism in which all are washed, we too have heard the divine voice proclaim us God’s beloved, and felt the breath of the Spirit that makes all things new.

The Prayer for January 13, 2019

Heavenly Father, Eternal God, Holy and Gracious One:
in the waters of the River Jordan
you anointed Jesus with your Holy Spirit
and declared him your beloved Son.
Make all the earth radiant with your glory
and pour out upon all your children
the abundance of your Holy Spirit.

The Texts for January 13, 2019

First Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” – with language that evokes the creation and exodus and promises their return from exile, the prophet declares God’s abiding faithfulness to the people.

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing upon the slope of Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 8:14-17
“Then Peter and John laid their hands on them [the new believers in Samaria], and they received the Holy Spirit.” – When the Greek speaking (Hellenized) Judeans are driven from the city following the communal violence against Stephen, they carry the message of Jesus to Samaria. The message is received with faith and representatives from Jerusalem are sent to affirm that this surprising development is of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 3:15-22 (appointed 15-17, 21-22)
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”
– The prophetic ministry of John comes to its conclusion with his arrest, and the baptized and praying Jesus is anointed with the Spirit.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mural_-_Jesus%27_Baptism.jpg David Bjorgen [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The journey towards the neighbor

File:Maximilien Luce - Le bon samaritain.jpg

The Gospel from last Sunday, the 2nd Sunday in Advent in 2018, was Luke 3:1-18, combining the Gospel readings for both the second and third Sundays in Advent. For an introduction to this Sunday see the post “And us? What should we do?

I want us to keep in mind, this morning, where we are in Luke’s Gospel. The passage we just read is from chapter three when John and Jesus are now adults. It begins the main section of Luke’s account of God’s work in Jesus.

I would remind you that Luke didn’t write his work in chapters. The chapter breaks were added at the beginning of the 13th century and the verse numbers don’t appear until the 16th century. For Luke this is one continuous account. It was meant to be read as a whole and not cut up into little pieces like we tend to do.

Reading the Gospels in these little fragments needs to be like an old movie you have watched again and again. When you know a movie so well, it’s possible to talk about just one scene, because you know where we are in the whole movie. If you don’t know the movie, the scene may be compelling, but we don’t understand all that it means.

I like the image of saying that somewhere along the way, we broke up the pearl necklace of the gospel into a box of pearls and lost track of its overall beauty. To make matters worse, we had four beautiful necklaces and lumped all the pearls and precious stones into one big box. The problem with the metaphor, of course, is that it still tends to look at the gospel stories as separate pieces when they are better understood as part of a whole – like scenes in a movie.

Because we have four “movies” of Jesus, when we talk about one of these individual scenes we sometimes loose track of which movie we are talking about. So I want to remind you where we are now in Luke’s “movie”. Luke’s story is the one with Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. It tells the story of the shepherds and all heaven singing (it doesn’t tell us the story of the magi, the wise men). Luke is the Gospel with the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s in Luke that Jesus tells us the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s in Luke we hear about the rich man who ignored Lazarus at his gate. Luke is the Gospel where Jesus on the cross prays for the soldiers saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” It’s Luke who tells us about the women who followed Jesus. And it’s Luke who tells us not only about the mission of the twelve during the life of Jesus, but the mission of the seventy.

And Luke’s story doesn’t stop with the resurrection; he tells us of the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the mission of those first followers. He tells us about the baptism of Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. He tells us how Paul participated in the murder of Stephen for blasphemy, and was then met by the risen Lord on his way to Damascus. It tells the story of Paul’s journeys to spread the message about Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world, and his eventual arrest in Jerusalem and transfer to Rome to have his case heard by the emperor

This is the movie we are talking about. It’s a powerful movie. And I want to emphasize again that it’s in this movie from Luke that we get the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and Lazarus and the Rich Man. It’s also here we get this message from John when his listeners ask him “What then shall we do?” and John says: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

As I wrote in the blog post at Watching for the Morning earlier this week, “The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.”

So, where are we are we, today, in Luke’s Gospel? Luke has opened his narrative with the account of the wondrous events that reveal God’s hand in the birth of Jesus. Zechariah is a priest who is chosen by lot to go into the temple and tend the candles and the incense. In the scriptures, things that happen through the religious practice known as casting lots are understood to have been directed by God. So Zechariah is chosen by God to go into the interior of the temple. There he is met by the heavenly messenger, Gabriel, who tells him that his wife, Elizabeth, will have a child. This is a wondrous thing, because Zechariah and his wife are old and barren – and so Luke’s story begins like the Old Testament with the story Abraham and Sarah and the promise of a child. The story of Jesus is going to fulfill the story of Israel. And this is one of the deep themes of the scripture: When it seems like there is no future, God creates a future.

Zechariah, however, doesn’t trust the message of the angel and asks for a sign. The sign the angel gives him is that he will not be able to speak until the child is born. (The song we sang today, by the way, are those first words Zechariah said after the child is born and Zechariah obeys the angel by naming him John.)

Six months after Elizabeth gets pregnant, Gabriel comes again – this time to Mary and announces that she will have a child and she is to name him Jesus. “He will be great,” says the angel, “and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary trusts the angel’s message an offers herself to God’s service.

Gabriel also tells Mary that Elizabeth is pregnant and Mary goes to visit her. At their encounter, Elizabeth’s child leaps for joy in her womb, and Mary sings that beautiful song we know as the Magnificat (that’s the song we will sing next week). In that song, Mary talks about God’s righting of the world. The powerful will be cast down from their thrones and the poor lifted up. The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich elites sent away empty.

After this, John is born and Zechariah sings his prophetic song. (Poetry in the ancient world was understood to be divinely inspired.) Then Jesus is born and the heavens sing and the good news is proclaimed to lowly shepherds. This child is for the poor.

Mary and Joseph go up to the temple to keep their religious obligations after the birth of Jesus. When they arrive, Simeon is guided to them by the Holy Spirit and he sings a song: “Lord, now let you servant go in peace according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” This child is for the whole world.

The 84-year-old prophetess, Anna, sees the child and begins “to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” That word redemption is important. It says the city and nation have become prisoner to greed, wealth and power – and God will buy it back, God will gain it’s freedom, God will make it God’s own again. Indeed it is the whole world that God has come to reclaim.

The child, Jesus, grows “full of wisdom and the favor of God,” and we get one story that gives evidence of Jesus’ destiny: at the age of twelve, Jesus travels with the family to Jerusalem for Passover (remember it’s at Passover when Jesus is crucified and raised). When the village caravan leaves, Jesus is left behind. His parents go back to find him, and they find him after three days! Jesus is in the temple among the teachers, and he answers his parent’s fear and anxiety by saying: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The whole narrative to this point is filled with anticipation, with signs from God, with prophetic words, with grace to the poor and promises of the healing and transformation of the world. And then we hear our text for this morning: Into this world ruled by Imperial Rome and its client kings, priests, and rulers, God’s mighty, transformative Word comes to John in the wilderness. Beyond the Jordan, in the wilderness where long ago Israel had been made ready to enter the Promised Land, John calls the people to a new allegiance to God’s reign.

I was tempted to talk about who all these people are and what these names represent to Luke’s hearers – but it’s enough to just say this: Luke’s people live in the aftermath of the Judean war with Rome and these names all represent the people and powers that led them to destruction. Rome is not the great and glorious empire; it is the oppressive regime that crushed the nation. Annas and Caiaphas are not great spiritual leaders, but the high priests who were in bed with Rome and held a vice grip on power and wealth in Jerusalem for half a century. Into this broken world the Word of God comes to announce the dawning of a new governance.

John announces “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” a washing in the river Jordan to signify a new beginning for Israel. It is a baptism of ‘repentance’ meaning a washing that signifies a new allegiance to God. And it is a baptism for ‘the forgiveness of sins’ meaning that God foregoes God’s right to seek satisfaction for all their offenses against God.

The imagery is of Israel starting over, going out into the wilderness and coming anew into the promised land. But with this new beginning, John warns the people to bear the fruit that is appropriate to God’s reign.

These words of John are not just about John and the people out there at the Jordan River. These are words for all of us. This is what it means to show allegiance to God’s transformation of the world. This is what it means to be ready for the Christ. “The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.”

And the journey toward the neighbor is not only sharing bread; it is about love of neighbor. It is about seeing others as members of your own household. It is about seeing their humanity, about seeing your connection with one another and living out that connection.

I want to tell you again a story about two soup kitchens in Detroit. One was at a large, beautiful old church on Jefferson Avenue on the East Side of Detroit. It was a very blighted area at the time, yet right on the edge of a very wealthy suburb called Grosse Pointe.

The members of that congregation wanted to serve their community so they set up a soup kitchen. The members of the congregation were all white; the people they were feeding were all African–Americans. The doors of the building were locked while they cooked the food and set the tables. At the appointed time they opened the doors and the people filed in down the stairs into the basement. White folks stood behind the counter and dished out the food. The black folks sat down at the tables, ate it, and filed out.

It was important; people were getting fed. But on the other side of town there was another soup kitchen where they opened the doors in the afternoon when the first person arrived to start cooking. People from the neighborhood would drift in and help in the kitchen and set up chairs and tables, and have coffee as others came. When it was time to eat everyone sat down together and ate as one community. The second soup kitchen was a community meal where they knew each other’s names – or had the chance to learn them.

The journey to God is a journey to the neighbor. And the journey to the neighbor is not just an outward act of care; it is about seeing all others as members of your own household. It is about knowing that people have names and a story that matters.

There was a third soup kitchen in Detroit. The woman who was the heart of this soup kitchen was virtually blind. She was in the kitchen in the church basement preparing that night’s soup when she heard a terrific roar. The roof of the church had collapsed in on the sanctuary above her. After they dug her out, she said, “I knew something happened and figured you’d find me, so I just kept making soup.” They hauled out the tables from the basement and served soup for the community on the sidewalk. And in the days after they continued to cook in the basement and eat out on the sidewalk.

“The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.” The woes of the world are many, but we just keep making soup.

Amen

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If you’d like to know or follow up on some of the references in the message from Sunday, here are some of the links:

Because we have four “movies” of Jesus, when we talk about one of these individual scenes we sometimes loose track of which movie we are talking about. So I want to remind you where we are now in Luke’s “movie”. Luke’s story is the one with Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. It tells the story of the shepherds and all heaven singing (it doesn’t tell us the story of the magi, the wise men). Luke is the Gospel with the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s in Luke that Jesus tells us the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s in Luke we hear about the rich man who ignored Lazarus at his gate. Luke is the Gospel where Jesus on the cross prays for the soldiers saying, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” It’s Luke who tells us about the women who followed Jesus. And it’s Luke who tells us not only about the mission of the twelve during the life of Jesus, but the mission of the seventy.

And Luke’s story doesn’t stop with the resurrection; he tells us of the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the mission of those first followers. He tells us about the baptism of Samaritans and the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. He tells us how Paul participated in the murder of Stephen for blasphemy, and was then met by the risen Lord on his way to Damascus. It tells the story of Paul’s journeys to spread the message about Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world, and his eventual arrest in Jerusalem and transfer to Rome to have his case heard by the emperor.

This is the movie we are talking about. It’s a powerful movie. And I want to emphasize again that it’s in this movie from Luke that we get the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and Lazarus and the Rich Man. It’s also here we get this message from John when his listeners ask him “What then shall we do?” and John says: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

As I wrote in the blog post at Watching for the Morning earlier this week, “The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor. The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.”

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maximilien_Luce_-_Le_bon_samaritain.jpg Maximilien Luce [Public domain]

 

And us? What should we do?

File:Humanitarian aid OCPA-2005-10-28-090517a.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 9, 2018

Year C

The Second Sunday of Advent

Sunday we combine the assigned Gospel texts for the next two weeks because of the children’s Christmas program on the 16th. This gives us the chance to hear Luke’s account of the ministry of John the Baptizer in a single reading: The word of God comes into the brutal world of Rome and its client kings, announcing God’s righting of the world and the coming of the one who will wash the world in a holy Spirit. And what does it mean to prepare for this wondrous act of God? It is to bear fruit befitting God’s reign: to share your bread with the hungry and your clothes with the naked, to show faithfulness to others rather than plundering them to your benefit.

The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor.

The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.

So there are warnings on Sunday, the ax poised to strike the fruitless tree, and the winnowing fork sifting the chaff for the fire; heritage doesn’t count for anything, only fidelity. But there is also promise of a dawning salvation: a world set right and a human community awash in the Spirit. It is time, says John, to take sides. Choose the one to whom you will show allegiance: the world of rulers and empire, or the reign of grace.

Sunday we will hear the prophet Malachi speak of God’s messenger who prepares the way for God to come to his temple. His task is to purify the priestly clan of Levi, that their offerings may please rather than offend God. And in this warning of a refiner’s fire we will recognize that it is not only the preachers and priests who must have the dross burned away, but a people who must become faithful.

In the shadow of that warning we will sing the prophetic song of Zechariah that rejoices in God’s favor and the fulfillment of God’s promises, describing the mission of his son, John, to “Go before the Lord to prepare his way.” There are barriers of heart and mind that must be torn down. There are hearts that must be changed, relationships to be reconciled, wounds to be healed, love to be lived.

And we will hear Paul exhort his beloved congregation to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” in the promise that “it is God who is at work in you.”

It is a season of hope, but also a season for living the kingdom.

The Prayer for December 9, 2018

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Lead us in the way of your kingdom
that we may walk in paths 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 December 9, 2018

First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
“I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.”
– The prophet known as Malachi spoke to a people who complained of God’s absence, but neglected their offerings and worship of God. He declares that God will come to this people, but warns he will come as a purifying fire.

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” – On this Sunday when we hear of the ministry of John the Baptist, we sing the song known as the Benedictus (from its first words in Latin). This prophecy is sung by Zechariah when he regains his voice after following the divine command to name his son John. He glorifies God for God’s work of deliverance and declares that John “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:12-16 (appointed: Philippians 1:3-11)
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” –Paul writes from prison, urging his beloved congregation to faithfulness in their life together. (Our congregation read Philippians 1:3-11 last week.)

Gospel: Luke 3:1-18 (appointed: Luke 3:1-6)
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” – We combine the Gospel readings for 2 and 3 Advent this Sunday where John is located in the midst of the ruling powers but speaks of the ruler to come – and calls the community to a life in keeping with the dawning reign of God.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Humanitarian_aid_OCPA-2005-10-28-090517a.jpg Technical Sergeant Mike Buytas of the United States Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And in his temple all say, “Glory!”

File:Jacopo Tintoretto - The Baptism of Christ - WGA22551.jpg

Sunday Evening

Luke 3:15-22

19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

It’s a little odd that Luke interrupts his story to tell us that John has been imprisoned. Indeed, the assigned lectionary skips over this little interruption – but it is important that we read it: We hear of John’s appearing in the wilderness. We hear of his preaching. We hear the crowds wonder whether John himself might be the expected Messiah – and John declare that “one who is more powerful than I is coming” who will wash us in the Spirit. And just before we hear that Jesus is baptized along with “all the people” John is swept from the scene. Herod locks him up in prison.

All of us know that it was, in fact, John who baptizes Jesus. But the way Luke tells the story, John’s ministry is over when the Spirit comes upon Jesus. Jesus is praying when the Spirit is descends upon him.

Luke want to be sure we understand that what happens to Jesus is not “John’s baptism.” It is something new. It is the baptism in the Spirit that John predicted. The baptism in the Spirit that falls on the 120 at Pentecost. The baptism of the Spirit that falls upon the Samaritans in our second reading today. The baptism of the Spirit that falls upon Cornelius (and forces Peter to baptize him with water – for Cornelius and his household have received the gift that comes with baptism into Christ).

The outpouring of the Spirit that comes upon Jesus is not linked to John’s baptism; it is a new work of God. It is the outpouring predicted by Joel, as Peter will tell the crowds on Pentecost. It is the fulfillment of the prophetic promise of John. It is the sign of God’s drawing near, the sign of God’s gathering of all nations, the sign of God’s redeeming work, the sign of the dawning reign when the Spirit of God will be our every breath.

We watch the tribalism and slaughters of the world around us and it is easy to think there is nothing new in the world except our ever more sophisticated weapons for hurting one another. But there is something new in the world. Something that happened on the banks of the Jordan River. Something that happened when the risen Christ breathed his Spirit upon his followers. Something that happened when the believers were gathered together 50 days after the resurrection. Something that continues to happen when we lay hands on one another in the name of the Lord. The Spirit is poured out. The spirit is at work. The first light of the new creation is shining. Grace, mercy and peace are loose among us. Justice and compassion, healing and hope are rippling out like shockwaves traversing the world.

The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness and summons us to enter a new land, to inhabit a new realm, to dwell in the Spirit, to walk with the risen one. Like a mighty thunderstorm sweeping across the land, “The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

 

Painting: Jacopo Tintoretto – The Baptism of Christ.   [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The new and better wine

File:Mural - Jesus' Baptism.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 10, 2016

The Baptism of Our Lord

The voice from heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit are moved away from John’s hands in Luke’s telling of Jesus’ baptism. What Mark and Matthew tell us happened as Jesus was coming up out of the water, now happens while he is praying. It is a subtle thing, but Luke wants to be sure this story is not about John’s magic hands, but the wondrous work of God to pour out his Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is important to Luke. It has inspired the prophetic utterings of Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna. The angel says that John will be filled with the Spirit before he breathes his first breath, and John declares that the coming one will immerse us in the Spirit. Now the Spirit comes upon Jesus so powerfully it evokes the fluttering descent of a dove. Jesus will be full of the Spirit when he departs from the Jordan and comes to Galilee and the scripture he will read in the synagogue in Nazareth is “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. It is the Holy Spirit that is the Father’s good gift to his children, and the gift of the Holy Spirit that provides the opening drama and center stage all through the book of Acts. Jesus is the one in whom the promise is fulfilled that the Spirit will be poured out on all people. The day has come when all creation shall be governed by the life-breath of God.

So Sunday is not a simple remembrance of the event that began Jesus’ public ministry. It is the Gospel condensed in all its exquisite flavor like a fine chocolate truffle. The reign of God, the Spirit’s governance of the world, the dawning of the age to come, the restoring of the world’s lost innocence, the power that drives out every evil is at hand. It is not just Jesus who is washed in the Jordan, but all of us. The creation is made holy. The new and better wine has come.

Of course, Luke has already told us that the Spirit’s reclamation of the world will be opposed. A struggle is underway. But the new and better wine has come in abundance.

(Yes, the transformation of water into wine at the wedding in Cana is next week’s text – but it’s hard to open only one Christmas present when the tree is so full.)

The Prayer for January 10, 2016

Heavenly Father, Eternal God, Holy and Gracious One:
in the waters of the River Jordan
you anointed Jesus with your Holy Spirit
and declared him your beloved Son.
Make all the earth radiant with your glory
and pour out upon all your children the abundance of your Holy Spirit;
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 10, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” – with language that evokes the creation and exodus and promises their return from exile, the prophet declares God’s abiding faithfulness to the people.

Psalmody: Psalm 29

“The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing upon the slope of Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 8:14-17
17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them [the new believers in Samaria], and they received the Holy Spirit.” – When the Greek speaking (Hellenized) Judeans are driven from the city following the communal violence against Stephen, they carry the message of Jesus to Samaria. The message is received with faith and representatives from Jerusalem are sent to affirm that this surprising development is of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 3:15-22 (appointed 15-17, 21-22)
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”
– The prophetic ministry of John comes to its conclusion with his arrest, and the baptized and praying Jesus is anointed with the Spirit.

 

Image: Icon in the John the Baptist Church at the Jordan River.  Photo by David Bjorgen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

An occasion for dancing

File:Riddu Riddu people 2.jpg

Sunday Evening

Luke 3:1-18

5“Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
(Luke, quoting Isaiah 40)

There was a little girl who danced in the aisle during the Eucharistic Prayer this morning, the prayer that recites the story of God’s saving work in the world, culminating in Christ Jesus and the gift of the bread and wine. It proclaims the Words of Institution. It invokes the Spirit. It begins and ends with singing, including the Sanctus, (“Holy, Holy, Holy” that Isaiah heard the seraphim sing in the presence of God). It anticipates that day when all things are made new. As we recited the story, she danced – with joy, with freedom, with utter unselfconsciousness. It was perfect.

It was also the day of her first communion.

There is something deeply sacred and profound about Holy Communion. Here, we remember Jesus and that night in which he was betrayed. Here, we are again at the table where Jesus washed feet and broke the bread. Here, we are once again in the garden where the high priest’s thugs snatch him in the dark. Here, we are once again face to face with the mystery of the cross and the mercy that forgives even this – the complete rejection and murder of the perfectly faithful one.

But it is also a moment of perfect joy, for here we are on the hillside with the 5,000 as a child’s lunch becomes a feast for all. Here, we are at Cana in Galilee where water becomes the finest wine. Here, we are with the disciples at Emmaus where Jesus revealed himself in the breaking of the bread. Here, we are at the Sea of Galilee with the risen Christ preparing breakfast and bidding us come and eat. Here, we are singing the song of the angels and anticipating the day when the tree of life bears fruit every month and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.” Here, we are welcomed to the wedding banquet that has no end.

Here, we hear the promise that prison doors are opened and lives set free. Here, we hear the promise that troubled hearts are calmed and broken hearts made whole. Here, we are invited to hear the song of the angels. Here, we are invited to hear the music of the spheres: the world and all its creatures belongs to God. It begins in perfect goodness and ends in perfect goodness – because God is perfect goodness.

It is an occasion for dancing.

 

Image: By http://www.mariusfiskum.no (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Even from stones

Thursday

Luke 3:1-18

File:Feofan predtecha.jpg

Icon of John the Baptist, the forerunner

8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

“Shape up or ship out.” That’s the way we usually hear this. We tend to equate repentance with moral reform. We see it as sorrow for the mistakes of our past and a determination to do better. Only Jesus never asks anyone to “do better.” He asks them to “follow me.”

And sometimes he asks them to “Go and tell how much the Lord has done for you.”

Jesus asks nothing of Zacchaeus, yet the simple act of inviting himself into Zacchaeus’ home brings Zacchaeus to stand up and declare that he will give away half and restore fourfold anyone he has cheated. That is not about moral reform. It is about a new orientation.

We talk a lot these days about sexual orientation, but the important topic is our spiritual orientation.

Repentance is not reform. It is a new orientation. A new direction. A new allegiance. Both the Greek word and its Hebrew antecedent means simply to ‘turn’. To travel a new direction. To bend the knee before a new Lord. To show fidelity to the reign of that new Lord.

So here is John, summoning the nation not to moral reform, but to a faithful allegiance to God’s way, God’s values, God’s justice and mercy.

It means sharing bread. And when we listen carefully, we will see that John doesn’t have in mind a few canned goods for the occasional food drive. He starts by saying, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” The Greek word is tunic. Whoever has two garments must share with the one who has none.

This is not about sharing clothes we no longer wear. It is about a fundamental change in our orientation. It is about how we see our neighbor. It is about how we see God. I wouldn’t have two pair of shoes if my brother had none. The world God is creating, the world where the Spirit of God governs every heart, is a world where bread is shared. This is not a so-called communist idea. It is a world where all dance at the banquet of God. It is a world where joy abounds. It is a world set free from its hungers and fears. It’s a world where there are no shooters.

John’s call is for us to show allegiance to that world. John’s call is to live now the joy that is to come. And we shouldn’t worry about how we could ever become so compassionate or generous. For God is able to make joyful children of God even from stones.

 

Image: John the Baptist by Feofan Grek (Unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Prepare the Way

File:Georgia Kintsvisi fresco.jpg

Watching for the Morning of December 6, 2015

Year C

The Second Sunday of Advent

This Sunday we shift our focus from the horizon of human history to the ministry of John the Baptist who announced the coming one. We are not turning our eyes in a new direction, just shifting the focus from the far horizon to the foothills. It is as in the movies when the camera shifts our focus from one character to another, revealing by that move something significant for the story.

The coming of “the Son of Man”, the “Day of Christ”, the “Kingdom of God” that was the subject of our readings last week are still part of this Sunday – only now we see John and hear the call to prepare the way for God’s advent. The kingdom is shared bread. The dawning reign does justice. It washes us in God’s Spirit. John calls us to begin to live the day that is coming.

Luke makes it clear that this reign of God dawns into a world ruled by empire: Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas, Caiaphas – Luke names them all. Names that evoke powerful responses among the people. Names that do not speak of shared bread or justice.  Names linked to the death of Jesus and the imperial rule that crushed Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Into this world of kings and empires comes a new empire, a new reign, a reign of God.

With Luke’s account of John this Sunday we hear Malachi speak of God’s advent in judgment and grace. We sing the song of Zechariah at the birth of his son, John, as he proclaims the advent of “a mighty savior.” And amidst this call to prepare for the dawning reign of God, Paul urges us to “work out [our] salvation”: to be and become the people of the age to come.

The prayer for December 6, 2015

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Teach us the way of your kingdom
that we may ever honor you with 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 December 6, 2015

First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
“I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.”
– The prophet known as Malachi spoke to a people who complained of God’s absence, but neglected their offerings and worship of God. He declares that God will come to this people, but warns he will come as a purifying fire.

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” – On this Sunday when we hear of the ministry of John the Baptist, we sing the song known as the Benedictus (from its first words in Latin). This prophecy is sung by Zechariah when he regains his voice after following the divine command to name his son John, glorifying God for his work of deliverance and declaring that John is the one who “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:12-16 (appointed: Philippians 1:3-11)
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” –Paul writes from prison, urging his beloved congregation to faithfulness in their life together. (Our congregation read Philippians 1:3-11 last week.)

Gospel: Luke 3:1-18 (appointed: Luke 3:1-6)
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” – We combine the Gospel readings for 2 and 3 Advent this Sunday where John is located in the midst of the ruling powers but speaks of the ruler to come – and calls the community to a life in keeping with the dawning reign of God.

 

Image: By uploader Koperczak (talk) 06:28, 24 March 2009 (UTC) [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons