Burdens heavy and light

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The “work” of scripture

Once more from last Sunday

Last Sunday was warm – not as warm as it has been, but it was the weekend following the fourth of July, so it seemed right to begin the sermon by saying:

On a hot summer day it seems hard to say more than “God loves you; go in peace.” We should be at the beach with our toes in the sand. We should be at a lake in the mountains, or on the back porch listening to the ball game with an iced-tea in our hands. We should be holding hands in a movie where the theater is cool. Or visiting a friend with air-conditioning and children the same age running around the back yard. Hot summer days don’t seem like the days for work.

But scripture is work. It asks something of us. It bids us listen. It asks us to see. It calls for self-examination and an open heart. It summons us to generosity and compassion and the hard work of reconciliation.

Scripture is work. But scripture is also promise. It comes to heal. To comfort. To reassure. To encourage. It comes to free what is bound and restore what is broken. It comes to gather what is scattered and unite what is divided. Scripture is work, but it is also promise. It bids us bend the knee, and yet raises us in an eternal embrace.

If you would like to read the whole sermon, it is posted here. It is rooted in the Gospel text for Sunday that includes harsh words of judgment against the cities of Jesus’ day and the sweet word of invitation:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Here are two other thoughts from the sermon:

People wouldn’t listen to John because he was too freakishly religious, and they won’t listen to Jesus because he’s not religious enough. At least, he’s not their kind of religion. But this is the deal. We don’t get to pick the god we want. We have to deal with the God who is.

+     +     +

There is a yoke here. There is a life of service to be lived. It is not an easy yoke in the sense that it doesn’t ask much of us; it asks very much indeed. But it is light because the work of mercy and grace lifts the heart and frees the Spirit and leads to joy and life.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKom%C3%A1rom554.JPG By Szeder László (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Like children in the marketplace

File:Mayan girls playing sack race on the market of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.JPG

Watching for the Morning of July 9, 2017

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

There’s a sweet word coming in the Gospel text for Sunday. Jesus is going to say those familiar and comforting words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And God knows, we are weary: Weary of the cacophony in Washington. Weary of the rush of modern life. Weary of the challenges of health. Weary of the press of finances. Weary of the drumbeats of war. Weary of the fear that seems to seep into every corner of our lives.

But before we get to that promise, there is a rebuke: we are like children in the marketplace pouting that we don’t get our way. Maybe Jesus is quoting something like a nursery rhyme. Maybe he is just acknowledging the taunts that get made when people won’t go along with the game. But it is clear Jesus is rebuking those whose excuse for not listening to John the Baptist was that he was too rigorous and demanding. But they won’t listen to Jesus because he isn’t rigorous enough. He laughs. He tells jokes. He teases. He dines with sinners and tax collectors. They mocked John because he lived on locusts and wild honey and Jesus because he didn’t.

Hypocrisy comes pretty naturally to us. Trump makes a career of denying the validity of Obama’s birth certificates and then accuses the media of being “fake news”. McConnell says his highest priority is to deny Obama a second term and then accuses the Democrats of being obstructionists. I tell my children they can only have two cookies but, when they go to bed, I help myself. Jesus did say something about not worrying about the splinter in my neighbor’s eye when I have a log in my own – but we do.

Hypocrisy is pretty natural to us. It allows us to do and say what we want without the work of self-examination or amendment of life. It’s comfortable to make excuses for ourselves but grant no grace to others. So Jesus has blunt words for the self-righteous before offering rest to the weary: If Sodom and Gomorrah had seen what you’ve seen, they would never have been destroyed.

The ‘righteous’ are hard to reach; it is the poor and burdened who can see the joy and freedom of serving Christ.

So Sunday we will hear the prophet Zechariah speak of the coming king who comes humbly on a donkey and sets prisoners free. And we will sing with the psalmist of God’s gracious deeds. And we will struggle to understand the latest section of Paul’s letter to Romans – but resonate to the word of thanks to God for delivering us from the bondages of our human condition. And we will hear Jesus welcome the weary and speak of the yoke of service that is not always simple, but lifts the heart.

The Prayer for July 9, 2017

Gracious God,
in Jesus you invite all people into the path of your teaching and life.
By your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and lives to your message,
that following your Son, we may find true rest for our souls;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 9, 2017

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – In the weary years after Babylon has fallen but Judah is a poor backwater of the Persian empire, comes a prophetic message from the book of Zechariah promising a king who shall arrive like the kings of old and command peace to the nations” and reign “from sea to sea.”

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-14
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” – A hymn of praise to God who reigns as earth’s just and faithful king.

Second Reading: Romans 7:14-25
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Paul uses the image of possession (compelled to act against our own will) to expound his notion that the death of Christ has freed us from our bond-service to sin and made us servants of God.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus rebukes the fickle crowd (who criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for being a libertine) and praises God for opening the eyes of the poor and marginalized to see and take up the yoke of God’s reign of grace and life.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMayan_girls_playing_sack_race_on_the_market_of_Quetzaltenango%2C_Guatemala.JPGright By Erik Albers (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Waters Shall Break Forth

The promise of Joy

File:Wasserspiele2.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 11, 2016

Year A

The Third Sunday of Advent

There are fragments of memory that stick in your head like a photograph. One of mine is of a young boy on a hot summer day in downtown Detroit, standing under a large fountain with clearly cold water pouring over his shivering and delighted body.

We got the city to block the streets and turn on the fire hydrant outside the church one sticky summer day. And while I remember the great arc of water shooting across the street and the screams and giggles of the young people from our summer program, no one child stands out like that boy under the fountain.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

Some years ago, in the spring following a winter when it had rained there, Death Valley bloomed. That dry and desolate valley filled with the blossoms of plants that had waited years to show forth their glory. I wanted to play hooky to go see it, but it is hard for a pastor to travel at Easter.

But even just writing those words, “Death Valley bloomed,” is delicious. The vale of death has become a valley of life.  It reminds me of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones living. Or his vision of a river flowing from the temple making the Dead Sea live.

It is the truth that underlies all scripture: God is a god of life. God makes Death Valley bloom. God opens a road through the wilderness and fills the land with pools of water. And the people come singing. It is not dust and ashes on the heads of those who suffered the devastations of war, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the years of exile; it is everlasting joy.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Sunday we will hear the prophet’s song of salvation. And we will sing with Mary the song of deliverance. And, in our parish, the children will present again that joyous story of the child in the manger. And for those who read the Gospel, they will hear Jesus answer John’s question “Are you the one?” by pointing at all they have seen: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

Everlasting joy.

The Prayer for December 11, 2016

Gracious God,
who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of our journey homeward,
and grant us eyes to see your life giving work,
that your joy may break forth upon us;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for December 11, 2016

(Because of the children’s participation in our worship this morning presenting the nativity story, our parish will read only the first reading and sing the Magnificat)

First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad.”
– The prophet announces that God will come to save the people in exile in Babylon, making springs abound in the wilderness and establishing a highway through the desert to bring the people home.

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – In place of the appointed Psalm 146:5-10, our parish will sing the Magnificat, the prophetic song Mary sings about God’s righting of the world when she greets Elizabeth

Second Reading: James 5:7-10
“Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” –
The author of James exhorts the Christian community to steadfastness and hope.

Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
– John sends his followers to Jesus to inquire whether he is the awaited one, and Jesus points him towards the works that have been accomplished among them.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWasserspiele2.jpg By Peng (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Who knows what?

Sunday Evening

Matthew 11

File:Cristo nel labirinto.jpg27No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

It sounds more like the Gospel of John than one of the synoptics. “Do you not know me Phillip? He who has seen me has seen the father.” “The Father and I are one.” But here it is, in the middle of Matthew’s Gospel.

There is a certain proverbial character to this statement. In that time and place the eldest son was the father’s representative. To do business with one was to do business with the other. To have the word of one was to have the word of the other. People were defined by their families. To know the Father was to know the son. People were not seen as individuals in that day but part of extended families.

And families kept family business private. Public reputation mattered. Family secrets were never shared. Such information could be used against them. What might be revealed would only be revealed to family.

So to sayNo one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son” is something of a tautology, a truth everyone would recognize. What’s different is that Jesus is not speaking about Joseph. The thunderclap in this simple little aphorism is that Jesus is speaking about God and himself.

Jesus is the one with insider knowledge about God.

Everyone talks as if they know who God is and what God wants. It is a hubris of our time. Protesters at rallies for marriage or for life carry signs declaring God’s thoughts with absolute certainty. Clergy from liberal traditions wear their collars to union rallies to declare God’s support for some piece of legislation. We do not say “Thus and so seems best to us in light of what we read in scripture so far as we understand it, though others read it differently.” We say God is on this or that side. Even those who state categorically that there is no God are declaring what they cannot know.

The God of the scriptures is clothed in mystery. He appears at Sinai hidden in a cloud. He appears to Abraham in the form of a man. He appears to Moses in a burning bush. The prophet Isaiah says “Truly thou art a God who hidest theyself.” Ezekiel’s strange and compelling vision of God is not a vision of God, but a vision of “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.”

We should be much more cautious about what we claim we know. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.”

But then there is this sweet addition: “and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

The God who hides himself is revealed by the Son in the healing of the sick, in the feeding of the hungry, in the releasing of debts, in the raising of the dead, in acts of mercy and justice, in words and actions that call us to regard all people as members of our own clan – even the soldiers asserting Roman rule in the homeland of others.

The God who hides himself is revealed in the Son who welcomes outcasts and forgives sinners and washes his followers feet.

The God who hides himself is revealed in the Son who lays down his life and meets Mary at the tomb and sends his followers to all nations.

Jesus is the one with insider knowledge about God. He has chosen to reveal this much to us and not too much more. We should not be afraid to say what we know of the Son – just careful with what we think we know of God.

It is easy to get this wrong, but so important to get it right.

Thimbleberry jam

Saturday

Psalm 145

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Thimbleberry, photocredit: Walter Siegmund

14The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

There are so many things in these texts for Sunday that are pricelessly sweet. It is important to remember that the Christian faith is not dry toast but toast slathered with butter and a generous layer of thimbleberry jam.

I had my first thimbleberry hiking with my daughter, Anna, on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Yes, everything tastes better when hiking – but the thimbleberries we discovered on the trail tasted like a champagne. They had an effervescence that roused your mouth with joy. There is a monastery in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that makes a wild thimbleberry jam that a friend brought for me as a gift. It reminds me of Anna, that summer, and all the sweetness and joy of life.

It is important to remember that the Christian faith is not dry toast but toast slathered with butter and a generous layer of thimbleberry jam.

The ship of the church in our time and country seems to be listing heavily to port or to starboard. Either the message of the church is all grace and no summons to follow – or all summons and no word of grace. We can’t quite seem to get this balance right that we are being called to take up our cross and follow – and that this is an easy yoke that brings rest for our souls. It is toast and jam. Not just jam. Not just toast. But toast with jam – and toast with jam can never be just toast or all jam. It is always a discipleship energized by joy.

“Take my yoke upon you.” There is a yoke. There is a service. There is a lord before whom we bow.   There are commands to be obeyed. Tithing is not a suggestion. Hospitality, forgiveness, generosity, holding your tongue, loving your neighbor, are not strategies for a more rewarding life; this is the path set before us. But it is a path lighted by the brilliance of Easter morning. It is followed amidst the song of redemption.

Christian faith is not dry toast but toast slathered with butter and a generous layer of thimbleberry jam.

Matthew 11

29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

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Thimbleberry blossom, photocredit: Walter Siegmund

Woe to you, Chorazin

Friday

Matthew 11

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Ancient Synagogue in Korazim Israel.

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

These verses are omitted by our assigned reading. They stand between Jesus’ remark about the fickle response of the people to those God has sent:

18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

and his prayer of thanks:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

The Phoenician city/kingdoms of Tyre and Sidon were not the great military powers that threatened ancient Israel – they were the great cultural and economic powers, wealthy, prestigious, traversing the Mediterranean with the wealth of the nations.

It is Tyre that teaches Jerusalem how to build a proper palace and temple. It is Sidon that forms an alliance with Israel sealed by the marriage of Ahab to the Sidonian princess Jezebel. It is Jezebel who sets out to replace Israel’s archaic faith with a modern, progressive understanding of the gods – the worship of Ba’al, the god of the storm, the source of rain, the bringer of fertility and prosperity and his consort, Ashtoreth (Astarte). It is Jezebel who teaches Ahab about “modern” kingship and the use of power, arranging Naboth’s murder in order to seize his vineyard for a garden.

It is Jezebel who vows to murder Elijah after the great showdown on Mount Carmel that results in the people rising up to slaughter the priests of Ba’al.

Had these cities, symbols of idolatry, seen what the towns of Galilee had seen and heard in Jesus, they would surely have repented – changed their allegiance from gods of wealth and fertility to the LORD who rescues slaves, defends the poor and delivers the needy. They would have embraced the reign of God dawning in Jesus.

It’s a little like saying Wall Street and Washington would become models of piety and compassion, servants of justice and the poor.

Woe to us, how shameful, that we have seen the majesty and mystery of God in this Jesus and do not acknowledge that he is of God, that he speaks the eternal truths, shows the path of our true humanity, and brings to us God’s gifts of healing and life.

There is nothing here or elsewhere in the Scriptures that celebrates ignorance when it critiques “the wise and intelligent”; these words challenge the elites of society whose attachment is to the world they have created rather than to the world God is creating. They may be wise about war and politics and the manipulation of markets; but they are ‘fools’ when it comes to that which is eternal and enduring. Their allegiance is to Rome rather than the New Jerusalem, to their power and privilege rather than the justice and compassion of God.

But some have seen: the poor, the indebted, the enslaved, the wounded, the outcast – the powerless and inconsequential ‘infants’ of the day – they have seen and welcomed the dawning kingdom. And for these who see Jesus gives thanks to God. In the mystery of God’s working, these are the ones who change the world.

Sherry glasses

Thursday

Matthew 11

Sherry glasses.blog18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

My father’s mother was a feisty woman, small, thin, tough. She had a wrist full of bangles and a cigarette in her mouth as she whipped cream by hand. She made the most exquisite Danish sweets – and frikadeller to die for. Everyone gathered in the kitchen to watch her do the Danish potatoes, in the vain hope we could replicate her feat of beautiful small round potatoes in a perfect thin brown glaze. She could drop you with a Charlie horse – her knuckle into your thigh – and could drop over from her heart condition anytime she was losing an argument. She was raised in an upper middleclass home in Denmark, married an instructor in the Danish agricultural college who was doing sugar beet research in the Ukraine when the Russian revolution broke out. He was invited to America by a sugar beet company (as a researcher, so he had been led to believe, but when he arrived he discovered they brought him here to farm). So this woman who had never done domestic work became a farm wife who survived the dustbowl and depression in America.

She was a wonderful woman. And no story captures her best to me than her tale about welcoming every new pastor when he called on her in her senior housing. She offered him a sherry. If he took the sherry, he wasn’t good enough to be a pastor. If he refused the sherry, he couldn’t relate to ordinary people. Either way she had him. (At that time they were still all men.)

I thought for a while that the secret was to accept the sherry but not drink it but then realized that would have been the worst of all – wasting perfectly good sherry.

When Farmor died, I asked to inherit her sherry glasses.

Congregations are like this. Maybe it’s a quality of religious people. Maybe it’s a characteristic of our humanity. We say, “There’s no pleasing some people,” but it’s more than some people. We all have a remarkable ability to set ourselves up as judge.

Sometimes the consequences are tragic. The elites of Jerusalem dismissed John as too rigorous and Jesus as too liberal and received neither prophetic voice. They missed the time of their visitation.

It is amazingly easy for us not to hear what we don’t want to hear. We dismiss the message for some fault we find in the messenger. And since there are always faults to be found, we need never listen.

So we hear the preacher say that Jesus tells us to love our enemies or forgive those who sin against us – and though we don’t necessarily criticize Jesus, we criticize his spokesmen and women and keep on as we always have, nursing our grievances and perpetuating our hates. We gossip about the one who tells us that God commands us not to gossip. We ignore the message because of the messenger.

But then we cannot gain the kingdom.

The messengers are frail. This is part of the mystery of the incarnation. God comes to us in a human being (Jesus) and through human beings (one another). God comes to us through the human voice and human hands and through bread, wine and water that are taken from the soil and worked by human hands.

The messengers are frail. But we do not imagine that Christ does not come to us in the bread because we don’t like the taste or texture of it. And Christ is still in the wine whether it is red, white or golden. And Christ still speaks through our sisters and brothers whether they are too serious or too playful.

We are not listening to the messengers; we are listening to the voice of Jesus that comes to us through them. As messengers – we are all messengers – we should try to be worthy of the message. But the point is the message not the messenger. Unless we are not interested in the message at all, but only – like the Jerusalem elite – in retaining our power and privilege, our comfort and convenience. In which case, neither John nor Jesus matters.

But our loss is great.

Rest

Wednesday

Matthew 11

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Fresco in Kariye Camii (Kariye Kilisesi) in Edirnekapı, Fatih, İstanbul. In his hand, Christ holds the Gospels open to Matthew 11:28

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Rest is not a small word in Israel. On the seventh day God rested: the work of creation moves towards rest. The slaves God delivered from Egypt were commanded to observe a day of rest, rest not just for themselves but for their servants and animals. Even the fields were to have a Sabbath rest. Rest is in the fabric of creation and it is our salvation. The Book of Hebrews speaks of the age to come as our Sabbath rest.

The Sabbath is a unique covenantal sign of Israel, an ever-abiding command. The neglect of the Sabbath was one of the reasons for God’s judgment against Jerusalem, and honoring of the Sabbath one of the defining marks of the faithful eunuchs and foreigners God welcomes into his sanctuary.

Jews were mocked by Roman society for giving slaves a day off. The Pharisees defended it forcefully – even against Jesus’ attempts to heal and free on the Sabbath. But Jesus rebuked them for failing to understand the Sabbath. Sabbath is not a ritual obligation; it is the day of salvation, the day of new creation.

So in this simple and familiar promise, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” Jesus is speaking a profound word. “I will give you rest.” I bring you God’s Sabbath. I give the rest God intended for us. I give deliverance. I bring the day of salvation. I lift the burden of humanity’s weary labor by the sweat of their brow. I restore humanity to those days when God walked through the garden in the cool of the evening. I make all things new.

This is far more than a promise to weary field hands and servants. It is the invitation to enter the reign of God, into the realm of the spirit, into the world of joy and life and peace, to dwell in God’s grace and compassion, to become sons and daughters of the Most High, to live the kingdom.

Jesus does not do away with the Sabbath, he fulfills it. He brings our true rest, our healing, our wholeness, the fullness of our humanity. And he invites us to live it.

What kind of king?

Watching for the morning of July 6

Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

A wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ on a donkey (c. 1378), Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany.

A wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ on a donkey (c. 1378), Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany.

“Lo, your king comes to you… humble and riding on a donkey.” Zechariah promises a king who will ride to Jerusalem upon a donkey. It is the ancient rite of accession in Jerusalem – the king coming in humility and as a symbol of peace. But the prophet is not promising window dressing and political posturing. He proclaims God’s living promise for a people who have known too much war.

The psalmist, too, speaks of kingship this Sunday, celebrating the God of mercy and steadfast love whose dominion endures forever, and who lifts up the downtrodden.

It is an interesting coincidence on this weekend our nation celebrates the anniversary of its founding document. What should governance be? What does true kingship look like? In a world of tyrants and self-serving rulers, our true king comes to us “humble and riding on a donkey.”

The elite members of Judean society criticized John for being too severe – and Jesus for being a glutton. They dismissed John’s prophetic voice because he fasted excessively – and Jesus because he didn’t fast enough: comfortable excuses for ignoring their message that the God of justice and mercy was coming to reign among them.

But there are those who hear. Those who enter into this reign of God. Those who take up this yoke that is not a brutal burden of tribute and taxation, but a glorious and gentle rule of grace and life. A sharing of bread. A forgiving of debts. A lifting up of the downtrodden. A healing of the sick and freeing of the bound. A dawning of the Spirit of God.

The Prayer for July 6, 2014

Gracious God,
in Jesus you invite all people into the path of your teaching and life.
By your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and lives to your message
that, following your Son, we may find true rest for our souls.

The Texts for July 6, 2014

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – A prophetic message from the book of Zechariah promises a king to come – not as conqueror upon a warhorse, but as prince of peace upon a donkey. It comes to us in the weary years after Babylon has fallen, but Judah is a poor backwater of the Persian empire.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-14
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” – A hymn of praise to God who reigns as earth’s just and faithful king.

Second Reading: Romans 7:14-25
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Paul uses the image of possession (compelled to act against our own will) to expound his notion that the death of Christ has freed us from our bond service to Sin and made us servants of God.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus rebukes the fickle crowd (who criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for being a libertine) and praises God for opening the eyes of the poor and marginalized to see and take up the yoke of God’s reign of grace and life.

“Are you the one?”

Wednesday

Matthew 11

JUDAEA, Herodians. Herod Antipas. 4 BCE-39 CE....

JUDAEA, Herodians. Herod Antipas. 4 BCE-39 CE. Æ 18mm (4.98 g). Dated year 34 (30 CE). Palm branch; L LD (date) across fields / Legend in two lines within wreath. Hendin 517; RPC I 4926. VF, black patina with reddish earthen deposits, a little rough. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3 “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

John is in prison.  Herod Antipas has tried to silence him.  Herod Antipas is one of the sons of Herod the Great, a ruler of a fourth of Herod’s kingdom, hence the title Tetrarch. (Rome was skittish about allowing people to all themselves kings – including Jesus.)  Antipas governed Galilee and Perea from his capital city of Tiberias – named for the Roman Emperor, of course.  Client kings had always to curry favor with those who had power to elevate or depose them.

John is in prison.  He has criticized Antipas for violating Jewish law by divorcing his wife and (this is the problem) marrying Herodias, the former wife of his brother.  Such marriages always lead to problems in the human community, and this one fed a war.   Eventually his nephew, Agrippa I, will accuse him of conspiracy against Caligula and he will be sent into exile – with Agrippa gaining his lands and dominion.  But before then he will behead his critic, John.  Politics is a brutal sport.

In this era of brutal and corrupt rule, John hears of the deeds of Jesus.  Messianic deeds.  Things that the awaited one was expected to do: heal the sick, open blind eyes, release debtors, proclaim good news to the poor.  He hears of these deeds and sends his followers to ask, “Are you the coming one?”

Jesus simply points to the deeds.  They speak.

Jesus is not simply a healer.  He is not a wonderworker.  His deeds have a special ring about them.  They are the deeds spoken of by the prophets, the works that God’s anointed would do in that day when God draws near to reclaim his world.

We see the tumult and sorrow of the world around us.  We hear of the tragic violence that tears families and communities.  We know of the refugees on the Syrian border and the hunger in North Korea – though the leaders are safe and well fed.  We listen to the corruption of truth that comes from the mouths of politicians throughout the world – and from their media.  We see the power of large corporations to control governing authorities.  We know that people go hungry while others discard unused food.   We experience the gap between marriage as it is and marriage as we hoped it would be.  Even those at the top of privilege’s ladder feel the tension between what is and what might be, should be, could be.

3 “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Are you the one who rights the world?  Are you the one who restores life?  Are you the one who renews the face of the earth?

We have an instinctive longing for the world to be put right.  We have an innate hunger for justice.  An inborn yearning for peace, goodness, righteousness.  And we see the things Jesus is doing.  And, with John, we wonder.   Are you the one?

Jesus simply puts the question back on us.  What do you see?  Do you dare to trust your eyes?

He is the one.