Like showers watering the earth

File:08152 Bukowsko (powiat sanocki).jpgWatching for the Morning of January 6, 2019

The Epiphany of Our Lord

6He will be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.

We will read Psalm 72 on Sunday from the old 1984 translation of the New International Version because that version presents the psalm as promise rather than wish. The current NIV reads “May he be like rain falling on a mown field,” and the New Revised Standard Version reads similarly. ‘May’ is too soft a verb. It robs the prayer of passion. In our time, in our conflicted politics, it sounds more like a sigh than a song.

I understand the translators’ choice. But the text is not just a relic of an ancient coronation rite; it is now deep in the canon of scripture. It now bears the divine word to a broken world. It preaches. It declares what kings and presidents ought to be – and what the reign of God will be. It stands against those who use their office to bless themselves and proclaims the promise of God to all creation. It summons us to live the faithfulness that is coming, to be participants in the blessing of the world.

When we gather in worship and set this song next to the child of Bethlehem, the magi, and the murderous king, the song soars. We hear the yearning and joy of all heaven and earth: in the outstretched arms of Jesus is God’s true and lasting reign and the healing of the world. To him belongs the obeisance of the nations. To him belong the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In him is the end of every murderous regime. In him is the silencing of every deceitful tongue. In him is the end of the whip and the lash, the nails and the wood, the taunts and the dying. In him the grave is powerless. In him is the soft rain that brings life to the earth.

Sunday we read this song that is prayer and promise and proclamation. We hear of the magi kneeling before the child of Bethlehem, and of the kings of this earth with the blood of children on their hands to prevent his rising. The voice of the prophet declares: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” It is the feast of the epiphany, the feast of Christ revealed to the nations, the feast of light shining in the darkness. The wondrous grace of Christmas Eve blazes across the skies.

And, yes, the shadow of the cross lies across the day: Herod echoes Pharaoh’s murderous attempt upon the children of Israel. But the child will live. The child will come forth out of Egypt. The child will settle in Nazareth. And in his outstretched arms all creation is born of God.

The Prayer for January 6, 2019

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world bringing his perfect peace.

The Texts for January 6, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” – In the years after the return from exile, the prophet heralds a restoration of the nation: though Jerusalem and the temple are now only a pale reflection of their former glory, the Glory of God shall be upon them, the sons and daughters of Israel scattered throughout the ancient world shall return, and the people of all nations will make pilgrimage to “proclaim the praise of the LORD”.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)
“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – A royal psalm, likely composed to celebrate the ascension of a new king, has become a promise of the anointed of God (Messiah/Christ) in whom all creation is made new.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” – Paul is privileged to proclaim God’s plan, once hidden from our eyes but now revealed, to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:08152_Bukowsko_(powiat_sanocki).jpg Silar [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

An indescribable and glorious joy

File:Porto Covo July 2011-6.jpg

Friday

1 Peter 1:3-9

8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

This is a wonderful verse. But there are so many words in it that we hear differently in our time. This word ‘soul’ for example, is the Greek word ‘psyche’. For most of us, I suspect, the word ‘soul’ refers to the substance of the self that occupies the body such that, when the body dies, the soul continues. However we imagine this, the concept is that the me that is me continues somehow.

It’s not easy to pin down the meaning of this Greek word. It means, on the one hand, our life, our physical existence. In Matthew 2:2, when Jesus had been taken to Egypt for safety, the angel speaks of those “who were trying to take the child’s life.” It would sound weird to us to say they were trying to take the child’s soul. The same is true in Matthew 20:28 where Jesus says the Son of Man came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” It wouldn’t make sense to us to say he gave his soul.

But this ‘life’ is something more than biological existence. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus talks about those who can kill the body but not kill the ‘soul’. You can kill my body, but you cannot destroy my ‘life’. Or in 10:39, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” There is something in the word ‘psyche’ that is more than biological life. There is something that speaks of the mind, the heart, the spirit – yes, the ‘soul’ – of a person: their character, their being, their identity, their story – “who they are”.

What is being saved? I am being saved. Not my ‘soul’, but me. Me, who likes the color blue and chocolate chip ice cream. Me, who started in math but turned to medieval history in college. Me, who loved being father to my daughters. Me, who learned so much at my parish in Detroit. Me, who loves the woods and the high desert and good coffee. Me, who grieves my brother and my daughter and aches with all those with whom I have walked through the shadow of the valley of death. Me, who stands with open hands at the communion table and treasures the wonder of the gift given.

I am being saved.

And this word saved – it means to heal, to rescue, to make whole. I am being saved. I am being healed. I am being made whole. I am promised a place at the table when all things are made new and death is slain and all creation feasts in God’s abundance.

Whatever exactly all those metaphors mean of a banquet on Mt. Zion, a New Jerusalem, swords beaten into plowshares and the lion lying down with the lamb, they point to a making-whole of all life. They point to an end to fears and release from regrets. And this must, in some way, mean a healing of relationships and a restored bond to my brother and daughter and to the whole fabric of the human community.

And all of this is not just awaiting me in the future, but this healing, this saving, this making whole is begun even now. Even now as I hold out my hands at the table, and as I sing the songs of the angels, and as I hold those who are dear to me, and as I welcome those who are new to me – as I breathe the breath of the Spirit. All this is both then and now, future and present, promise and reality, “an indescribable and glorious joy.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APorto_Covo_July_2011-6.jpg By Alvesgaspar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Magi and Kings

File:Magi Herod MNMA Cl23532.jpg

The Magi before Herod

Watching for the Morning of January 8, 2017

The Sunday of the Epiphany

Sunday our parish celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. Technically, the feast day is January 6th and Sunday the 8th should be the first Sunday after Epiphany, but Epiphany is too important to be left to a weekday. So we change the calendar.

And we choose to read not only Matthew’s account of the kneeling Magi, but also the narrative of murderous Herod. Without the slaughter of the innocents, the drama and significance of this account is too easily lost from view. Empires are clashing. Kings are doing battle. The Empire of Rome v. the Empire of God – although a peasant child hardly seems like a player in the game of thrones. Later, when Matthew tells of Satan’s attempt to seduce the new king (the temptation of Jesus), we will see that the battle is not Herod versus an upstart king, or Rome versus a member of the Judean royal line: it is a struggle between God’s claim upon the world and the devil’s presumptive rule.

But first there is the child and a destiny written in the heavens. First there are seekers looking for a world ruler of the house of Judah. First there is the testimony of the ancient prophets and the guidance of angels speaking through dreams. First is the drama and suspense of God’s work in the world. Christ is revealed to the nations. Something profound is happening. Something that will free the world from the debt of its sins.

So on Sunday we will bring our Christmas celebration to its wondrous conclusion. We will hear of the visit of these mages from the East. We will listen to the voice of the prophet cry out in jubilation “Arise, shine; for your light has come” and speak of the gathering of all nations, declaring: “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” We will sing the enthronement psalm of the just king who will “defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy” and rule “as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.” And we will hear the author of Ephesians speak of the mystery now revealed that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

Light, life, just kingship, abundance, reconciliation, the gathering of all creation – and, too, the hostility from the rulers of this age – it all unfolds before us on this day when we rejoice in Christ revealed to all the earth, when we come with the magi to bow down and offer our loyalty and service to this newborn king.

The Prayer for January 8, 2017 (for the Epiphany of Our Lord)

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world
bringing his perfect peace;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for January 8, 2017 (for the Epiphany of Our Lord)

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
– though the return from exile has failed to meet the nation’s expectations for glory, the prophet declares as present reality the fulfillment of God’s promise that all nations shall be drawn to the light of God present in Jerusalem.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)
“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – an enthronement psalm whose idealized description of the king becomes a portrait and promise of the Messiah whose reign brings blessing to the world.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” –
God’s hidden plan now revealed to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.

As noted last week, our parish departs from the appointed texts for the Christmas season in order to present the birth narratives with some integrity: reading Luke 2:1-20 on Christmas Eve (and John 1 on Christmas morning), then the remainder of Luke 2 on the Sunday in Christmas and the account of the Magi and Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus on the second Sunday after Christmas, celebrated as the Sunday of the Epiphany.

This does mean that we sometimes have to drop a Sunday when our celebration of the Epiphany falls after January 6th (as this year), in order to reconnect with the appointed texts. So we will celebrate the Baptism of our Lord on January 15, then skip to the texts for the third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The appointed readings for the first Sunday after Epiphany, January 8, 2017, are these for the Baptism of Our Lord and comment on them from 2014 can be found here.

First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9 (“I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.”)

Psalmody: Psalm 29 (“The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.”)

Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43 (“God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”)

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17 (The baptism of Jesus)

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMagi_Herod_MNMA_Cl23532.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They will call him blessed

File:074 Frontal d'altar de Mosoll, els Reis d'Orient.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 3, 2016

The Sunday of the Epiphany

The appearance of the magi is both majestic and terrifying. In a world where Herod killed his own children in fear they conspired to seize his throne, the obeisance of the magi before the child of Bethlehem is not only a threat to the current regime, it imperils the holy family – and, as we shall hear, every child in Bethlehem.

A thousand years before, the village elders of Bethlehem quaked when the prophet, priest, and kingmaker, Samuel, arrived. They knew his presence could well expose them to the wrath of Saul; prophets have a habit of acclaiming new kings. But Samuel masked his secret mission as a public sacrifice, and anointed David in the privacy of his father’s house (after God rejected all his strapping older brothers and they had to fetch David from the fields).

The clash of kings – only this is not one king against rivals, but human kingship against divine kingship. So the first reading and psalm soar with the vision of God’s just and righteous reign over all creation. Isaiah proclaims Israel’s restoration and exaltation, that “nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” bringing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. And the psalmist declares that the just and righteous king “will rule from sea to sea.” All nations will bow before him, “for he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help,” and the kings of this earth will kneel “and present him gifts.” (This is why the magi become kings in the tradition.)

Sunday is about the clash of kingships. And the gathering of the nations in Christ is witness that this is the dawning of God’s righteous reign when “all nations will be blessed through him; and they will call him blessed.”

The Prayer for January 3, 2016

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world bringing his perfect peace;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for January 3, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” – In the years after the return from exile, the prophet heralds a restoration of the nation: though Jerusalem and the temple are now only a pale reflection of their former glory, the Glory of God shall be upon them, the sons and daughters of Israel scattered throughout the ancient world shall return, and the people of all nations will make pilgrimage to “proclaim the praise of the LORD”.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)

“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – A royal psalm, likely composed to celebrate the ascension of a new king, has become a promise of the anointed of God (Messiah/Christ) in whom all creation is made new.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” – Paul is privileged to proclaim God’s plan, once hidden from our eyes but now revealed, to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.

 

Image: Altar frontal from Mosoll.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A074_Frontal_d’altar_de_Mosoll%2C_els_Reis_d’Orient.jpg  By Enfo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Rachel weeping for her children

 

Friday

File:Pavimento di siena, strage degli innocenti (matteo di Giovanni) 01.jpg

The Massacre of the Innocents, marble mosaic floor of the Duomo di Siena, by Matteo di Giovanni

Matthew 2

17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel `weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Rachel. She is the beloved of Jacob – Jacob whose name God changes to ‘Israel’; Jacob whose twelve sons are the foundation of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, for whom he worked seven years only to find her sister, Leah, in his bed the morning after the wedding, and for whom he worked another seven years.

Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, so God gave to Leah, the unloved sister, the gift of children.

Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, upon whom God had mercy and granted her a son, Joseph, who will be hated by his brothers for his dreams, and be sold into Egypt, where he will rise to power for interpreting the pharaoh’s dreams, and before whom his brothers will eventually come to bow down as his dreams foretold.

Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, who dies in childbirth and names the child Ben-oni, “Son of my suffering”, though his father changes his name to Benjamin, “Son of (my) right hand”.

Rachel weeping.

Ramah. Ramah where Rachel was buried. Ramah where the Babylonians gathered their captives to take them in chains to Babylon, when they had broken through the walls of the starving, besieged city, raped and pillaged and destroyed the temple and palace and city walls.

Rachel weeping at Ramah, for the children of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, whose suffering is beyond imagining, who have embraced the world of human empires and been crushed by it, who sought to be a kingdom of wealth and power and were destroyed by greater wealth and power.

Rachel weeping. A prophetic word that reaches its ultimate meaning in the innocents of Bethlehem, for God’s kingdom has come into the world, and the world has answered with armies sent to slaughter children, armies sent to hold back the dawning reign of God.

But they cannot.

The child is safe in Egypt. The child will come to Nazareth. The child will be anointed with the Spirit at the Jordan. The child will not fall before temptation. The child will declare the reign of God begun. The child will embody that reign of God. The child will heal, and forgive, and restore. The child will not strike with the sword, but take it upon himself. Perfect faithfulness to God and to others. The true Son. The risen Son. The commissioning Son. The spirit-giving Son.

Rachel weeping, weeping for a world in bondage, a world in exile, far from its true home.

But the grave is empty. The reign of God is begun and cannot be stopped.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Thursday

Matthew 2

File:Rembrandt van Rijn, Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt.jpg

Rembrandt, The Rest on The Flight into Egypt

15“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

These are profound words. Frightful words. Tragic and exulting words.

The people of Israel were God’s ‘son’. He fathered them through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He gathered them out from Egypt. He made a covenant with them at Sinai. He led them through the wilderness into a new land. He guided them through the prophets. He delivered them through the judges and the kingship of Saul and David. The people of Israel were God’s first born.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Matthew is quoting Hosea 11. There God speaks his anguish over his faithless son, his rebellious people, who constantly look to the gods of Canaan, who put their trust in the gods of fertility and abundance, who give their allegiance to money, sex and power.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

It is not only Israel that wanders from the path. It is, indeed, the whole human story. But the people of Israel were God’s ‘son’, God’s adopted, the heirs of all God’s promises through whom God would bring blessing and life to his whole rebelling creation. How shall salvation enter into the creation if God’s people are faithless? How shall the earth be healed? How shall the wars and greeds that are the painful norms come to an end if there is no faithful son?

The flight of the holy family to Egypt is not just a dramatic plot twist in the narrative, or a fulfillment of ancient prophecy; it is a profound declaration. The one who is before us, the one from the line of David whose birth was announced by angels, the stars, and holy writ – the one who is before us is the faithful son. He embodies the story of Israel, but to a different ending. Kings seek to destroy him as Pharaoh sought to destroy Israel. He goes down into Egypt and is led back by God just as the people of Israel went down and were brought back. But this Jesus will be faithful. He will be God’s agent of healing and redemption. He will place his trust in God and not his own wisdom and understanding. When tested in the wilderness he will remain faithful to God’s word. When tested before the cross, he will seek God’s will not his own.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Jesus travels the path we have not traveled. He has loved with a complete love. He has forgiven even his tormentors. He has done justice and mercy to the least of these. He has regarded all as members of his own household.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

With this simple line all Matthew’s readers hear the sermon Haggai spoke. They know the charge against them – and they recognize what is being said of Jesus. He is the faithful son; in him blessing comes to the world; in him the universe is healed.

And we are healed.

Our Light has come

Watching for the morning of January 4

The Sunday of the Epiphany

Mary and the baby Jesus.large

The Nativity Scene at Los Altos Lutheran church

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prayer for Epiphany Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world bringing his perfect peace;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for January 4, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” – In the years after the return from exile, the prophet heralds a restoration of the nation: though Jerusalem and the temple are now only a pale reflection of their former glory, the Glory of God shall be upon them, the sons and daughters of Israel scattered throughout the ancient world shall return, and the people of all nations will make pilgrimage to “proclaim the praise of the LORD”.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)

“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – A royal psalm, likely composed to celebrate the ascension of a new king, has become a promise of the anointed of God (Messiah/Christ) in whom all creation is made new.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” – Paul is privileged to proclaim God’s plan, once hidden from our eyes but now revealed, to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.