A priestly people

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“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.””

Watching for the Morning of June 18, 2017

Year A

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

The First Lesson on Sunday declares that if Israel abides by God’s teaching, they shall be a priestly people. In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends his followers out as heralds and agents of God’s reign. Though the language is different, the substance is the same: a priest mediates the connection between people and God. In the Old Testament this was about the reconciliation (forgiveness) and fellowship with God established through the sacrificial system. In the New Testament it is mediated through allegiance to Christ and participation in the Spirit/reign of God.   In both you are restored to a community bound together in praise and service of God. And in both there is a word spoken that announces the reality of reconciliation and fellowship – a priestly/prophetic word, spoken on God’s behalf, that the sacrifice has been accepted, that reconciliation is at hand, that the hearer now abides in the grace and life of God. “The grace in which we stand”, says Paul in the reading from Romans for Sunday. The debt has been forgiven. Reconciliation has occurred. Peace that has been established. This is our calling. This is our identity. We are a priestly people – or, at least, meant to be a priestly people reconnecting the world with the source and goal of life. Every cup of cold water. Every healing hand. Every kind word. Every confession heard. Every kindness lived.

It is a great honor to be a priestly people. In a world where so much is torn and divided, we have the privilege of joining the realm of heaven with the realm of earth.

Preaching Series: Abram

The narrative of the flood last Sunday set before us the mystery that though the earth is filled with violencebecause of human beings, God suffers for his world and delivers it. But the people that get off the ark are no different than those who got on. And now we will hear how humanity’s rebellion continues in the building of the tower of Babel. But then come the first notes of a new mystery that follows the line of Seth down to Abram. It is a line that seems to dead end with Sarai’s barrenness – but God speaks a strange and wonderful promise that, from the line of Abraham, God will bring blessing to the world.

The Prayer for June 18, 2017

Gracious God,
you bid us pray for laborers to be sent into your harvest,
to a world in need of your healing and life.
Help us to fulfill our calling as intercessors for your world
and bearers of your grace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 18, 2017

First Reading: Exodus 19:2-8a
“If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” – Brought out of Egypt and now before God at Mt. Sinai, the people hear and accept God’s covenant: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

Psalmody: Psalm 100
“Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his.” – A hymn of praise as the community enters into the temple courts and are summoned to acknowledge and serve God.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” –
having established that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God justifies all by faith – by their trust in God’s promise – Paul declares that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8 [9-23]
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – The twelve are appointed for the first mission: to be heralds of the dawning reign of God in the towns and villages of Israel. “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A river of grace

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About Last Sunday

Last Sunday, as I was greeting people at the door after worship, one woman said to me that she would have liked the sermon to be more uplifting. I don’t exactly know what she meant by that. I had rather liked the sermon (I posted the message at my blog Jacob Limping and in “recent sermons” on this site; you can judge for yourself) and thought it appropriate for our context on Sunday. We were celebrating Reformation Sunday and also the confirmation of three young people in the parish. I thought it spoke of the wondrous grace of God and our calling to be agents of that grace in the world.

What I said to her briefly – but would have liked to explain more fully – is that the sermon is but one part of the worship experience. When we are together there is confession and absolution; there are liturgical songs derived from the vivid description of the worship of God in heaven from the book of Revelation; there are hymns and readings and, above all, the invitation to feast at God’s holy table. The sermon is part of a whole that is meant to convey to us the love and mercy of God and draw us into the reality of God’s reign of grace. It is the service as a whole that should refresh and renew us as followers of Jesus for our daily life in the world, not just the sermon.

The individual Sunday service is also one of many during the year. All those Sundays and holy days are like the instruments of an orchestra or the voices of a great choir, blending together to proclaim to us the love of God and to call us to live that love.

So perhaps there was more challenge to discipleship in this last Sunday’s sermon than you would get on Christmas Eve or the Sundays of Easter. But this particular challenge was a part of a service that witnessed young people committing themselves to a life of discipleship – the ongoing relationship with God begun in their baptism. At the core of that Rite of Confirmation, at the core of the readings from Jeremiah, the Psalms, Romans and John, at the core of the communion table, at the core of “A Mighty Fortress” and all the other hymns, is the great river of grace that sweeps down from the New Jerusalem growing ever deeper as it brings life to all the earth.

So perhaps the sermon wasn’t so uplifting, perhaps it did speak of discipleship more than encouragement, but it is embedded in the song of angels and the joy of heaven. And what can be more uplifting than that recognition that God reigns over all. Even us.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)

 

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

Feed my sheep

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Watching for the Morning of April 10, 2016

Year C

The Third Sunday of Easter

It’s painful to hear. We understand why Peter was crushed when Jesus asks a third time “Do you love me?” It strips the cover off the wound of his denial. Three times Peter had been asked if he was a follower of Jesus and three times he had denied it. Now he is given the chance to change the outcome of that denial. But it hurts.

The truth is often painful. But only in truth can true allegiance be born. If we do not understand what has been forgiven, how can our lives be bound to him in true allegiance?

The one who vowed to die with Jesus rather than deny him watched his teacher die alone. Now the leadership of the Christian mission is entrusted to him.

This addendum to John’s Gospel provides the center of the texts on Sunday. We will hear of Paul’s life-transforming encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He who was held the coats as the mob stoned Stephen to death, who had ravaged the early Christian community and was traveling now with authority to seize the believers in Damascus – he is delivered from his blindness by the Lord through the ministry of faithful Ananias. He is baptized, united with Christ Jesus, bound by immeasurable mercy to faithfulness.

The psalmist sings of his complacency in his wealth, the crisis that came, the deliverance God gave, and the new life of thankfulness and praise. And John of Patmos sees a vision of all heaven singing the praise of the lamb who was slain – but lives and reigns.

The drama of Easter is not a dramatic and unexpected comeback in the final four seconds. It is the drama of our lives revealed by fierce and tender truth, of new life found in God’s amazing grace, of the faithfulness born of that grace, and the ministry to the world that follows.

The Prayer for April 10, 2016

Gracious God,
through the resurrection of Jesus your son
you have turned all human mourning into dancing.
As he appeared to his followers by the seashore,
nourished them at his table,
and sent them out into the world,
so come to us, that fed by your mercy
we too may carry your bread of life to the world;
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 April 10, 2016

First Reading: Acts 9:1-20 (appointed: 1-6 [7-20])
“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” – Saul (Paul) encounters the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and is left blind. Ananias responds to God’s call to go and heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 30
“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” – With words that echo the resurrection, the poet sings of God’s deliverance from an unexpected affliction: “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’”

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
– The prophet sees the heavenly hosts around the throne of God singing praise to the Lamb who stands upon the throne.

Gospel: John 21:1-19
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” – In an addendum to John’s Gospel, The risen Jesus appears to his followers at the sea of Galilee and gives Peter the opportunity to turn his threefold denial into a threefold affirmation of allegiance to Jesus, and conveys to him the leadership of the nascent Christian community.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOxfam_East_Africa_-_SomalilandDrought026.jpg  By Oxfam East Africa (Flickr: SomalilandDrought026) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A fistful of dollars (part 2)

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Wednesday

Mark 6:1-13

5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

So Jesus ends the day with a fistful of bills and few takers. A few sick people are made well, but it’s drips and drabs of God’s true bounty. He is come to heal the human heart. He is come to lift away the debt of shame. He is here to erase the ledger, to restore us to God and one another. He is here to drive out every evil Spirit and breathe in us God’s own Spirit. He is here to heal and make alive you and I and all creation. But offered a hundred thousand dollars, only a few even answer – and they say, “I just need some change for the parking meter.”

You or I or most anyone else would say “Pack it in boys and girls, we’re going home.” But Jesus keeps moving. And then he doubles down. He commissions his followers to go out in his name to announce God’s reign and heal the sick.

People have shown themselves willing to buy most everything from cubic zirconia to pet rocks, but God’s people aren’t interested in what Jesus is selling: a release from our bondage to sin and death and new birth into a world where the lion lies down with the lamb.

Apparently we like the bloodletting better.

But God is not dissuaded. Two by two. Don’t bother packing; the mission is too urgent. Don’t worry about your wardrobe; God will provide. Don’t beat your heads against the wall; if people aren’t interested move on – but be sure they know that they have renounced the prince of peace. No dust from their world shall cling to ours.

No dust from their world. No dust from the world of Dylann Roof. No dust from the world of hate. No dust from the world of dog eat dog – be the eater or the eaten. No dust from the world of fear and gloom. No dust from the world that chooses profits over prophets. No dust from the world of tears. Shake it all off. And go forth to the next town to touch the world with grace and life. Go forth. Dwell in the realm of Grace. Be bearers of the realm of Grace.  Bestow the bounty of God.

 

Image file: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US100000dollarsbillobverse.jpg

If you forgive

Looking back to Sunday

John 20:19-31

IMG_286923If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”

Sometimes I start writing and the words take me in a different direction than I first expected. What started as a comment on this verse is now posted as “The sound of a hundred snakes” at my blog Jacob_Limping (Jacob, wounded by his wrestling with God and limping towards the promised land.)

There is a paragraph in that post that says:

Jesus has entrusted to us the authority – and the task – of declaring to the whole world that our debt to God has been erased. Forgiven. Blotted out. Washed away. Though your sins are as scarlet they shall be white as snow.” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

This is where I wanted to linger.

Jesus has entrusted to us the authority to speak forgiveness on his behalf. He binds himself to our words: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” And in another place: Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

There is a shadow side to this authority. If we don’t speak it, who will? A therapist can help us accept and live with our past, but they cannot forgive it. A judge can assign a penalty, but when that penalty is paid it does not relieve us of guilt. Time and forgetfulness can sometimes help, but they bury wounds they don’t heal them.

Christians are a unique people on earth, authorized to speak on God’s behalf. Of course, we have this terrible habit of claiming to speak on God’s behalf on a wide range of topics from gun control to parenting to international politics that God has not authorized. It would be helpful if we would stick to the message we were given. But this is the point: we have been given a very specific task: to release people from the burden of their sins. No one else in life can do this. Family and friends can love us. They, themselves, can forgive us. But they cannot speak for God.

We can.

On this matter we can.

On this matter, we must.

Such an awesome authority and responsibility.

Such an amazing privilege.

And such a difficult task – for forgiveness isn’t cheap. Forgiveness is not permission. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that our words and actions haven’t harmed. Forgiveness doesn’t mean there aren’t wrongs to be righted. Such a message would be simple, but without power. The message with which we have been entrusted is that our debt towards God is lifted. The barrier between God and ourselves is torn down. New life stands before us if we will enter. The accusing voice of the law is silenced. Eyes shuttered against others by fear, greed and guilt are released. Closed ears are opened. Those crippled by shame or guilt are summoned to rise, take up their pallet and go home.

This is the ministry we are given. This is the life towards which we point.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Such a mission is not simple. But the risen Christ has breathed his spirit upon us. And given us a wondrous promise: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”

Practice, practice, practice

Sunday Evening

Psalm 147

Lutheran Altar7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.

Today was Boy Scout Sunday. Our troop served coffee hour and joined us in worship.  I was reminded of the difference it makes when there is a larger number of people in worship. The energy of the service is different. The singing is stronger. The energy in the preaching is higher, because the feedback from the congregation is greater.

When I have been on vacation, I have tended to think I had an obligation to myself to find a worship service. I have thought “this is what Christians do” – they gather on the first day of the week to hear the word and share in the Lord’s Supper.

The time I had a sabbatical, the worship service was less of an obligation, but still something I did for what I received. It was a healthy pattern, a focal point of the week, an occasion for prayer and the sacrament. It was good for me. What I didn’t consider was that my presence – as one of many – made worship better for others.

I have told parents who bring infants for baptism that their children have a ministry in the church. One of the promises the parents make in the baptismal service is that they will bring their children “to the services of God’s house.” But we often don’t see them until the child is ready for Sunday School. It’s a shame. The ministry of babies in a congregation is to be babies. Babies attract a crowd. They make everyone smile. There is an “aaaw” effect that connects people to one another.

No one coos over me at this point in my life, but nevertheless each voice makes the worship of the church richer, fuller. I have not only an obligation to God to come thank and honor him with the first hour of my week; I have not only the privilege of hearing God’s Word and receiving God’s gifts; I have a ministry to the community to come and sing and pray and add myself to our shared experience.

There have been times I have been unable to sing, times when the prayers stick in my throat, times of grief and despair when I have needed the community to pray the prayers and sing the songs for me. Though I couldn’t get the words out, the community spoke them for me. I have understood this. And yet, I never thought about the importance of doing this for others when I was trying to decide on Saturday night whether to go someplace on Sunday morning.

We make worship about me. My convenience. My enrichment. My spirituality. (I had members of one church leave for another because the new church had a 45-minute 8:00 a.m. service and they could “get in and get out and still have [their] whole day.”) But worship is not just about me. It is about the community. I add something to their experience just by being there. So even if I got nothing else from the service, it would still be worthwhile, for I have been there for the sake of others. And this is the whole point of worship – to practice being people of God.

Ripples

Sunday Evening

Psalm 145

Ripples from a loon on a Minnesota lake

Ripples from a loon on a Minnesota lake

4 One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.

Every Sunday should end with a barbecue, a band of four accordions and a tuba, and the delightful laughter of a little girl in a bouncy house.

The picnic today was great fun. The Boy Scouts were selling popcorn and showing off the Eagle Scout project of a prayer labyrinth. There was a display of Los Altos in 1954, the year our congregation was organized. There were pictures of our youth ministry and confirmation pictures from those 60 years. It was a delightful celebration of our anniversary and a delightful reminder of the many dimensions of ministry that take place in and around a congregation.

The NA group set up a table to share information about the twelve step ministries that happen in our fireside room. A quartet from the community choir sang when the band went to eat, and had a display of information about their group that meets in our music room. Even the local flower club that meets in our fellowship hall brought plants and a display about their group.

The ministry of the parish is not only on Sunday morning, though that is certainly our most visible ministry. But there are also all those parts of our congregational life from Sunday school to choirs to youth group. There are friendships created that sustain people in times of trial and share times of joy. There are works of service that plant within us and within our young people the importance of giving. There are Christmas boxes for children assembled and shipped overseas, quilts made for the homeless, clothing collected for Lutheran World Relief. There are missions and schools that get supported: people making a difference in troubled parts of the world. Food is gathered for those in and near our community. Support is given to the shelter for women. If we begin to think carefully about all the ripples of kindness that have gone out from this place in the last 60 years we would be amazed.

And there are joys celebrated: weddings and baptisms and anniversaries. There is support given in times of tragedy and sorrow. There are hands held in times of anxiety, and a quiet presence as a family waits for a loved one in surgery.

A parish is ever changing as new people come and others move away. But the ripples continue to extend outward wherever people go.

Sometimes there are wounds, too; that’s the reality of human communities. We are far from perfect. But we pray that, according to his promise, God will work in such places to heal and reconcile and draw us into a walk more fully shaped by God’s own Spirit.

The fountain at the heart of all this is the story about Jesus – and the larger narrative about creation and exodus and Israel’s experience of a God determined to bless the world. The Spirit of Jesus is quickened in us by that story. That story calls us together for worship; creates in us faith, hope and love; sustains us in trial; and sends us out as agents of grace in the world. Consider every life that has been touched by everyone who has been nurtured here on the notion that life is about faithfulness to God and love of neighbor.

Emperor Julian (known as “Julian the Apostate” because he was not a Christian and tried to revive paganism in the empire) commanded the pagan temples to care for the sick and the poor in the way that the Christians did. He was unsuccessful. It was not part of the culture of the ancient temples. It is part of our culture.

The story of Jesus ripples on throughout history. We see it light the night sky now and again in a figure like Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Mother Teresa. The story of Jesus, percolating through South Africa, provided that nation the chance to chart a path or reconciliation rather than revenge.

But mostly the story of Jesus ripples on in simple acts of kindness and the promise that we can be better than our worst. It ripples on in persistent hope for a better world. It ripples on in the ideal of forgiveness and love of neighbor. It ripples on in the idea that the world is entrusted into our care for us to tend like Eden. It ripples on in the belief that sins can be forgiven and life can start over. It ripples on in myriad ways, great and small, towards that promised day when swords are beaten into plowshares and every tear wiped away: a good world healed and restored.

There is much more going on in a barbecue than tasty food, fun music and a nostalgic look at the past. There is a reminder that God made all things good. And he’s not done working.

Knives

Saturday

Matthew 10

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Roman Dagger, photocredit: Michel wal

34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Everything depends upon hearing a text in its right context. Cut this verse away from its place in Matthew’s Gospel, cut it away from the life and ministry of Jesus, cut it away from the Biblical witness as a whole, and we have justification for violence. Or, if not violence, justification for whatever commotion causing things we want to do. Place this word of Jesus on their march up to Jerusalem, with Jesus astride a donkey and the people waving palm fronds (symbols of kingship) and you have a very different message than its place here in the missionary discourse. We have to be careful about the way we use scripture. Indeed, the central question is always, “Are we using scripture or is scripture using us?” It’s not an easy question to answer. It takes a continual listening. There is a reason Jesus talks about abiding in his word.

So Jesus brings a sword, but this cannot be a sword of armed struggle; after all, Jesus rebukes his followers saying, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” And how should we love our enemies and take up the sword at the same time? This is not the sword born by gladiators; this is the knife that divides. It is not the long sword used by troops in combat; it is the short sword, the dagger, used for everything from personal protection to cooking. It is the boning knife used in Hebrews for the Word of God that “divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow.” It is the priestly knife used in sacrifice.

How differently we would hear this verse if we translated it, “I have not come to bring peace, but a scalpel.” Jesus is, after all, in the business of heart surgery. Only his surgery is not just on the individual human heart; he comes to operate on the whole human community. There is surgery to be done. The warlords and drug lords and patrons of young victims of human trafficking. The abusive parents and abusive governments. The active and passive participants is communal violence. There is surgery to be done. And we should not imagine than when power is challenged, when individuals and “businesses” that profit from evils are confronted, there will not be resistance. Fierce resistance. Many miners were beaten and killed in their attempt to stand up to the coal companies. Many young men and women were assaulted, slandered and murdered for their resistance to Jim Crow – even some children. There is heart surgery to be done. There is truth to be spoken. There is compassion to be waged. Neighbors oppose the building of churches and soup kitchens. It is illegal to baptize in many countries. Congregation’s themselves resent the changes new people bring. Our hearts, too, need the surgeon’s scalpel.

And what if we translate the text, “I have not come to bring peace, but a knife of sacrifice”? What will such words say to us as we listen to Jesus declare that the fields are waiting for harvest? When he sends us out to cast out demons and heal and declare the reign of God?

Jesus doesn’t bring a quiet and peaceable life. He brings the peaceable kingdom. He brings the dawning of that day when swords are beaten into plowshares – a day that won’t come easily, given our great faith in the power of violence.

There is surgery to be done, so don’t be surprised when Jesus says, “I have come with knives.”

Bearing Christ into the world

Watching for the morning of May 18

Year A

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

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Daniel de la Cruz with his sculpture Hari ng mga Hari (king of kings) from his exhibit Parangal: A Tribute to Christ Our Savior

Past the midpoint of the Easter season, our attention begins to turn from the resurrection appearances towards Pentecost. The one who was raised is the one who abides with us, who gives us his Spirit, who manifests himself to the world through us.

In the first reading this Sunday we hear Stephen’s last words as Luke (the author of Luke-Acts) brings Paul on stage as a participant in the outbreak of communal violence against the incipient Christian movement. The book of Acts – volume 2 of Luke’s narrative about Jesus – shows the ongoing words and deeds of Jesus through the Christian community. In his death, Stephen embodies Christ. He prays for his murderers and, as the crucified Jesus remained faithful to the end entrusting himself into the hands of God using the words of Psalm 31, so Stephen entrusts himself to God. The crucified and risen one is present in his followers.

This theme of Jesus present to the world through the community is seen also in the reading from 1 Peter. The author reminds us that we are a part of God’s holy temple, the place of God’s encounter with the world. We are a “chosen race” sent to proclaim the wondrous work of God.

Sunday’s Gospel takes us to the “farewell discourses” in John where, in light of his impending death, Jesus makes provision for his followers and tells them what is to come. Jesus will continue to be present with them. They will have the same access to the Father as Jesus – indeed the community will do what Jesus has done, bearing into the world the bountiful gifts of God.

(Click here for images from Parangal)

The Prayer for May 18, 2014

Let not our hearts be troubled, O God;
teach us to put our hope and trust in you.
Guide us in your way;
keep us in your truth;
enfold us in your life
that your works of love, justice and mercy
may be done in us and through 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 May 18, 2014

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” – Stephen becomes a victim of communal violence for his preaching and teaching about Jesus, and in his dying embodies the faith and love Jesus modeled.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:1-5
“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” – A prayer of lament. The trust in God embodied in the psalm is reflected in Stephen and quoted by Jesus on the cross.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –
Expounding on baptism, the author urges the believers to “grow into salvation” as living stones in a “spiritual house” (a spiritual temple).

Gospel: John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” – Jesus makes provision for his followers in lieu of his impending death, urging them to remain faithful and assuring them that God’s resources are more than adequate to provide all their needs.

Still Christ comes

Saturday

Luke 10

English: Icon of Jesus in Veljusa Monastery, M...

English: Icon of Jesus in Veljusa Monastery, Macedonia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.

Jesus doesn’t send us to places where he is not going.

When I first walked into a hospital room as a seminary student, I had no idea what I was doing there.  It was a seminary requirement to work for a term with the hospital chaplain.  These were strangers.  They had not asked for a pastor.  I was not their pastor.  I was a student not a pastor.  What was I doing there?

I wish I had understood I was going where Christ would be going.

Yes, God is everywhere.  Yes, God was already there before I hesitantly stepped into the room.  But Christ the redeemer, Christ the reconciler, Christ the healer, was coming to visit that room.  If I had understood that, I would have understood why I was there.  I would have understood that I belonged there, whether the patient wanted me or not.  I would have had more courage.  I would have had more grace. And the realization that Christ was entering with me and in me would have helped me yield better to that strange, wondrous, centering, empowering, gracing Spirit of God.

I was a poor instrument; but still Christ came.  It wasn’t about my skill; it was about my presence.  The coming of Christ didn’t depend on finding the right words.  I didn’t have to have helpful spiritual or psychological insights.  I just needed to be present.  To listen.  To see.  To care.  I just needed to forget my anxieties and discomfort for a moment and let Christ be present through me.

It seems so simple in theory.  But it is hard to step aside and let Christ be present through us.  I remember coming to the bedside of a dying woman very early in my ministry.  The family was so glad I came, then they all stepped back to watch me do something meaningful, something pastoral.  I found myself so conscious that they were watching me that I couldn’t focus on this woman and this profound and complicated moment of her life.  A prayer needs to be a prayer, not a performance: a putting into words the fears and hopes of the person in that moment, a drawing of those praying into the presence of the eternal.  But my mind was preoccupied by the watching family, wondering if they approved, if they thought I was doing this rightly.

But still Christ comes.  Through me, and in spite of me, Christ comes.

He does not send us anywhere he is not going.  Whether the board room, the grocery store or the public park.  Whether the dinner table, the family room or the bedroom.  Whether into grief or fear or joy.

I don’t always remember this.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed by my own thoughts and emotions, but it is what I try to remember.  And it is what Christ continues to whisper to me.