Partners in the song

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Watching for the Morning of October 1, 2017

The Commemoration of St. Francis and The Blessing of the Animals

On this first Sunday of October, nearest to the feast day of St. Francis, our parish celebrates the blessing of the animals. The readings for the day are chosen around that theme. Follow this link for a comment on the regularly appointed texts for this Sunday. Other comments/reflections can be found for by following this link, Proper 21 A / Lectionary 26 A.

File:Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) Tswalu.jpgThere are hundreds of glorious pictures to choose from when you begin to look: the creation is stunning in its variety and splendor. The creatures with whom we share this awesome world are wondrous in their diversity, beauty, majesty – and, sometimes – strangeness. It seems impossible for a picture of meerkats not to make you smile. Fawns of any kind evoke tenderness. In its familiarity, we forget how strange is an elephant’s nose. Butterflies seem such an ephemeral beauty – yet monarchs migrate thousands of miles. Whales, chipmunks, water buffalo, and the myriad things that squirm and make us squirm – it is an amazing world.

File:Giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park 2013.jpgStand beneath redwoods or giant sequoias. Let yourself be cradled in the arms of an oak. Walk among aspens. Ponder the tiniest alpine flowers. Consider the myriad forms of things that grow. Some we love – pears and peaches and fresh corn.   But then there are nettles and poison oak. And there are mosquitos, wondrous in their form but irritating and sometimes dangerous in what they carry.

Horned toads. Penguins. Emu. Fox. The strange things hidden deep in the sea. The microflora in our gut. The world is bursting with life.

File:Caesio teres in Fiji by Nick Hobgood.jpgEven beasts as terrifying as the great white shark are wondrous and beautiful.

Walking to and from the office on suburban streets past rose bushes, decorative trees and chirping birds, amidst all the distractions of tasks to be done and routines followed, it is possible to forget the wonder and mystery of the natural world. We don’t stand in awe of night skies; we cannot see them. We don’t search the horizon hoping for rain and fearing hail, knowing our lives are dependent on the fragile green stalks turning into bursting clusters of grain. We fear no beasts in the night. We see little of the beauty of the sunrise or sunset.

File:Väimela Mäejärv 2011 09.jpgSomething is lost in our relationship not only with the natural world around us, but with the divine. There is a taste of the holy in the beauty of the world. There is a shudder of the holy in the power of its storms. The enduring faithfulness of God is whispered by the pattern of the seasons and the enduring hills. The tenderness of God is witnessed in the care of songbirds for File:Gavia immer1 BS.jpgtheir chicks. Watching the small screen on our cell phones we lose track of the far horizon, the enduring truth that we are small and there is something greater than ourselves, the enduring truth that we must care for one another if we are to survive, the enduring truth that we must care for the land if it is to care for us.

You cannot cut down the fruit trees when you besiege a city, says Deuteronomy, and it is not legislation but vision: Are the trees men that you should make war on them?” You can take the eggs from a nest, but not the hen that lays them. You must give thought for the future. The Sabbath law applies even to animals. We must care for the world around if we are to know life’s goodness. We must care for one another. We must become partners in the song of all creation.File:Butterfly Green-underside Blue - Glaucopsyche alexis 01.jpg

The Prayer for October 1, 2017

Gracious God, from whom and for whom all things exist:
In the wonder of the creation you bear witness to your majesty and grace.
All things proclaim your praise.
Grant us wisdom and courage
to tend with faithfulness all that you have entrusted into our care
and to lift our lives to you in thankfulness and praise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 1, 2017, Blessing of the Animals

First Reading: Psalm 104
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.” – The psalmist sings of the wonder of the created world and summons us to recognize their the majesty and goodness of God.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-20
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created.” – In the opening verses of this letter the author sings of the mystery of Christ Jesus as the truth at the heart of all existence and its ultimate goal.

Gospel: John 1:1-4
“In the beginning was the Word…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” – The opening of John’s Gospel sees in Christ Jesus the embodiment of the Word that called all things into existence and speaks life to the world.

Images:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALotus_flower_(978659).jpg By Hong Zhang (jennyzhh2008) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMeerkat_(Suricata_suricatta)_Tswalu.jpg By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGiant_sequoias_in_Sequoia_National_Park_2013.jpg By Tuxyso (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AV%C3%A4imela_M%C3%A4ej%C3%A4rv_2011_09.jpg By Vaido Otsar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGavia_immer1_BS.jpg By Cephas (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AButterfly_Green-underside_Blue_-_Glaucopsyche_alexis_01.jpg By Zeynel Cebeci (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Where else will we find anything like this?

Friday

John 6:56-69

File:Cristo nel labirinto.jpg66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Now the Feast and Celebration,” the liturgy composed by Marty Haugen for the Campus Ministry at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, uses this verse for the Alleluia sung by the congregation as they rise to hear the reading of the Gospel:

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Each Sunday in which we use this liturgy contains this small yet profound acknowledgment that the words of Jesus are beyond us but precious to us, challenging yet comforting, confusing yet compelling.

Where else shall we go? Here we hear the challenge to build our house on rock, to enter through the narrow way, to judge not lest we be judged, to forgive seventy-seven times. Here we hear of evil driven from hearts and minds and bodies, yet his body surrendered to torture and death. Here we hear the unthinkable – that God sends rain on the just and the unjust, that sinners are forgiven, that the unclean are welcomed. Here we hear the requirement that love of God is more important than love of family, that our attachment to God supersedes the duties to parents. Here we hear that we cannot serve God and possessions. Here we hear Jesus tell the rich man to sell all and tell us that it is better to lose a hand or an eye than to lose the kingdom.

It is too much. But it is compelling.

We want to hear this Jesus. We don’t want him buried in the slop of a lovey-dovey gooey marshmallow God. Nor do we want him hidden in that bitter grist of an angry God demanding blood in payment for our debts. We cannot have him lost beneath a sterile white bread, white potatoes, repristination of middle class morality. We want this strange, compelling Jesus whose words push those in power to murder. We want these strange words – and deeds – possessed of eternal truth and life. We want the good shepherd who lays down his life, the royal king who is butchered by usurpers but rises from the dead, the precocious child who has more wisdom than all us religious teachers. We want this perfect vessel of the Spirit through whom God heals and redeems and raises the dead. We want the man who welcomes the little children and speaks blunt and brutal truths about the elites. He names them blind guides yet welcomes Nicodemus and tries to help him see the life that is from above.

This Jesus is wonder and mystery, puzzling and outrageous, making a whip of cords and kicking tables but telling us to love our enemies – enemies he forgives though they have his blood on their hands as they throw dice for his clothing.

We want to know more. We want to hear more. We want to be encountered by this strange wondrous man. So even though his words puzzle and offend, we stay. Even when it’s not what we want to hear, we listen. Where else will we find anything like this?

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.

For information on the picture go to: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACristo_nel_labirinto.jpg

Majesty and Mystery

Watching for the Morning of May 31, 2015

Year B

Holy Trinity

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Hildegard of Bingen, Miniature of the Holy Trinity

We come this Sunday to the day known as Holy Trinity, and every pastor thinks he or she must try to explain the doctrine of the trinity and will likely use some frail and heretical illustration like ice, steam and liquid water, or the person who is a Father, a son, and a husband. The trinity is a doctrine over which the church fought for hundreds of years and is fighting still, but Trinity Sunday is not about a doctrine – it is about the God who has revealed himself by the name, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” declares the risen Lord, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Among all the gods of the ancient world – and all the gods of the modern world – only one is known as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and that is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Exodus and Sinai, the God of justice and mercy, the God of David and the prophets, the God of the exile and return, the God of creation and new creation, the God who came among us as Jesus of Nazareth, the God who suffered and died and rose, the God who is present in and among us by his Holy Spirit, the sign and seal of the age to come.

“Father, Son and Holy Spirit” identifies the God of whom we speak as this God – not a god of prosperity, not a God of power, not the rain god Ba’al, or any of the gods and goddesses of fertility, not the gods of power and conquest, but the one God, the true God, the God of the cross and resurrection, the God of reconciliation and New Life.

The doctrine of the Trinity is important. Very important. But it is important only because it protects the identity of the God of whom we speak and to whom we pray as this God no other.

So Sunday we come together in awe and wonder and fear and praise to sing of this God and to hear the word of this God, the one we acclaim and confess as earth’s true Lord.

The Prayer for May 31, 2015

One God, Holy and Eternal,
before whom all heaven sings,
and to whom belong the praises of all the earth;
you have made yourself known by the name Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let your Word shake the wilderness,
bringing new birth to all creation
and gathering all things into your eternal song;
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 31, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.” – When an earthquake shakes the temple, Isaiah (a priest) has a vision of God on his throne and is called to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.”
– The psalmist uses the imagery of a powerful thunderstorm arising off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing over the Lebanese mountains to describe the majestic power of God’s voice/word.

Reading: 1 Kings 19:4-13 (added by our parish to worship this Sunday)
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” – Following the stunning showdown with the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel, the queen is unimpressed and vows to slay Elijah. He flees to Sinai where God encounters him, not in the power of wind, earthquake or fire, but in a silent stillness.

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17
“You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”
– In this climactic chapter of Paul’s letter laying out his preaching and teaching we come to the central proclamation that we are no longer bound to our humanity in its fallenness, but bound to the Spirit of God, adopted as sons and daughters, heirs of all the gifts and bounty of God – heirs of the dawning reign of God.

Gospel: John 3:1-17
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” – Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night trying to understand this strange yet wondrous prophet. Jesus speaks to him about being born ‘from above’, but Nicodemus misunderstands and cannot understand how it is possible to be born ‘again’.

 

Photocredit: By The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

God of all

Saturday

Romans 16

File:Ikona na Arhangel Gavril vo Sv. Blagoveštenie Prilepsko.jpg

The Angel Gabriel in an icon of the Annunciation, from the Icons of the Church of the Annunciation (Prilep)

25.…the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed.

Did Abraham understand God’s purpose when God called him to go forth from Haran? Did he hear the great plan of God to gather all creation to himself in those simple words by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves”? Probably not. He probably heard something more like “Everybody will say, ‘May you be blessed like Abraham is blessed.’” It wasn’t yet a hope that all people will be blessed, as much as it was a hope that Abraham will be blessed more than anyone else.

And when that clever, yes, but lying cheat, Jacob, whose name will be changed to Israel, hears God promise him a future is he thinking of God’s plan to rescue all people?

Joseph in Egypt seems more like a curse than a blessing – though everyone is fed by his foresight, it comes at the cost of their freedom. Pharaoh ends up owning all the land. Perhaps it’s only right that Jacob’s family, too, should end up enslaved. But when Moses leads them out to freedom, do they think this is the next great act of a God determined to liberate the world, or do they think they have become the favorite children of one particular God?

David’s temple and holy city is thought to be the navel of the world – not for the world, mind you. They are trapped in their solipsism. Our God is the king of all gods. Our God is better than all gods. Our God is stronger than all gods. “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

And let’s not feel superior. We often think the same way. Religion is about me, not my neighbor. About God protecting me and mine rather than rescuing his whole earth.

The prophets begin to speak the language of God’s universal scope. Of course it starts off with God’s judgment on the foreign nations who have toppled Israel and Judah. But if the God of Israel is determined to punish those nations – then is God not the acting agent for those nations? And so, is he not the Lord of all? If God will punish other nations, will he not also save them? When the prophets talk about the lion lying down with the lamb they may have had in mind peace in Israel. But the words sprout and grow and reveal a deeper meaning.

Pretty soon Jesus is not just treating women as disciples and eating with sinners and tax-collectors, but he is welcoming the Samaritan woman, and healing the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman. Pretty soon Philip is baptizing Samaritans and an Ethiopian eunuch and then Peter himself is commanded not to regard any as unclean. Standing in front of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, he watches God pour out God’s Spirit upon him and his family and he has no choice but to baptize. And then the believers in Antioch are welcoming Greeks and sending Paul out to the Hellenistic cities of the Roman Empire.

Jesus is the embodiment of God’s revelation, God’s speech to us, and he is not reforming Judaism but declaring that the reign of God over all the earth is dawning. Pretty soon John sees his vision of a heaven and earth restored. Yes, he calls the heavenly city brought to earth “Jerusalem”, but it is the whole world healed, the garden restored, life made whole, the lion lying down with the lamb.

25.…the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed.

This is a dramatic revelation, a great mystery, incomprehensible to us for a long time, but now revealed in Christ Jesus. Is God the God of Jews only?”

But it’s not new information being revealed; it’s more about us finally coming to understand what was there from the beginning when God formed Adam from the dust and Eve from the rib, and then protected his rebellious children as they lost the garden, determined to bring them home.

It’s not God finally revealing secrets he never told us, but us finally starting to hear what he has always said. Everyone is our brother. Everyone our sister. God is redeeming the world.

And we are still trying to learn what it means.

Into the darkness

Saturday

Acts 17

Aurlandsfjord, photo by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho, creative commons

29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.

I know that Paul is talking about the various idols of the ancient world. This is pretty standard Biblical critique of the polytheistic cultures of the Mediterranean world. There are famous passages in the prophets that mock the stone and wood blocks carved and covered in gold and silver.

But if we leave it there, if this critique is only about images, we will miss something important. We not only create physical images; we create mental ones. And when we confuse the images formed by our imagination with the one who formed us, when we confuse our images with the truth to which they point, we tread on dangerous ground – ground that usually ends up with tears if not with killings.

Is the god that Boko Haram celebrates a product of eternity or of their own imagination? For that matter is the god invoked by most of us the holy and transcendent one, or a god of our imaginations?

It is not possible for us to think about God without thinking in images. We are creatures of time and space. We cannot imagine quarks. We picture atoms like little planets though we know they are not. We imagine molecules with images of tinker toys. We imagine foreign nations from the pictures on television or in National Geographic. We need images. We see faces in toast, for goodness sake. It is the way we are wired.

And the scripture is full of wondrous images: God as a great king surrounded by his royal court and an angelic army. God as a hovering eagle, a mother hen gathering her chicks, a father carrying a son. God as a husband rescuing a newborn abandoned to the wolves, raising her to be a beautiful young woman. God as a good shepherd, a rock, a fountain of living water. There are an endless variety of rich images – none of which are to be taken literally. God is not a chicken. We seem to understand that, but sometimes forget he is not a literal father. I love the book of Job, for Job is silenced by the majesty of a God he cannot comprehend.

We stand before the eternal, silenced by mystery and majesty, humbled by our inability to see beyond that horizon. Moses is said to have spoken with God “face to face”, but is the word ‘face’ to be taken literally? When Moses asks to see God’s face he is allowed only to see from behind as God goes ahead of him. We are watchers of the flame. Shadows on the wall. Hints and images.

But there are words and there are deeds of this eternal source of life. Deeds that rescue and deliver. Words that protect the poor and the orphan. Words and deeds that cast down the mighty and raise up the broken. Words of fierce anger that call for justice to roll down like waters. Words that forgive and point forward to an end to tears.

The God we preach is too often the god of our imaginations. Jesus the feminist. Jesus the revolutionary. Jesus the defender of the status quo (God and country Jesus). Jesus the source of prosperity and success. God the law-giver and a god who frees us from all law. God who forgives all and a god who will come in wrath to purge the world of the wicked.  These gods of our imaginations were invoked not only in defense of crusades and inquisitions and an imperial papacy, but in defense of abusive homes and churches and bigotries great and small – and endless self-righteousness.

“We ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.”

Sometimes this god of our imagination is what we want God to be, sometimes what we fear God to be, and sometimes a silly caricature that excuses our rejection of any transcendent claim on our lives, any accountability to a truth beyond us.

To a human creature perpetually wanting to fashion God in our image, God presents himself ever illusive, “I will be who I will be,” yet ever summoning us to hear, to see, to trust, to follow. He – this word, too, is a metaphor and trick of language – He summons us into the dark cloud of the holy mountain. He speaks from the whirlwind. And in the greatest mystery of all, he summons us to the cradle and the cross. This child of Bethlehem, son of Mary, a construction worker from Galilee of all ungodly places, this man from Nazareth is the true icon of God. Healing. Forgiving. Gathering. Suffering. Teaching. Summoning. Serving. Sending. Dying. Rising.

The gods of our imaginations are not worthy of our allegiance. We must dare to stand before the mystery. We must have courage to let God be God. We must acknowledge God will not fit in any of our boxes. And in humility, but with daring and discipleship, hold to the promise: “He who has seen me has seen the father.”

The cloud

Friday

Exodus 24

File:Approaching mist.jpg16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days;

The prophet Isaiah writes, “Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself” (45:15RSV)Isaiah’s vision in the temple amidst the shaking foundations and smoke and fearful seraphim is but a glimpse of the hem of the robe of the heavenly king.  Ezekiel’s vision is of the “appearance of the likeness of the glory” (1:28) of the LORD.

Elijah encounters God in the silence, not in the wind, earthquake or fire.  Moses’ first encounter is with a God hidden in the burning bush.  Abraham dreams of a smoking fire pot.  In answer to the question “who shall I say sent me,” Moses gets an enigmatic name that probably means “I am who I am,” or perhaps, “I will be who I will be.”  Job is answered from a whirlwind.

Only Adam and Eve have a direct, unmediated encounter with God when he walks in the garden in the cool of the evening.  And then Moses, of whom it is said “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11) in the tent of meeting.  And yet, in that very same chapter of Exodus, Moses is only allowed to see Gods back: “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”  (Exodus 33:20)

The fact that the first Christians had no images of God led the Romans to call them atheists.  Deep in Hebrew and Christian faith is the sense that God is hidden, veiled, beyond our sight and comprehension.  So the dominant image of God’s presence is a cloud.

In a world that wants gods to be visible, God remains hidden.  We want visible; what we get is mystery.  Holiness.  Hiddenness.  The strange.  God behind a curtain.  Might and majesty hidden in the crucified.

And even Christianity’s notion that God has revealed himself in Jesus of Nazareth – or the sacraments, the bread and wine and water – even there, God is visible only to the eyes of faith.  In other words, he is not visible at all, except that we trust the promise of his presence.  The bread still looks and tastes like bread.  The water still looks and acts like water.  Yet God is there.  So God promises.  So we “see,” see with the eyes of wonder and trust, see with a spiritual insight, not a physical one.

And at a hospital bedside; at a graveside; when food is shared with the hungry; when the unwelcome are welcomed; prisoners visited; when unexpected grace happens – there, too, we “see”.   See the God otherwise hidden from us – but the God made visible in love and sacrifice.  The God made strangely visible in the broken body with a pierced side.  The God who does not shun suffering and sorrow, but meets us there.

So when we read about clouds at the Mount of Transfiguration, we know it means God is present.  And when we hear that Jesus will come “on the clouds of heaven” we know it’s not a reference to the sky.  And when we are groping in a fog; it bears a far greater secret than mere confusion.