“When a foreigner comes”

File:King-Solomon-Russian-icon.jpg

Wednesday

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

42When a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name.

If you are cynical, you will hear Solomon praying that his temple might be the greatest on earth – and his god the most renowned. And maybe that’s all that Solomon had in mind – or all that the author who composed Solomon’s prayer imagined. But there is a seed, here, a deep and profound seed, that will grow into Christ gathering all nations into the peace of God.

This happens often in life where a chance word is later seen to have much deeper truth lying within. It’s why psychologists and psychiatrists pay attention to random associations. It’s why we catch a spouse or a friend saying, “See, that’s what you really mean.” It’s why a song I wrote the week before my wedding seemed to portend things I didn’t consciously understand until the marriage dissolved. It turns out I did know what I was getting into; I just didn’t know I knew.

So even if Solomon’s noble prayer is shallow with self-interest – the depths are there. And scripture can’t escape them. God is the God of all. Not just Israel. Not just the church. Not just the believing. Not just any subset of humanity. God hears the prayers of all.

Of course, the other shallow water to be avoided is the notion that it doesn’t really matter what you call God because there is only one God of all. But it does matter what you call God, because what you say of God shapes our encounter with God. So Solomon doesn’t pray to a nameless divine power, but to the God whose name is LORD, who walked with Abraham promising to bring blessing to the world. This God named LORD wrestled with Jacob and inspired Joseph and called Moses to lead a people out from bondage. This God named LORD spoke laws that may seem archaic to us, but were radical justice and mercy in their day (and still today for those with ears). This God named LORD raised up prophets and a king named David who sought a world at peace and planned for a temple where all came to pray and rejoice.

And we can look at it all and imagine it self-serving, but the words remain and their depths emerge and the prophets push the insight further, and then a child is born who is called Son of David and Son of God who pushes the boundaries yet further, gathering the outcast and the foreigners. And God vindicates this Son of David, reversing his death sentence, and his Spirit flows out upon his followers and they are baptizing Samaritans and an Ethiopian Eunuch and Gentiles, beginning with a Centurion named Cornelius. Paul takes the Gospel to the center of the Mediterranean world – embodying the commission to make students to Jesus of all nations.

And we still fight, in our frail and unredeemed humanity, about who should be allowed in and kept out, but the truth is that whether Solomon realizes it or not, he is praying that God will hear every prayer and all the earth will sing God’s praise. We build walls, but God builds an altar where all may be fed – and a holy city where the light never fails. And again and again God bids us all come to pray and to learn and to feast at God’s table.

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKing-Solomon-Russian-icon.jpg By 18 century icon painter (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Russia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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How majestic

File:Natural bridge in Bryce Canyon.jpg

For Wednesday

Psalm 8

9O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

God’s name is more than the four letters known as the Tetragrammaton, the four consonantal letters that are the name of God recorded as ‘LORD’ in most translations. God’s name is his history, his deeds, his words. Just as “making a name for oneself” is more than fame – it is ‘made’ by one’s accomplishments.

Frank Lloyd Wright made a name for himself with a few houses and buildings – exquisite works of genius – but still, rather limited in scope.* God formed the Tetons and the Snake River beneath it. God formed the glories of Bryce Canyon and the giant redwoods. God formed the Andes and the Amazon basin. God formed Victoria Falls and the islands of the Pacific.

God formed the majestic blue whale and the strange creatures of the deep. God formed the flocks of storks migrating between Europe and Southern Africa, and the bar-headed goose fighting its way over the Himalayas. God formed the roly-poly bugs and the lizards darting to and fro. God formed the chipmunk and the eagle, the salmon and the bison, the crocodile and the hippo, the rhinoceros and the tiger. God formed the honeybee and the monarch butterfly in its epic journey. God formed the Narwhal and the Great White. God formed the exquisite marlin and the jerboa; the beaver and the platypus; the mountain gorilla … and all this is just our one moment in time. We haven’t spoken of the wondrous creatures of the fossil record or the rise and fall of mountains and seas and the continents that came together and drifted apart.   And all this on one small planet near a small star on the fringes of a galaxy in the vast canopy of the heavens.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic – not just the work of creation but the work of freeing a people from bondage, teaching them justice and mercy, calling forth prophets, raising and casting down nations, suffering the sorrows of the world, and summoning the world to compassion and truth.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: bending to take flesh, healing the sick, gathering outcasts, raising the dead, laying down his life to reconcile his rebellious world to himself.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: pouring out God’s spirit, inspiring healers and reformers, researchers and leaders, builders and artists, singers and soldiers, all the plethora of ways we are able to serve one another and grant beauty and joy to the world.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: inspiring the laughter of children, the ecstasy of lovers, the bonds of parent and child,

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: inspiring the prayer of the mystics and the charity of the saints and the courage of the martyrs.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic.   God’s love is majestic. God’s faithfulness to his wayward world is majestic.

9O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

*Note: Yes, Frank LLoyd Wright designed over a thousand building and did many other things – but still, compared to the heavens and the earth…
The photograph is in the public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Natural_bridge_in_Bryce_Canyon.jpg

Loving and beloved

File:Detail kazuifel J.L. Sträter drie-eenheid.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 22, 2016

Year C

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Two weeks ago I celebrated a baptism of a small child at a local park. Why is another conversation. Baptism belongs in the worshipping community, but this seemed the right thing to do. It was a lovely spot, beneath a sculpted arbor, shaded by old trees, with a pond behind us and a fountain in the distance. It was a place that invited hands to be joined, lovers to kiss, vows to be spoken, and those long together to pause in tender affection. How perfect that we should gather as a small community in that peaceful spot to hear God claim this child as God’s own – an inheritor of God’s promised new creation and participant in God’s mission to the world.

Three times we poured water over the head of the child “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Not three names; one name. One name identifying the God upon whom we called as the one who brought forth the world in love, became incarnate of the maiden Mary, and breathed upon the followers of Jesus to empower their witness to the world. One name linking creation and redemption and sanctification. One name known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and Miriam, to Hannah and Samuel, to Ruth and David as LORD. One name who breathed into humanity the breath of life and by the breath of the Spirit summons us back to himself. One name, One God, Triune but one. Begetter and Begotten. Loving and beloved in God’s very being. Mystery to us. But lover of us. Calling us to live in that divine love.

The texts for Sunday go several different directions. Proverbs relates wisdom, the underlying order of the world, personified and summoning us to feast at her table. The Psalm speaks of God’s creating, and the honor shown humanity: a little lower than the angels but entrusted to exercise God’s dominion, God’s care over all the earth. Romans exults in the peace with God wrought in Christ, and the Spirit’s presence as one through whom “God’s love has been poured into our hearts”. And Jesus, in John’s Gospel, again declaring the gift and work of the Spirit.

The texts point several directions, but are tied together by this mystery of the Trinity: the God who is beyond conception but is known by a work and a name: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

The Prayer for May 22, 2016

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder,
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully.

The Texts for May 22, 2016

First Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work.” –
Wisdom, the knowledge of the fundamental truths of existence, is personified as a teacher and speaks of its role in the formation of all things.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them?”
– A song of praise marveling at God’s care for human beings and their role as stewards of God’s creation.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

Gospel: John 16:12-15
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADetail_kazuifel_J.L._Str%C3%A4ter_drie-eenheid.jpg By Marikevanroon20 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I am. Stop being afraid.

Friday

John 6:1-21

File:Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, c. 1907.jpg19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

I remember reading this as a young person and hearing it to say that “Jesus can do anything.” I saw in it a demonstration of power. I didn’t have the experience yet to recognize the true power of the imagery.

I didn’t know yet what it was to be cast adrift in the storms of life. I didn’t know yet what it was to be battling rough seas in the dark. I didn’t know true fear or chronic anxiety or what it was like to be in distress and wondering why Jesus is not with us.

All of this is in this story.

I didn’t yet know about the turbulent times in which Mark’s community lived – with brutal war and ideologies raging about them. I didn’t know that storms at sea were understood to be spiritual assaults rather than natural forces.  I didn’t understand what it means that these stories are stories about a community not individual faith. And, most of all, I didn’t yet know that the words we translate “It is I,” are deeply significant words that, translated literally, say “I am” and bespeak the name of God given to ancient Israel.

The message of the story isn’t that with enough faith we can walk on water. Nor is it that Jesus is a man of power (and can do anything for us if we believe firmly enough). The message is “I am. Stop being afraid.”

“I am.” Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called forth the world from the chaos of the primordial sea. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called Abraham and Sarah to go forth on the promise of a new country. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the holy one who met Moses in the burning bush. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the mighty one who divided the waters of the Red Sea and delivered both Egypt and Israel from slavery. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the voice that spoke at Sinai commanding fidelity to God and one another and directing a people to live justice and compassion.

Though we are beset by storms, though we dwell in darkness, though Jesus seems absent, he is yet the living presence of the faithful one who does not abandon his people or the world he has made, but gathers all things to himself.

In the midst of life’s chaos, in the midst of life’s sorrows, in the face of life’s evils, God is yet God. Christ is yet Lord. The hidden one has shown his face. His faithfulness is sure. His promise abides. And with him we will reach the far shore.

He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

 

Painting: Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The name matters

Watching for the morning of June 15

Year A

The Festival of The Holy Trinity

File:Trinity-of-the-broken-body-1911.jpg

Robert Campin, Holy Trinity. 15th century. Gold, silver and silk embroidery, pearls, glass beads and velvet applique on linen. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

The doctrine matters, but it is not the doctrine we adore. The teaching of the Trinity is vitally important, but it is not the theological articulation about the character of the divine in which we put our faith, hope and trust. When we worship on Sunday we worship the God who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Names are important. Names distinguish us from one another. Names make clear of whom we speak. Names identify whose authority stands behind a promise or a command. And the name of God is no less important. We live in a world with many gods – and many different ideas about God. We cannot use the word ‘God’ and assume everyone knows of whom we are speaking. The reality identified by the name Allah is not the same as that identified by the name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Our ‘names’ for God are not frail approximations of a single ultimate reality – they are statements about the nature of that reality. They are identifiers. Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the god who has made himself known in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, risen and ascended.

We use the word Kleenex as if it were a generic term for facial tissue – but all tissues are not the same. All coffees are not the same. All cars are not the same. All diamonds are not the same. Cut and clarity and color make some an expression of love and others an effective edge for an industrial tool.

‘God’ is a generic term. What we say about the ultimate transcendent reality of existence is revealed by the specifics. The names Kali and “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” say very different things about the divine.

The Festival of the Holy Trinity is not about the doctrine; it is about the one named “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. The God we worship and follow is the one revealed as the creator of all, who called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by a promise, who delivered Israel from Egypt, who spoke through Moses and the prophets, who entered into human existence in Jesus, who brought the healing and life of the reign of God, who was the perfectly faithful son, who bore the burden of human sin was declared righteous and faithful by his resurrection, who pours out his abiding, empowering Spirit upon his followers, and will ultimately bring all things under his gracious rule.

All coffees are not the same. Some are better than others or there wouldn’t be a Starbuck’s on every block. Not everything said about God is faithful to the name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Nor is every reference to ‘God’ speaking of the same reality. The name matters.

The Prayer for June 15, 2014

Almighty God, hidden in majesty and mystery
yet revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Grant us true and honest hearts
to worship you with reverence and awe,
trust confidently in your grace,
honor your commands,
and boldly proclaim your name

The Texts for June 15, 2014

First Reading: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” – The first chapter of Genesis telling of the creation of all things by God’s word, God’s declaration that the creation is good, and God’s blessing of humanity and their commission to care for the earth.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him” – The psalm celebrates the majesty of God and marvels at the position of honor and responsibility God has given to humanity by entrusting his wondrous creation into their care.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” –
In his final greeting at the close of his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul uses the familiar language that ultimately leads to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Following Pentecost we return to the Gospel of Matthew, resuming here at the end of the Gospel because of the Trinitarian name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With these concluding words, the risen Jesus declares his abiding presence among his followers and sends them to make disciples of all nations.