The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

File:Z cyklu Podivuhodné krajiny - Japonsko (1989).jpg

Watching for the Morning of December 8, 2019

Year A

The Second Sunday of Advent

Stunning words come to us this Sunday.  Our reading from Isaiah will proclaim that “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.” The fallen royal line, named from David’s father, shall bloom again.  “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him.”  He will be filled with wisdom and girded with faithfulness to God and the people.  And then come those sweet, ecstatic, words that under his governance:

6The wolf shall live with the lamb,
….the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
….and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze,
….their young shall lie down together;
….and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
….and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9They will not hurt or destroy
….on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD 
….as the waters cover the sea.

A world without violence.  A world like Eden.  A world restored to its primal innocence.  A creation made new.

We look at the bloodshed on earth, the betrayals of allies, the enduring hatreds of ancient animosities, the violence of speech and thought, the violence that manifests itself even in schools and churches, and such words are sweet indeed.  We can escape all this.  There will be a day…

From Isaiah we will turn to the Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah at the birth of his son, John – who we know as John the Baptist.  We will hear Zechariah’s joy at the coming fulfilment of God’s promise.

68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
….for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69He has raised up a mighty savior for us
….in the house of his servant David,
70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

Zechariah will then sing of his son’s calling:

you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
….for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
….by the forgiveness of their sins.
78By the tender mercy of our God,
….the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
….to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Salvation, healing, wholeness, peace – God’s shalom is coming.

And we will hear John preach in the Gospel for the day.  Coming in fulfillment of the prophetic promises, dressed like a prophet of old, out in the wilderness beyond the Jordan where Israel once waited to enter the promised land, John will call the nation to new beginnings, to preparation, to living in anticipation of that day when all things are made new.

It will carry the sound of warning.  The ax is ready.  Trees that bear no fruit will be cut down.  But also promise.  God is able to raise faithful children even from stones.  The world is about to be awash in the Spirit.

The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

The Prayer for December 8, 2019

Holy and Gracious God,
our breath of life and everlasting joy,
who gathers all things into your eternal embrace:
fill all creation with the light of your love
and the knowledge of your will;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 8, 2019

First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
– Like new growth from the stump of a felled tree, a new king shall arise from the fallen line of David, a king filled with the Spirit of God, who will govern in righteousness and bring all creation to peace.

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” – In place of the appointed Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, we sing the song of Zechariah, sung at the birth of his son, John, whom we know as John the Baptist, praising God and predicting his role as the one who “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

Second Reading: Romans 15:4-9 (appointed, verses 4-13)
“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” –
Speaking to that fundamental divide between observant Judeans and those who had become thoroughly enmeshed in the culture of the Greek world, between ‘Judean’ and ‘Gentile’, Paul calls for the believers to live the reconciliation that has occurred in Christ, giving multiple examples from the Scriptures in support of God’s mission to gather all nations.

Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”
– John comes as a prophet of old, heralding the dawning of God’s reign and calling all people to ‘repent’, to turn and show allegiance to God.

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(If you are interested, daily reflections for this season are posted at Holy Seasons)

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© David K. Bonde
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Z_cyklu_Podivuhodn%C3%A9_krajiny_-_Japonsko_(1989).jpg  Zdeněk Thoma [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

The bright vision

Watching for the Morning of November 3, 2019

Year C

All Saints Sunday

(I’m returning from a sabbatical this week, driving home from my Father’s into a state I know is aflame.  This reflection from 2013 fits the texts for Sunday even though, at first blush, it seems perhaps a little too cheerful.  Or simplistic.  But there is nothing simplistic about biblical faith.  It knows we live in a broken world, sometimes stumbling but generally fleeing its maker.  Biblical faith is not surprised by famine or flame.  It is not surprised by marching armies or hateful speech.  It is not surprised when religious leaders defend the king against God.  Biblical faith understands the fallen world.  But still it sings – for it also understands the faithfulness of God.)

There is a thread running through the readings this Sunday: a line in Daniel that the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom; a line in the psalm that God adorns the humble with victory; a portion of the Ephesians reading ending with the hymnic declaration that God has put all things under Christ’s feet; and the promise of God’s blessing upon the poor, the hungry and the grieving.  The texts, as diverse as they are, share a confidence in the purpose of God to rescue God’s fallen world and restore all things.

But there are troubling things in these texts, too: notes of judgment, sounds of vengeance, reflecting a world divided between a wealthy few and a powerless and hungry many, a world of mighty empires and suffering peasants.  In the case of Daniel, it is an empire determined to rid Israel of traditional faith and practice.  People were put to death for circumcising their children, or not eating pork, or keeping Sabbath.

The feast day of All Saints started out like a tomb of the unknown soldier, a day to remember the nameless martyrs tortured and killed by Rome for holding to a faith that claimed there was some other Lord than Caesar.  It would become a day to honor all those saints who did not have their own feast day on the Christian calendar.  Ultimately, for Reformation churches, it became a day to remember all the faithful who had passed into glory, all those who had held fast to a hope in a God who comes to the aid of those in need and sets right the world.

All Saints looks blinkingly on the bright vision of God’s ultimate triumph over sin and death and echoes with the joy of heaven.  It sustains those still engaged in the struggle to bear faithful witness to the way of God in our broken and troubled world.  And it reminds us all that we are not alone: “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness.”  Like the crowd cheering runners in a great race, the saints above cheer us on.

The Prayer for All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2019

You are our beginning, O God, and you are our end;
You are our hope and you are our path.
Sustain us in your grace that we may live as children of your kingdom
until that day when all heaven and earth are joined
in a single song of praise.

The texts for All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2019 (assigned for All Saints Day, November 1)

First Reading: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
“Four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.”
 – Writing to the time of the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the author uses the Daniel traditions to call the community to faithfulness.  Four terrible beasts represent four beastly empires, but these will be judged and “one like a son of man,” a humane empire, God’s empire, will dawn.

Psalmody: Psalm 149
“Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.” –  A hymn celebrating God as king, freeing God’s “humble” people and vanquishing the kings of earth.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:11-23
“That…you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”
– The author’s prayer for the fledgling believers near Ephesus celebrating the work of God in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 6:20-31
“Blessed are you who are poor… woe to you who are rich.” – Jesus declares the poor honored in God’s sight and the wealthy elite shameful and calls on his followers to live out the values of God’s reign: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

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Image: dkbonde: Desert light, Stansbury Mountains, Utah

My Father is still working

File:Cornus florida 02 by Line1.jpgA reflection on John 5:1-9 and Revelation 21:9-10, 22-22:5 (the texts for Easter 6 C) on the occasion of my grandson’s first Sunday in worship and the first step towards his baptism.

There are a couple things I need to say about our texts before I share with you what I have written for this morning.  This passage from John is an amazing narrative.  The man has suffered for 38 years.  When asked whether he wishes to be made whole, he answers by saying he has no one to help him into the water.  The legend held that an angel would occasionally descend and stir the water and the first person into the pool would be healed.  But this man has no one.  His answer expresses brokenness and despair.  He has no hope of healing.  He has no community, no family, no friends, no one to care for him – until Jesus finds him.  And Jesus does find him. 

The leadership of the nation responds to this wondrous healing by criticizing the man for carrying his mat on the Sabbath.  We didn’t read this part.  We should have, but that would have required us to read the whole chapter.  But it is important to note this because religious people are often this way.  We respond to God’s wondrous work with nitpicking and legalism.  He’s not supposed to work on the Sabbath and carrying your mat is defined as work.

The conflict over the Sabbath is the central element of this narrative.  When Jesus, himself, is criticized for working on the Sabbath, he answers by saying, among other things, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”  The leadership of the nation imagined God’s work of creating was over.  God had created for six days and now God was ‘resting’.  But Jesus declares that God is still at work.  God is still creating — and God’s work is a work of healing.  God is working to make us whole.  God is working to make the world whole.

Sometimes it needs to be said that God is still at work.

Our second reading was the vision of the New Jerusalem given to John of Patmos.  It is a vision of the world made healed and restored.  At the time John writes, the earthly city has been destroyed by rebellion and war.  Rome has crushed it.  But at the consummation of human history, in that day when all human rebellion is overcome and all things are made new, in that day the heavenly counterpart of the earthly city descends to earth.  And though we don’t get the measurements of the city in our portion of the reading, the city is a giant cube some 1,200 to 1,500 miles across and high. The reason it measures as a perfect cube is that the holy of holies inside the temple, where God was present, was a perfect cube.  The world is now the holy of holies where God dwells.  The consummation of human history is God coming to dwell with us.

Sometimes it needs to be said that God is still at work – and that God’s purpose is to dwell in our midst.

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As you know, my daughter and her husband are here this morning and we are doing a rite of blessing in anticipation of a baptism that will happen later where they live.

There are things I want to tell Finn, but he is not ready to hear them.  I want to tell him about the beauty and grandeur of the world around us.  I want to tell him about the Grand Canyon and the waterfalls at Yosemite in springtime.  I want to take him to the Monterey Aquarium and talk about the mysteries of the deep.  I want him to gaze into the wonder of those tiny flowers in the grass outside and the supple lines and color of a rose.  I want him to watch with wonder the flight of a swallow and the migration of the monarchs and to hear crickets in the evening.  I want him to see how seed turns to sapling turns to towering tree.  I want him to walk among redwoods and see dogwoods in the spring. 

I want him to know the beauty of the world.  I want him to know its goodness before he learns its sorrows.  I want him to play in a soft summer rain before he feels the power of a storm.  I want him to see the wonder of a bird’s nest before he learns that other animals would prey on the babies.  I want him to delight in bunnies in the yard before he worries about hawks overhead.  I want him to know human kindness before he learns of human cruelty.

I want to tell Finn this story we have received of a world conceived in love, of a creation called into being by a divine Word and that God saw and declared all things good and noble and beautiful.  I want to tell him this story that he is made of the dust of the earth and the breath of God.  I want him to know that he was made to live in God’s presence and tend God’s garden – that he was made to live in harmony with all things.

I want Finn to know the goodness before he learns what happened in that garden, how humanity broke faith with God and broke the ties that bind all things together. 

I want Finn to know the beauty of the earth before he tastes its tears.  I want him to know the goodness of family before he learns about Cain and Abel and the bitter envy that tears the human family apart.

And I want Finn to hear the voice of God speaking to Cain, telling him that we can choose kindness and faithfulness.  I want him to know we can choose to listen to the breath of God rather than the murmurings of bitterness and revenge.

There are so many things I want to tell Finn.  I want to tell him of Abraham’s courage in trusting God’s promise, of Isaac’s love for Rebekah, of Jacob the cheat burning all his bridges and wrestling with God at the river Jabbok.  I want to tell him of Joseph who forgave his brothers and Moses who stood before the burning bush.  I want to tell him about Pharaoh’s hardness of heart and God’s determination to bring freedom to both the oppressors and the oppressed.  I want to tell him about Sinai and the wilderness and the radical notion that God is a god who travels with us, that God is not a god of rock and stream but a God of love and mercy.  

I want to tell him of the prophets.  I want to tell him of the psalms of joy and the cries of lament.  I want to tell him of the faithfulness of Ruth and the courage of Esther.  I want to tell him about the gifts and call of God.  And I want to tell him about the child of Nazareth, the song of the angels and the message given to shepherds.  I want to tell him about the boy Jesus in the temple and the grown man at the Jordan.  I want to tell him about the words he spoke and the things he did.  I want to tell him about Zacchaeus in the tree and the woman at the well and the banquet in the wilderness that fed five thousand families with twelve baskets left over.

I want to tell him about the empty tomb and the gift of the spirit and the dawn of God’s new creation in the world and in us.  

I want him to know about the women at the tomb and Mary, the first witness.  I want him to know about the boldness of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch and Peter trusting the voice of heaven and baptizing a Roman centurion and family.  I want Finn to know of Lydia and the Philippian jailor bending to wash feet.  I want Finn to know the healing of the world is at hand.

I want to tell Finn about the courage and faithfulness of Perpetua and her companion, Felicity, who were martyred in the arena, and how she guided the executioner’s hand when he faltered.  I want to tell him about Francis of Assisi and Katy Luther and how Bach wrote “Soli Deo Gloria” – wholly to the Glory of God – on all his music.  I want to tell him of all the courageous men and women of faith and this wondrous mystery of the church gathered from every nation on earth to bear witness to the grace and mercy of God.

And I want to tell him about the promise of his baptism and the promise of the table.

I want to know that there is mercy in our sorrows and strength in our challenges and hope, always hope, for the grave is empty and the arms of God are open to us and to all.

I want Finn to know all this.  Even more, I want his parents to tell him these stories.  And I want all of us to tell him these stories.  I want the community of God’s people to uphold him in his journey and to uphold one another as we try to live Christ for the world.  I want us to sing and to pray and to labor side by side in hope and faithfulness, 

I want Finn to hear with us and understand with us this story of Christ and the man at the pool of Beth-zatha.  I want him to know Christ as healer and to know that this is the work of God.  I want him to know the power and promise of Jesus’ statement: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 

And I want Finn to hear and understand with all of us the power of this vision of the New Jerusalem, a city without fear, a city whose gates never close, a realm that gathers all that is good and noble of every culture and people, a city shaped like the most holy place – a world that has become the dwelling place of God.

Amen

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cornus_florida_02_by_Line1.jpg Liné1 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D

Do you want to be made whole?

File:Christhealingthesick.jpgWatching for the Morning of May 26, 2019

Year C

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The imagery in the reading from Revelation this Sunday is vivid with hope – not the I-wish-it-could-happen hope, but the this-is-what’s-promised confidence. Imagery is imagery. It is a vision not a photograph. It is hope enfleshed in words drawn from human experience. It is a redemption beyond imagining towards which we point with what we can imagine: a city of light, beckoning all peoples; a city whose gates are never closed; a world without darkness or any remnant of the primordial chaos; a realm without war or threat of violence; a gathering of all that is good and noble of every land: “People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”

We know from elsewhere in the text that the city is 12 times 1,000 stadia on a side (somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 miles wide, long, and high). The city is a perfect cube because the holy of holies was a perfect cube. The city has become the most holy place where God dwells.

The new creation is a city – not an imperial city formed by conquest and plunder, but a human community where people live in peace. From the throne of God flows the river of the water of life, and along its banks grows the tree of life whose leave “are for the healing of the nations. It is a vision of the world made whole. The human heart made whole. The human community restored.

The question Jesus poses to the man at the pool of Beth-Zatha is translated in our text as “Do you want to be made well?” The language is of infirmity and wholeness, of weakness and strength, not the modern idea of disease and healing. We would do well to translate it: “Do you want to be made whole?”

It is a question that should be posed to each of us. Do we want to be made whole or are we satisfied with this world where hearts and bones ache, where families are torn and separated, where hunger and violence stalk? Do we want to be made whole or are we satisfied with a world of tyrants and deceivers great and small? Do we want to be made whole or are we adapted to a world that devours hope?

Do we want to be made whole or are we accustomed to the failings and limitations of our own souls?

Do we want to be made whole or are there comforts enough to dull our conscience?

“Do you want to be made whole?” The man at the pool can imagine no such future. Perhaps we can imagine no such future. But then Christ speaks – and bids us take up our pallet and walk.

The Prayer for May 26, 2019

God of all healing and life,
turn our eyes to your Son Jesus,
our crucified and risen Lord,
that we may receive through him
that life which cannot perish.

The Texts for May 26, 2019

First Reading: Acts 16:6-15 (appointed: vv. 9-15)
“During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” – On his second missionary journey, the plans of Paul and his companions are blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas where Paul’s vision leads them across the Aegean to Philippi where they are received by Lydia.

Psalmody: Psalm 67
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.” – A harvest song calling upon all nations to praise God

Second Reading: Revelation 21:9-10; 21:22 – 22:5 (appointed: vv. 21:10; 21:22 – 22:5)
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.”
– In the culminating vision of the Book of Revelation, when all things are made new, the prophet sees the heavenly counterpart of the earthly city of Jerusalem descending to replace the city Rome destroyed. From the throne of God flows the river of life, and the tree of life brings healing to the nations.

Gospel: John 5:1-9
“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed.” The lame man waits in vain for that moment when the waters of the pool are touched by an angel and the first one in is healed. He has no family or friends to help him into the water. But Jesus finds him.

For the other appointed Gospel for this Sunday, John 14:23-29, see Easter 6 C in 2016.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christhealingthesick.jpg Carl Bloch [Public domain]

When all seems lost

File:Two-tailed pasha (Charaxes jasius jasius) Greece.jpgWatching for the Morning of May 5, 2019

Year C

The Third Sunday of Easter

“Children, you have no fish, have you?” It is a haunting question. A night of labor has resulted in nothing. And this strange figure on the shore in the dim light of dawn knows it.

The writer of this Gospel doesn’t tell the story of Jesus encountering Peter by the sea at the beginning of his ministry where they leave their boats and embark on a new life as those who work to gather the human community into the nets of God’s mercy. And we do not know whether our Gospel writer has transformed that story into a resurrection appearance or the risen Jesus came to meet Peter once again at the sea, repeating the summons that first changed Peter’s life – though there is a great spiritual truth in the latter.

There is a profound element of new beginnings in this narrative. Three times Peter had denied Jesus. Now he is presented with the opportunity to give a new answer to the threefold question whether he belongs to Jesus.

The texts this Sunday are rife with new beginnings. Saul is given a new beginning in his encounter with the risen Jesus. He has tried to purge Israel from this dangerous heresy that Jesus was raised and here he is with eyes opened and a new beginning to his life. The psalmist sings of a new beginning, having been delivered from a deadly disease. And the hosts of heaven singing the praise of the lamb who was slain yet lives anticipates the rebirth of the world.

It is a theme deep in the biblical narrative as a whole – when hope is lost, new life is given. God calls the world into being from its primal chaos, rescues it in the days of Noah when there is nothing but violence, gives to Abraham a promise of land and descendants when he and Sarah are homeless and barren, calls Moses to lead Israel out from bondage when the imperial power has turned against them – and when they are trapped by the sea, God opens a way, swallowing up the might of Egypt behind them. From death into life, from judgment into grace, from sorrow into joy, God gives a new beginning to us and to all creation.

When the story seems over, there is Jesus on the shore summoning us to cast wide the net of mercy, dine at his table, and tend the flock of all God’s children.

The Prayer for May 5, 2019

Gracious God,
through the resurrection of Jesus
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.

The Texts for May 5, 2019

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) is blinded when the risen Christ encounters him on the road to Damascus and Ananias, responding to God’s call, goes to 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.

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, conveying to him the leadership of the nascent Christian community.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Two-tailed_pasha_(Charaxes_jasius_jasius)_Greece.jpg Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Rage and redemption

File:Smoldering ruins of African American's homes following race riots - Tulsa Okla 1921.jpg

Aftermath of the Tulsa Riot that destroyed the homes and businesses in the black community of Greenwood, killing more than 100.

Watching for the Morning of February 3, 2019

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

An outbreak of communal violence is an ugly thing. We shouldn’t think first of the mindless behavior of hometown fans when their team wins the final game. Nor should we think first of the violence that rocks nations when oppressed communities respond to state violence with outrage. We need to think about lynchings: the angry, outraged mobs that insist on immediate vengeance for some fundamental violation of communal norms.

And we need to think about our stories, not what’s happening in some other country.

Emmett Till was 14, visiting from Chicago, when he encountered 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant at the small country store she owned with her husband in Money, Mississippi. He may have whistled at her; he may have whistled to his friends; he may have whistled softly to himself as he had been taught in order to control his stuttering. He was taken from the home where he was staying with his great-uncle in the middle of the night by Carolyn’s husband and his half-brother. Emmett’s naked, shot, and brutally beaten body was fished from the Tallahatchie River three days later, barbed wire wrapped around his neck and attached to a weight.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice records that “more than 4400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.”

What happened to Stephen in Acts 2 is this same kind of outbreak of communal violence. A mob outraged by his claim to see Jesus at the right hand of God rose up in violent revenge. It happened repeatedly to the apostle Paul – indeed Paul participated in the murder of Stephen and was dedicated to arresting followers of Jesus when the risen Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. The arrest that led to Paul’s eventual execution in Rome followed a riot begun with a rumor that he had desecrated the Jerusalem temple by bringing a gentile into the inner court.

Communal violence is an ugly thing. The crucifixion of Jesus was a deliberate act of the governing families in Jerusalem allied with the Roman imperium. It was an act of state violence. But what happened to Jesus in Nazareth after his sermon was a more visceral outbreak of rage. We paint pictures of Jesus with children and lambs and it takes some work to understand what part of his message was so offensive his hearers rose in fury to kill him.

Jesus has laid claim to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. He is the embodiment of God’s reign to rescue the poor and release the captive. But such a claim is a scandal in a culture where every

Jesus is uppity, acting out of his station in life. Jesus calls the people on their implicit rejection of his ministry – and then he dares to say that God’s reign is not for Israel but for all people. The people assert his obligation is to care for his family and village, but Jesus points to Elijah and Elisha who dispensed God’s favors to a poor widow and an afflicted leper among Israel’s enemies. This is what leads to rage, to the ugliness of communal violence. Jesus might as well have whistled at a white woman.

It is deep within us, this conviction God should care for us more than others. Donald Trump milked and manipulated it into the presidency. It took Jesus to the cross. But in the empty tomb God declared Jesus the one who speaks the truth.

So Sunday we will hear about Jeremiah’s prophetic call and God’s command he should speak fearlessly. The psalmist will declare God is his rock and his fortress. Corinthians will speak to us about the ultimate importance of love – not romantic love, but fidelity and care for all people. And then comes the abortive attempt on Jesus’ life. They will not get him this day; they will not get him in the end, for we follow one whose love is not silenced by hate.

The Prayer for February 3, 2019

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you revealed your gracious rule
to bind up the wounded and set free the captive.
Let us not fail to understand your will and your way,
but grant us willing hearts to receive your word and live your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 3, 2019

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” – God calls Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 71:1-6
“In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
– The psalm writer cries out to God for protection “from the hand of the wicked.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” – Paul continues to teach his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the gifts of God’s Spirit and their life together as a community. All gifts serve the community and the greatest gift is love – concern for and fidelity to one another

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
– The message Jesus announces in Nazareth that the age to come is dawning even as Jesus speaks is met with hostility and a murderous attempt on his life.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smoldering_ruins_of_African_American%27s_homes_following_race_riots_-_Tulsa_Okla_1921.jpg Alvin C. Krupnick Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Beloved

File:Mural - Jesus' Baptism.jpgWatching for the Morning of January 13, 2019

Year C

The Baptism of Our Lord

1But now thus says the Lord,
….he who created you, O Jacob,
….he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
….I have called you by name, you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
….and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you… (Isaiah 43)

No sweeter word could have been spoken to the descendants of Jacob in the 6th century bce than these words of the prophet. For a people destroyed, scattered and deported in chains to Babylon, the prophet takes up the language of the creation and exodus to declare that God will gather God’s scattered people. A new creative and redemptive work is at hand.

The prophet’s words form the backdrop for the dramatic moment when the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends upon Jesus. This is a divine commissioning for God’s saving act. The language “You are my Son,” is royal language: Jesus is the one who brings the reign of God. He is the presence of God’s justice and mercy. He is the one empowered to deliver God’s people. He is the dawning of the new creation.

This descent of the Spirit upon Jesus is more than Samson inspired in the moment to burst the bonds that hold him or to tear down the temple of the Philistines. It is more than Gideon filled with courage to summon Israel to battle. Jesus is the one, as John has told us, who washes the world in the Spirit of God.

And so, on Sunday, we will hear not only the voice of the prophet, but sing with the psalmist of the voice of God that thunders over the waters and hear from the book of Acts about the Spirit poured out upon Samaria, and we will know the dramatic hand of God is at work.

And we will ponder the mystery that, in the waters of baptism in which all are washed, we too have heard the divine voice proclaim us God’s beloved, and felt the breath of the Spirit that makes all things new.

The Prayer for January 13, 2019

Heavenly Father, Eternal God, Holy and Gracious One:
in the waters of the River Jordan
you anointed Jesus with your Holy Spirit
and declared him your beloved Son.
Make all the earth radiant with your glory
and pour out upon all your children
the abundance of your Holy Spirit.

The Texts for January 13, 2019

First Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” – with language that evokes the creation and exodus and promises their return from exile, the prophet declares God’s abiding faithfulness to the people.

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing upon the slope of Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 8:14-17
“Then Peter and John laid their hands on them [the new believers in Samaria], and they received the Holy Spirit.” – When the Greek speaking (Hellenized) Judeans are driven from the city following the communal violence against Stephen, they carry the message of Jesus to Samaria. The message is received with faith and representatives from Jerusalem are sent to affirm that this surprising development is of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 3:15-22 (appointed 15-17, 21-22)
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”
– The prophetic ministry of John comes to its conclusion with his arrest, and the baptized and praying Jesus is anointed with the Spirit.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mural_-_Jesus%27_Baptism.jpg David Bjorgen [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

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

And us? What should we do?

File:Humanitarian aid OCPA-2005-10-28-090517a.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 9, 2018

Year C

The Second Sunday of Advent

Sunday we combine the assigned Gospel texts for the next two weeks because of the children’s Christmas program on the 16th. This gives us the chance to hear Luke’s account of the ministry of John the Baptizer in a single reading: The word of God comes into the brutal world of Rome and its client kings, announcing God’s righting of the world and the coming of the one who will wash the world in a holy Spirit. And what does it mean to prepare for this wondrous act of God? It is to bear fruit befitting God’s reign: to share your bread with the hungry and your clothes with the naked, to show faithfulness to others rather than plundering them to your benefit.

The journey towards God is a journey towards the neighbor.

The dawn of grace requires we learn to live grace.

So there are warnings on Sunday, the ax poised to strike the fruitless tree, and the winnowing fork sifting the chaff for the fire; heritage doesn’t count for anything, only fidelity. But there is also promise of a dawning salvation: a world set right and a human community awash in the Spirit. It is time, says John, to take sides. Choose the one to whom you will show allegiance: the world of rulers and empire, or the reign of grace.

Sunday we will hear the prophet Malachi speak of God’s messenger who prepares the way for God to come to his temple. His task is to purify the priestly clan of Levi, that their offerings may please rather than offend God. And in this warning of a refiner’s fire we will recognize that it is not only the preachers and priests who must have the dross burned away, but a people who must become faithful.

In the shadow of that warning we will sing the prophetic song of Zechariah that rejoices in God’s favor and the fulfillment of God’s promises, describing the mission of his son, John, to “Go before the Lord to prepare his way.” There are barriers of heart and mind that must be torn down. There are hearts that must be changed, relationships to be reconciled, wounds to be healed, love to be lived.

And we will hear Paul exhort his beloved congregation to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” in the promise that “it is God who is at work in you.”

It is a season of hope, but also a season for living the kingdom.

The Prayer for December 9, 2018

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Lead us in the way of your kingdom
that we may walk in paths of faith, hope and love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 9, 2018

First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
“I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.”
– The prophet known as Malachi spoke to a people who complained of God’s absence, but neglected their offerings and worship of God. He declares that God will come to this people, but warns he will come as a purifying fire.

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” – On this Sunday when we hear of the ministry of John the Baptist, we sing the song known as the Benedictus (from its first words in Latin). This prophecy is sung by Zechariah when he regains his voice after following the divine command to name his son John. He glorifies God for God’s work of deliverance and declares that John “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:12-16 (appointed: Philippians 1:3-11)
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” –Paul writes from prison, urging his beloved congregation to faithfulness in their life together. (Our congregation read Philippians 1:3-11 last week.)

Gospel: Luke 3:1-18 (appointed: Luke 3:1-6)
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” – We combine the Gospel readings for 2 and 3 Advent this Sunday where John is located in the midst of the ruling powers but speaks of the ruler to come – and calls the community to a life in keeping with the dawning reign of God.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Humanitarian_aid_OCPA-2005-10-28-090517a.jpg Technical Sergeant Mike Buytas of the United States Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Journey towards God

File:2014041 465556 21255545 161244.jpg

From last Sunday

The First Sunday of Advent, 2018, Year C

The children were given binoculars on Sunday – as we look on this Sunday to the horizon of history. The theme for the day was “A Journey towards God,” and the texts for Sunday can be found with the post: “The season of hope.” These are a few passages from the day’s sermon. The full message can be found here.

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When we describe this first Sunday in Advent as being about our Journey towards God, we aren’t just talking about my individual spiritual journey, but the journey of the whole world to its re-creation.

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We are moving towards a creation made new. We are moving towards the day when the Spirit of God reigns in every heart. This means we are fundamentally and profoundly people of hope. We don’t look on the sorrows of the world around us with despair. We don’t lay our dead in the ground imagining this is the end. We don’t see the triumph of lies and deceptions and hate as the end of civilization.   It may be the end of our civilization, but it is not the end of God’s work with the world. It’s not the end of the human story.

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What is present to us in Jesus is a new birth of the world. And the followers of Jesus are the messengers of Jesus carrying that new birth to the world.

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We are not waiting with dark pleasure at the thought that the wicked are finally going to get their due. We are rejoicing in the rebirth and transformation of the world. We are sowing the seeds of mercy and light. We are living our reconciliation. We are bearing witness to the mercy of God. We are bold in the face of death, for death has lost its sting. We belong to God. The world belongs to God. And we are headed toward life. Even if it were possible for heaven and earth to pass away, says Jesus, his promise will not pass away.

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The shaking of the powers of the heavens doesn’t mean literal changes to the physical universe – the reference is to the governing powers that oppress human life. The powers that are shaken are hate and fear and racism. The powers that are shaken are tribalism, greed and falsehood. The powers that are shaken are all the tyrants that rule – because a new king is coming: one who reigns in justice and righteousness, one who fills all creation with faithfulness to God and one another, one who sets right the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2014041_465556_21255545_161244.jpg Suvendra.nath [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons