The call remains

File:George Floyd protests in Washington DC. H St. Lafayette Square on 30 May 2020 - RP1 3245.jpgWatching for the Morning of June 14, 2020

Year A

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

With Pentecost behind us we return to the Gospel of Matthew.  Before Lent began, we were listening to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ teaching about the nature of God’s kingdom/way – the new world dawning where the Spirit governs every heart, the world of faithfulness and compassion rather than purity and exclusion.  Now we hear Jesus embodying this world of God’s governance and sending out his followers to do the same.

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

The world has changed since the beginning of Lent.  We observed Ash Wednesday on February 28 before we were ordered to shelter in place, before 115,000 had died here and 404,000 worldwide, before a callous policeman snuffed the life from George Floyd and the Attorney General sent troops with tear gas and weapons to clear peaceful protestors so our president could parade past armed forces to have his picture taken holding a Bible.

The world has changed since the beginning of Lent, but its need for the reign of grace remains.  There are terrible spirits to be cast out.  There are lives and communities in need of healing.  There are outcasts to be gathered in, the unclean to be welcomed.  The sick need care.  The dead need resurrection.

Sunday we will hear the people who have been led out from bondage and through the sea and gathered at the holy mountain declare: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.”  It will be bittersweet, because we know their aspiration to live God’s mercy and justice will not endure.  But the call remains.

The psalm will remind us of God’s faithfulness, and of our own calling, declaring “we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Paul will speak of the majesty of God’s mercy, saying “while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  For us.  For all of us.  For those who die alone in intensive care, for those who break windows and burn, for those who beat heads and push old men to the ground, for those who thrill at the assault of the defenseless and those who thrill at destruction.  All of us, those who hold bibles like trophies and those who weep at the sight.  All of us.  Like sheep without a shepherd.  But the true shepherd has come and is sending his people into this wounded world to bear witness to a world made whole and to live that healing.

The Prayer for June 14, 2020

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

The Texts for June 14, 2020

First Reading: Exodus 19:1-8a  (appointed: 2-8a)
“If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” – Brought out of Egypt and assembled now before God at Mt. Sinai, the people hear and accept God’s covenant: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.”

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

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

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

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Floyd_protests_in_Washington_DC._H_St._Lafayette_Square_on_30_May_2020_-_RP1_3245.jpg Rosa Pineda / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Promise

File:Pordenone Holy Trinity.jpgWatching for the Morning of June 7, 2020

Year A

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

The Trinity is not an abstract concept.  It is not an attempt to define the indefinable.  It is not an ontological description of the divine.  It is a promise.  It is the promise that Jesus the crucified is the face of God.  It is a promise that the Spirit that inflames, comforts, teaches, guides, empowers, confronts, and upholds is the breath of God.  It is a promise that the birth of the world is in the same suffering, healing, forgiving, love manifest in Jesus.  It is a promise that the breath that blew over the primal waters is the same life-giving breath in us and the same breath that will, in the age to come, govern every human heart.

The Trinity is a promise.  God is not a judge on a throne waiting to weigh everyone on eternal scales; God is the mercy that lays down its life for the sheep.  God is not the prime mover, winding up the world like a newly formed watch to let it run; God is the living heartbeat that calls forth life in every nook and cranny of existence.  God is not fickle, like the gods both ancient and modern, whose favors and wraths are petty and unpredictable – bestowing bounty one moment then stealing it away.  God is five loaves feeding five thousand and an ever-flowing stream.

The Trinity is promise, promise that the sorrows we see in the world, the hates, the fears, the grieving, the thieving, the suffering, the silencing, the extinguished breath – these are not our truth.  Our truth is in the word that called forth the world, saw that it was good, and blessed it.  Our truth is in the word made flesh who brought joy to a wedding, transforming water into wine.  Our truth is in the Spirit poured out that proclaimed the praise of God in every language on earth.  Our truth is creation made whole, Babel undone, hearts of stone become living beating hearts, the tree of life, and a river flowing from the throne of God like the river of Eden.

The Trinity is promise.  And all that is to come rests in the arms of this promise.

The Prayer for June 7, 2020

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;
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 June 7, 2020

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

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” – The psalm celebrates the majesty of God and marvels at the position of honor and responsibility God has given to humanity by entrusting God’s 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.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pordenone_Holy_Trinity.jpg; Il Pordenone / Public domain

Grace in the wilderness

A message from Easter morning

The Resurrection of Our Lord, year A

April 12, 2020

Jeremiah 31:1-6: At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
Thus says the LORD:
The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
….the LORD appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
….therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
….O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
….and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
….on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
….and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
….in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
….to the LORD our God.”
(NRSV)

Matthew 28:1-10: After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (NRSV)

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A note as we begin: Often, as I read the text, I notice things that I’d like to stop and point out.  One of these, this morning, is this word ‘greetings’.  The Greek word for ‘greetings’ is ‘rejoice’, and I have to think that might have been a better translation in this particular instance when the risen Lord greets the women as they run to tell the others. 

Matthew’s text is a wonderful accounting of the resurrection.  It conveys the earth-shattering nature of what has happened in Christ Jesus.  The earth quakes at Jesus’ death and, now, a shaking earth accompanies his resurrection.  That notion of the earth convulsing at the death and resurrection of Jesus, of all creation being changed, is a wonderful part of Matthew’s proclamation of the resurrection.

Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

The reading from Jeremiah, today, contains one of my favorite verses:

The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness.

There is much in this passage from Jeremiah that is sweet.  It is a promise of a future for the people when all seems lost.  But this verse, in particular, carries profound sweetness for me.  It is the simple promise that we will find grace in the wilderness.

Jeremiah spent much of his life preaching against the leadership of his nation.  God gave the prophet a task of warning the people they were heading towards disaster.  They had turned away from God’s fundamental commands to do justice and mercy.  Greed and power dominated the leadership of the country.  The leaders listened to house prophets who told them everything was great, the king was wonderful, that everything he did would prosper, and the only thing awaiting them was blessing.  These house prophets were fed at the king’s table.

The independent prophets God raised up, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were perceived as a thorn in the side of the king and an enemy of the country.  Jeremiah was called a traitor, people wanted to kill him and, at one point, was thrown into the mud at the bottom of an empty cistern.

When Jeremiah was banned from the temple courtyards, he had his secretary, Baruch, write down all the prophetic messages he had received from God, and had Baruch go read them.  There were faithful people in the palace who succeeded in getting the prophet’s message before the king but, as they read from the scroll Jeremiah had dictated, the king took his knife, sliced off each ‘page’ of the scroll as the reader finished, and tossed it into the fire burning next to him for warmth.

The nation was living on an illusion that nothing could hurt them.  The leadership had a vain and exalted image of themselves.  And the incompetence and folly of the king and leading wealthy families led ultimately to the destruction of the nation.

Perhaps, the most chilling story is that even after all that Jeremiah had warned came to pass, after the Babylonians had destroyed the temple and palace and carried off the ruling citizens in chains, there were zealots willing to murder the good and faithful person the Babylonians appointed as governor for being a collaborator.

In the chaos after the collapse of the nation, a group of refugees came to Jeremiah, acknowledging that they hadn’t listened to God’s warnings and promising that they would now do whatever God told him they should do.  Jeremiah went off in prayer and returned with a word from God that the people should stay in the land.  But they accused Jeremiah of lying and wanting to harm them.  Taking Jeremiah captive, they fled to Egypt as they had wanted to do.

Jeremiah watched his nation come apart, watched his people ignore all that God said to them about justice and mercy and care for those in need, watched the Babylonian armies come not once but twice – ultimately killing all the king’s sons, looting and destroying the temple, burning it to the ground, tearing down the city walls, and carting off thousands in chains as prisoners and slaves.

Caught up in their vanity and idolatry, the leadership of the nation failed profoundly and persistently.  They ignored God’s commands to keep sabbath, to care for the poor, to protect the vulnerable, to seek justice and live mercifully.  Filled with arrogant folly, they drove the nation off a cliff.

War came.  Marching armies and brutal siege brought devastating hunger followed by devastating slaughter and bottomless despair.  But when tragedy struck, God’s message turned to grace and hope, and “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness.”

There would yet be mercy for them.  There was hope.  There was a word from God that said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  Dancing will come again.  Vineyards will be planted and they will enjoy the fruit.  It will not be plundered by an enemy.  It will not be sucked dry by drought.  They will sing again and they will dance.

The scripture tells the human story without any varnish.  Years of piety tend to shine things up, but the scripture paints a pretty sad – and sometimes graphic – portrait of human folly and sin and the sufferings and desolation we can face.  Yet this book is also persistent in proclaiming that a new life will come.  We will find grace in the wilderness.

The hate and lies that dominate our public square will not endure.  The world doesn’t belong to tyrants and kings.  It doesn’t belong to emperors.  The world has its beginning in God and it will have its ending there.  The world that began in goodness and life will be brought back to goodness and life.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is part of this story of human folly and divine faithfulness.  We will find favor in the wilderness.  When everything seems lost, there God will be found gathering the dry bones and breathing into them new life.  There God will take hearts of stone and turn them into hearts of flesh.  There God will make a new covenant when we have broken the old.  There God will gather us to God’s table and set before us the finest banquet.

The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness.

God loves with an everlasting love.  God’s faithfulness abides.  The time of singing will come.  Tambourines await.

Whatever sorrows life may bring, Christ is risen.  Whatever wilderness we must traverse, Christ is risen.  Whatever fear and uncertainty we confront, Christ is risen.  Human greed and violence and sin and incompetence shall not prevail.  Death does not win.  Grace wins.  Goodness wins.  Life wins

The leadership of Jesus’ day may have called him a liar and a deceiver and a threat to the public good.  But God has overturned their decision.  God has proclaimed Jesus faithful and true.

What he taught is from God.  What he did is from God.  There is grace for the thief on the cross.  There is grace for the woman caught in adultery. There is grace for Zacchaeus the tax collector.  There is grace for the deranged man living among the dead.  There is grace for the synagogue ruler and blind Bartimaeus and the woman who reached through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe.  There is Grace for all.  And there is grace for you.

The people who survived the sword
….found grace in the wilderness.

Amen

File:M25A9895.jpg

Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg,
(so named because it was built on the site where the Russian
Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881).
(a wide view of the previous image).

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© David K Bonde, 2020, All rights reserved.

Photos: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%9F%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%B7%D0%B0%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0.jpg  Timin Ilya / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) [cropped].

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:M25A9895.jpg   Timin Ilya / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Stay with us

File:Duccio di Buoninsegna - Road to Emmaus - WGA06821.jpg

Watching for the Morning of April 26, 2020

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

Jesus won’t stay.  He sits down for the breaking of the bread with the disciples at Emmaus, but then he is off.  There are others who need to see him.

That sense of mission persists in the resurrection narratives.  The work is not over.  There is a world in need of healing, a world in need of peace, a world that needs to be met by the risen Christ.  Sunday we will hear Peter finish his message to the crowds on Pentecost and they will ask to be washed in the Spirit of God.  From there they will gather around the broken bread and preached word.  The poet of the psalm will cry out to God for deliverance from a deadly disease.  Healed, he lifts up “the cup of salvation” and proclaims they mercy of God.  The letter of 1 Peter will speak of how they have been born anew “through the living and enduring word of God.”

Jesus has spent hours rooting his followers in the scriptures and explaining how his life, death, and resurrection embody the whole witness of scripture to a God who calls us forth into life and delivers us again and again when the future seems lost.  It is not just a few passages about a suffering servant and a promised Messiah that his followers must learn, but the message of a God who calls forth a good and beautiful world from the primal chaos, who protects our first parents when they have betrayed God and lost the garden, who delivers the creation at the time of Noah and blesses it anew, who gives Abraham and Sarah a child when the promise of blessing to the world seems hopeless, who delivers a people from bondage and leads them through the wilderness despite their faithlessness, who remains faithful even when Jerusalem and its temple falls.  When all hope fails, God is there to lead us back to God’s will and way.  Deserts bloom and a highway opens in the wilderness.  The stone is rolled away and the emptiness of the grave is seen.

In the word and the breaking of the bread Christ is present.  But then he is away.  There is a world to heal, a new creation to dawn.

The Prayer for April 26, 2020

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for April 26, 2020

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-42 (appointed, 2:14a, 36-41)
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.  Many respond and are baptized, joining the community around the word and breaking of the bread.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-14 (appointed: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19)
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” – a prayer of thanksgiving for healing.  The poet is delivered from death and feasts in the Lord’s presence.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.

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I apologize to those who follow this blog for my absence during the last several months.  My time was taken up with daily devotions for Lent at our Holy Seasons site.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Road_to_Emmaus_-_WGA06821.jpg  Duccio di Buoninsegna / Public domain

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.

*   *   *

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