Fruit

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Watching for the Morning of October 8, 2017

Year A

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 22 / Lectionary 27

Somewhere along the way we seem to have imagined that Jesus’ parables are sweet little agrarian stories about the love of God and the importance of kindness and mercy. At least that was the impression I gained from Sunday School as a child. It’s hard for us, raised on a piety of the tender good shepherd, to hear Jesus’ blunt and brutal attacks upon the leadership of the nation. But here we are. Chapter 21 has brought Jesus to Jerusalem and he fully stands in the tradition of the prophets and their powerful critiques of those in authority. He drives the moneychangers from the temple. He heals the blind and lame (powerless). He curses the fig tree for bearing no fruit (a symbol of the nation). He rebuffs those who challenge his authority by trapping them in their cynicism and self-preservation. He gets them to condemn themselves with the parable of the two sons. And now, this Sunday, we will hear him again get the leaders of the people to condemn themselves with their own words by the parable of the rebel tenants: “‘When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’”

The poor and the outcast that Jesus has gathered around him, however, hear a word of grace: “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [the leaders] and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom [the poor and outcast who embrace the justice and mercy of God’s reign].”

We are in for a rough and tumble ride these last Sundays of the church year. Fortunately there are some festivals scattered in: Reformation Sunday and All Saints (and last Sunday’s blessing of the animals).

But judgment is always mercy. There is grace for the poor and lame. There is the possibility of repentance (changing our ways and showing allegiance to God’s justice and mercy). And there is the knowledge that though the powers judged Jesus a heretic, God proclaimed him true. We who come to stand before these stories know the crucified one was raised.

Sunday we will hear the prophet Isaiah’s brilliant use of a tawdry tale of infidelity to proclaim judgment on the nation (see “Scandal”). The poet will also use this imagery of Israel as God’s vineyard to plea for God’s aid. And Paul will count all his worldly claims for honor and righteousness to be but rubbish. Christ alone matters: sharing in the resurrection, participating in the life of the age to come, living the realm of God already manifest in Christ, bearing the fruit our master requires.

The Prayer for October 8, 2017

God of mercy, Lord of all,
you have made us to be your vineyard, your field,
your heart and hands and voice in the world.
Govern our hearts and minds by your Holy Spirit,
that our lives might bear forth the fruit of your kingdom;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 8, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7
“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard.” – The prophet sings of his “beloved” who tenderly cared for his vineyard only to have it yield bitter grapes and invites the people of Judah to judge whether he is not justified in tearing it down.

Psalmody: Psalm 80:7-15
“You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it… Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?” – The psalm uses the image of Israel as a vine, brought out of Egypt and planted in a good land, and laments that the vineyard has been breached and ravaged by the wild beasts – a metaphor for the destruction of the nation.

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
– Paul declares that he considers all his righteousness under the law as worthless compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus and his righteousness.

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46
“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.” – Taking up the conventional imagery of Israel as God’s vineyard from Isaiah and the psalms, Jesus tells a story of an absentee landlord whose tenants refused to give to their master the fruit they owed him. The tenants rebel and kill the son in order to claim the vineyard for themselves, but are ultimately destroyed and the vineyard given to others.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGrenache_grapes_on_the_vine.jpg By Josh McFadden (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_3272) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Seeing death and life

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Watching for the Morning of March 13, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

The passion draws near. Next Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday and the following week are the three days of the Paschal Triduum: Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper when Jesus washed feet and broke bread and, after, was grabbed by the mob in the night; Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion; and Saturday evening, the Great Vigil of Easter when by the celebration/renewal of baptism we journey with Christ from the realm of death into the realm of life.

This Sunday the Gospel reading anticipates all that is to come when Mary anoints Jesus with oil in a prophetic anticipation of his death. The others don’t see the death coming, so they complain about the “waste” of this expensive perfume. But Jesus sees.

They are in Bethany among the sick – near to the temple but out of sight by law. They are in Bethany where Lazarus was raised. They are at Bethany where Jesus ascends. They are in the place where our need for healing is manifest – and where Christ reigns.

So on this day we hear the prophet Isaiah declare that something greater than the exodus is coming. And the psalmist sings of the wheat sown into the soil with tears and rising into abundance with joy. And Paul writes of his Judean credentials, which he willingly casts aside for the sake of gaining Christ. Like an athlete training that he or she might ascend the dais for the laurel wreath, I press on,” writes Paul, “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Enlightened

File:36e rencontres internationales de Taizé Strasbourg 31 décembre 2013 11.jpgThis week we are conclude our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He gathers me into the Body of Christand that is the subject of our daily devotions. This Sunday we will continue in the third article of the creed with the theme: “He enlightens me by his word and Spirit.”

There are many elements of the creed – and especially of the third article of the creed – that could occupy our attention. The five we chose were: Created, Redeemed, Called, Gathered, Enlightened. And on this fifth Sunday in Lent our focus is on that word ‘Enlightened’. We see the world differently in the light of Christ. We see not only conflict but peace. We see not only revenge but forgiveness. We see not only greed but a shared table. We see not only death but life. The world isn’t changed, but we are changed. By the word and Holy Spirit eyes are opened to see. Light shines in the darkness. Light shines in our hearts.

The Prayer for March 13, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you breathe upon us your Spirit
and open our minds to understand your Word.
Grant us wisdom and understanding
that we may not walk in darkness but in the light of life;
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 March 13, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” – Through the prophet God announces a new exodus: God will bring the people through the wilderness back from their exile in Babylon.

Psalmody: Psalm 126
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”
– Using images of death and resurrection, the poet sings of God’s wondrous deliverance and prays for God to again “restore our fortunes.”

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” –
Paul warns the Philippians about those who would compel them to keep circumcision and the Judean traditions. Though his ‘credentials’ in that tradition are impeccable, he wants only “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.”

Gospel: John 12:1-8
“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.”
– The Jerusalem council has determined to put Jesus to death. Now, as Passover approaches, Jesus has come out of hiding to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, where Mary anoints him for his burial.

Enlightened: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the theme for week 3 from the third article of the creed: Week 4: Gathered.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus.jpg  By 125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A36e_rencontres_internationales_de_Taiz%C3%A9_Strasbourg_31_d%C3%A9cembre_2013_11.jpg  By Photo Claude TRUONG-NGOC (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally made whole

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Wednesday

Philippians 3:17-4:1

21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

One of my early experiences in ministry was with a woman who died of cancer. I remember few details now, only that it eventually spread to her brain. She was a lovely young woman with children at the end of high school and beginning of college.

I watched as she slowly deteriorated, and knew that the end was drawing near. But the doctors in those days were all geared to keeping spirits up rather than telling the truth, and she slipped into a coma before her parents or children could make their goodbyes. I alone had that chance.

There have been children in my parish who struggled with cancer, an infant who died from a ruptured appendix, many who have struggled with deteriorating joints, failing hearts, livers and lungs. And then there are those who struggled with dementia and mental illness. I can still feel the distress of one woman in a nursing home who begged me to help her escape, certain she had been kidnapped, and others for whom the room swirled with voices.

Paul lives in a world without any of the benefits of modern medicine. The bones of archaeological digs show people suffering from numerous afflictions. Life was painful and short. But even though physicians can now do wondrous things, our bodies are frail, limited, failing.

It sounds fanciful, perhaps even delusional, to say that Christ “will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory,” that our frail bodies, lying under the sentence of death, shall be transformed into resurrected bodies like that of Christ Jesus. But you cannot deny the power of such a hope.

We tend to settle for a kind death and an end to the pain. And/or we adopt the Greek notion of an immortal soul free from a body altogether. But Christian faith persists in the notion that the world was not intended to be suffering and sorrow and that the author of the universe will fulfill the promise of delivering his creation from death’s dominion. I cannot conceive what this means except by metaphor. It’s why I appreciate the remark by the elder in 1 John: Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

I don’t know what we shall be, but I live in the light of the promise that the work is begun in us and shall be brought to completion, that we shall be like Christ risen: finally made whole, finally made fully and truly alive.

 

Photo: By Malene Thyssen (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Threats and sorrows and joy

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Watching for the Morning of February 21, 2016

Year C

The Second Sunday in Lent

Last Sunday showed us Jesus in the wilderness tested – attacked – by the devil. This Sunday he is under attack from the political powers in Galilee. But Jesus is not moved. He will fulfill his mission. And prophets don’t perish anywhere but in Jerusalem.

Are the Pharisees hoping to scare Jesus out of their neighborhood? Or are they concerned for him because they like Herod Antipas even less? Herod is in power only because of the arrangement of his ruthless father, Herod the Great, and his alliance with Rome. But there is no reason to think that Herod’s threat isn’t real, for any talk of God’s kingdom is a threat to the kings of this world.

There is a shadow over this Sunday. Abraham has an encounter with God that is both full of promise and “a deep and terrifying darkness”. The psalmist sings that “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” and then speaks of evildoers who “assail me to devour my flesh.” Paul writes to warn the members of his congregation in Philippi to watch out for false teachers whose “god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame,” yet reminds them that Christ will come: “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory”

There are foxes attacking the henhouse. Fire is coming that will destroy the city and temple. But, there is protection under the wings of the hen – in trust and allegiance to the kingdom Christ brings – but God’s people will not come. And so Jesus laments. Their ‘house’ is abandoned, the temple desecrated and burned, and they will not find the kingdom until they turn to welcome God’s reign and the one “who comes in the name of the LORD.”

Redeemed

File:Dmitrienko-Golgotha-1954-97X130.jpgLast week we began our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Our focus last Sunday was a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism “He has created me and all that exists.” This week we look at the second article of the creed and the line from the Catechism: “He has purchased and freed me from all sins.”

Between “Created” and “Redeemed” stands the rubble of Syria, the poverty of the slums of Mumbai, the machetes of Rwanda, the distended bellies of the Sudan, the tyranny of North Korea, the flooded homes of the 9th Ward, the tainted forests of Chernobyl, the polluted waters of the Cuyahoga, the toxic air of Beijing, the scarred lands of West Virginia, the rising seas, the rapid pace of extinctions, the long human history of oppression and violence, not to mention the very personal violence of home and street.

We are created in the image of God, given to the world as icons of God’s grace and love, entrusted with the care of the planet and one another. But we have lost our way, lost the garden, lost our souls. But the human story doesn’t end in dismay. It has its goal in Christ.

The story of redemption takes us to the crucifixion. In the mystery of this sacrifice something happens that changes everything. Our fate is no longer tied to our sins and brokenness but to Christ. Though the path to the garden was blocked, the path into the new creation has been opened. The gates of hell have not prevailed. Christ has set sin’s prisoners free.

The Prayer for February 21, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you came to us in your Son, Jesus
and by his sacrifice delivered us from death’s dominion.
Make us ever mindful of the depth of your love
and the price of our redemption
that we may live your grace and life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 21, 2016

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
“‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” – Abram (Abraham) has trusted God’s promise and journeyed to the land of Canaan – yet he and Sarai remain childless. God renews the promise of many descendants and confirms it with an ancient covenant ceremony.

Psalmody: Psalm 27
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
– The psalmist expresses his trust in God’s faithfulness and seeks God’s deliverance.

Second Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.” – Paul warns his beloved congregation about false teachers who put their confidence in the outward marks of circumcision rather than the grace of God in Christ who will bring to us the fullness of God’s reign.

Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
– Jesus is warned about Herod’s threat on his life, but he is not dissuaded from his ministry knowing that his destiny lies in Jerusalem – and over Jerusalem he laments, for they refuse God’s reign.

Redeemed: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the meaning of the first article of the creed and our theme for week 1: “He has created me and all that exists”. We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

First image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWankie_Christ_on_the_Cross.jpg by Creator:Władysław Wankie (cyfrowe.mnw.art.pl) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Second image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADmitrienko-Golgotha-1954-97X130.jpg by Rurik Dmitrienko – Pierre Dmitrienkko (Dmitrienko-Archives) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons