One came back

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Watching for the Morning of October 9, 2016

Year C

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

Healing comes to the fore this Sunday, but much more than healing. Namaan, the Syrian general, enemy of Israel, yet sufferer, is told by a slave girl, captured from Israel, that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him. The story is filled with humor and irony and the radical ways of God who is not impressed with the trappings of wealth and power but simple obedience. A God of grace beyond Israel’s borders, though Namaan himself is still bound by the idea that Israel’s God is like all the others: powerful only on his own specific bits of land.

And the psalmist sings of the mighty works of God – though he, too, doesn’t yet seem to fully understand that God’s mighty works are not just for his people, but for all.

The author of 2 Timothy knows that “the word of God is not chained”, yet his focus is on “the elect” not on the vast sweep of humanity – indeed of the created world, itself.

And so we come to Jesus. Ten sufferers stand far off, crying out from a distance because they are unclean and unworthy to come near to anyone but their fellow sufferers. They cry for mercy and Jesus sends them to the priests who are the ones appointed by God to judge whether anyone is “clean” and may go home. They scamper off, but one returns. One is captured by the grace he has received. One is driven to his knees in gratefulness and praise. And he is a Samaritan, a foreigner, one to whom God is thought to have no obligation or concern.

But Jesus knows this God of the creation and the exodus and the water turned to wine is the God of all: the sinners and the saints, the outcast and the inner circle, the broken and the whole, the lost and the found.

The nine scamper off to resume their lives – and who can blame them? But the one who turned back, the one with his face to the ground, the one with tears in his eyes and a heart bursting, knows that something much more than a village healer has come.

The Prayer for October 9, 2016

God our healer and redeemer,
stretch forth your hand,
touch us with your spirit
that, cleansed and made whole,
we may live lives of gratefulness and praise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 9, 2016

First Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-19a (appointed, 5:1-3, 7-15)
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram… suffered from leprosy.”
– The commander of Israel’s hostile neighbor is told by a captured Israelite maid that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.” – An acrostic hymn singing the praise of God from Aleph to Tau (A to Z).

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” – Written by Paul (or, as some scholars think, in Paul’s name) from prison to his protégé Timothy, the author speaks to the next generation of leadership urging faithfulness to the teaching they have received.

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?’” –As Jesus approaches a village he is met by ten people suffering from a dreaded skin affliction that excludes them from their families and community. They are sent on their way healed, but only the Samaritan in the group returns to acknowledge Jesus and give thanks to God.

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Who are we?

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Thursday

Psalm 8

4What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,

The psalmist stands before the majesty and wonder of the world and asks the question, “Who are we, that you should show such care for us? Who are we that you should crown us with glory? Who are we that you should entrust all this into our hands, that you should grant us the honor of exercising your care of your creation?”

The poet is exulting in the wonder of human existence. We are the ones who get to peer into the farthest reaches of the universe. We are the ones who get to climb earth’s highest mountains and plumb its greatest depths. We are the ones who get to study the mysteries of DNA and the flight of the bumblebee. We are the ones who can breed wolves into sheep dogs and retrievers and fluffy little white things to sit in our laps. We are the ones who train a grape vine to grow on a trellis and dance with the joy of wine. We are the ones to take cows milk and turn it into Gruyere and Gorgonzola. We are the ones who master fire and the atom. We paint the Sistine Chapel and the murals of Diego Rivera. We are the ones who turn mold into penicillin and learn to purify water.

Yet you have made us but a little lower than gods!

But we are not gods. If only we could get that right. We are not gods. We were given the privilege of exercising God’s care of the earth. It is ours to tend, not ours to rape and pillage. It is ours to treasure not to plunder. We were given the animals to name not to slaughter. We were given one another to love not to wound and kill.

We are privileged above all other creatures. But we lose our way when we lose wonder and praise…when we turn from the one who made us…when we forget all this is a trust…when we reach for God’s throne…when we forget who we are.

 

image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMount-Yamnuska2-Szmurlo.jpg by Chuck Szmurlo [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I will sing

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Thursday

Psalm 104:24-31

33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

I sat down to work on this post, and wrote I just wish that I could hearinstead. It’s posted on my blog Jacob_Limping – Jacob limping towards the Promised Land.

There are times we can’t sing. It’s why we come together as a worshipping community – so that others can carry us with their song.

It is the hardest thing to teach congregations. We are so wired to think of worship in terms of what it does for me. We evaluate the preaching, the music, the hymns, the prayers – even the acolytes and ushers – based on what they do for me. Does the preacher inspire me? Do the songs speak to me? But there have been times when I have not been able to sing – or even to speak – and in those times the congregation has carried me.

We sing for one another. We pray the ‘Amen’ for one another. We say the creed even if that morning we cannot believe any of it, because there are people there who need to hear all of it – that there is a God who fashioned them in love, who embraces them in Christ, who gathers them by the Spirit.

We sing for one another. We bear each other up like the men bringing their friend on his mat to Jesus. So determined are they that, when they cannot get in the door, they carry home to the roof and lower him down. Would we were so determined in our song. Determined to sing for one another. Determined to sing for the world. Determined to sing for the whole creation. Determined to sing with and for the Leviathan in the sea.

The world needs our song. The world of crackling weapons and concussive explosions needs our song. The world of angry mobs and bitter politicians needs our song. The mean streets and lonely houses need our song.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APriereMilan.jpg By Taizé (Taizé) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Blessings

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Saturday

Psalm 67

1May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.

We all want God to bless us. We want God to bless our homes and our children. We want God to bless our tables and our jobs. We want God to grant us prosperity and peace. We want God to protect us from all evil.

And when we are generous, we want God to bless every table – though the truth is we are more concerned with our own than those neighbors far away.

We think blessing is an end in itself, that it is good to be blessed, that it is good to have safety and security and abundance. We have a much harder time thinking of blessing as a means to an end. God intends to accomplish something through it. God is not just giving us an overflowing pantry. God is giving such a pantry that others might know God’s grace and power.

And it’s not this strange American perversion: “Look at me. I’m rich because of God. You can be rich, too.”   It’s rather, “Look at the abundance of God that there is plenty to share.”

There are two types of wealth in scripture. There is the wealth that comes from rich fields and timely rains. And there is the wealth that comes from profiting at the expense of others. The first is regarded as God’s blessing; the second as “unrighteous mammon”. But the wealth that comes from the fortune of good weather and land – wealth that is gift from God – is meant to be shared. If my fields prosper, I have the obligation to aid those whose fields did not. This is the failure of man in the parable of the rich fool. When his barns overflowed, he thought only of himself and not his obligation to his neighbors. He was at ease, but no one else. This is also the problem of the rich man with Lazarus at his gate.

So the psalm is a harvest song, calling upon all creation to recognize God’s goodness, God’s abundant generosity. The harvest is meant to bring joy to all – and give rise to praise from all. God’s blessing has a purpose: “that your way [God’s generosity and goodness and care for all] may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.”

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Singing harmony

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Wednesday

Psalm 148

3Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!

I switched my major from Math to Medieval Studies my second year in college, much to the surprise and bewilderment of parents who wondered how I was going to earn a living with that! But I was enamored with the medieval vision of the harmony of the spheres. (I also needed to fulfill a language requirement and German wasn’t working for me. Fortunately Latin did: it was a math problem on paper rather than a conversational challenge. My eyes are better than my ears.)

The medieval world imagined the skies as a series of concentric spheres, crystal clear, in which were embedded the planets and stars. As they rotated around the earth they sang like a finger on crystal wine glasses, and together lifted up a song of rich and wondrous harmony. Amidst the cacophony of the world and the grief of my brother’s death, such harmony was alluring.

It still is.

I joined the church choir because I have always wanted to learn to sing in harmony. It’s work for me. Fortunately our music director is gracious and patient. But every now and then I get it and it’s wonderful.

I watched a bit of a nature show on PBS last evening. Nature is pretty brutal up close. A crow ate all the eggs of the sage grouse the filmmaker followed. And there was a pretty graphic but amazing shot of a small eaglet working to wolf down a whole ground squirrel. It may not be exactly a dog-eat-dog world but it is an everybody-eats-somebody world. Ruthless even in its beauty.

But there is this vision in our psalm of a world singing in harmony. There is this Biblical vision of a world conceived in love and established as a garden – a world that got broken but will be remade, renewed, redeemed. This is the culminating vision in the Book of Revelation: Out of the world’s chaos and terrors will be born a Jerusalem in which the light never fails and the gates are never shut. It is the world of the empty tomb, and the word of grace, and the shared table, and the holy bath, and the Spirit of God poured into every heart, and the eternal song of joy – a song our eternal choir director, long-suffering and patient, never gives up trying to teach us.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASavault_Chapel_Under_Milky_Way_BLS.jpg  By Benh LIEU SONG (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Like a bridegroom

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Friday

Psalm 19

4 In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

The image of the bridegroom bursting forth from his tent may not speak as easily to us as the strong man running his course in joy. We have all seen the victors in an Olympic race grab their national flag and lap the field in exultation and joy, or our favorite team charge onto the field of battle amidst thundering music and fireworks, gesturing to the crowd to get them roaring louder.

The bridegroom coming out “from his wedding canopy” – is this image the canopy held over the bridal couple during their vows? Is the equivalent modern image the bridal couple beaming as they come down the aisle? Or is it the groom coming forth from the bridal chamber, fresh and triumphant from the arms of his beloved? Ancient mythology imagined the sun-god spending the night with his lover and rising vigorous to run his race across the heavens.

It’s a far cry from our usual groan as the alarm goes off on Monday morning and we rise to face the day. We who are wearied by the changes and chances of life do not normally bound out of bed. If the news media and pharmaceutical industry ads are to be believed, we are perennially tired, depressed, or afflicted.

It is refreshing to imagine the sun bursting into the day like an athlete onto the field, a celestial celebration with arms raised in joy and exaltation. The Biblical writers see the trees clapping, the mountains singing, the waves resounding in praise. We are diminished when the song of the meadowlark is not heard as a song of praise but merely a territorial claim and an attempted intimidation of rivals. We are diminished when the whisper of the Aspen is just wind and not the forest asong or in prayer.   We are diminished when the sun is just a nearby star and not a bridegroom filled with love and joy.

Life is hard. But it is made harder when we do not see the beauty around us – and when we do not understand that all the beauty and song of the natural world praises the life-giving, merciful, and steadfast love at the heart of all existence.

Perhaps we would greet the day more kindly if we remembered that “the heavens are telling the glory of God…”

 

Image: By Bartosz Kosiorek [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

Answered and unanswered prayer: Two thoughts on Psalm 116

Wednesday

Psalm 116:1-9

File:What will the day bring? (5124379114).jpg1 I love the Lord,
because he has heard my voice
and my supplications.

There are many for whom there is no deliverance. Many whose loved ones perish. Many whose pleas fall to the ground. Many whose days are spent in want. Many whose nights are spent in darkness. This is the problem with answered prayer. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those whose prayer has not been answered.

It is bittersweet when the friends of the childless become pregnant. It is bittersweet when the unloved see couples kiss. It is bittersweet when the abandoned see others embraced.

Perhaps bittersweet is all we can hope for, trapped as we in a broken world, trapped as we tend to be inside our own selves. “I am glad for you” even as I feel the pang of my own disappointment. Maybe this is why we find it easier to speak our needs in church rather than our thanksgivings; we don’t want anyone to feel badly when the prayers of another are answered.

But isn’t this what the rite of confession means when it says, “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves”? We are prisoners to our selves. I filter your good news through my own bad news, and it robs you of your joy and God of the glory due his name.

Grace happens. Some prayers do get answered. Some are healed. Some are saved. Some are given work and families and joy.

And to whom shall we give credit? Luck? Fortune? Chance? Is God not the author of all grace? Is it right to be silent when such a gift is given? Is it right not to praise the one who is the author of such sweetness?

No, the problem is mine, that I am trapped within myself. I need a deliverer to call me out of myself into the joy of God wherever the world is touched by the life and grace of God.

Psalm 116:1-9

3The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

I don’t know whether this translation carries enough emotional power for the poet’s complaint. ‘Snares’ and ‘pangs’ and ‘Sheol’ make it all seem a little distant, a little abstract, a little theoretical. I wonder if we shouldn’t be talking about the bony hand of death dragging us down. The fearful shadows swallowing all hope. Drowning in despair.

There are moments when you get tired of fighting, when you are ready to surrender, ready to give up and slip beneath the waves. And then comes the fear, the fight, the will to live, the desperate prayer for help, and the hand plunging beneath the water to haul you up again into the air.

The poet’s song is a deep and profound praise. God is not a god who helps those who help themselves; God is the LORD who reaches down to snatch us back from the grave. God is not the patron of the privileged who do not have to wrestle with demons; God is the LORD who joins us in battle. God is light – not so much the radiant peace as the flaming sword to deliver us from the eternal night.

There are people who fight terrible spiritual battles. Some survive. Some do not. But all are saved. And if some did not survive to give God the praise, then we would not know this God who empties the grave, this God who yanks us back from the realm of sorrow into joy, from the realm of shame into grace, from the realm of death into life.

It is because of the testimony of some, like this psalmist, that we can see light upon our path and the joy of surprising grace. It is because of those whose prayers are answered that we know that all such prayers shall ultimately be answered. Healing awaits us.

 

Photocredit: By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia (What will the day bring?  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A community of grateful praise

Friday

Colossians 3:15-17

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Saronno, Santuario della Beata Vergine dei Miracoli, Concert of Angels, fresco, 1535

With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

We tend to think about ourselves as individuals, but this verse is spoken to a community. There is science to back up the importance of living in gratitude, and it is a valuable practice to make note in a journal or conversation or prayer the things for which we are grateful each day. But our author is speaking to a congregation, an assembly of believers.

With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

Individual gratitude tends to look upon the material realm – gratitude for our children, for friends, for partners, for something good that happened in the day, for a kindness we were able to give or receive, for a reassuring health report, for finding a job, solving a problem, completing a task. All of this is important, but the community is responding to something far different than a good day; it is singing the praise of God for God’s redeeming work in Christ. The community sees not only God’s individual mercies, but God’s cosmic mercies. It sees faithfulness and love written into the fabric of all existence. It sees grace and life as life’s ultimate truth and the creation’s destiny. It hears the harmony of the spheres. It hears the angel choirs. It hears the trees of the forest singing and the sea roaring its praise.

The Christian congregation is a community of grateful praise.

When we come together on that first day of the week in which Mary and the women found the grave empty, we come to sing and dance in the light of creation’s new morning. We come to rejoice that heaven has come near to earth, that the city in the heavens that corresponds to the Jerusalem on earth is “coming down” to earth like a bride adorned. The realm of life is joining this realm on earth where fear and death struggles mightily to reign. When Jesus casts out demons and heals the sick he is not working individual gracious miracles, he is bringing that realm where demons cannot dwell and sorrow and sighing flee away.

I certainly praise God and am full of gratitude for every good thing – the privilege of a morning cup of coffee, the delight of good bread, the goodness of a nice wine, the joy of a family gathering, the warmth of the sun, and the possibility of a hot shower, however brief it may be in a time of drought. This is why Christians have a practice of saying grace with their meals. Even if breakfast is no more than a piece of toast eaten on the run, we give God thanks.

But the most important work of the Christian community is to sing together, to sing with gratitude, to remember and live and bear witness to the grace and life that is the heart of all things.

 

Image: Gaudenzio Ferrari [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Created to sing

Watching for the Morning of June 7, 2015

Year B

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 5 / Lectionary 10
A Celebration of Music

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der Neustädter Hof- und Stadtkirche St. Johannis, Hannover am 4. Advent 2011

This Sunday our parish is departing from the assigned texts for June 7 as we focus on a celebration of music. It is not uncommon for congregations to choose a day at the end of the school year to honor its choirs and musicians. This year, however, we wanted to do more – to speak about the importance of music in our spiritual lives.

Song reaches deep into the most primitive parts of the brain. As every parent of a teenager knows, we are very sensitive not just to the words people say, but the tone of voice they use. It evokes a deeply instinctive reaction in us.

It is by song and vocalization that every species communicates fundamental messages. I can hear birds singing as I write this and, however beautiful I may find their song, I know it means “This is my turf” or a seductive “Come hither.” We wouldn’t coo at babies if the sounds themselves didn’t do something to bind adult and child together.

There are times God thunders at Israel, and times he speaks in a deep stillness – but most of what we have of God’s direct speech is poetry. God communicates with us not in the dry data of legislation, but the passionate, poetic imagery of the prophets.

And we speak to God in poetry – in songs of love, songs of anguish, songs of hope, songs of joy. Our communication with the divine is not through text messaging; it is in song.

So this Sunday we will hear Moses and Miriam lead the men and women of Israel in the song of celebration that Egypt’s army is fallen and the people free. We will hear Zechariah sing with joy at God’s faithfulness: through Zechariah’s newborn son John – whom we will come to know as John the Baptist – God is beginning his work of our redemption in Christ Jesus. Paul, or someone in Paul’s name, calls us to abide in God’s word and sing together our praises. And the psalmist calls for all creation – sun and moon and creeping things – to join in a universal song of praise to God.

We were created to sing.

The Prayer for a Celebration of Music, June 7, 2015

Almighty God, before you no one can stand;
yet you lift up the fallen and raise up the broken
and all creation sings your praise.
Grant us confidence in your mercy and joy in our hearts
that we may join the song that resounds into eternity,
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for a Celebration of Music, June 7, 2015

First Reading: Exodus 15:1-21
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” – Delivered from Pharaoh’s army, the people of Israel stand at the far side of the sea singing.

Psalmody: Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! … Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.”
– The poet calls all heaven and earth to join in praise of God.

Second Reading: Colossians 3:15-17
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
– The author calls the Christian community to a common life of joy, praise and song.

Gospel: Luke 1:57-79
“Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.” – At the naming of his son, John, (John the Baptizer) Zechariah confirms the name John, regains his voice, and sings the “prophecy” we know as the Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them…”

 

Binding the strong man

Year B

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 05 / Lectionary 10

File:Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg - The Angel Binding Satan - Google Art Project.jpg

The Angel Binding Satan, Philip James de Loutherbourg

The appointed readings for this Sunday take us back into the dramatic conflict of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has stormed onto the scene, casting out demons and healing the sick, traveling the countryside announcing the dawning of God’s reign. It is aberrant behavior for a construction worker, in a society that doesn’t tolerate aberrant behavior.

There can be only two explanations for such behavior: Jesus is possessed by the devil or a prophet of God. But prophets are rare and Jesus’ challenge of the Jerusalem leadership guarantees he will be regarded as possessed. So Jesus’ family comes to collect him, to take him home, to silence him and so keep him safe. But Jesus will have none of it. Satan cannot cast out Satan; a house divided will fall. His family is the community of those who do God’s will, who live the kingdom now. And he is the strong man who has bound Satan and plunders his house.

The Prayer for Propers B 5

Eternal God, font of Grace and Mercy,
set us free from all that binds us
and make us faithful to your will,
that we may be counted as members of your household,
now and forever;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The appointed Texts for Propers B 5

First Reading: Genesis 3:8-15
“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” – God confronts Adam and Eve after they have eaten of the tree that brings the knowledge not only of life’s joys but its sorrows, and condemns to the dust the serpent who poisoned their trust in God.

Psalmody: Psalm 130
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. LORD, hear my voice!”
– The psalmist cries out to God for mercy and declares his confident hope in the LORD’s redeeming.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
– Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth contains many ups and downs. Though he has been attacked and criticized within the congregation – and suffered trials for the sake of the Gospel – these bearers of the message do not lose heart. The sure promise of the dawning kingdom and their participation in that healed and transformed (resurrected) world sustains them.

Gospel: Mark 3:20-35
“He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” – Jesus is accused of using demonic powers and his family comes to collect him. But Jesus declares that a divided kingdom cannot stand and his true family are those who do the will of God: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

Photo: By Buddi1947 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Painting: Philip James de Loutherbourg [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Majesty and Mystery

Watching for the Morning of May 31, 2015

Year B

Holy Trinity

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Hildegard of Bingen, Miniature of the Holy Trinity

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

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

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

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

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

The Prayer for May 31, 2015

One God, Holy and Eternal,
before whom all heaven sings,
and to whom belong the praises of all the earth;
you have made yourself known by the name Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let your Word shake the wilderness,
bringing new birth to all creation
and gathering all things into your eternal song;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for May 31, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

 

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