Like a shrub in the desert

File:Tree trunk at Deadvlei, Namibia (2017).jpgWatching for the Morning of February 17, 2019

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

From the mountain where he has prayed and appointed twelve apostolic witnesses, Jesus now descends to the plain to speak to the crowds who have come in search of healing. We know these words as “Blessed are you…” and “Woe to you…” but their meaning is better expressed by something like “How honored are you…” and “How shameful are you…”

It is about wealth and poverty – but wealth and poverty in a very specific context that concerns far more than money. It is a society that thinks about all things as a limited and fixed supply. It is like land: for someone to gain more someone else must lose. The ‘poor’ are those who have been unable to protect what was theirs, whether possessions or lands or family name. The ‘rich’ are those who have used their power to acquire what belonged to others. They are inherently regarded as thieves. (This is different, however, from those who prosper by natural means such as an exceptional harvest or fruitful flock – though such gifts from God require sharing with those not so fortunate.)

We understand something of this. We regard the auto mechanic who takes advantage of a traveler on the road as a thief, as are the pharmaceutical companies that jack up the price of life-saving medications – or those who pushed the sale of opiates. It is shameful to take advantage of the weak or vulnerable. It is shameful to steal from the elderly. It is shameful to abuse children. “Woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full now… Woe to you who are laughing now…” It is not a threat of punishment so much as a declaration that such people are shameful in God’s eyes and have no place in God’s reign.

No one is lucky to be poor. No one is fortunate to be powerless. There is no inherent good in being a victim (though good can come if it incites us not to victimize others, if it creates allegiance to the reign of God). The vulnerable are favored in God’s eyes because God has always been their advocate and defender, and now the reign of God has drawn near in Jesus the anointed. But what is expected of the poor – as also of the powerful, though they tend to refuse – is that they embrace this reign where bread is shared and sins forgiven and the human community made whole.

Jesus’ words on Sunday are full of grace to the beaten down, but they challenge the privileged – even as Jeremiah and the psalm contrast the tree drawing life from a stream with the dry shrub in the desert.

The Prayer for February 17, 2019

God of Mercy,
Redeemer of the world,
bring your healing to us and to all
that, transformed by your Grace,
all may know your justice and mercy.

The Texts for February 17, 2019

First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-10
“Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals.” – The prophet condemns the king whose confidence in power politics has led him to an alliance with the king of Egypt to rebel against Babylon, a course of action that will lead to the destruction of the nation. The timelessness of the wisdom saying is pointedly applied to the nation’s leadership.

Psalmody: Psalm 1
“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.”
– The psalm, written in the singular (“Blessed is the one”) opens the Hebrew psalter with an affirmation of the importance of individual fidelity to God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” – Paul challenges those in Corinth who deny bodily resurrection.

Gospel: Luke 6:17-26
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.’” – Having ascended a mountain to pray and then chosen his twelve apostolic witnesses, Jesus comes down to teach a great crowd of his followers, beginning with these declarations of those who are honored and shameful in God’s sight.

+   +   +

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tree_trunk_at_Deadvlei,_Namibia_(2017).jpg Olga Ernst & Hp.Baumeler [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Counting the Cost

File:WTC Hub July 2014 vc.jpg

Watching for the Morning of September 4, 2016

Year C

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 18 / Lectionary 23

Jesus’ relentless challenge of the social order continues this week as he spells out to the crowd the consequences of enjoining the privileged to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to their banquets. Banquets functioned to maintain the social fabric through ties of kinship and friendship and by reinforcing the honor status of the host and guests. Jesus’ teaching to invite those on society’s margins jeopardized the safety and security of the family by bringing shame on the family, undermining their position in society and incurring the hostility of their social class.   ‘Love’ and ‘hate’ are words expressing attachment and detachment. Those who would follow Jesus must detach from the social system of this world in order to show allegiance to the new order that is dawning in Christ. The reign of God welcomes all, feeds all, forgives all. One cannot live the kingdom and yet maintain the ties of security through family position and wealth. “Count the cost,” Jesus says, “Count the cost.”

With this radical challenge comes the preaching of Moses declaring that God’s way is not too hard for you,” but is in fact the way of life. We hear the psalmist describe the one who shows fidelity to God (and neighbor) as a tree planted by streams of water,” drawing in the water of life in contrast to “the wicked” (those who lack fidelity to God and neighbor) who are “like chaff that the wind drives away.” And we hear Paul writing to Philemon, setting before him the need to welcome his runaway slave, Onesimus, (whom Philemon had the legal right to punish even to death) as a brother in Christ.

The world will staunchly defend the social order, but Jesus calls us to be a new creation, citizens of the age to come when all creation is reconciled to the Lord and Giver of Life. There is a cost to discipleship – but a greater cost for ignoring so great a salvation.”

The Prayer for September 4, 2016

Lord to whom our lives belong,
grant us courage to follow where you lead,
bearing the burdens of a broken world,
daring to speak the word of hope,
and living the love that lays down its life
for the sake of the world.

The Texts for September 4, 2016

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:11-20
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
– In a sermon set in the mouth of Moses, speaking to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the promised land, the preacher sets before them the choice of faithfulness and life or disobedience and all its consequences.

Psalmody: Psalm 1
“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season.” –With this psalm that opens the psalter, the poet speaks of the enduring quality of the righteous (those faithful to God and neighbor) in contrast to the ephemeral existence of the wicked who are like chaff swept away by the wind.

Second Reading: Philemon 1-21
“Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love.”
– Paul writes to Philemon on behalf of a runaway slave who has come to Paul and become a follower of Christ. Paul is sending him back to his master with instructions for Philemon to receive him as a brother.

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” – The words love and hate convey a different sense to the first century than to ours, but the words were shocking then as now. The kingdom of God, the reign of grace, requires our ultimate allegiance. We should count the cost.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWTC_Hub_July_2014_vc.jpg By JasonParis from Toronto, Canada [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The LORD watches over the way of the righteous

Wednesday

Psalm 1

File:RISD Rodin Hand of God.JPG

August Rodin, The Hand of God

6The LORD watches over the way of the righteous.

I believe this, though my daughter was righteous in the rich Biblical sense of that word – faithful to God and to others – just, honest, true, compassionate, generous, kind – yet when she was 19 her car was struck by a driver who had been drinking and she was killed. Two others in the car with her were also killed, and two terribly injured in body and spirit.

I think about this because today is her birthday.

The LORD watches over the way of the righteous.

I do believe this. And it is not just the desperate clutching at faith in the presence of despair.  It is not born of denial but trust. God watches over the way of the righteous. I do not think this means that God guarantees anything. It is certainly not a guarantee of a happy and prosperous American-style life. It is a promise that God watches. God sees. God knows. God guides. God protects – not absolutely, but protects from those truly fearful things: a life made shallow by possessions, pride, privilege. A life made ugly by bitterness or hate. A life where hope, or compassion or joy has been crushed.

As a parent who wishes to hear his daughter’s laugh again, I certainly wish God protected from every stubbed toe. But I know that such a protection ultimately corrupts. As hard as it is, you have to let your children struggle and suffer sometimes, for spiritual poverty is a much more terrible disaster.

Could I have endured it if Anna became vain and selfish? Could I have born the burden if she had grown thoughtless or cruel? No, God watched over her.

The LORD watches over the way of the righteous.

I still pray for protection when I drive. I ask to be guarded against all manner of ordinary ills. I want safety and surety for my surviving daughter, myself and all my extended family. But I understand that beneath my prayer for safety is a much more important petition: that God will guard our spirits. And in such protection I believe and trust.

 

Photo by Ad Meskens. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RISD_Rodin_Hand_of_God.JPG

Faithful waiting, faithful expectation

Watching for the Morning of May 17, 2015

Year B

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

File:Saint Matthias.PNG

Saint Matthias

When we gather on Sunday, Pentecost lies ahead of us and the Ascension (this Thursday) will lie behind us. In this space between the resurrection appearances and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the community waits in prayer and preparation. The followers of Jesus consult the scriptures and reach the judgment that one of them should take the place of Judas among the twelve. They propose Matthias and Barsabbas as qualified candidates and, trusting God to work through the casting of lots, Matthias is chosen.

This image of the faithful community, rooted in scripture and prayer, weaves through all the readings this Sunday. The psalm speaks of the faithful as those who are rooted in God’s word/teaching like a tree planted by streams of water. The author of First John reminds us that “eternal life” (the present possession of that imperishable life of God that is our inheritance in the age to come) is in Jesus the Son to whom God himself gave witness. And the Gospel reading takes us to John 17 where Jesus prays for his followers, “that they may be one,” united in one spirit and mission.

There is a link between faithful waiting and life together. What is born on Pentecost is born of the Spirit, but it is born in a community of hope, a community nourished on God’s word and abiding in God’s promise together. Likewise the renewal of faith, worship, mission and service we would see in our congregations doesn’t spring from getting the right pastor, the right program, or a miraculous awakening in the people. It springs from a community rooted in scripture, abiding in faith, hope and love, looking forward with anticipation to what God shall work in and through them.

The Prayer for May 17, 2015

Almighty God, author of all joy and source of all truth,
guard and protect your people from every danger within and without,
that with one heart and mind
they may bear witness to your grace and 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 May 17, 2015

First Reading: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
“One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us…must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” – As the community waits in Jerusalem for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, they seek God’s guidance to choose another of their number to take the place of Judas and bring the number of apostles back to twelve.

Psalmody: Psalm 1
“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.” – This opening psalm of the collection of Israel’s prayers and hymns contrasts those who are rooted in God’s word with those who turn from it.

Second Reading: 1 John 5:9-13
“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
– the author of First John reminds the community that God himself has testified on behalf of Jesus and it is in him that have life.

Gospel: John 17:6-19
“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” – On the night of his arrest, Jesus prays for his followers, asking God to protect and preserve the community.

 

Image: By Workshop of Simone Martini [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Matthias.PNG