Like children in the marketplace

File:Mayan girls playing sack race on the market of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.JPG

Watching for the Morning of July 9, 2017

Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

There’s a sweet word coming in the Gospel text for Sunday. Jesus is going to say those familiar and comforting words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And God knows, we are weary: Weary of the cacophony in Washington. Weary of the rush of modern life. Weary of the challenges of health. Weary of the press of finances. Weary of the drumbeats of war. Weary of the fear that seems to seep into every corner of our lives.

But before we get to that promise, there is a rebuke: we are like children in the marketplace pouting that we don’t get our way. Maybe Jesus is quoting something like a nursery rhyme. Maybe he is just acknowledging the taunts that get made when people won’t go along with the game. But it is clear Jesus is rebuking those whose excuse for not listening to John the Baptist was that he was too rigorous and demanding. But they won’t listen to Jesus because he isn’t rigorous enough. He laughs. He tells jokes. He teases. He dines with sinners and tax collectors. They mocked John because he lived on locusts and wild honey and Jesus because he didn’t.

Hypocrisy comes pretty naturally to us. Trump makes a career of denying the validity of Obama’s birth certificates and then accuses the media of being “fake news”. McConnell says his highest priority is to deny Obama a second term and then accuses the Democrats of being obstructionists. I tell my children they can only have two cookies but, when they go to bed, I help myself. Jesus did say something about not worrying about the splinter in my neighbor’s eye when I have a log in my own – but we do.

Hypocrisy is pretty natural to us. It allows us to do and say what we want without the work of self-examination or amendment of life. It’s comfortable to make excuses for ourselves but grant no grace to others. So Jesus has blunt words for the self-righteous before offering rest to the weary: If Sodom and Gomorrah had seen what you’ve seen, they would never have been destroyed.

The ‘righteous’ are hard to reach; it is the poor and burdened who can see the joy and freedom of serving Christ.

So Sunday we will hear the prophet Zechariah speak of the coming king who comes humbly on a donkey and sets prisoners free. And we will sing with the psalmist of God’s gracious deeds. And we will struggle to understand the latest section of Paul’s letter to Romans – but resonate to the word of thanks to God for delivering us from the bondages of our human condition. And we will hear Jesus welcome the weary and speak of the yoke of service that is not always simple, but lifts the heart.

The Prayer for July 9, 2017

Gracious God,
in Jesus you invite all people into the path of your teaching and life.
By your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and lives to your message,
that following your Son, we may find true rest for our souls;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 9, 2017

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – In the weary years after Babylon has fallen but Judah is a poor backwater of the Persian empire, comes a prophetic message from the book of Zechariah promising a king who shall arrive like the kings of old and command peace to the nations” and reign “from sea to sea.”

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-14
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” – A hymn of praise to God who reigns as earth’s just and faithful king.

Second Reading: Romans 7:14-25
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Paul uses the image of possession (compelled to act against our own will) to expound his notion that the death of Christ has freed us from our bond-service to sin and made us servants of God.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus rebukes the fickle crowd (who criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for being a libertine) and praises God for opening the eyes of the poor and marginalized to see and take up the yoke of God’s reign of grace and life.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMayan_girls_playing_sack_race_on_the_market_of_Quetzaltenango%2C_Guatemala.JPGright By Erik Albers (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The world’s true lord

Saturday

Psalm 145:10-18

File:De barmhartige Samaritaan Frank Letterie Dorpsstraat Putten.jpg14The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

The Tanakh translation by the Jewish Publication Society translates this verse as:

The LORD supports all who stumble,
and makes all who are bent stand straight.

Without casting aspersions on our economic system, I want to simply point out the contrast: Our system rewards those who do not stumble, who stand tall. In the same way, our society rewards the beautiful not the plain. Donald Trump makes the evening news for saying the same racist things as the shooter at the Lafayette theater, but Trump is on the news because he is rich, powerful and famous while the other is a nutcase.

In contrast to our social context – in contrast to the ‘gods’ of our society (money, sex and power, the things in which we put our hope and trust) – is the God to whom the scriptures bear witness:

The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

The stumbling, groping, uncertain, struggling – the mother of three with two jobs, the unemployed man at 55, the children in violent neighborhoods, the uncared for – these are the ones to whom the mighty and majestic power of the universe reaches out his hands.

And it is important that we remember that those hands carry the marks of nails.

The god we worship is not the god of success and power. The god before whom we bow is not the conqueror of nations. The god to whom we stretch out our hands is the one who revealed himself to Moses the murderer when he was in exile. The god who stretches out his hands to us is the one who gathered a people out of bondage and gave them commands to care for one another that none may go hungry. The god to whom we show allegiance is the one who takes widows and orphans into his shelter, who speaks for the poor, who binds up the wounded, who gathers the scattered, who touches the unclean.

The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

The god we worship is the one who paddles upstream against the current of human affairs. He is the god of refugees and grieving mothers. He is the god of compassion and mercy. He is the god of healing and grace. He is the god who revealed himself not with legions of angels but upon a cross speaking words of grace: “Father, forgive them.”

We inhabit a world of terrible injustices and cruelties that we have learned to take for granted. But there is a god who camps with the homeless, who walks the mean streets, who dwells in the troubled homes. This, we proclaim, is the world’s true lord. This, we proclaim, is the one who called all creation into being and breathes into each of us the breath of life. This, we proclaim, is the one who will be history’s final word. By him will all things be measured. For him will all things exist. With him will all creation dine.

The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

 

Sculpture “De barmhartige Samaritaan” (the Good Samaritan) by Frank Letterie in 1976, placed in 1997 at the square at the Dorpsstraat/Kerkweg in Putten.  Image by Brbbl (Own work) [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

One bountiful table

Watching for the Morning of July 26, 2015

Year B

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 12 / Lectionary 17

File:Pan asturiano.JPGSunday we begin a five-week excursion through the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John that relates the feeding of the five thousand and the subsequent conversations about the meaning of that sign. As we have been reading through Mark’s Gospel, the next portion would have been the feeding of the crowds (who were like sheep without a shepherd). But the lectionary pauses in order to hear the rich development of this event in the Gospel of John.

So Sunday is about God’s wondrous providing. During a time of famine, a poor man brings to Elisha his offering of first fruits (barley is the food of the poor, since it grows on poorer soil). Though these twenty small loaves would not normally feed even twenty, it is more than enough to satisfy a hundred. The psalm sings of God’s faithfulness in his care for those in need and his gracious providing for all. And Jesus takes up the five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand with twelve baskets left over.

Providing a kind of soaring descant to these wonderful texts is the majestic prayer by the writer of Ephesians that we may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” and “be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Each of the gospel writers pick and choose which stories to tell in order to reveal the meaning of God’s work in and through Jesus. In a rare unity, all four of them include this story of the five loaves and two fish. It is not a story about Jesus’ wonder-working power; it is a witness to the dawning reign of God when our wounded earth is healed, all war and divisions overcome, and all people gathered to one bountiful table.

This is why this story is paired with the account of Jesus walking on water. For the God who spoke over the primal sea and brought forth his good and bountiful creation has spoken again in Christ to restore the life of the world. As we will hear in John these next Sundays, God has provided not just our daily bread, but the bread of life for the world.

The Prayer July 26, 2015

Merciful Father,
you stretch forth your hand to feed those who hunger,
grant us a share in the banquet that is to come,
and the faith to live according to your promise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 26, 2015

First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to Elisha, the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack.” – Elisha feeds a hundred people with twenty small loaves with food left over.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:10-18
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”
– The poet praises God for his goodness and faithfulness in providing for all.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21
“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
– The author prays for the community to be rooted in the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit.

Gospel: John 6:1-21
“’There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’” – The feeding of the five-thousand with twelve baskets left over.

 

Photo: By Tamorlan (Photo taken by Tamorlan) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Ripples

Sunday Evening

Psalm 145

Ripples from a loon on a Minnesota lake

Ripples from a loon on a Minnesota lake

4 One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.

Every Sunday should end with a barbecue, a band of four accordions and a tuba, and the delightful laughter of a little girl in a bouncy house.

The picnic today was great fun. The Boy Scouts were selling popcorn and showing off the Eagle Scout project of a prayer labyrinth. There was a display of Los Altos in 1954, the year our congregation was organized. There were pictures of our youth ministry and confirmation pictures from those 60 years. It was a delightful celebration of our anniversary and a delightful reminder of the many dimensions of ministry that take place in and around a congregation.

The NA group set up a table to share information about the twelve step ministries that happen in our fireside room. A quartet from the community choir sang when the band went to eat, and had a display of information about their group that meets in our music room. Even the local flower club that meets in our fellowship hall brought plants and a display about their group.

The ministry of the parish is not only on Sunday morning, though that is certainly our most visible ministry. But there are also all those parts of our congregational life from Sunday school to choirs to youth group. There are friendships created that sustain people in times of trial and share times of joy. There are works of service that plant within us and within our young people the importance of giving. There are Christmas boxes for children assembled and shipped overseas, quilts made for the homeless, clothing collected for Lutheran World Relief. There are missions and schools that get supported: people making a difference in troubled parts of the world. Food is gathered for those in and near our community. Support is given to the shelter for women. If we begin to think carefully about all the ripples of kindness that have gone out from this place in the last 60 years we would be amazed.

And there are joys celebrated: weddings and baptisms and anniversaries. There is support given in times of tragedy and sorrow. There are hands held in times of anxiety, and a quiet presence as a family waits for a loved one in surgery.

A parish is ever changing as new people come and others move away. But the ripples continue to extend outward wherever people go.

Sometimes there are wounds, too; that’s the reality of human communities. We are far from perfect. But we pray that, according to his promise, God will work in such places to heal and reconcile and draw us into a walk more fully shaped by God’s own Spirit.

The fountain at the heart of all this is the story about Jesus – and the larger narrative about creation and exodus and Israel’s experience of a God determined to bless the world. The Spirit of Jesus is quickened in us by that story. That story calls us together for worship; creates in us faith, hope and love; sustains us in trial; and sends us out as agents of grace in the world. Consider every life that has been touched by everyone who has been nurtured here on the notion that life is about faithfulness to God and love of neighbor.

Emperor Julian (known as “Julian the Apostate” because he was not a Christian and tried to revive paganism in the empire) commanded the pagan temples to care for the sick and the poor in the way that the Christians did. He was unsuccessful. It was not part of the culture of the ancient temples. It is part of our culture.

The story of Jesus ripples on throughout history. We see it light the night sky now and again in a figure like Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Mother Teresa. The story of Jesus, percolating through South Africa, provided that nation the chance to chart a path or reconciliation rather than revenge.

But mostly the story of Jesus ripples on in simple acts of kindness and the promise that we can be better than our worst. It ripples on in persistent hope for a better world. It ripples on in the ideal of forgiveness and love of neighbor. It ripples on in the idea that the world is entrusted into our care for us to tend like Eden. It ripples on in the belief that sins can be forgiven and life can start over. It ripples on in myriad ways, great and small, towards that promised day when swords are beaten into plowshares and every tear wiped away: a good world healed and restored.

There is much more going on in a barbecue than tasty food, fun music and a nostalgic look at the past. There is a reminder that God made all things good. And he’s not done working.

What kind of king?

Watching for the morning of July 6

Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

A wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ on a donkey (c. 1378), Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany.

A wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ on a donkey (c. 1378), Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany.

“Lo, your king comes to you… humble and riding on a donkey.” Zechariah promises a king who will ride to Jerusalem upon a donkey. It is the ancient rite of accession in Jerusalem – the king coming in humility and as a symbol of peace. But the prophet is not promising window dressing and political posturing. He proclaims God’s living promise for a people who have known too much war.

The psalmist, too, speaks of kingship this Sunday, celebrating the God of mercy and steadfast love whose dominion endures forever, and who lifts up the downtrodden.

It is an interesting coincidence on this weekend our nation celebrates the anniversary of its founding document. What should governance be? What does true kingship look like? In a world of tyrants and self-serving rulers, our true king comes to us “humble and riding on a donkey.”

The elite members of Judean society criticized John for being too severe – and Jesus for being a glutton. They dismissed John’s prophetic voice because he fasted excessively – and Jesus because he didn’t fast enough: comfortable excuses for ignoring their message that the God of justice and mercy was coming to reign among them.

But there are those who hear. Those who enter into this reign of God. Those who take up this yoke that is not a brutal burden of tribute and taxation, but a glorious and gentle rule of grace and life. A sharing of bread. A forgiving of debts. A lifting up of the downtrodden. A healing of the sick and freeing of the bound. A dawning of the Spirit of God.

The Prayer for July 6, 2014

Gracious God,
in Jesus you invite all people into the path of your teaching and life.
By your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and lives to your message
that, following your Son, we may find true rest for our souls.

The Texts for July 6, 2014

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – A prophetic message from the book of Zechariah promises a king to come – not as conqueror upon a warhorse, but as prince of peace upon a donkey. It comes to us in the weary years after Babylon has fallen, but Judah is a poor backwater of the Persian empire.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-14
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” – A hymn of praise to God who reigns as earth’s just and faithful king.

Second Reading: Romans 7:14-25
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Paul uses the image of possession (compelled to act against our own will) to expound his notion that the death of Christ has freed us from our bond service to Sin and made us servants of God.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus rebukes the fickle crowd (who criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for being a libertine) and praises God for opening the eyes of the poor and marginalized to see and take up the yoke of God’s reign of grace and life.