The path of life

File:GNM - Fußwaschung.jpgWatching for the Morning of May 19, 2019

Year C

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

The arc of the Easter season moves from the empty tomb towards Pentecost. Last Sunday we turned from the appearances of Jesus whom God has raised to life, to the Good Shepherd who brings life to the world. This Sunday the life-giving shepherd gives his followers the new-life commandment: to love one another. From here we will talk about the Spirit that empowers such love and wait for that mighty breath of God that launches the followers of Jesus out into the world.

Jesus has washed his followers feet. He has shown them the path of life. He has shown them the path he will travel. It is a path that leads from the garden to the tomb to the right hand of God. And he bids us follow: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

The command to love is paired this Sunday with Peter’s account of his vision of the net when the heavenly voice declares: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” ‘Profane’ is an accurate but overly nice a translation. We humans have no trouble regarding others as ‘unclean’. We divide the world easily. Even when we don’t call those who differ from us ‘dirty’, we often treat them as vaguely contagious. So, yes, the word means ‘ritually unclean’, but this isn’t about ritual. It is about those whom we regard as acceptable to God and those who are not. But God welcomes all. Arms wide, robes flapping in the wind, God welcomes all into the divine embrace.

Jesus understands this perfectly. And so he does the ‘unclean’ thing. He takes the ‘unclean’ place. He bends to wash feet. While the followers of Jesus worry about their place at the table, Jesus takes the lowest place. He shows us the path of life. He shows us love of all. He bids us follow.

The second reading sees the promise of God fulfilled. John of Patmos is given a vision. Peering into the heavens, he sees the heavenly Jerusalem descending to earth. The city Rome destroyed is replaced by its perfect counterpart. Radiant and whole, like a bride adorned, the city without tears comes. The earth is become the dwelling place of God and all is made new.

Jesus has washed our feet. He has shown us the path of life. He bids us live the holy city. And with the psalmist, he calls all creation to joy and wonder.

The Prayer for May 19, 2019

Gracious God,
whom all creation praises,
and whose will it is to gather all things into your wide embrace,
pour out upon us your Spirit of love,
that we may follow where you lead
and obey what you command.

The Texts for May 19, 2019

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18
“If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” – Peter faces criticism over his baptism of the Gentile, Cornelius, by recounting the sequence of events leading to his visit and God’s outpouring of the Spirit.

Psalmody: Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens.” – The psalmist calls upon all creation to sing God’s praise.

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
– In this culminating vision of the Book of Revelation, the prophet sees the earth made new and the heavenly Jerusalem coming to dwell on earth.

Gospel: John 13:31-35
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – On the night of the last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: to love one another.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GNM_-_Fu%C3%9Fwaschung.jpg

Singing harmony

File:Savault Chapel Under Milky Way BLS.jpg

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

A New Commandment

File:Washing the feets (1420s, Sergiev Posad).jpg

Watching for the Morning of April 17, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Peter does what many regard as unthinkable when he chooses to baptize Cornelius and his family. Cornelius is a centurion in the Roman army, a commander of the occupying forces. Though he is a good man, he is outside the community of Israel. And so begins the conversation that decides whether Jesus is the Messiah of Israel or the Redeemer of all the earth.

Is Jesus the anointed one who frees Judah or the anointed one who beings the day when all heaven and earth are reconciled. Does Jesus make us better Jews or citizens of the age to come when death no longer holds dominion over God’s creation?

For Peter, he had no option. God had decided this question by giving these Gentiles the gift of God’s Spirit – the gift of the age to come. If they had the baptismal gift; Peter needed to finish the job with water. It was in keeping with the prophets and the words and deeds of Jesus. The grave was empty. The dawn of the world gathered to God was underway.

John of Patmos describes it for us as the heavenly Jerusalem descending to earth and all heaven and earth made new. The voice of the psalmist joins the refrain calling upon all creation to sing God’s praise. And at the center of our worship on Sunday will be the words of Jesus giving the new commandment – the commandment that characterizes the age to come – the commandment to love one another. Such love reveals that we are student/followers of Jesus. Such love bears witness to ultimate triumph of God’s love.

The Prayer for April 24, 2016

Gracious God,
whom all creation praises,
and whose will it is to gather all things into your wide embrace,
pour out upon us your Spirit of love,
that we may follow where you lead
and obey what you command;
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 April 24, 2016

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18
“If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” – Peter faces criticism over his baptism of the Gentile, Cornelius, by recounting the sequence of events leading to his visit and God’s outpouring of the Spirit.

Psalmody: Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens.” – The psalmist calls upon all creation to sing God’s praise.

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
– In this culminating vision of the Book of Revelation, the prophet sees the earth made new and the heavenly Jerusalem coming to dwell on earth.

Gospel: John 13:31-35
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – On the night of the last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: to love one another.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWashing_the_feets_(1420s%2C_Sergiev_Posad).jpg  By Workshop of Daniel Chorny and Andrey Rublev (http://www.icon-art.info/group.php?lng=&grp_id=9) [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

File:Singalong 2011 Hannover.jpg

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