Drinking deeply

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Watching for the morning of April 23

Year A

The Second Sunday of Easter

Thomas takes center stage every year on the Sunday after Easter. But before he appears, there is the risen Jesus speaking peace to his shaken community, and breathing on them his Holy Spirit.

Years and years of hearing the story of the resurrection makes it hard to remember how fearful those days were for the followers of Jesus. All hope had been shattered. And if the Romans crucified Jesus, they were certain to aim also at his inner circle. We think it was an easy transition from fear to joy, but it was not. It required the deep breath of the Spirit.

The Thomas narrative begins with Jesus bringing peace and filling his followers with his Spirit. Having missed that moment, who can blame Thomas? How could we expect otherwise, being the hard-headed realist he was. When Jesus decided to go to back to Judea at the death of Lazarus, it was Thomas who shrugged his shoulders and said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

How can we expect anything other than disbelief for one who was not there to drink deeply of the Spirit? It is why Jesus declares as honorable those who show allegiance without seeing.

Sunday we hear Peter’s Pentecost message bearing witness to the resurrection. We hear the psalmist sing the prayer that echoes profoundly of Jesus: “you do not give me up to Sheol” and join in saying, “You show me the path of life.” And we savor the words at the opening of that wonderful exploration of baptism in 1 Peter where the author writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”

With all these words, we hear the word of peace and breathe in this breath of God. And so we are made ready to see the risen Christ among us and show faithfulness to his task: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

The Prayer for April 23, 2017

Gracious God,
in the night of his resurrection,
Jesus breathed your Holy Spirit upon his followers
and sent them into the world.
Renew in us your Holy Spirit
that, in the joy and freedom of Christ risen from the dead,
we may bear faithful witness to your truth 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 April 23, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-32
“This man… you crucified … But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost who have been drawn by the sound of a mighty rushing wind.

Psalmody: Psalm 16
“You do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.” – a hymn of praise and trust in which the first witnesses of the resurrection found a prophetic word pointing to Jesus’ resurrection.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” –
a rich, beautiful homily on baptism offering a word of encouragement to the Christian community.

Gospel: John 20:19-31
“Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” – Jesus appears to his followers on Easter Evening and commissions them with the gift of the Holy Spirit, then appears again, the following Sunday, to summon Thomas into faith.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Silos-Duda.jpg

The noble

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Friday

Psalm 16

3 As for the holy ones in the land,
they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

Noble, lofty, majestic, glorious – even ‘famous’ – the underlying Hebrew word is like the English word ‘noble’. It can refer to someone who is honorable or to the elite members of society, the nobility.

Every culture has its ‘nobility’, those who by virtue of their wealth, family or fame occupy the upper echelons. These are the ones who govern, who set fashion, who occupy the big homes and public airwaves. These are the ones around whom the world seems to revolve. They run the central institutions of their time. And they are the ones the structures of society tend to serve. Laws favor them. They are the 1% – or the .1%.

In the modern west, the elite are a diverse lot. Some are artists who dominate the media. Some are the graduates of elite universities who occupy the elite corporate positions. Some become famous by chance. Some because of their skill at sport. Some because of their skill at politics. Some who are famous for being famous.

We buy their tennis shoes, listen to them on the talk shows, watch them on late night television. We follow them online. We name our children after them. We treat some of them as gods.

So who is it that our psalmist lifts up as the true nobility? “The holy ones.” The faithful. The pious. Those whose allegiance is to the God of the Exodus and Sinai. Those who observe the commands to care for the poor and honor parents. These are the ones with honest weights in the market and respect for the land and its creatures. They do not leave a donkey fallen under its load. They take a wandering animal back to its owner. They protect the livelihood of their neighbor and the integrity of their neighbor’s marriage and family. They do not cut down the fruit trees in time of war. They do not gather in the high places to worship gods of fertility and prosperity. They do not sacrifice their children to the hungers of the gods. They do not put their hope in fetishes, but in the promise of God. They honor the vows they speak. They bring their first and best to the LORD.

These are the true nobility of a country. Not those who are standing shirtless in their victory parade. Not those whose sex tapes burn up the internet. Not those whose charity is trumpeted for all to hear. But those who show faithfulness to God and neighbor. Those who do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

These are the ones we should honor. These are the ones we should treasure.

3 As for the holy ones in the land,
they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

File:My Religion is very simple,My religion is Kindness.jpg

 

Top image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASirReginaldAndLadyMohun.jpg By http://www.historicalportraits.com/InternalMain.asp?ItemID=613 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bottom image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMy_Religion_is_very_simple%2CMy_religion_is_Kindness.jpg  By Srinivasan Mandadi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Something more than all

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Watching for the Morning of June 26, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 8 / Lectionary 13

Jerusalem. The city that slays the prophets. Jesus sets his face for the holy city and his destiny there. But Jesus does not follow the normal route from Galilee, going down to the Jordan River, traveling south around Samaria, then back up to Jerusalem. Jesus goes straight through Samaria, hostile country though it be. He has set his face.

He is not received in Samaria. He is a pilgrim going to Jerusalem – why should they help? Jesus and his followers are not part of their family, tribe or community. No hospitality is required of enemies – though hospitality would be required for God’s anointed. For this affront, the disciples are ready to call down fire. Like Elijah on the hill when soldiers came to seize him. Like wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

How far the disciples still are from the reign of God. How far from the peace of God that silences the wind and waves and warring of the human heart. And from Jesus we hear not only rebuke, but the uncompromising demand of discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” There is a message to be proclaimed. There is healing to be brought to the world. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

So Sunday we hear of Elijah summoning Elisha to follow – Elisha slaughters his oxen and sacrifices them, using the wood of the plow for the fire. He leaves all to follow his new master. We hear the psalmist declaring his complete allegiance, refusing to participate in the sacrifices to any other God. And we hear the apostle Paul summoning the Galatians to live by the Spirit and not the desires of our fallen nature.

We tend to be uncomfortable with Jesus speaking in such uncompromising terms. We expect “welcome for the sinner, and a promised grace made good.” And while there is, indeed, grace for the sinner, for the disciple there is a mission. “‘Tis not all we owe to Jesus; It is something more than all.”*

The Prayer for June 26, 2016

Heavenly Father, Lord of All,
you call people of every age to walk in your paths and herald your kingdom.
Grant us courage to follow where you lead,
go where we are sent,
and bear witness to your love,
that all may know your reign of grace and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 26, 2016

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
“So [Elijah] set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing.” –
Elijah is commissioned to anoint Elisha as his successor and summons him to follow. Elisha sacrifices his oxen, using the wood of the plow for the fire, and goes to serve Elijah.

Psalmody: Psalm 16
“I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” – The poet declares his allegiance to the LORD and his refusal to partake in offerings to any other god.

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” – Paul calls the community to live by the Spirit and contrasts the works of our fallen nature (the ‘flesh’) with with the fruit of the Spirit

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
– Passing through Samaria with his face set towards Jerusalem, Jesus is refused hospitality by a Samaritan town and James and John are ready to call down the fire of God’s judgment. This is coupled with three sayings on the radical requirements of discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

 

*quoted from the hymn: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AErlangen_Burgberggarten_Heinrich_Kirchner_Schlanke_Gestalt_001.JPG By Janericloebe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But there is hope here

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David Roberts, The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70

Watching for the Morning of November 15, 2015

The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 28 / Lectionary 33

Year B

The disciples of Jesus are awed by the temple. Rightly awed. It was a magnificent structure that Herod the Great had created, transforming the small temple whose dimensions were confined by those in the Biblical text into a great plaza of concentric courtyards surrounded by porticoes of towering columns. To accomplish this, Herod had to extend the hilltop, building out the huge retaining wall that still stands to support the temple mount. The exposed foundation stones in the southwest corner form the Western Wall where Jews gather today to mourn the loss of the temple and pray.

Herod created one of the wonders of the ancient world. But in 70 CE, four years after the outbreak of the Judean revolt, Rome destroyed it.

The war was devastating for the region and a catastrophe for Judea. Jewish residents of Roman cities who did not flee were murdered. Crucifixions abounded as the Roman army surrounded Jerusalem with concrete examples of the fate that awaited the rebels. No heavenly armies arrived to support the rebel leaders acclaimed as messiahs. The signs in the heavens and the purported miracles on earth did not lead to the liberation of Judea or the dawning of God’s kingdom. All that came was hunger, destruction and death.

Jesus talks about this pending disaster with no glee. There is no joy at Jerusalem’s fall. No delight in God’s judgment on the wicked. Just the sad acknowledgment that this grand attempt to honor God with worldwide renown was not the honor God desired. God desired justice and mercy.

This is the setting for worship on Sunday. It should make us a little weak in the knees. We are drawing near to the end of the church year. In the northern hemisphere it is the end of the harvest season when the grain is winnowed. Winter looms, darkness grows, and themes of judgment and the end of all things echo in our texts.

But there is hope here.

The Book of Daniel faces the devastation of 164 BCE with the promise of God’s ultimate triumph. The Archangel Michael shall arise to deliver God’s people, the grave shall give up its dead, every injustice shall be righted, and the faithful will shine with the radiance of heaven.

The psalmist sings in gratitude of God’s blessing and, when he speaks of God’s healing work, hints at a more profound mystery:

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life.

Jesus acknowledges the coming judgment upon Jerusalem but warns his followers not to be led astray. This is not the end, he says, and compares it with the onset of labor pains – pains that end in joy. God’s reign will come, just not yet. The days are scary but not final. There is work yet for believers to do. Works of justice and mercy. Works of witness and service. Works of joy and life.

The Prayer of the Day for November 15, 2015

Almighty and eternal God,
set our hearts and hands to work,
not in the building of temples that perish,
but in those eternal works of mercy and truth
that serve your reign of grace and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The texts for November 15, 2015

First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3
“At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise.”
– The visions granted to Daniel of the persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes IV come to their conclusion with Israel’s ultimate deliverance.

Psalmody: Psalm 16
“Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” – The poet expresses his trust in God.

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” – Having set forth his argument for the superiority of Christ as our true high priest, the author comes to the exhortation that prompts his letter: that we should “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” and encourage one another to remain faithful.

Gospel: Mark 13:1-8
“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” – When the disciples call Jesus’ attention to the majesty and beauty of the temple, he predicts its destruction. For the disciples, such and event must mean the end of the world, but Jesus tells his followers that “the end is not yet,” and warns them not to be led astray. The conflicts of the nations and the convulsions of nature are but “the beginning of the birth pangs.”

 

David Roberts, The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You show me the path of life

Thursday

Psalm 16

Lord lovelace bridge

Lord lovelace bridge (Photo credit: wimbledonian)

2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

The word LORD in capital letters always represents the name of God, those four Hebrew letters YHWH whose vowels were not recorded when they were added to the ancient text, for the Jewish community never said the name out loud.  Whenever they came to the word while reading the scripture in public they spoke the word for lord/master.

We are supposed to recognize that when the poet says, “the LORD is my Lord,” he is declaring his allegiance to and service of the God who led Israel out of Egypt.  There are always other gods to be served.  We know some of them from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament): Ba’al, Ashtoreth, Asherah, Moloch, gods who promised power or prosperity or fertility, gods we still worship today without their ancient names.

2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

The poet looks over the landscape of his life and acknowledges that all good things come from that power that is beyond our understanding, who formed the sun and waters the earth and blesses the crops and cattle.  The breath of life, the joy of kinship, the pleasures of life are all given from the LORD not the gods of war and sea and sky.  All that is good, not just in the created world but in the social world, is rooted in the god who rescued and gathered a people, formed the nation and provided laws to sustain peace.  The guiding hand of the LORD is the source of all good.

4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows.

Those who chase after wealth or power, who put their hope in sexual fulfillment, who trust possessions to bring life’s goodness “multiply their sorrows.”  Sometimes those sorrows are obvious to all; sometimes they are carried in secret; sometimes they are simply the sadness of a withered spiritual life – those who wake up at the end of a long pursuit and wonder what it has gotten them.  “There must be something more.”

There is a kind of buzz that comes from buying a new possession, but it is a quickly fading joy.  It’s promise of fulfillment it never keeps.  There is a thrill from fame, but it is a fickle mistress, casting down as quickly as it has raised up.  There is a heady illusion of security and importance to wealth and power, but they can be knocked down with a simple word like cancer.  What cannot be taken away is the joy of kindness and generosity and faithfulness.  A good deed never vanishes.  Kindness is never forgotten.  The love of God that prompts love of neighbor is not undone even by death.

For you do not give me up to Sheol [the realm of the dead],
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

Because “The LORD is my chosen portion,” the poet can say “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”  His eyes are drawn to the good.  No matter what trials or troubles come, the poet sees himself surrounded and sustained by the faithfulness of God.  “I have a goodly heritage.”

And so the poet declares anew his allegiance to and service of the LORD who opens prison doors, who frees from slavery, who leads through the wilderness to a new life in a new land, whose way of justice and mercy is the path of life: “You are my Lord.”

11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.