The true vine

File:NRCSCA06105 - California (1119)(NRCS Photo Gallery).tifWatching for the Morning of April 29, 2018

Year B

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

There is a life at work in this Jesus, like the life that pushes into bloom every spring where deciduous trees bud and a carpet of wildflowers races the forest canopy to bloom. There is a life at work in this Jesus, like the drive within a child to learn and grow and master its world. There is a life at work in this Jesus that pushes and pulls all creation to its destiny in God: a push towards the light, a drive towards life, a reaching for truth, a quest for justice, a call into compassion, a persistent, haunting sense that we are meant for more than we are, that we are meant for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity…” all the fruits of the Spirit – that we are meant to love one another.

There is a life at work in this Jesus. It drives Philip towards the Ethiopian Eunuch. It reveals the strangely obscure yet obvious truth that all creation – even a eunuch – is welcome in Christ. It drives the psalmist to speak not only of the horrors of suffering (“a company of evildoers encircles me… They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots”) but of the work of God to gather all nations. It drives the author of First John to say again and again that God is love and lift up the privilege and command to live in and from that love.

There is a life at work in Jesus. A life that belongs to the age to come. A life that is eternal. A life that is divine. A life that reverberates through all things, for in him all things were made. A life that is an inextinguishable light in our darkness. A life made flesh and come among us. A life that cannot be held by death. A life breathed ever anew into us. A life working in us. A life that would bear abundant fruit in us.

He is the vine. We are the branches.

The Prayer for April 29, 2018

As the vine gives life to the branches, O God,
be our source of life.
Root us in your Word.
Sustain us in your Spirit.
Cleanse from us all that is dead and dying
that we may bear abundantly the fruit of your Spirit.

The Texts for April 29, 2018

First Reading: Acts 8:26-40
“As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’” – Philip is led by the Spirit to the Ethiopian eunuch struggling to understand the passage Like a sheep he was led to slaughter.” When Philip has told him about Jesus, the eunuch asks the potent question whether the condition that keeps him out of the temple keeps him away from Christ.

Psalmody: Psalm 22:25-31
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.” – We are again reading/singing from that critical psalm that bespeaks the crucifixion. In this Sunday’s verses is the message that God shall gather all into his reign.

Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-21
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
– the author of First John continues to weave together the themes of God’s love for us and the command and necessity to love one another.

Gospel: John 15:1-8
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” – Jesus uses the image of the grape vine to speak about the life of the believing community. It draws life from Jesus and his teaching and, abiding in him, bears abundant fruit.

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This reflection was previously posted on April 28, 2015 for the Fifth Sunday after Easter in 2015

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NRCSCA06105_-_California_(1119)(NRCS_Photo_Gallery).tif Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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Promise and trust

File:Miroslav-zámek2015o.jpg

Watching for the Morning of February 25, 2018

Year B

The Second Sunday of Lent

Sunday is another step towards Jerusalem and our celebration of the events that happened there in an upper room, at Gethsemane, in the home of the High Priest and before Pilate. Our season walks towards a hill outside the walls called Golgotha, and to a nearby tomb and a vision of angels.

The covenant with Abram opens our readings on Sunday. He is ninety-nine. Sarai is ninety. The promise is spoken and they receive new names. Abram is changed to Abraham, understood to mean “father of a multitude.” Sarai becomes Sarah, “princess” – not in the sense that my stepfather called my little sister “princess”; she is to be the royal mother of a great nation.

We know the story. Sarah is barren and beyond childbearing. Yet they receive again a promise. They are even given the name they shall call their child to be: “Isaac” from the word to laugh. Maybe because Abraham laughed. Maybe because Sarah laughed. Maybe because, at his birth, they laughed with joy. A future is given to them. A promise sustains them.

Paul will talk of this promise in Romans. Abraham was reckoned as righteous because he trusted the promise. It is Paul’s argument that righteousness comes from such faith not works of the law.

Trust in God sustains the poet in our psalm. This is the psalm Jesus will recite from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  We do not read the lament section this Sunday, however, only the concluding song of trust.

Promise and trust. And so Jesus begins to teach his followers about the cross that awaits him and the cross we must take up to follow him. The cross is the ultimate tool of imperial power. But Jesus brings another empire, a greater kingdom, a truer reign – a reign of life. Shall we trust it?

How can we not?

This Sunday we continue our Lenten series on Baptism. “Through the Waters” offers an introduction to the Lenten theme. Daily Bible verses and reflections are posted at Holy Seasons as well as the first sermon in the series, “A great and terrifying promise.”

The Prayer for February 25, 2018

Almighty God, Holy and Faithful,
whose promise to Abraham was sure;
grant us courage to follow where you lead
and to take up the cross for the sake of your Gospel;
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 February 25, 2018

First Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
“No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” – God establishes a covenant with Abram and Sarai giving them new names, Abraham and Sarah, an indicator of their new destiny.

Psalmody: Psalm 22:23-31
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.” – At the conclusion of this lament (that begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,”) the poet’s prayer for deliverance turns to praise and thanksgiving that God has not let him perish.

Second Reading: Romans 4:13-25
“The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”
– Paul argues that just as Abraham was declared righteous for his trust in God’s promise (a promise that he would become the “father of many nations”), so we (the members of those ‘many nations’) are made righteous not by the law but by trusting God’s promise.

Gospel Mark 8:31-38
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” – Jesus teaches his followers “openly” that he will be rejected in Jerusalem and killed, but Peter disavows such an idea. Jesus spurns Peter and declares that fidelity to the reign of God means his followers will share in that same shaming rejection by the governing powers: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMiroslav-z%C3%A1mek2015o.jpg By Ben Skála, Benfoto (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The poor shall eat and be satisfied

File:Hand carved offering plate - West Virginia - ForestWander.jpg

Thursday

Psalm 22:1, 16-28

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.

It is because of God’s deliverance that the poet sings God’s praise (“From you comes my praise”). And because the poet survived his desperate illness, he is able to complete the vows he made on his sick bed. These are sacrifices made “in the great congregation”, at the temple in the presence of Israel’s faithful (“before those who fear him”).

The sacrifices the psalmist offers are sacrifices, thanksgiving sacrifices and fellowship offerings that provide a banquet not just for the man and his family, but for the poor of the city: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.” It is the nature of the sacrificial meal. When David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the sacrifices provide food for all.

The gifts we give to God are not for ourselves alone. They are shared that all may rejoice. The joy of the healed poet becomes joy for many. The grace of his healing becomes grace for others.

In my first parish, the people referred to their offerings as their dues. But we are not members of a club who must each pay our share to keep the club going. We are recipients of God’s mercy who bring our offerings that others might share the joy.

Yes, there are bills to pay. Heat and lights and water. The cost of musicians and secretary and staff. The pastor’s time and training not only to preach and teach but to visit the sick and comfort the grieving. There are bills to pay, everything from the wine for communion to the coffee for coffee hour. But the gifts are not dues. They are tithes and offerings given that all might share in the joy of God’s love.

It’s easier to understand dues. But ‘dues’ makes it about me, about what I get from the church and what I must pay to continue to receive it? The much more profound questions is what do I receive from God? And how do I pay it forward?

What is the offering appropriate for the sunrise? What is the gift that matches the gift of the world around us? What sacrifice can possibly reflect the sacrifice Jesus made? Whatever that gift is, it must be a gift that brings some measure of mercy and grace to the world. It must be a gift through which “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.”

 

Image:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHand_carved_offering_plate_-_West_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg http://www.ForestWander.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The warring drums are silenced

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Watching for the Morning of June 12, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 7 / Lectionary 12

It is hard to hear the Gospel reading appointed for this Sunday of the man consumed with rage, alienated from civic life, and dwelling in death’s shadow, and not think of those young men who have taken up assault rifles and become servants of death. Jesus has just calmed the storm at sea (an assault by spiritual powers) and now he calms the storm within this anguished man among the tombs.

There is irony, even mockery, in the story. The demons do not wish to be sent into the abyss so they beg to be sent into a nearby herd of swine. But what they fear, they find – for the pigs plunge themselves into the deep.

The story is set against the background of warring armies, the rage of earthly kingdoms. Gerasa was founded by Alexander the Great on his march to conquer the world. And the demons are legion – as in the legions of the Roman Empire that enforce the Emperor’s will on a captive people. But the oppression and chaos endemic to the rulers of this world are cast out by the command of Jesus who brings the peace and reconciliation of God’s reign.

Sadly, the people of Gerasa choose the familiar world of violence and beg Jesus to leave.

The cry for deliverance – and the cry of God to a people who will not receive it – occupy our readings this Sunday. In the first reading from Isaiah, God reaches out to a people who will not draw near and perish in their idolatries. The psalm is the familiar cry for deliverance uttered by Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a cry God answers. The possessed man among the tombs cries in anguish as the evil within is confronted with the presence of God in Christ, but deliverance comes. And in Galatians we hear Paul exulting in the new creation that has come in Christ: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

There is a battle raging in the world – not the battle between competing human empires or ideologies, but the battle between humanity’s wars of domination and God’s work of liberation, between our rage and God’s peace, between the forces of chaos and the grasping passions of the human heart, and the passion of God who suffers for the redemption of the world. For those who come together to hear these stories on Sunday, the warring drums are silenced, and we are brought together in peace at God’s table.

The Prayer for June 19, 2016

Gracious God,
like the man who lived among the tombs,
we are bound by our fears and wounds, sins and failings.
Restore and renew us by your word of Grace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 19, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9
“I was ready to be found by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.” –
Through the prophet God cries out against a rebellious and idolatrous people.

Psalmody: Psalm 22:1, 16-28 (appointed, Psalm 22:19-28)
“For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”
– This psalm associated with the passion of Jesus, that begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” cries out to God for deliverance form affliction and becomes a song of thanksgiving.

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-29
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” – Paul describes the Mosaic law as the servant/slave charged with escorting a child to school and correcting him with a rod, but now in Christ we have entered God’s new reality

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
“Then Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him.”
– A man possessed by a legion of demons (as in the Roman legions) – consumed by rage, cut off from society, and dwelling among the dead – is restored by the dawning reign of God in Jesus.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFurienmeister.furie.jpg Master of the Furies [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We will remember

Saturday

Psalm 22:25-31

File:Jesus at Sumela.jpg27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

There is a turn in this psalm, as in so many psalms of lament, when the poet moves from his despair and grief and bitter plea to exultation and joy. We are reading, Sunday, from that joy.

But those with history in the church or in scripture will recognize that this is Psalm 22. This is the psalm where the poet’s cry has spoken of being surrounded by enemies who taunt and torture him. Here we hear those fateful words “They have pierced my hands and feet” and “for my clothing they cast lots.” This is the psalm Jesus prays from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When the followers of Jesus searched the scriptures to understand what had happened to the one they confessed as the Christ, words like this must have exploded off the page with new meaning, pointing far beyond the poet’s original sorrow to the world’s ultimate sorrow.

But the psalm does not end with the suffering and gloating enemies. God did not “despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”

And in that turn from lament to praise those first believers found witness also to the resurrection. And more than the resurrection, to the ascension, to Christ “at the right hand of the Father.”

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

It is not a cry of triumph, like all the fans of a team pointing their forefingers into the air after a victory to declare they are number one. It is rather a profound confession that in the story of the crucified and risen one we will remember. We will remember who we are. We will remember the God who made us. We will remember the love that vibrates in and through and around all creation. We will remember how we have turned away from the source of life. We will remember the horrors we have done. We will see in the pierced hands of Jesus the pierced hands of all our sisters and brothers who are crucified by violence and neglect. We will remember it all: our true identity, our terrible path, and the way home.

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

We will remember and return and kneel before him who is the font of grace and life. We will worship: we will remember and sing praise, we will remember and give thanks, we will remember and adore.

And what awaits all creation is what we do on Sunday mornings when we gather to break the bread and sing the songs of joy.

 

Image: Christ Pantocrator.  Ceiling of one of the chambers of the Sumela monastery.  Photo: By Vladimer Shioshvili (Flickr: jesus) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The true vine

Watching for the Morning of May 3, 2015

Year B

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

File:NRCSCA06105 - California (1119)(NRCS Photo Gallery).tif“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

There is a life at work in this Jesus, like the life that pushes into bloom every spring where deciduous trees bud and a carpet of wildflowers races the forest canopy to bloom. There is a life at work in this Jesus, like the drive within a child to learn and grow and master its world. There is a life at work in this Jesus that pushes and pulls all creation to its destiny in God: a push towards the light, a drive towards life, a reaching for truth, a quest for justice, a call into compassion, a persistent, haunting sense that we are meant for more than we are, that we are meant for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity…” all the fruits of the Spirit – that we are meant to love one another.

There is a life at work in this Jesus. It drives Philip towards the Ethiopian Eunuch. It reveals the strangely obscure yet obvious truth that all creation – even a eunuch – is welcome in Christ. It drives the psalmist to speak not only of the horrors of suffering (“a company of evildoers encircles me… They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots”) but to the work of God to gather all nations. It drives the author of First John to say again and again that God is love and lift up the privilege and command to live in and from that love.

There is a life at work in Jesus. A life that belongs to the age to come. A life that is eternal. A life that is divine. A life that reverberates through all things, for in him all things were made. A life that is an inextinguishable light in our darkness. A life made flesh and come among us. A life that cannot be held by death. A life breathed ever anew into us. A life working in us. A life that would bear abundant fruit in us.

He is the vine. We are the branches.

The Prayer for May 3, 2015

As the vine gives life to the branches, O God,
be our source of life.
Root us in your Word.
Sustain us in your Spirit.
Cleanse from us all that is dead and dying
that we may bear abundantly
the fruit of your Spirit;
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 3, 2015

First Reading: Acts 8:26-40
“As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” – Philip is led by the Spirit to the Ethiopian eunuch struggling to understand the passage Like a sheep he was led to slaughter.” When Philip has told him about Jesus, the eunuch asks the potent question whether the condition that keeps him out of the temple keeps him away from Christ. The answer is “No.”

Psalmody: Psalm 22:25-31
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.” – We are again reading/singing from that critical psalm that bespeaks the crucifixion. In this Sunday’s verses is the message that God shall gather all into his reign.

Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-21
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
– the author of First John continues to weave together the themes of God’s love for us and the command and necessity to love one another.

Gospel: John 15:1-8
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” – Jesus uses the image of the grape vine to speak about the life of the believing community. It draws life from Jesus and his teaching and, abiding in him, bears abundant fruit.

Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., via Wikimedia Commons

We are their children

Sunday Evening

Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion

Mark 14:1-16:8

File:A Woman Praying over the Dead Body of Christ LACMA AC1998.240.2.jpg14:39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

It’s pretty clear from the Greek that the Gospel of Mark was composed as an oral Gospel. When you listen to someone tell the story of something that has happened to them, it has a much different rhythm than a written document. To put it simply, the stories we tell tend toward extensive run-on sentences joined by the words ‘and’ and ‘but’: “we went here and we did this and we did that and then this happened and then somebody said this and then we all agreed to that….”

You can see this in the Greek of Mark’s Gospel. Translators take out all those ands and buts and turn it into a written document, but it is a living voice, the story of a community, the story that is our story. When Mark names Simon of Cyrene you can see the congregation nod, because they know him or his family. When Mark names Mary the mother of young James and Joses, you can hear the murmurs of appreciation for these men and their mother.

When Mark tells us of Peter challenged by a servant girl and trying to deflect her attention by going into the outer court, and you hear the challenge growing as others begin to question it, you know there are people present in the listening congregation who have stood in that courtyard – or their parents have stood there. And they know about Peter’s understandable but unthinkable betrayal, and they are filled with appreciation for the grace of Jesus who knew this would happen and who received Peter back. And they know what Peter has meant to them all.

When Mark tells his story, there are people in the congregation who have faced that ultimate test and failed. And others with friends and family who did not fail, but were crucified by the Romans or became the victims of violence from their neighbors and friends. No one holds it against Peter. It is our story. And it magnifies Jesus.

He died with eyes open. He died with courage and strength and dignity. He is not beaten into silence before the High Priest or before Pilate; he is possessed of that inner stillness that knows when to speak and when words are of no use.

He died with honor, so that even the Roman centurion had to admit he seemed like a son of the gods – or, as they all now know – the Son of God, the beloved, the anointed one.

He died with courage and endurance in the face of great suffering, refusing the drugged wine. He died with a confession of faith on his lips – the psalm the begins “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that confesses “You are the Holy One, enthroned, the Praise of Israel” and prays “deliver me from the lion’s mouth” and declares “Let the ends of the earth pay heed and turn to the LORD.” It is not a cry of abandonment, but a prayer of faith and trust.

He died with courage and dignity and only the leaders of Judah shamed themselves, snatching him in the dark though he taught openly in the temple, plotting to act by deceit and trickery rather than nobly in the open, sending thugs in the night rather than acting openly in the day, abusing an innocent man.

He showed himself honorable in a dishonorable world. He showed himself true in a deceiving world. He showed himself compassionate in a brutal world. He alone merited the royal purple, though they put it on him only to taunt and torture. He alone wears a true crown, though they gave him a crown of thorns.

He was not a fool. He was not surprised by what happened. He knew what was coming. He knew that one in the inner circle would betray him. He knew that all his inner circle would abandon him. He knew that his body would be broken like the bread and he would not drink wine again until that day when God’s kingdom dawns in its fullness. He knew Peter’s denial.

He was not a fool. He knew what was to come, but he trusted God would use this to reclaim and redeem his rebellious world. He sought God’s will not his own safety.

All this is in the story Mark tells. A living story for a living community. A community who knows that the empty tomb inspired terror at first. But Jesus went before them. The risen Christ met them. God voided the sentence imposed by the Jerusalem council and by Rome. God voided the judgment that Jesus was a liar. There was no mortification in the tomb, no decaying of the sinful flesh. God raised Jesus, declaring him righteous – raising him as the firstborn of the dead, the first of the resurrection when all humanity is judged and the world made new.

And that little band of refugees and survivors that listens to Mark tell his story, that little band that gathers around a shared table, that little band gathered in allegiance to Jesus and to one another, that little band is an anticipation of what is to come when all creation bows before the holy and righteous one.

And we are their children, gathered around the same table, telling the same story, and kneeling before the same Lord, trusting God’s declaration that he is the one who reigns and shall reign over a world where the debt of our sins is wiped away and we inhabit once more the garden world God made.

 

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_Woman_Praying_over_the_Dead_Body_of_Christ_LACMA_AC1998.240.2.jpg

All the ends of the earth

Saturday

Psalm 22:23-31

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Josef Elter, Auferstehung (Resurrection), 1978

24He did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

(I have also written about this verse at Jacob Limping, a site named for the one who was wounded by his encounter with God and entered the promised land limping.)

Psalm 22 is the Good Friday psalm, the one found on the lips of Jesus as he hung from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It contains those pregnant and prophetic words “All who see me mock at me” and “they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

But here, at the end of the psalm, we have only the last hints of the poet’s suffering. Here we have moved on to the poet’s joy that his prayer has been answered. God has not turned away from him. God has heard his cry. And in the poet’s joy and thanksgiving we hear echoes of resurrection and Christ proclaimed to the nations:

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.

His healing will become legendary, proclaims the poet. God’s deliverance will be told to all.

30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the LORD,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

The psalm is rooted in one man’s prayer, a man lost in the ages. But his prayer endures. It endures because the words are universal. They can be spoken by people in every generation who endure trial and affliction. There have been moments for all of us when we would cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And there are moments when we each would cry out in praise that our lives have turned away from death’s door and into the light of day.

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

It is common for us to refer to these words of Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel as a passion prediction. And we should not miss that shocking element of the narrative. It is what causes Peter to rebuke Jesus. But it is not just a passion prediction; it is a resurrection prediction. Jesus will be rejected and killed – but God will vindicate him.

No doubt Peter hears only that Jesus will one day rise at the resurrection of the just, but God’s work is more stunning than this. The resurrection to come is dawning already on the third day. The day of the earth’s redemption, when all things are gathered under God’s reign – the first fruits of that day are already at hand. They are at hand in the words and deeds of Jesus. They are at hand where the powers that oppress are cast out. They are at hand where the sick are healed. They are at hand where the human community is reconciled. They are at hand where bread is shared, where compassion and faithfulness flourish. The first fruits of the kingdom are at hand, for God has not turned away from the suffering of the afflicted: God comes in mercy and grace. As the poet was raised, Jesus will be raised – and all creation will hear. They may count all his bones and cast lots for his clothing, but “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.”

 

Image: By Josef Elter [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A new world in the making

Watching for the Morning of March 1, 2015

File:Three Crosses monument at sunset (8178234419).jpgThe Second Sunday of Lent

Sunday the texts point us towards Jerusalem. That is where we are headed this Lenten season, to that hill outside Jerusalem where three crosses await, and the open tomb containing none but angels. Jesus has troubling words for us about taking up the cross, about finding life in laying it down, that fidelity to the kingdom of God means we cannot avoid the hostility of the kings of this world. But they are not dark words, unless you stop listening before you hear Jesus say “and be raised.” A new world is about to be born.

It is a world where a homeless, childless couple receive the promise that they shall be the parents of many nations. It is a world where the psalmist crying out in despair at death’s door now stands and calls all people to praise God. It is a world where people of every nation are gathered to God by trust in his promise, not by birth or merit.

It is to such a world made new that we are called to show fidelity, to endure the mockery and hate of the powers that be, to take up the shame of the cross, for a new day is dawning. The tomb will be opened.

And so we are not far from the core of Lent, the season of spiritual renewal, the season when we are called to let God renew faith, renew relationships, renew families, renew communities, renew the world.

(For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran Church, and for sermons and other information on Lent, see our Lent site.)

The Prayer for March 1, 2015

In steadfast love, O God,
you bound yourself to Abraham by your promise,
and came among us bearing the cross.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and the ties that bind us to others
that, following in your footsteps,
we may prove faithful to you and to all;
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 March 1, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
“No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” – God establishes a covenant with Abram and Sarai giving them new names, Abraham and Sarah, an indicator of their new destiny.

Psalmody: Psalm 22:23-31
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.” – At the conclusion of this lament (that begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,”) the poet’s prayer for deliverance turns to praise and thanksgiving that God has not let him perish.

Second Reading: Romans 4:13-25
“The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”
– Paul argues that just as Abraham was declared righteous for his trust in God’s promise (a promise that he would become the “father of many nations”), so we (the members of those ‘many nations’) are made righteous not by the law but by trusting God’s promise.

Gospel Mark 8:31-38
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” – Jesus teaches his followers “openly” that he will be rejected in Jerusalem and killed, but Peter disavows such an idea. Jesus spurns Peter and declares that fidelity to the reign of God means his followers will share in that same shaming rejection by the governing powers: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

 

Photo: By Guillaume Speurt from Vilnius, Lithuania [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Scandal of Particularity

A look back on Sunday

Psalm 22

Earth_from_the_moon

Earth_from_the_moon (Photo credit: My American Odyssey)

27All the ends of the earth shall
remember  and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.

Sunday, for the first time ever, I was uncomfortable with the words of the Eucharistic Prayer – the prayer reciting the history of God’s saving work said as we gather around the table for Holy Communion.  They are familiar words, the same ones we have been using in this season, and similar to all other such prayers.  It talks about God’s creating, God’s call of Abraham and Sarah, God’s bringing Israel out from bondage in Egypt into a new and promised land.  Before today I had never considered how those words might sound to people from the Middle East.  In what way can this be their prayer?

Western Christians are used to thinking that we are participants in the promise once given to Israel – a promise that has been extended to us not by birth but in Christ Jesus.  We see the promise to Israel not just as a promise to one particular people, but as a means to bring blessing to the world.  We see the promise to Abraham not as a promise of land and descendants – but a promise of the Christ and the salvation of the world.

Sunday, I heard these words with new ears, for a young person from one of those Middle Eastern countries had come to be baptized.  How would she hear this story we tell of God’s work in the Exodus and in the gift of the law?  Can she hear it divorced from Israel as a modern nation-state?  Can she hear it divorced from our current conflicts of Muslim, Jew and Christian?  Does the story sound universal to her or partisan?

Christians have always acknowledged that the God revealed to Israel as seen through Jesus reflected the truth about the single transcendent reality of the universe.  But this seems like a Michigan alum having to recite a story of their identity that roots them in the story of Ohio State.  I can’t see my daughter doing that.  Nor myself, without some discomfort.

The theological term for this is the scandal of particularity: that God chose one people through whom to bear witness to God’s identity and character.  We subconsciously turn the Biblical narrative into universal and timeless stories of deliverance, wandering, guidance (laws) and rebellion, but they are not.  They are stories of a specific people.

Jesus is pretty deliberate about crossing boundaries – welcoming outcasts, healing foreigners, sending his followers to Samaritans, the Ethiopian Eunuch, the Roman centurion Cornelius, and on to the Gentiles through Paul. Christians look back through the Old Testament and see a god always concerned about all the nations and peoples of the earth.  God’s choice of Israel was a tool to bring blessing to the world.  And the borders of the people were always open: Ruth, the Moabite woman becomes the grandmother of King David; Naaman, the Syrian, is healed by Elijah; Uriah was a Hittite; when Joshua calls the people to “choose this day whom you will serve” it is clear he is speaking to many more people than those who came through the Red Sea.

This universality is deep in scripture, especially when seen through Jesus.  The genealogy in Genesis is a genealogy of all nations.  God declares his blessing on Ishmael and his descendants, though the promise to Abraham falls to Isaac.  The prophets speak not just to Israel but to nations who have never heard of the God of Israel.  Jonah is sent to Nineveh and is not allowed to escape that task.  The Persian King Cyrus is declared to be God’s “anointed” (in Hebrew, Messiah).  We hear the promises about a great banquet on Zion as a banquet for all the earth.  When the lion lies down with the lamb and swords are beaten into plowshares, it is the whole earth that is brought to peace.  The New Jerusalem is not a new capital of Israel, but the world made whole.  Still, behind it all is the God who first showed himself as the God of Israel.

What if God had revealed himself in the history of Ohio State?  What if Woody Hayes were part of that narrative?!!  To look past this, to see God in Israel’s story, this young woman has seen God more truly than I ever have.

I don’t know how to change the prayer without robbing it of something essential.  But I pray it with much more humility and awareness than I have before:

It is right that we should give you thanks O God,
who by your Word called all things into being
and breathed into us the breath of life.
You called Abraham and Sarah to trust your word of promise
that they might bring your blessing to the world.
You led your people out from bondage and through the wilderness
and with bread from heaven taught them to trust your wise providing.
You met your people with your commandments at Sinai
and through the words of your prophets called them to lives of justice and mercy.
In the fullness of time you taught all people and worked redemption
in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Now in the mystery of this holy table Christ comes to us anew,
offering us the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
and calling us into the unending song of heaven:

And the congregation sings “Holy, Holy, Holy” recorded in Isaiah as the exclamation of the creatures around the throne of God.

PS   The baptism was wonderful, a reminder of the joy of God’s love, and a sign for us all of the promise of a world gathered into one human community when “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.”