An audacious challenge

File:Loews Protest - Against GOP Retreat.jpgWatching for the Morning of April 22, 2018

Year B

The Fourth Sunday of Easter / Good Shepherd Sunday

The shepherds of Israel are under attack in the first reading this Sunday. The priestly class are under indictment by the preaching of Peter and John. The governing elites judged Jesus a liar about God and a threat to the nation and sentenced him to death. Peter and John are saying that God voided that sentence and declared Jesus innocent. The year-long purgation of the rotting corpse that marked the removal of sin from our mortal bodies was unnecessary for Jesus. God raised him from the dead.

It might sound esoteric to our ears, but it was a direct confrontation in that day. Peter and John are saying this in the temple, in the home-court of the high priestly families. What’s more, the name of this Jesus is being used to heal the sick and lame. This Jesus is the rejected stone that God has made the cornerstone. This Jesus is the source of God’s healing and life. Healing won’t come from the rich and powerful house of Annas that possesses a firm hold on the high priestly office. Those who are supposed to be the shepherds of Israel are false shepherds who failed to recognize the true shepherd.

And so on Sunday we will join the psalmist to sing “The LORD is my shepherd.” And the Gospel of John will have Jesus say to us, “I am he good shepherd” – the true and noble who does not abandon the flock but lays down his life for them. And the words that seem so sweet and comforting will echo with an audacious challenge to all those rulers of the earth who claim authority but only fleece the sheep.

And in the presence of this bold challenge to the way of the world will come the urging of the author of 1 John: “We know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

The Prayer for April 22, 2018

Gracious Heavenly Father,
Christ Jesus our good shepherd laid down his life for our sake
that he might gather one flock from all the nations of the earth.
Be at work within us
that we might hear and respond to his voice,
and follow him in lives of service and love.

The Texts for April 22, 2018

First Reading: Acts 4:1-13 (appointed 5-12)
“This man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” – Peter and John are examined by the authorities after having been arrested for preaching that God raised Jesus from the dead (a message that invalidates the authority of the High Priestly leadership because it declares that God has reversed their judgment against Jesus.)

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – The famous song of trust in God that reverberates with social, political and religious meaning in a world where the king (or ruler) was regarded as the shepherd of the people.

Second Reading: 1 John 3:16-24
“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
– The author encourages his community to remain faithful to God and one another despite the departure of a schismatic group from their community.

Gospel: John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – The middle section of chapter 10 where Jesus employs metaphors drawn from shepherding. Here he identifies himself as the true shepherd who cares for the sheep, freely laying down his life for the people.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Loews_Protest_-_Against_GOP_Retreat.jpg By Seth Goldstein [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

“Salvation belongs to our God”

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A message for All Saints, shared this morning at Los Altos Lutheran church

I want to focus on a single verse from our first reading this morning. It is from verse 10:

They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

To set the context for that verse, however, we need to begin with verse 9:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

It is hard for us to fully appreciate the words we are hearing. This is a society in which the image of the emperor is on every coin, with images and titles that are just like this. The emperor was acclaimed as the savior of the world. He’s the bringing of peace. He’s the source of prosperity. The emperor sits on a throne with choirs and crowds attending him. The emperor had temples built and cities named in his honor. The emperor’s word had the power to free or condemn a person, a city, or a whole people.

Among the Judeans, however, there was a current of deep resistance to such claims of divine honors for the emperor. It led to the revolt that broke out under Judas Maccabeus in the 2nd century BCE when the Seleucid King, Antiochus IV – who called himself ‘Epiphanes’, the manifestation of God on earth – put a statue of himself inside the temple of Jerusalem. And it led, ultimately, to the revolt against Rome in 66 CE that resulted in the emperor to be, Titus, marching his armies through the land in desolation and slaughter. They built an arch in Rome to honor his victory that shows Judeans being led away as captured slaves, and the temple treasures carried to Rome by triumphant soldiers. The wealth of the temple would pay to build the coliseum where Christians and others would be crucified and fed to the lions for spectacle entertainment. Rome seemed to have won the argument over whether or not Rome ruled the world.

But in his vision, the prophet John, exiled to the island of Patmos, would see people from all over the world gathered around a different throne, waving palm branches and singing: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

We live in a society where we tend to hear these words as religious language and to imagine that they are separate from political speech, but they are not. “Salvation belongs to God” means that kingship belongs to God. Authority, power, glory – these all belong to God and not the emperor.

The second thing that we should recognize in these verses is that this proclamation is being announced by people of every nation, tribe, and language. The emperor presented himself as ruler of the whole world. Of course, the Roman Empire wasn’t anything like the whole world, but it was the whole Mediterranean and it was big. It dominated the world from England to the Persian Gulf and from the Caucuses to all of North Africa. The Emperor ruled many nations, tribes and languages – but the prophet sees all these nations singing the praise of God not Caesar.

The third thing we should recognize here is that the people gathered around the throne of God are from every nation, tribe, and language – which is to say that God is the god of every nation, tribe, and language. God is not the god of Judeans only. God is the god of the whole world. God is not our god; God is the salvation of every nation, tribe, and language. God is the redeemer of the whole world. God is god of all creation.

Ancient society was even more ethnically divided than our own. You have to think back to that time when the neighborhoods in our cities were divided by language: Irish neighborhoods and Italian neighborhoods, and Jewish neighborhoods, and African-American neighborhoods. In East Toledo there was a Hungarian neighborhood where, when I was there, the priest still did the mass in Hungarian. The Lutherans in the German neighborhoods had given up German services because of the war, but they were still German churches. There was an Hispanic neighborhood which the Germans told me was okay because those people knew their place. And there was a Dutch neighborhood where, not so long ago, they wouldn’t speak to the new wife of a man who married outside his community.

But gathered around the throne of God are people of every nation, tribe, and language. The followers of Jesus fought this battle and recognized that Samaritans were welcome and eunuchs were welcome, and that God insisted they break bread with Gentiles.  Every nation, tribe, and language. God is the god of all. And we are many peoples who gather together as one people.

When we gather to worship, we are joining the chorus of heaven that declares that God is our salvation not any human ruler. We are joining the chorus of heaven that declares that God is the God of all people. We are joining the chorus of heaven that gathers us as one people – all that divides the human community is washed away in Christ.

What is it that divides us? Is it not our sin that divides us? Does it not all come back to our fears and greeds and hates and tribalism? It is washed away in Christ.

And finally, the one who is seated on the throne is the lamb: the lamb who was slain but lives. The lamb who was sacrificed to save the world from bondage but was made alive again. The lamb who was sacrificed to save Isaac from the knife. The lamb who is the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. The lamb who is the good shepherd, who brings us to lie down in good pasture and leads us beside still waters. The lamb who stands at the beginning and end of time and makes all things new. The lamb who is the world’s true lord, reigning not by power and the sword but by grace and truth – who opens blind eyes, who heals the sick, who gathers the outcast and reconciles the divided. The one who welcomes sinners to his table, and washes away our sins in the font. The one who is our light and our life, now and forever.

Amen

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASynaxis_of_all_saints_(icon).jpg By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Of royal weddings

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Watching for the Morning of October 15, 2017

Year A

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

Politics makes for strange bedfellows, so the saying goes. Those running for office often find themselves on stage or at dinners with political adversaries. Some invitations are fraught with difficulty. If I accept, I alienate this portion of the voting public; if I don’t accept, I alienate others. Invitations are not always simple.

The wedding invitation in the Gospel reading for this Sunday is not simple. It comes from the king. To refuse the king is dangerous. To refuse the king is an act of rebellion. You would only dare such a refusal if you thought he was no longer powerful enough to take revenge. You would refuse only if you had betrayed your king and given your allegiance to another.

Matthew’s account is much more overt than the story in Luke. Here the host is a king and the rebellion open and defiant. Jesus says not only that the invitees “made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business,” but that “the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.”

We are talking about Judea, now, and Jerusalem, and the murder of the prophets – and the murder of Jesus. The slaughter of the rebels and burning of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 CE now echoes through the parable. There are consequences to rebellion. Destruction follows when you misjudge who is the true king, when you misjudge who truly holds power.

The invitation to feast at God’s table is not simple. It is full of grace, but it means giving up wealth and privilege. It means embracing all as your neighbor. It means taking up the cross, risking all for the path of peace.

This is not a partisan parable – as if God were going to get “those people” who are “not like us” in the end. This is a prophetic warning to the leaders of the nation. This is a prophetic warning to us all. We are invited to the table of peace. The welcome is given to all to come to the feast that knows no end. But an invitation is not a simple thing. Refusal is rebellion. And the consequences are fateful.

So Sunday we will hear God’s great promise in Isaiah to prepare a banquet for all people. And we will sing with the psalmist that the LORD (the LORD alone) is our shepherd/king. And St. Paul will urge Euodia and Syntyche to choose reconciliation – and for the community to help them – and to keep their minds on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. And the parable of Jesus will warn us not to take lightly the gift of God or dare to show up at the wedding feast to come without being clothed in Christ.

An invitation is a great gift. But is not a simple thing. It bids us choose to whom we will show allegiance.

The Prayer for October 15, 2017

Gracious God, shepherd and guardian of our souls,
keep us from the folly that would spurn your grace
and grant that, clothed in Christ,
we may know the joy of the eternal wedding feast;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 15, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 25:1-9
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” – Following a section of the book of Isaiah containing words of judgment against the nations surrounding Judah and Israel, we are given an oracle of salvation declaring a day when God will gather all people to a feast on Mt. Zion.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – The language of shepherds is used for kings in ancient Israel – but here the poet declares that God is the one who guides, protects and prepares for him God’s royal banquet.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:1-9
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
– Paul begins his concluding remarks to the believers in Philippi with a series of exhortations about their life together both to specific individuals and to the community as a whole.

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” – With a story about a royal wedding and the vassals of the king who declare their rebellion by refusing the king’s invitations and abusing his messengers, Jesus presses his attack against the leadership of the nation who have aligned themselves with the empire of Rome rather than the reign of God.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWedding_Supper_-_Martin_van_Meytens_-_Google_Cultural_Institute.jpg Martin van Meytens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Overflowing

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Watching for the Morning of May 7, 2017

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

The fourth Sunday of Easter each year takes us to the tenth chapter of John and the 23rd psalm. In John 10 Jesus uses several metaphors rooted in the care and keeping of sheep, leading ultimately to the declaration “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” His claim that he has the power to lay his life down and take it up again leads to the accusation that he is demon possessed and an attempted stoning.

We should not let sweet images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd with a lamb around his neck obscure the fact that such words nearly get him killed. The language of shepherds and sheep is deep in the Biblical tradition for the relationship of Israel’s leaders to the people. His claim to be the good shepherd means that the Jerusalem leaders are not good shepherds. Indeed, in these opening words, Jesus asserts that they are thieves and robbers. Ironic words given that they will crucify Jesus for being an insurrectionist (here translated as ‘robber’).

These thieves and robbers have no true claim to the sheep – they sneaked over the wall to plunder the sheep. But the sheep (the crowds) hear Jesus’ voice and follow. And whereas the leaders of the nation are thieves and robbers, Jesus is the gate through which the sheep go out to rich pasture.

Jesus is the source of true life, not the pale imitation of life offered by the nation’s elite; but the true life of God’s people, an overflowing life, the good and imperishable life God intended for his creation.

So we hear Peter speak of Jesus, “the shepherd and guardian” of our lives. And we sing with David that the Lord is our shepherd who guides us through death’s vale and grants us rest in good pasture. And we hear Luke, the author of Acts, tell us of this remarkable community living with “glad and generous hearts,” who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Among them none went hungry.

Abundant life. Life to the full. Life overflowing. Life that was meant to be.

Preaching Series: Genesis 1, The Life-giving Word

Last week we heard how, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus took his followers through the whole of scripture to see how it bears witness to God’s self-giving love fulfilled in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Sunday we begin our own survey with a look at the brilliant and courageous work we know as the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. Written following the chaos of a terrible war, in a time when Jerusalem was destroyed and the people in exile, the author bears witness to the God who brings order to the stormy primal sea and makes all things good, beautiful, noble. In Babylon, where the world was said to be created from the slain body of the chaos monster – and humans fashioned from its blood – Biblical faith bears witness to a good world called into being by a God who speaks and whose word creates.

The Prayer for January 22, 2017

Gracious God,
guardian and shepherd of our souls,
keep us in your Word
that, hearing and following your voice,
we may know your abundant 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 January 22, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” – Luke presents one of his summary descriptions of the early Christian community, an ever expanding community manifesting God’s.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – a song of trust born of reflection upon God’s gracious care and providence through the challenges and trials of life. In the midst of the dangerous intrigues of the royal court, God is the true shepherd who has guarded and guided the poet’s way.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25
“Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” –
this section of 1 Peter is presumably appointed for Good Shepherd Sunday for its line: “you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls,” but this section of the homily speaks to the pattern of enduring suffering given by Jesus.

Gospel: John 10:1-10
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” – Several metaphors from the world of shepherding are taken up as parables of the access to ‘Life’ found in Jesus.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChampagne_tower.jpg By ori2uru (originally posted to Flickr as champagne tower) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Children of Light

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Watching for the Morning of March 26, 2017

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

We hear the story of Samuel journeying to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse in the first reading this Sunday. It is a narrative fraught with danger, since Israel already has a king, and Saul has shown himself more interested in preserving his rule and his house than attending to God’s commands. Saul was the tallest in Israel. Strong, able, he looked the part of a kingly warrior. And the eldest of Jesse’s sons also looked the part – as, presumably, did the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth. But God sees the heart. And God saw fidelity in the heart of David – fidelity to God and to the people. (Yes, David sins when he murders Uriah to hide his infidelity with Uriah’s wife but, unlike nearly all later kings, he repents – he turns back to God and to the people.) This faithfulness of David is reflected in the familiar psalm for the day.

It’s not clear why this story of David is paired with the account of the man born blind in Sunday’s gospel except, perhaps, for the idea of seeing. The leaders of Israel are unable to see what is happening in Jesus, but the blind man comes to see.

Light and darkness are the theme of the reading from Ephesians. There we are exhorted to eschew the “unfruitful works of darkness” and “live as children of the light.”

For the ancients, darkness was not the absence of light; it was a substance. Light was something that was within and went out through the eyes to perceive the world. Those who are blind, therefore, had darkness within; what came out through their eyes was darkness. Jesus has filled the blind man with light. He has washed away the mud. And Jesus has not only filled him with a physical, material light, he has filled him with a spiritual light. So, if we are filled with this true light, this light of God, that light will go out not only to see clearly the gracious hand of God in the world around us, it will do the works of grace. On the other hand, if the ‘light’ within us is darkness, what will come forth from us are the works of darkness.

Why do we come to worship? Why do we set ourselves before the Word? Why do we take into our hands the bread of life? That we may be filled with light. Look around, the world sorely needs children of the light.

As We Forgive
Our focus on a portion of the catechism during Lent takes us into the Lord’s Prayer this year. Sunday we will consider the fifth petition: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray not only to be forgiven but, with that prayer, we choose to live the grace we desire.

Reflections on the themes of each week and brief daily devotions related to those themes can be found on the blog site for our Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 26, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and True,
who opened the eyes of the man born blind
that he might see and know you:
Remove from us all blindness of heart and spirit
that we might truly follow you in lives of faith, hope and love;
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 26, 2017

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – Saul has proven himself unworthy of the monarchy and God commissions Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king. All Jesse’s sons look the part of a king, but God chooses the youngest, David, who is out guarding the sheep.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – David’s famous psalm acknowledging God as his ruler and protector.

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”
–Writing to the believing community in Ephesus, Paul (or someone writing on Paul’s behalf or in his name) urges the community to live faithfully the life into which they have been called in Christ.

Gospel: John 9:1-41
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” – Jesus heals a man born blind who is subsequently investigated by the authorities and evicted from the synagogue for his affiliation with Jesus.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWindow_Shadows_on_Ceiling_of_Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia_2010.JPG By Patrick Pelletier (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Inversions and opposites and contradictions and a world remade

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Watching for the Morning of April 17, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday of Easter / Good Shepherd Sunday

The crucified rebel is Lord of All. The lamb who was slain, lives. The Lamb is the Shepherd. The lame and the shamed are brought to the wedding feast. The tax-gatherer goes home justified. The meek inherit the earth. The New Testament is rife with images turned inside out and the world turned upside down. The scripture doesn’t defend the status quo – it promises and brings a totally new one. The God of the Bible isn’t defending morality, but radically redefining it.

It is hard for us to get our heads around this. “The message of the cross is folly to the Gentiles,” writes Paul. The risen Jesus must patiently teach the scriptures again and again, for even with all that his followers have seen, they don’t get it. It’s why Jesus washes feet and welcomes children and declares it necessary for him to eat at the house of Zacchaeus. It’s why his puts up with the insults of Simon the Pharisee when he eats at his table. It’s why he breaks bread with Judas – and serves breakfast to Peter the denier.

So we come again in this Easter season to Good Shepherd Sunday. But it does not present us a pious pastoral image of the tender shepherd with a lamb around his neck. This is the slain lamb who lives who is Lord of all, standing on the throne of God. This is the shepherd who provides a banquet table for the king “in the presence of my enemies.” This is martyrs who make their robes white by washing them in blood. This is the slain singing God’s praise. This is Dorcas dead but made alive. This is sheep given the life of the age to come: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Easter is a deeply unsettling. A profound revolution. But the hope of all the ends of the earth.

The Prayer for April 17, 2016

Gracious Heavenly Father,
shepherd of our souls and guardian of our way,
in the resurrection of your son Jesus Christ
you have opened for us the way of life.
Continue to lead us by your Word and your Spirit
that we may dwell with you in that life which is eternal;
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 17, 2016

First Reading: Acts 9: 36-43
“Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.” – Peter is summoned to Joppa and Dorcas/Tabitha is restored to life.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – In the midst of the dangerous intrigues of the royal court, where the king is regarded as the shepherd of the people, the poet declares it is the LORD who is his shepherd.

Second Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
“The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
– The prophet sees the martyrs robed in white and singing at the throne of God.

Gospel: John 10:22-30
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” – The conclusion of John 10 that reflects on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALes_Baux_Berger_%C3%A0_la_messe_de_Noel.jpg  By Unknown 1930s (Scan old postcard) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The royal table

Saturday

Psalm 23

File:Cava (5303223614).jpg5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

The wine flows freely at God’s banquet.

And it is good wine.

The poet switches metaphors in the middle of his psalm, but both are royal images: God as shepherd and God as banquet host. They are themes that weave throughout the scriptures going back to the exodus when God led the people out from slavery and provided them food in the wilderness.

The leaders of the nation are condemned through the prophets because they feed off the people rather than protect and provide for them.

2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. (Ezekiel 34:2-3)

And in the face of such worthless shepherds God promises both that God will raise up a righteous shepherd and that God himself will be our shepherd. Promises that get woven together in Christ who declares: “I am the good shepherd.”

The message of Jesus was that the reign of God was at hand, and in him we see and hear that reign. The sick are healed. The outcasts are gathered in. Sins are forgiven. Grace abounds. All are fed at God’s bounteous table. Five thousand from five small “loaves” (it’s hard to call a flat bread the size of your hand a “loaf”) and two small dried fish – with twelve baskets left over. Water is turned to overflowing wine, wine strained clear.

It is what the prophet declared:

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make
for all peoples
a feast of rich food,
a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear.
7And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8)

And we hear it in the Gospel this Sunday: “He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things…”

He began to teach them, because it is not just about bread; it is about joy and deliverance and the way of being human. It is about living the compassion of God. It is about forgiving one another and loving our neighbor and having the burden of humanity’s shame lifted away. We who are all created in the image of God have lived war and greed and cruelty. We have ben Cain rising against Abel. We have been Abraham protecting himself rather than his hosts. We have been Sodom and Gomorrah, abusing others in our power. We have been Job’s self-righteous friends. We have been Jonah fleeing from our mission. We have been the man building bigger barns rather than sharing God’s bounty. We have been Peter denying. And this incomprehensible burden of shame, our dishonoring of God, has been carried away by a royal pardon, a king who bears it all.

“He began to teach them,” teach them about God’s mercy, God’s abundance, and our true path. He is indeed our shepherd. And he invites us to his table where grace abounds like wine, and all are fed, and goodness and steadfast love don’t just follow us – the Hebrew word means to pursue – God’s goodness keeps chasing us. Forever.

 

Photo: By cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark (Cava  Uploaded by FAEP) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Promise fulfilled

Watching for the Morning of July 19, 2015

Year B

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 11 / Lectionary 16

File:Jableh.jpgLast week we saw the bad shepherd, Herod, whose reign brought shame and death. This Sunday we see the good shepherd who brings healing and life.

Jeremiah proclaims God’s judgment on the leadership of Judah that has led the nation to its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, but God promises that he will gather his scattered remnant and bring them home, providing new and better kings and priests: “I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.” But this promise is followed by another: the promise of the one king, the “righteous branch,” who will bring justice and righteousness.

The psalm is the familiar declaration that God is our shepherd, our true king, who protects and provides even in the darkest valley. Then the author of Ephesians speaks of Christ our peace who breaks down the dividing wall and gathers all people to himself, reconciling us to God and to one another, a single human community, a holy temple where God shall dwell.

And finally we see Jesus, gathering his followers after their mission but chased by the crowds: Jesus who has compassion for these scattered sheep and meets them with his teaching and healing – God’s promise fulfilled.

The Prayer July 19, 2015

Gracious God, our Good Shepherd, source of all healing and life,
as Jesus looked with compassion on the crowds,
look with compassion upon us,
and touch us with your healing Spirit;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 19, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” – Jeremiah proclaims God’s judgment on the leaders of the nations who have plundered the flock and led it to destruction, and speaks God’s promise to gather the remnant of his scattered people and provide them a true and faithful shepherd.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
– The poet affirms that God is the true shepherd/king of the people.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14
“He is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
– God’s reconciling work in Christ to gather all people across all barriers, growing into a holy temple where God dwells on earth.

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
“As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” – The twelve return from their mission and go off to a deserted place, but the crowds follow and Jesus has compassion for them. The appointed text skips the feeding of the five thousand (to be taken up the following Sunday) to witness to Jesus as the Good Shepherd who teaches and heals.

 

Photo: By Victor.ibrahiem.photographe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I am your David

Sunday Evening

Psalm 23, John 10:11-18

File:Heilig Land Stichting Rijksmonument 523633 de goede herder, reli-art Piet Gerrits.JPGThe LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

11 “I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12The hired hand,
who is not the shepherd
and does not own the sheep,
sees the wolf coming
and leaves the sheep and runs away–
and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13The hired hand runs away
because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.
14I am the good shepherd.
I know my own
and my own know me,
15just as the Father knows me
and I know the Father.
And I lay down my life for the sheep.

I have tried to preach on these texts many times without much success. I look back on old sermons and find scattered notes rather than well-assembled manuscripts. I wish I could look back at sermons that I have stored on those old floppy disks. I wonder if I had any better luck 20 years ago than I did ten. Somehow I doubt it.

I decided last night that the problem is that preaching on these texts is like taking apart a piece of music from Bach or Beethoven or Mozart rather than just listening to it. My life isn’t really enriched by knowing what the notes are, but by letting them play – letting myself be immersed in their glorious sounds.

Psalm 23 is a prayer. Prayers are better prayed than preached upon. So let me try this:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

The LORD is my shepherd. The LORD is my King David who guarded his flock with his sling. The LORD is my David who fought off the bear and the lion and saved his flock from fearful enemies. The LORD is my David who slew Goliath with that same sling and five smooth stones. The LORD is my David who has beaten back every enemy. The LORD is my David who has enlarged the land. The LORD is my David who has made us to dwell securely.

The LORD is my shepherd, my righteous king, my defender, my hope. I shall not want.

I shall not be in want. I shall not lack for those things upon which life depends. Oh, I have plenty of wants and desires, but in him I lack no good thing, no true thing. In him there is the bread of life. In him there is the water of life. In him there are true pathways. In him is my way and my truth and my life.

He feeds me at his table. A table rich and abundant, a table filled with compassion and mercy, a table filled with grace and forgiveness, a table filled with joy and song, a table filled with love.

In the darkest valleys, he is my light. In the shadow of death he is my hope and promise. In weakness he is my strength. In fear he is my confidence. In sorrow he is my comfort.

The LORD is my David – and so much more than my David. He is my companion, my guide, my solace, my song. Even when surrounded by enemies, he is my overflowing cup, my soothing balm. He is my breath, my calm.

Israel was pursued through the wilderness by plundering tribes, but what chases after me is his goodness and faithfulness. Death and fear and sin and sorrow stalk me, and yet what truly pursues me, what seeks me, what follows after me, is God’s determination to enfold me in his life and love.

The LORD is my David, my perfect king, who lays down his life for me.

And now here is Jesus standing before me saying, “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the Good Shepherd, the true shepherd, the noble shepherd, the true and righteous king, the faithful king, who sets the life of his people before his own.”   Here is Jesus before me saying “I am the true shepherd who leads you to life.” I am the honorable shepherd, the faithful king, who lays down his life for you. Who calls you by name. Who knows your name. Who gathers you to myself. Who gathers others to my flock. I am the true shepherd, the true voice, who leads you to true pasture. Verdant pasture. Bread of life and living water.

I am the good shepherd, I am your David, I am your Moses and Abraham and Noah. I am he who walked with you in the garden and will open wide the gates of the city to come.

I am he who prepares for you a table. I am he who anoints you with my Spirit. I am he who seeks you. I am he who has prepared a place for you. “In my father’s house are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you.”

I am he who washes away all sin. I am he who quenches your deepest thirst. I am he who turns water into wine, tears into joy, mourning into dancing. I am he who opens blind eyes, who strengthens feeble knees. I am he who meets you at the well with living water. I am the light that cannot be extinguished. I am the rock that cannot be shaken. I am the fountain that never runs dry. I am the eternal dawn, the morning light that does not fade.

I am your David, your perfect king, your noble shepherd, your eternal life.

And I have other sheep. Sheep that listen to my voice. And I must bring them also. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Amen

 

STatue: Nederlands: Heilig Land Stichting Rijksmonument 523633 de goede herder, reli-art van Piet Gerrits  Photo: By Havang(nl) (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Everlasting friend

Saturday

1 John 3:16-24

File:Good Shepherd 04.jpg

Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the early Christian catacomb of Domitilla/Domatilla (Crypt of Lucina, 200-300 CE)

17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Let’s just skip past this one real quickly.

Why don’t we stay with:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Or maybe:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

There are so many nice, sweet, comforting thoughts on which we could focus in the texts this week. Jesus is our shepherd. He provides us good pasture. He protects us from the wolves. He is our everlasting friend.

And, yes, he is all those things. But our everlasting friends said, “A new commandment I give to you.” He told that story about the Good Samaritan. He invited himself to dinner at the home of Zacchaeus without asking him to repent first. And then he sends Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch and Peter to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius.

We don’t get the everlasting friend without the new commandment. Try as you might, we don’t. Israel tried this. Temple. Priesthood. King. Sacrifices. Ritual. Glory. But they didn’t do justice or mercy or even Sabbath, and marching armies came to tear down all those things in which they trusted. Back to the drawing board. Back to eternal love and the commandments.

So here we are struggling with First John’s troubling question:

17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

We can play games with the text. We can duck and weave and try to avoid its direct and pointed word. But I was never very good at dodge ball as a child, and surely not now. And I don’t want to dodge this word either.

Christian faith is about abiding in God’s love and God’s love abiding in us. This is easier for some of us than others, I know. We all have our wounds and scars. But sometimes it seems like some of us aren’t trying. We are content to gossip, judge, condemn, and go about our lives hidden among the masses, making no difference, bearing no witness, adding no grace or healing to our wounded world. It’s what makes Christianity to be despised in the culture around us, especially among the young.

There is an everlasting friend for us. But he is friend also to our neighbor. And he wants me to treat others not only as I want to be treated, but as he has treated me.