When all seems lost

File:Two-tailed pasha (Charaxes jasius jasius) Greece.jpgWatching for the Morning of May 5, 2019

Year C

The Third Sunday of Easter

“Children, you have no fish, have you?” It is a haunting question. A night of labor has resulted in nothing. And this strange figure on the shore in the dim light of dawn knows it.

The writer of this Gospel doesn’t tell the story of Jesus encountering Peter by the sea at the beginning of his ministry where they leave their boats and embark on a new life as those who work to gather the human community into the nets of God’s mercy. And we do not know whether our Gospel writer has transformed that story into a resurrection appearance or the risen Jesus came to meet Peter once again at the sea, repeating the summons that first changed Peter’s life – though there is a great spiritual truth in the latter.

There is a profound element of new beginnings in this narrative. Three times Peter had denied Jesus. Now he is presented with the opportunity to give a new answer to the threefold question whether he belongs to Jesus.

The texts this Sunday are rife with new beginnings. Saul is given a new beginning in his encounter with the risen Jesus. He has tried to purge Israel from this dangerous heresy that Jesus was raised and here he is with eyes opened and a new beginning to his life. The psalmist sings of a new beginning, having been delivered from a deadly disease. And the hosts of heaven singing the praise of the lamb who was slain yet lives anticipates the rebirth of the world.

It is a theme deep in the biblical narrative as a whole – when hope is lost, new life is given. God calls the world into being from its primal chaos, rescues it in the days of Noah when there is nothing but violence, gives to Abraham a promise of land and descendants when he and Sarah are homeless and barren, calls Moses to lead Israel out from bondage when the imperial power has turned against them – and when they are trapped by the sea, God opens a way, swallowing up the might of Egypt behind them. From death into life, from judgment into grace, from sorrow into joy, God gives a new beginning to us and to all creation.

When the story seems over, there is Jesus on the shore summoning us to cast wide the net of mercy, dine at his table, and tend the flock of all God’s children.

The Prayer for May 5, 2019

Gracious God,
through the resurrection of Jesus
you have turned all human mourning into dancing.
As he appeared to his followers by the seashore,
nourished them at his table,
and sent them out into the world,
so come to us that, fed by your mercy,
we too may carry your bread of life to the world.

The Texts for May 5, 2019

First Reading: Acts 9:1-20 (appointed: 1-6 [7-20])
“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” – Saul (Paul) is blinded when the risen Christ encounters him on the road to Damascus and Ananias, responding to God’s call, goes to heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 30
“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” – With words that echo the resurrection, the poet sings of God’s deliverance from an unexpected affliction.

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
– The prophet sees the heavenly hosts around the throne of God singing praise to the Lamb who stands upon the throne.

Gospel: John 21:1-19
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” – In an addendum to John’s Gospel, The risen Jesus appears to his followers at the sea of Galilee and gives Peter the opportunity to turn his threefold denial into a threefold affirmation of allegiance to Jesus, conveying to him the leadership of the nascent Christian community.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Two-tailed_pasha_(Charaxes_jasius_jasius)_Greece.jpg Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Joy cometh

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For Friday

Psalm 30

5Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

I don’t know where I was exposed to the American Standard Version of 1901, but as far as I know, that’s the one that seems to match the verse in my memory:

Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy cometh in the morning.

Or maybe what’s in my memory is a compilation of sources. For I would have sworn that the second line was “joy cometh with the morning” – and ‘with’ matches the RSV that was the Bible of my upbringing.

The poetry matters. Without poetry the text gets flat, pale, pedestrian. It gives a nice honest fact, but loses something of its timeless truth, its eternal promise: We were not made for tears; we were made for joy. Tears come; but there is a morning where tears are wiped away.

I have wept many tears that did not surrender to joy with the calendar morning. But Easter…Easter…Easter does far more than fill one day with the scent of lilies and the sound of great hymns. Easter beckons even as I stand at the graveside. Easter beckons as I comfort the broken. Easter beckons as I stand before brutal injustice. Easter beckons as I witness the devastations of war. Easter presents itself before me with the promise of a morning bedecked with joy. A morning when burdens are lifted and night flees. A morning where light and life reign.

So I prefer the poetry. This verse is not a statement of fact; it is a song of promise. A promise in which I stand. A promise the gives birth to joy. Even in the nights of weeping.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASunrise_Bodrum_05459_05465.jpg by Nevit [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Life restored

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Watching for the Morning of June 5, 2016

Year C

The Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 5 / Lectionary 10

We said last week that “the festal season may be over but the festal age is at hand,” meaning that though the liturgically richer Sundays from Advent through Pentecost are over, Easter has dawned for all creation. The reign of God is at hand, the grave is open and the Spirit given. The grace and mercy, healing and life of the age to come is at work in us and among us now.

We see the fruit of God’s reign again this week as the life of a widow is restored through the raising of her son. The realm of life has broken into this realm of death. But this is nothing new to God; the scripture reverberates with God’s life-giving. At Elijah’s intercession, life is restored to the son of the widow of Zarephath. The poet sings of God’s restoring mercy in delivering him from death’s door. And Paul gives his testimony how he was turned from a life that, in his zeal, brought death as he persecuted the followers of Jesus and was given a message that gave life to all – a message that does not come any human authority but from an encounter with the crucified but risen Lord.

The reign of God is present in this Jesus as the sick are healed, sinners forgiven, and life restored. The festal age is come. As the crowd will say in response to this stunning act, “God has visited his people!”RSV so we exult with the psalmist:

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. (Psalm 30:11)

The Prayer for June 5, 2016

Gracious God,
you have not dealt with us
according to our sin and brokenness
but out of your great compassion.
As you restored the life of the widow and her son,
be at work within and among us
to restore us to the fullness of life in you;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 5, 2016

First Reading: 1 Kings 17:17-24
“He stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’” –
Elijah’s plea for the life of the child of the widow of Zarephath is granted.

Psalmody: Psalm 30
“O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.”
– The psalmist praises God for his healing from an illness that brought him near to death.

Second Reading: Galatians 1:11-24
“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin.”
– Paul recounts the story of his life, declaring that the message he brought to the Galatians was not rooted in human authority but his encounter with the risen Lord.

Gospel: Luke 7:11-17
“Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain.” –
Following his encounter with the Centurion in Capernaum, Jesus meets a funeral procession and restores the life of a widow’s son.

 

Image:  Voroneţ Monastery, Romania. The church is one of the Painted churches of northern Moldavia listed in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.  File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVoronet_murals_2010_64.jpg  By Man vyi (own photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Feed my sheep

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Watching for the Morning of April 10, 2016

Year C

The Third Sunday of Easter

It’s painful to hear. We understand why Peter was crushed when Jesus asks a third time “Do you love me?” It strips the cover off the wound of his denial. Three times Peter had been asked if he was a follower of Jesus and three times he had denied it. Now he is given the chance to change the outcome of that denial. But it hurts.

The truth is often painful. But only in truth can true allegiance be born. If we do not understand what has been forgiven, how can our lives be bound to him in true allegiance?

The one who vowed to die with Jesus rather than deny him watched his teacher die alone. Now the leadership of the Christian mission is entrusted to him.

This addendum to John’s Gospel provides the center of the texts on Sunday. We will hear of Paul’s life-transforming encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He who was held the coats as the mob stoned Stephen to death, who had ravaged the early Christian community and was traveling now with authority to seize the believers in Damascus – he is delivered from his blindness by the Lord through the ministry of faithful Ananias. He is baptized, united with Christ Jesus, bound by immeasurable mercy to faithfulness.

The psalmist sings of his complacency in his wealth, the crisis that came, the deliverance God gave, and the new life of thankfulness and praise. And John of Patmos sees a vision of all heaven singing the praise of the lamb who was slain – but lives and reigns.

The drama of Easter is not a dramatic and unexpected comeback in the final four seconds. It is the drama of our lives revealed by fierce and tender truth, of new life found in God’s amazing grace, of the faithfulness born of that grace, and the ministry to the world that follows.

The Prayer for April 10, 2016

Gracious God,
through the resurrection of Jesus your son
you have turned all human mourning into dancing.
As he appeared to his followers by the seashore,
nourished them at his table,
and sent them out into the world,
so come to us, that fed by your mercy
we too may carry your bread of life to the world;
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 10, 2016

First Reading: Acts 9:1-20 (appointed: 1-6 [7-20])
“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” – Saul (Paul) encounters the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and is left blind. Ananias responds to God’s call to go and heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 30
“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” – With words that echo the resurrection, the poet sings of God’s deliverance from an unexpected affliction: “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’”

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
– The prophet sees the heavenly hosts around the throne of God singing praise to the Lamb who stands upon the throne.

Gospel: John 21:1-19
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” – In an addendum to John’s Gospel, The risen Jesus appears to his followers at the sea of Galilee and gives Peter the opportunity to turn his threefold denial into a threefold affirmation of allegiance to Jesus, and conveys to him the leadership of the nascent Christian community.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOxfam_East_Africa_-_SomalilandDrought026.jpg  By Oxfam East Africa (Flickr: SomalilandDrought026) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Restoring life

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Watching for the Morning of June 28, 2015

Year B

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 8 / Lectionary 13

There is a distinction to be made between curing a disease and healing. Healing is always much more than a restoration of bodily function; it is a restoration of life. We are aware of the complex interplay of body and mind in our modern understanding of disease. Nevertheless, our dominant image of illness is a biomechanical one, whereas the ancient world would have seen illness as social and spiritual. The woman with the flow of blood, who reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, is not only physically ill but ritually unclean. She has an infirmity that robs her of her place in the community. Though she was a person of means (able to afford doctors) yet she is “poor” for she is disconnected from life. What God does for her through Jesus is not fundamentally different than what God does for the daughter of Jairus. Both are “saved” – restored to life.

The God who restores life is the hope of the poet of Lamentations who cries out the grief and desolation of a people who have lost everything at the hands of the Babylonian armies. If a future exists for this people, it comes only from this God of life.

And in the psalm for Sunday, the God who restores life is praised by the author who sings of his wondrous healing.

This God who restores life is the one proclaimed by Paul – the God who opened the grave and exalted Jesus and in him brings us from death into life. So Paul urges the brothers and sisters in Corinth to share in the offering he is gathering for the brothers and sisters in Judea in the midst of famine. In Christ Jesus, who became poor that we might become rich, we have both the model and inspiration to give of ourselves for those in need – the model and inspiration to share in God’s life-giving work.

When we speak of healing, we are speaking of God’s work to make whole: to make whole our hearts, our lives, our communities, our world. It is a work begun in us now, and it is a work we are confident will be brought to completion for us and for all creation – for the grave is empty.

The Prayer June 28, 2015

Faithful God, whose steadfast love never fails
and whose mercy never comes to an end,
may your healing hand be ever upon us,
to renew and restore our life as your faithful people;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 28, 2015

First Reading: Lamentations 3:19-33 (appointed 3:22-33)
“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” – In the midst of his profound expression of grief over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the poet recalls the fragments of Israel’s worship that express their hope in God’s faithfulness and love.

Psalmody: Psalm 30
“O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.”
– The psalmist gives thanks and praise to God for delivery from a deathly illness.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
“You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
– Paul appeals to the Corinthians to fulfill their promise to participate in the offering for the believers in Jerusalem during their time of need.

Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
“One of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” – Following the stilling of the storm at sea and the restoration of the man among the tombs, Jesus brings healing to a woman and restores the life of the daughter of Jairus.

 

Sculpture by Felix Pfeifer – “Genesung” (healing, restoration) in Rosengarten in Dresden. Photo by By Franziska Bauer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Do we really want a God who does not get angry?

Psalm 30

5 his anger is but for a moment;

Noah's ark

Noah’s ark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We don’t like to talk about God’s anger.  Rightly so.  There have been generations governed by fear that, if they stepped out of line, God would be there to whack them down.  The all seeing eye, watching, waiting, ruler in hand.  And even if some, convinced of their own righteousness, think they have no reason to fear, they have been willing to use it as a tool for governing others.  It is good to leave such behind.  It is not consistent with the scriptures that tell of a god who waits to be gracious (Isaiah 30:18).

But can it be that God is not angry when school children are gunned down, when workers are crushed in a poorly constructed building, when communities are poisoned by industrial waste, when tyrants rule by terror and armies rape and pillage?  Can it be that God is not angry with the authors and bystanders of death camps and gulags and killing fields?  Can it be that God is not angry at the infected blankets given to native peoples or the slaughter of their women and children?  Is God unaffected by torture or human trafficking?  Is God unmoved by young girls forced into prostitution? Do we really want a God who does not get angry?

The question is not whether God gets angry, but what God does with his anger.  Same question for us, of course, and generally what we do with our anger is not pleasant.  Yet we feel justified in expressing our anger but horrified should God do so.

I would be horrified if God gave vent to his anger – not because God has not the right, but because there is much for which we should be afraid, starting with starving children.  Lazarus at the gate.

5 For his anger is but for a moment;
       his favor is for a lifetime.

The point is not that God’s anger is short-lived and his love eternal – that sounds too much like an abusive parent – but that God’s anger is governed by his favor.  Love governs wrath.

What God does with his anger is Jesus.  God does not strike back.  God does not strike down.  God steps forward.

We have this message in the story of Noah, too, when God steps back from his anger and hangs up his archer’s bow vowing he will not make war on humanity, despite the fact “that every imagination of the human heart is only evil continually.”  Though evil follows the flood, God steps forward with a promise to Abraham to bring blessing to the world.

No sentence is more powerful in scripture than the one Jesus speaks to his torturers: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” – not meaning that these soldiers don’t know they’re killing someone important, but that we don’t see what has become of the human spirit: that we can mock and spit and pound nails and leave someone to die slowly while the ravens peck out their eyes.  We do not know that we have lost God and our humanity.

But God steps forward.  God has hung up his weapons of war.  God has shouldered humanity’s ugliness.  When Jesus commands us to love our enemies, he knows of what he speaks.  It is the choice God made.