Temptation

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Watching for the Morning of March 5, 2017

The First Sunday in Lent

Good and evil. Beauty and ugliness. Nobility and degradation. The words have a wide range of meaning in Hebrew. Harmony and disorder. We always envision the serpent entwined in that tree, enticing the first humans to reach out their hands and pluck for themselves rather than trust God’s vision for their life in that garden. All the trees in the garden were open to them. Even the tree of life. But life’s evils and sorrows God did not want us to have to endure. But we did. And God did, beneath the whips and spit of Roman soldiers and the excruciating pain of the nails into the wood that became for us another tree of life.

This wasn’t a test of their obedience; it was a test of their trust in God. Would they trust that this tree meant sorrow and death? Would they trust that God meant for them joy and life? But the serpent’s question sowed doubt. Instead living inside God’s promise they became observers and critics of that promise. “Did God say…?” And suddenly, their hearts are turned inward and their hands stretch outward to pluck that deadly fruit.

Who shall be our hope when we persistently break faith with God? Who shall be our hope when humanity becomes tower builders, empire builders, weapons makers, revenge seekers? Who shall be our hope when humanity becomes masters and slaves, thieves and victims, deceivers and deceived? Who shall be our hope?

And now stands Jesus in the wilderness, weak with hunger but mighty in prayer. And that insidious voice begins to speak. Those round rocks look just like bread. Why should you go hungry, Jesus? One little word and you can fill your belly.

It is not the story of one man; it is a story in which the fate of all humanity hangs in the balance. Is there hope for us? Is there one who will be the faithful son?

Sunday is the first of the Sundays in Lent, a time of spiritual renewal, of fasting and prayer and care of others. A season that begins with the story of the testing of Adam and Eve, and the testing of Jesus. Our first parents fail. We fail. But our elder brother remains true. So this season may be sober sometimes, the shadow of the cross is serious, but it is a season of joy.

“Our Father”

During Lent each year our parish focuses upon one portion of the catechism – this year, the Lord’s Prayer. Over these coming Sundays we will talk about the meaning of that remarkable prayer, beginning this Sunday with the significance of the beginning: “Our Father.” It is worth pondering that we are taught to speak to God as members of a single human family. Our Ash Wednesday sermon began this series talking about the uniqueness of Jesus’ way of prayer. It can be found here at on our blog site that also contains our brief Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 5, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and Faithful,
who guided Israel in the wilderness
and sustained Jesus in the days of his testing,
uphold us in our times of trial.
Strengthen us by your Word
and empower us with your Spirit
that, standing in Christ,
we may share in his perfect faithfulness;
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 5, 2017

First Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”’?” – With his question, the serpent disrupts the simple trust Adam and Eve had in God, and they seek to be “like God” knowing what is noble and what is not.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” – The poet celebrates the forgiveness of God, describing the corrosive power of unacknowledged sin and the liberating power of God’s mercy.

Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”
– Paul contrasts Adam and Christ. Through Adam sin entered the world and with sin death. In Christ, grace now governs and with grace, life.

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” – Having been honored by God’s declaration that he is God’s beloved son, the demonic spirits test that claim, trying to show Jesus unworthy of the acclaim. But Jesus shows himself the faithful son. Where Israel showed themselves faithless in the wilderness, Jesus remains faithful.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eva_tentando_a_Adam.JPG By seraphyn, the olod Latinoamerican´s (de mi autoría.Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Forgiven

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Watching for the Morning of June 12, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

This Sunday forgiveness takes center stage. We hear the prophet Nathan confront King David about his murder of Uriah to cover David’s crime with Bathsheba. It is a brilliant effort, using a story of a poor man’s treasured sheep, seized and killed by his wealthy neighbor, to get David to condemn himself.

It is not clear whether Jesus has as much success with Simon the Pharisee, who invites Jesus to a banquet but shows him none of the honor due a guest. In scandal after scandal, a woman bursts in on the scene, washes Jesus feet with her tears and dries them by unbinding her hair. Simon concludes that Jesus is no prophet; a prophet would know this woman is a “sinner”. But Jesus knows both her and Simon, and with a story of two debtors gets Simon to acknowledge that the forgiveness of a great debt creates great love. Then, like Nathan saying to David, “You are the man!”, comes the piercing revelation of Simon’s lack of hospitality and hardness of heart.

We will hear of David’s repentance, but not of Simon’s, and the psalm will talk about these two responses: describing how the heart shrivels when sin is not acknowledged, and how life is restored when it is confessed and forgiven.

Sunday, our second reading continues in Galatians, where we hear Paul speaking to the congregation in Galatia asserting again that it is not the observance of Judean custom and ritual that makes us acceptable to God, but our trust in and allegiance to the God who raised Jesus from the dead. It is a message that leads him to joyfully proclaim:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Prayer for June 12, 2016

Gracious God,
whose infinite mercy should prompt in us an infinite love,
help us to taste and see your goodness
and to share that banquet with all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 12, 2016

First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-20 (appointed 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-15)
“Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” –
The prophet Nathan confronts David on his murder of Uriah to hide his crime with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah – and David repents.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
– The psalmist tells of the corrosive power of unconfessed sin, and the liberating mercy of God when he acknowledges his fault.

Second Reading: Galatians 2:15-21
“We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
– Having shown that his Gospel was not delivered on behalf of any human authority but through his encounter with the risen Christ, Paul reasserts his teaching that we are not made acceptable to God by the observance of Judean ritual and customs, but by trust and loyalty to the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3
“‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’” –
Jesus is invited to feast at the home of Simon, a Pharisee, but is shown none of the proper hospitalities. A woman breaks into the dinner and washes Jesus feet with her tears and anoints them with a perfumed oil. Jesus’ acceptance of her confirms Simon’s presumption that Jesus is not a prophet – but Jesus shows prophetic insight and speaks to Simon with a parable about two debtors and what is shown by great love.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AForgiveness_0001.jpg By scem.info [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Come to the banquet

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Watching for the Morning of March 6, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

The story of the prodigal son is familiar to everyone – and yet, not familiar. It is set in a culture different than our own and the story is much deeper than it first appears to us. We tend to hear a story of misspent youth, personal regret, moral reform and a penitent child welcomed home by a loving father. But Jesus’ listeners heard a much more profound story of a shameful family and a father’s dramatic action to save the life of his child by inviting the village to feast.

This is a child who has violated core communal values by seeking and selling the inheritance. By his action he declares he wishes his father were dead and threatens the extended family’s survival by selling a third of the land upon which they depend for food. The father acts shamefully, horribly, by acceding to the demand – and then, inexplicably, is willing to save the son’s life when he returns home. The son is facing communal violence as if he had desecrated the Koran. He is the small town pastor’s son who, after years of abusive behavior, breaking windows, violating the sanctity of the worship space, finally sets fire to the building and flees town. Now imagine he walks back into the sanctuary…

The father races to embrace his son to protect him from the village and then invites the whole village to come and feast – to be reconciled with this troubled family. (And we haven’t talked of the elder son’s shameful conduct who, like his brother, acts like his father is dead.)

This is a parable of the kingdom – but in what way is this tragic story like the kingdom? The feast. In a world troubled by greed and violence and family decay comes the invitation to share in the feast of reconciliation. It is a banquet set in the rubble of a Syrian city. It is a banquet set on the capitol steps. It is a banquet set on the white house lawn. It is a banquet set in the Pentagon parking lot. It is a banquet set on Wall Street. It is a banquet set in our own troubled homes and villages. It is a banquet of reconciliation to which all are invited. To which we are invited. God has killed the fatted calf and called us to rejoice with him in a world made new.

Yes, to answer such an invitation means letting go of old hatreds and greeds. Yes, to answer such an invitation is a profound reorientation of our lives. But God is setting the table and inviting us to come and share the feast, to join the dance, to sing the songs of joy, to break the bread of peace.

And so, with this text on Sunday, we will hear Paul speak of the new creation in Christ, and the psalmist sing of the peace of God’s forgiveness. And we will hear of the wilderness wanderings come to an end and the people gathered in a great Passover celebration where they share in the bounty of the promised land. The banquet is at hand and we are invited to share in the feast where all sins are forgiven and all creation reconciled.

Gathered

File:Rome - Basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran - Rencontres européennes de Taizé 2012 - 2.jpgThis week we are continuing our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He has called me through the Gospeland that is the subject of our daily devotions. Sunday we will continue in the third article of the creed with the line from the Catechism: “He gathers me into the Body of Christ.”

Christian faith isn’t private or solitary. When we put our faith, hope and trust in Christ we are joined with all others who have made him their hope. We have been joined to the missional community sent to bear witness to Christ throughout the world. We are gathered into the community where love is our new commandment. We are united to the body through which Christ is present to the world. Here the Spirit is given. Here sins are forgiven. Here the feast to come is begun.

The Prayer for March 6, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you gather us into the community of the church
and there proclaim to us your love and faithfulness.
Make us ever mindful of your gifts and faithful to one another
that, as one body in Christ Jesus,
we may bear witness to your grace and glory;
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 6, 2016

First Reading: Joshua 5:1-3, 9-12 (appointed 5:9-12)
“The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land.” – the people have come out from the wilderness, crossed the Jordan and are camped at Gilgal where they celebrate Passover and begin to live off the fruit of the land.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
– The poet sings of the goodness of God’s gracious forgiveness.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (appointed 5:16-21)
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” –
Paul speaks of the new reality that has dawned in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-2, 11-32 (appointed 15:1-3, 11b-32)
“The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ …So he told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons.’”
– Jesus tells of a troubled and shameful family whose father acts decisively to protect his wayward sons.

Gathered: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the theme for week 3 from the third article of the creed: Week 3: Called.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATaxiarchis_Church_Feast_(5159037622).jpg By Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece (Taxiarchis Church Feast  Uploaded by Yarl) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARome_-_Basilique_Saint-Jean-de-Latran_-_Rencontres_europ%C3%A9ennes_de_Taiz%C3%A9_2012_-_2.jpg By Peter Potrowl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“When I kept silence”

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1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.

This is one of those places where the desire to keep the text gender neutral dulls its meaning.  Our translation shifts the psalm from the singular “Happy is he…” to the plural “Happy are those…”  But the psalmist is speaking of the individual here, not the community.  It is the forgiveness of one man that matters, not that of all people.  Yes, he is making a generic statement about forgiveness, but the story is a decidedly personal one.  Our poet is the man the LORD has not held in his guilt.

And “happy” is hardly adequate for the joy and peace this forgiven man has experienced.  It is altogether too shallow and cheap a word in our time.  The poet speaks rather of that sense of wholeness, peace, contentment – at one with the self and God and the world – that seems oh so rare in our time.

We are a restless bunch.  Not only outwardly, but inwardly.  We are not just running from work to soccer to market to school and back to work, but running from fears and anxieties, running from silence, running from self-examination.  We are worried about health and food and money and war.  We are struggling to make an imperfect world perfect, straining the gnat and swallowing the camel, looking for pocket knives despite the evidence that when security agents look for knives they miss bomb parts.

We are restless, thinking that one more thing, one more experience, one more accolade will make life better, more complete and silence the unrest within.  But peace cannot come from the marketplace.  It comes from being in harmony with the creator – a harmony that comes from acknowledging we are far from home and hearing God say he has made his home with us – a harmony that comes when broken relationships are mended, starting with our tie to the center of life.

“When I kept silence,” our poet says, “my body wasted away.”  Unable or unwilling to speak the truth of his soul, his soul withered.  “My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”  But then he found his voice:

“I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’
     and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” 

Repentance is not feeling guilty; it is recognizing I am off the path and turning to find it.  It is the courageous truth telling about the state of my soul and changing direction. It is not God who holds our past against us – we do.  Consciously or unconsciously the wounds and wants, fears and failings of the past bind us.  Being free starts with being true – and absorbing the word that God holds none of it against us.

9 Do not be like a horse or a mule,
     without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
     else it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the torments of the wicked,
     but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.