“If you love me…”

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Exhortation to the Apostles (Recommandation aux apôtres) - James Tissot.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 21, 2017

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Again, this Sunday, we hear Jesus speaking after supper on the night of his betrayal. Again we hear him providing for his little band as he faces what he knows will be his death. Again we hear him speak of the Spirit who will come, an ‘advocate’ who will turn the hearts of the crowd in their favor. Again we hear the promise that Jesus will come to his followers. Again we hear about love and fidelity and abiding. And again we hear about living out Jesus’ teaching: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”

Fidelity to Jesus will mean fidelity to his teaching.  We are not joining team Jesus against team Pharisees. We are not joining team Jesus against team Humanists. We are not joining team Jesus against team Hillary or Team Trump. We are disciples, students, of the one who redeems the world: the one who forgives sins, who heals families and communities, who restores the world to its true source and life.

All the other promises weave together with this one: faithfulness is seen in the doing. There is no faith in concepts, ideas or doctrines. Nothing is gained by believing in a six-day creation or a literal ark. Nothing is gained by nodding to the notion of forgiveness. Those who have looked into the eyes of grace will live grace. Those who have fed at his table will feed others. Those who have been touched by his healing hand will extend their hand to others.

When I was about ten my step-father allowed a friend to store his sports car in our garage. We sat in the driver’s seat and roared through the gears, drinking in the wonder of this machine. But make no mistake; we were not driving it.

So, Sunday, Paul will call the citizens of Athens to hear the message that the “unknown God” has been made known in this Jesus. And the author of First Peter will summon us to do what is good even if it brings suffering. And the psalmist will speak of faithfulness in the midst of trial. And the table will be set that welcomes all and the songs will be sung that hint of the harmony to come, and we will be drawn again into the redemptive love made visible in this Jesus who sends the Spirit and comes to abide with us and in us.

Preaching Series: Genesis 3: Fall

We are in the third week of our series going through key stories of the scripture to see, as Jesus showed his followers on the road to Emmaus, that the scriptures bear witness to the sacrificial and redeeming love of God that is manifest ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The story before us this week is the moment when the harmony of God’s good garden goes wrong, when humanity reaches out for the knowledge of life’s joys and sorrows and finds itself now alienated from the world, one another and God.

We are capable of imagining a world of perfect peace and harmony, but we know that the world is full of woe. We are capable of ugliness of spirit and act. We hate. We fear. We abuse. We wage war. We build ovens. We harm even those who are closest to us with words that should have gone unsaid. We know the beauty of the world; why must we also know its ugliness? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars.”

The Prayer for May 21, 2017

Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you 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 May 21, 2017

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31
“Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’” – Paul, traveling by himself to avoid a conspiracy to murder him, comes to Athens where he seeks to engage the leaders of that city with the message of God, the creator all peoples.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:8-20
“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.” – The psalmist calls for all nations to praise God for his gracious deeds to deliver those in need.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” –
The author’s continuing exposition on baptism, now touches on the Ascension: “Baptism…now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” The author urges his hearers to remain faithful in the face of hostility, to do what is good and be ready to give account for the hope that is in them.

Gospel: John 14: 15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” – Continuing last Sunday’s reading, Jesus makes provision for his followers in light of his impending death, promising that God will send the Holy Spirit (the ‘Paraclete’).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Exhortation_to_the_Apostles_(Recommandation_aux_ap%C3%B4tres)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Stirred not shaken

File:Seventy Disciples.jpg

The Seventy

Watching for the Morning of July 3, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

I watched a James Bond move last week and learned that the designation ‘00’ was given to agents after two kills – when they have proved their hardness of heart. Maybe we need a designation for agents who have brought God’s healing to two lives and proved their tenderness of heart. Stirred, not shaken.

Sunday centers on Luke’s account of the sending of the seventy. Earlier, Luke had recorded Jesus sending the twelve ahead of him to heal and proclaim the reign of God. Now Jesus sends “seventy others.” The reading contains Jesus’ familiar phrase that “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, and the injunction that they are sent “like lambs into the midst of wolves.” The mission is urgent (don’t pack a bag) but God will provide through the hospitality of those who are “sons [and daughters] of peace.” Where they are welcomed, they should heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” And where they are not welcomed, they should “shake off the dust” as a warning of God’s judgment for “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me.”

As a new king coming to claim the land sends out representatives to prepare for his arrival, dispensing his benefactions and warning those who resist – so the followers of Jesus are sent. And they return with joy. The realm of Satan was falling.

Our other readings on Sunday pick up the themes of deliverance and joy. The text from Isaiah contains a promise of that day when Jerusalem is restored and the world brought to peace. The psalmist sings God’s praise for his work of deliverance in the exodus from Egypt. And our reading in Galatians comes to its final chapter where Paul urges the community to remember that we will reap what we sow – urging them to sow to the Spirit (the new creation, the reign of God) and not to our “flesh” (the passions and desires of our fallen nature).

The mission of the seventy is not just for the seventy. It is the mission of the church, of the people, of each and all of us. Having gifts that differ we are sent as heralds of the kingdom, bearing the gifts of the kingdom. There are plenty of contentious, divisive, and angry voices rending lives and the body politic. But Christ has his agents, bringing healing and life.

The Prayer for July 3, 2016

Eternal Father,
whose heart is ever searching
to gather your world to yourself,
help us dwell in your mercy
and make us faithful in our calling to bear witness to your love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 3, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” –
A song of Salvation containing the promise that the nation, broken by war and exile, will be restored.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:1-8
“Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth” – a song of joy at God’s deliverance, recalling the exodus from Egypt.

Second Reading: Galatians 6:1-16
“Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.” – Exhortations from the closing section of Paul’s letter contrasting those things “sown to the flesh” (our “fallen” nature, our innate self-centeredness) with what is sown to the Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
“”The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
– Jesus sends out seventy as heralds of the reign of God and instructs them about their mission.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASeventy_Disciples.jpg  By anonimus ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The smoke of sacrifices

Sunday Evening

Psalm 66

13I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will pay you my vows,
14those that my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats.

It would be interesting if the offerings we put into the offering plate gave off the aroma of roasting meats. Such aromas evoke summer barbecues and laughing children and whole neighborhoods gathered together for national holidays.

When we hear about burnt offerings it is easy to mentally skip over these ideas. Such sacrifices are not part of our experience. Truth be told, they seem a little brutish and bloody for us. And it is easy to think that those times were barbaric and we are more enlightened.

It was a bloody affair; butchering animals always is, but few of us have been to a slaughterhouse. Just because we buy meat wrapped in butcher paper doesn’t mean someone somewhere wasn’t involved in blood and the giving of a life.

I wonder if I would eat meat very often had I to raise and slaughter the animal myself. I suspect meat would become a rare and special treat, only for those occasions of large family celebrations like Thanksgiving and Christmas. And this is the way it was for people in the ancient world – at least for ordinary people.

The slaughter of an animal was a rare and special occasion – a feasting to which many were invited – a feasting that was shared also with the priest and with the poor. It was a costly affair; the offering of an animal was a great sacrifice. But it was also a time of joy.

The vow of which the poet speaks is the vow to sacrifice an animal. It is a promise to give God his most precious possession if God will come to his aid. It is not a vow that was taken lightly. These were no sick bed promises soon forgotten when the crisis was passed. These vows were kept – and they were times of great celebration, for the prayers had been answered, the life saved, and the whole community was invited to share in the joy.

I wish we had a better sense of this when we put our envelope into the offering plate. I wished we recognized that we were giving a gift of value in thanksgiving to God for all God’s mercies, a gift that was being shared by the whole community in the feast of song and Scripture and Holy Eucharist – the “sacred thanksgiving” – the shared bread and wine that embody the majesty of divine grace. The feast that accompanied the ancient sacrifice was a table fellowship not only of all the guests, but a table fellowship with God to whom the animal had been offered. And so is our feast. We gather in table fellowship with God and one another, filled with thanksgiving for heaven’s mercies, rejoicing in the peace with God that brings God and us to one table.

In a torn and divided world, it is a great and powerful sign of the world reborn. And all this from the simple sacrifice of a portion of our labor and bounty placed in the offering plate.

The offering is not a necessary collection to keep the lights on; it is not dues; it is not a gift to the budget. This is a sacrifice that all might gather to feast on and rejoice in the precious mercy of God.

And this is why the first portion of that gift is given away to those in need. The church tithes its offerings so that our joy might be shared, and our offerings be a sign of that feast to come when all the world is made new.

This is the aroma I wish we could smell as the offering plates are brought forward to the altar.

I am coming to you

Watching for the morning of May 25

Year A

The Sixth Sunday of EasterGolden Gate Bridge at night.lg

It is still Easter, though we draw near to the liturgical celebration of the ascension – 40 days after Easter according to Luke. Luke likes nice, tidy, maps. 40 days for the risen Jesus to appear (the counterpoint to 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of the Gospel). Then 10 days of waiting and preparing for the promised Spirit on that 50th day when Luke has 120 believers together in Jerusalem and the roar of a mighty wind/breath/spirit summons God’s people to hear the mighty works of God.

But for John there are no such nice schemas; for John it is all part of the same drama. Jesus is the living presence of the Father. And the Spirit is the living presence of Jesus. And the Spirit is the living presence of the Father. The Father abides in the Son and the Son in the Father and the students of Jesus abide in Jesus and in the Father and in the Spirit who comes from the Father (at the Son’s request) as their advocate. There is a reason we end up with a doctrine of the Trinity. Though John is not talking about doctrine; he is talking about the living presence of God among this band who are now Children of God, abiders in the heavenly grace, appointed bearers of the divine mercy: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

And so John tells us that Jesus breathed his Spirit on his followers on Easter Evening, because Easter and Ascension and Pentecost are all part of the same new reality. Jesus says, in Sunday’s Gospel, “I am coming to you.” And the promise is answered by the resurrection (he returns to speak and eat with them) and by the Ascension (he tells Mary not to hold him until he has ascended to the Father, which has happened by that first Easter Evening when he invites the disciples to touch his wounds) and by the coming of the Spirit (on that first Easter evening when he breathes upon them his breath/spirit/life).

We are not alone. He has come. And is coming. Continually he comes. In the Spirit to comfort and empower. In the word and in the meal. He cooks breakfast on the Galilean shore, and his brief conversation with Peter pulls him once more away from their nets. The risen Jesus feeds us and suddenly there are ‘missionaries’ all over the world. Witnesses. Speakers of the word that frees. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”

It is still Easter. But John knows it is also Pentecost. And for that matter it is Christmas and Epiphany, for the light and life of God is present in the world.

And we are sent.

The Prayer for May 25, 2014

Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you 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 May 25, 2014

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31
“Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’” – Paul, traveling by himself to avoid a conspiracy to murder him, comes to Athens where he seeks to engage the leaders of that city with the message of God, the creator all peoples.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:8-20
“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.” – The psalmist calls for all nations to praise God for his gracious deeds to deliver those in need.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” –
The author’s continuing exposition on baptism, now touches on the Ascension: “Baptism…now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.”

Gospel: John 14: 15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” – Continuing last Sunday’s reading, Jesus makes provision for his followers in light of his impending death, promising that God will send the Holy Spirit (the ‘Paraclete’).