Jesus and the fabric of creation

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Pieces from last Sunday

St. Francis, the blessing of the animals, the creation of Eve, and Jesus on divorce: it all weaves together in our worship and message last Sunday. On the lawn with our pets, in the days after the bitter conflict over Brett Kavanagh, around a table where bread is shared, we speak the reminder that we were not made for division, the promise that the torn fabric of the world shall be mended, and the call to live from that promised future rather than our failed past.

The whole message from Sunday can be found here.

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When we ask God to bless the animals we bring with us this morning, we are talking not just about these individual animals, but also our relationship with them – and we are talking about the whole complex web of life. We want God to bless it all.

We want the world to thrive. We want the whole creation around us to vibrate with life. We want the rains to be gentle and the winds soft and the sunlight warm. We want the crops to grow in season and the fruit of the earth to be bountiful and nourishing. We want the human community, also, to be whole and good, to be gracious and generous, to be kind and compassionate, to be creative and rewarding, to be joyful and peaceable. We want God to bless it all.

And we want that blessing because we know that the fabric of creation has been ruptured.   This, too, goes back to a story about us as humans. This is the story about the “apple.” It’s our fault that the world has been thrown off kilter. It’s on us that the fabric of the world is torn by violence and war, poverty and injustice. It was not God’s purpose that that the human family should be torn by divorce. It was not God’s purpose that societies like ours should be bitterly riven over a president, a senate, and a judge.

When Jesus is asked about divorce, his opponents know full well that divorce is discussed in the Biblical law. Maybe they think Jesus, the Galilean peasant, is too ignorant to know his scripture. But more likely they are trying to frame Jesus. This is a question that will get him in trouble with the king. It got John the Baptist killed because he condemned the king’s illicit marriage to his brother’s wife…

Jesus’s answer to his opponents is brilliant. He dodges the political trap and confronts us with the existential one. It is because of our brokenness, our “hardness of heart”, that all this conflict and division exists in the world. Jesus doesn’t cite the legal code; he points us back to our beginnings. He points us back to a time before the world was torn in pieces and we were divided from one another. He points us back to God’s purpose for us – and, in so doing, he points us forward to the day when the Spirit of God breathes in every breath.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AberdeenBestiaryFolio005rAdamNamesAnimalsDetail.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The moments I treasure

“Harry” at the Blessing of the Animals in 2017

Looking back on Sunday

Psalm 8

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them?”

The moments I treasure as a pastor are not the big things: a great worship service, a program that succeeds, a rousing concert or delightful children’s program.   What vibrates sweetly in my heart are the small things: A gesture of compassion and generosity from someone in the parish that you learn about later. Coming to make a visit and finding a mom with a guitar, her two small children, and three of her children’s friends singing to a shut-in. Or arriving at the home of a sickly and self-obsessed woman to find a member of her same age on her knees washing the kitchen floor.

Last Sunday was our commemoration of St. Francis and the Blessing of the Animals. We hold our service on the front lawn and this year we were short of our usual number of volunteers to help bring out chairs and set up the space for worship. At the Oktoberfest celebration the evening before, I asked a young man if he could help, but he had tickets and was taking his sister to a 49’rs game in the morning. To go get his sister, he couldn’t make worship. Nevertheless he came early on Sunday and helped us set up.

Simple things. It’s in the simple things that goodness shines. It’s in the simple things that all the preaching and teaching seems not to be in vain.

It’s a tough time to be church. All of us are affected when evidence of clergy abuse surfaces or hateful messages are broadcast. All of us are affected when the news talks continually about churches and preachers wedded to Trumpism. The Christian witness to compassion and sacrifice doesn’t resonate when Twitter is alive with rage and outrage. Sunday worship seems a pale form of entertainment to an entertainment culture. And the church’s respect and ties to the faith, prayers and hymns of the ages don’t resonate with a society focused on novelty.

It’s a tough time to be church. And most preachers don’t know how the faith is shaping the daily life of its members. We don’t see bedtime prayers or soup taken to a neighbor. We don’t see acts of courage that stand up against hatefulness. We don’t see acts of compassion to strangers or generosity to those in need. We hope the voice of Christ is echoing through our members’ lives, but we don’t always know. So those moments when we get to see little acts of kindness and generosity are very sweet.

It makes up for the bug that flew up my nose during the blessing of the bread.

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Images: Carl S. Gutekunst, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Rending and restoring

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Watching for the Morning of October 7, 2018

Year B

The Commemoration of St. Francis and The Blessing of the Animals

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 22 / Lectionary 27

This Sunday we worship out on the lawn, commemorating the feast of St. Francis (October 4) with the blessing of the animals. We will, however, use the assigned readings for Sunday. They fit the occasion, in their odd way. From Genesis 2 we will hear the account of the creation of the animals and the forming of Eve. Psalm 8 will marvel at God’s handiwork in forming humanity. And then Jesus’ opponents will challenge him with a question about divorce.

It is the divorce question that seems out of place for a day when we sit happily on the lawn with our pets. Yet this challenge to Jesus brings before us the wonder and goodness of the creation, its tragic brokenness, and the promise of the creation made whole.

Jesus is confronted by opponents trying to shame him. They want to know his ruling on divorce – most likely to expose his presumed ignorance (he is, after all, just a village faith healer from Galilee). But Jesus isn’t interested in apodictic law; he is announcing the dramatic and transformative reign of God. He turns the question back on his accusers and uses their answer to name the hardness of our hearts. The Torah recognizes divorce and seeks to limit some of its potential harm, but Jesus doesn’t go to the text in Deuteronomy to respond to his opponents. He takes us to the creation story: we were made for unity not division.

We who gather Sunday to hear this word about the profound goodness of the union of man and woman in an Edenic world are painfully aware of the brokenness of the relationship between the sexes. The words of Christine Blasey Ford are in our ears, as are the cries of Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, the two women at the elevator challenging Senator Flake to see and hear them. Social media is full of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories. Others are confused – if not bitter – at the perceived threat to young men. Some dismiss all this as the follies of youth in a wayward culture. Others see attitudes of privilege that betray our human obligation to care for the vulnerable. Some see a brilliant mind worthy of the Supreme Court; others a failure of compassion that should not be allowed near it. This tear, this divorce, in the body politic is deep and troubling.

Into this cacophony comes this word about our humanity: it is not good that the human creature should be alone. Sorrows multiply in our alienation from one another. Families are torn. Communities are divided. We assault the dignity of one another, sometimes with tragic consequences. And we assault the natural world around us.

We are created for relationship. We are designed for community. For this reason God brings forth all the creatures of the world. And when none of these prove equal to the first human, a piece of him is taken that, in the other, we might find our wholeness. God makes a companion and partner equal to him.

But the human heart turns from Eden. The relationships for which we were made are ruptured. We end up with broken hearts and broken marriages and people of all ages who fail to recognize the humanity of the other who is before – or beneath – them. We are capable of laughing as their dignity is stripped away.

But Jesus has not come to give new rules to limit the destructive consequences of our hardness of heart; he has come to give us new hearts. He has come to bring the new creation when God reigns in every heart. So, once again Jesus is welcoming children into his presence. Once again he blesses – inviting us to receive his blessing like these children.

The Prayer for October 7, 2018

Holy Father,
who holds all creation in your loving arms,
guard and keep us,
that we may not rend what you unite,
nor reject whom you receive;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 7, 2018

First Reading: Genesis 2:15, 18-24 (appointed: Genesis 2:18-24)
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” – When all the animals of the world will not do, God creates an equal to the first human.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
– The psalm sings of the wonder of creation and the mystery of humanity’s place as those “a little lower than the heavenly beings” into whose care the world is given.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-16 (appointed: Mark 10:2-16)
“Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – Jesus is back in public, teaching, when he is faced with a challenge from the Pharisees and turns the table from what is allowed in scripture because of our hardness of hearts to what God will create in us.

Second Reading as appointed: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12)
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and v arious ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”
– We begin to read from Hebrews where the author assembles a rich witness to Christ from the Hebrew scriptures.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:L%27alba_di_San_Francesco_-_Convento_Frati_Cappuccini_Monterosso_al_Mare_-_Cinque_Terre.jpg By GIANFRANCO NEGRI [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Majesty and Mystery

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Watching for the Morning of June 11, 2017

Year A

The Feast of The Holy Trinity

We begin with the creation story from Genesis 1 this Sunday. Then we join in Psalm 8, the paean of praise and wonderment of the God who made us “a little lower than the heavenly beings.” These images of creation are then paired with the Trinitarian commission of the risen Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” and the salutation by Paul: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Set before us on Sunday is the majesty of God: wondrous, grace-filled, life-giving, life-renewing – the beginning and end, source and goal of all things. Jesus’ command to “make disciples” is not to recruit for the home team; it is to gather all people into the holy purpose of God – a beautiful, noble and good world. A world in harmony with God and one another, where we may not necessarily be naked, but there is no shame. Where God dwells with us in the morning that has no end, in the Sabbath rest of all creation, in the holy kiss of heaven and earth. Though it is not assigned for this week, the words of the prophet/poet seem appropriate:

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky. (Psalm 85:10)

Preaching Series: Genesis 6-9: Noah

Our preaching series on Sunday will take us to the account of the flood in Genesis 6-9. On a day that stands in awe before the majesty of God and the beauty of creation we will hear of the grief of God and a world that nearly falls back into the primordial chaos. We need to linger there before the prospect of a world fallen back into chaos by the spread of violence. We need to hear the voice of God weep that the earth is filled with violencebecause of human beings, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” But we also come to hear of the faithfulness of God who, in the face of our violence of body and mind and spirit, works to save his world, vowing never to destroy it: “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” This is the one who has come to us and, with spikes through his wrists and feet, prayed Father, forgive them.” And this is the one who sends us to wash the world in the name – the power and grace and presence – of the God who called forth the world and calls us yet to himself.

The Prayer for June 11, 2017

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder,
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully;
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 June 11, 2017

First Reading: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” – The first chapter of Genesis tells of the creation of all things by God’s word, God’s declaration that the creation is good, God’s blessing of humanity, and their commission to care for the earth.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” – The psalm celebrates the majesty of God and marvels at the position of honor and responsibility God has given to humanity by entrusting his wondrous creation into their care.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” –
In his final greeting at the close of his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul uses the familiar language that ultimately leads to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Following Pentecost we return to the Gospel of Matthew, resuming here at the end of the Gospel because of the Trinitarian name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With these concluding words, the risen Jesus declares his abiding presence among his followers and sends them to make disciples of all nations.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AV%C3%A4imela_M%C3%A4ej%C3%A4rv_2011_09.jpg By Vaido Otsar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Who are we?

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Thursday

Psalm 8

4What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,

The psalmist stands before the majesty and wonder of the world and asks the question, “Who are we, that you should show such care for us? Who are we that you should crown us with glory? Who are we that you should entrust all this into our hands, that you should grant us the honor of exercising your care of your creation?”

The poet is exulting in the wonder of human existence. We are the ones who get to peer into the farthest reaches of the universe. We are the ones who get to climb earth’s highest mountains and plumb its greatest depths. We are the ones who get to study the mysteries of DNA and the flight of the bumblebee. We are the ones who can breed wolves into sheep dogs and retrievers and fluffy little white things to sit in our laps. We are the ones who train a grape vine to grow on a trellis and dance with the joy of wine. We are the ones to take cows milk and turn it into Gruyere and Gorgonzola. We are the ones who master fire and the atom. We paint the Sistine Chapel and the murals of Diego Rivera. We are the ones who turn mold into penicillin and learn to purify water.

Yet you have made us but a little lower than gods!

But we are not gods. If only we could get that right. We are not gods. We were given the privilege of exercising God’s care of the earth. It is ours to tend, not ours to rape and pillage. It is ours to treasure not to plunder. We were given the animals to name not to slaughter. We were given one another to love not to wound and kill.

We are privileged above all other creatures. But we lose our way when we lose wonder and praise…when we turn from the one who made us…when we forget all this is a trust…when we reach for God’s throne…when we forget who we are.

 

image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMount-Yamnuska2-Szmurlo.jpg by Chuck Szmurlo [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

How majestic

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For Wednesday

Psalm 8

9O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

God’s name is more than the four letters known as the Tetragrammaton, the four consonantal letters that are the name of God recorded as ‘LORD’ in most translations. God’s name is his history, his deeds, his words. Just as “making a name for oneself” is more than fame – it is ‘made’ by one’s accomplishments.

Frank Lloyd Wright made a name for himself with a few houses and buildings – exquisite works of genius – but still, rather limited in scope.* God formed the Tetons and the Snake River beneath it. God formed the glories of Bryce Canyon and the giant redwoods. God formed the Andes and the Amazon basin. God formed Victoria Falls and the islands of the Pacific.

God formed the majestic blue whale and the strange creatures of the deep. God formed the flocks of storks migrating between Europe and Southern Africa, and the bar-headed goose fighting its way over the Himalayas. God formed the roly-poly bugs and the lizards darting to and fro. God formed the chipmunk and the eagle, the salmon and the bison, the crocodile and the hippo, the rhinoceros and the tiger. God formed the honeybee and the monarch butterfly in its epic journey. God formed the Narwhal and the Great White. God formed the exquisite marlin and the jerboa; the beaver and the platypus; the mountain gorilla … and all this is just our one moment in time. We haven’t spoken of the wondrous creatures of the fossil record or the rise and fall of mountains and seas and the continents that came together and drifted apart.   And all this on one small planet near a small star on the fringes of a galaxy in the vast canopy of the heavens.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic – not just the work of creation but the work of freeing a people from bondage, teaching them justice and mercy, calling forth prophets, raising and casting down nations, suffering the sorrows of the world, and summoning the world to compassion and truth.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: bending to take flesh, healing the sick, gathering outcasts, raising the dead, laying down his life to reconcile his rebellious world to himself.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: pouring out God’s spirit, inspiring healers and reformers, researchers and leaders, builders and artists, singers and soldiers, all the plethora of ways we are able to serve one another and grant beauty and joy to the world.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: inspiring the laughter of children, the ecstasy of lovers, the bonds of parent and child,

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic: inspiring the prayer of the mystics and the charity of the saints and the courage of the martyrs.

God’s name is majestic because God’s work is majestic.   God’s love is majestic. God’s faithfulness to his wayward world is majestic.

9O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

*Note: Yes, Frank LLoyd Wright designed over a thousand building and did many other things – but still, compared to the heavens and the earth…
The photograph is in the public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Natural_bridge_in_Bryce_Canyon.jpg

Loving and beloved

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Watching for the Morning of May 22, 2016

Year C

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Two weeks ago I celebrated a baptism of a small child at a local park. Why is another conversation. Baptism belongs in the worshipping community, but this seemed the right thing to do. It was a lovely spot, beneath a sculpted arbor, shaded by old trees, with a pond behind us and a fountain in the distance. It was a place that invited hands to be joined, lovers to kiss, vows to be spoken, and those long together to pause in tender affection. How perfect that we should gather as a small community in that peaceful spot to hear God claim this child as God’s own – an inheritor of God’s promised new creation and participant in God’s mission to the world.

Three times we poured water over the head of the child “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Not three names; one name. One name identifying the God upon whom we called as the one who brought forth the world in love, became incarnate of the maiden Mary, and breathed upon the followers of Jesus to empower their witness to the world. One name linking creation and redemption and sanctification. One name known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and Miriam, to Hannah and Samuel, to Ruth and David as LORD. One name who breathed into humanity the breath of life and by the breath of the Spirit summons us back to himself. One name, One God, Triune but one. Begetter and Begotten. Loving and beloved in God’s very being. Mystery to us. But lover of us. Calling us to live in that divine love.

The texts for Sunday go several different directions. Proverbs relates wisdom, the underlying order of the world, personified and summoning us to feast at her table. The Psalm speaks of God’s creating, and the honor shown humanity: a little lower than the angels but entrusted to exercise God’s dominion, God’s care over all the earth. Romans exults in the peace with God wrought in Christ, and the Spirit’s presence as one through whom “God’s love has been poured into our hearts”. And Jesus, in John’s Gospel, again declaring the gift and work of the Spirit.

The texts point several directions, but are tied together by this mystery of the Trinity: the God who is beyond conception but is known by a work and a name: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

The Prayer for May 22, 2016

O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
of Moses and Miriam,
of Ruth and David,
of Mary and Joseph;
God wrapped in mystery and wonder,
who breathed life into our first parents
and your Holy Spirit into all creation;
God who loves and fathers and sends
and is loved and begotten and sent;
help us to praise you rightly,
love you fully
and walk with you faithfully.

The Texts for May 22, 2016

First Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work.” –
Wisdom, the knowledge of the fundamental truths of existence, is personified as a teacher and speaks of its role in the formation of all things.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them?”
– A song of praise marveling at God’s care for human beings and their role as stewards of God’s creation.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

Gospel: John 16:12-15
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADetail_kazuifel_J.L._Str%C3%A4ter_drie-eenheid.jpg By Marikevanroon20 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A torn world made whole

File:Frankfurt Liebfrauenkirche Innenhof Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg

Watching for the Morning of October 4, 2015

Year B

The Commemoration of St. Francis and The Blessing of the Animals

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 22 / Lectionary 27

File:Nicolaes Maes - Christ Blessing the Children - WGA13814.jpgDivorce. St. Francis. Jesus blessing children. The blessing of the animals. The praise of God who is the author of all. Eden and the creation of a good and perfect partner equal to the first human. All the readings and elements of our worship on Sunday actually fit together rather nicely – though you wouldn’t expect it. Why preach about divorce on the day you invite friends and neighbor to have their pets blessed? Because we are a people created for Eden and living outside it. Because Christ has come to restore the lost harmony, the lost grace, the lost fidelity, the lost joy and life of the world.

Christ is not come to give us a new and stricter rule about divorce. It just sounds like it if you are not listening carefully. Jesus changes the conversation, steering us away from the commands in the law to the gift in creation. Jesus changes the conversation from what rules we have to follow to what does righteousness look like and where does it come from? How do we find our way to the life for which we were created?   How do we find our way to innocence and joy? How do we find our way from the broken world after humanity turns from God when “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you,” back to the original exultation: “this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”? How do we find our way from the curse to the blessing?

The Pharisees are on the attack trying to trap Jesus with a politically explosive question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The king, Herod Antipas, (technically a tetrarch) has divorced his wife, Phasaelis, and the country is now at war the with the spurned wife’s father (the king of Nabataea). The Queen, Herodias, has divorced her first husband Herod II (called Philip in Mark) to marry Herod Antipas, Philip’s brother. John the Baptist has attacked the marriage as a violation of the Law – and, as a consequence, he has been beheaded. So when the hostile Pharisees ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”, it’s a very dangerous question.

It’s a dangerous world, far from the goodness for which God created us. And it’s a wounded world, where humanity tried to kill the wolves rather than preach to them. Where humanity neglected the poor rather than cared for them. Where the crows were hated rather than beloved. Where we did not see the earth as brother and the moon as sister and all creation joined in a great song of praise, as St. Francis expresses in that great hymn we will sing: “All Creatures of Our God and King”

We live in a world of rent relationships. And the answer is not a strict enforcement of a stricter law. The answer is that Christ has come to heal the creation’s wounds, to restore the world’s lost grace, to reconcile all things to God and one another. Christ has come to open the way to the tree of life.

Christ has come to be the tree of life.

And so this Sunday we will hear of the gift of a partner to the first human and our need to live in relationship with others, with God and the creation. We will sing the psalms praising God for God’s wondrous creation. We will hear the promise of the world made new. And we will rejoice in the blessing that has been spoken, and the blessing that is come and the blessing that will be.

The Prayer for October 4, 2015

Holy Father,
who holds all creation in your loving arms,
guard and keep us, that we may not rend what you unite,
nor reject whom you receive;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 4, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 2:15, 18-24 (appointed: Genesis 2:18-24)
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” – When all the animals of the world will not do, God creates an equal to the first human.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
– The psalm sings of the wonder of creation and the mystery of humanity’s place as those “a little lower than the heavenly beings” into whose care the world is given.

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-3a (appointed: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12)
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”
– We begin to read from Hebrews where the author assembles a rich witness to Christ from the Hebrew scriptures.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-16 (appointed: Mark 10:2-16)
“Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – Jesus is back in public, teaching, when he is faced with a challenge from the Pharisees and turns the table from what is allowed in scripture because of our hardness of hearts to what God will create in us.

Texts in the liturgy for the Blessing of the Animals:

Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.”
– The poet calls all heaven and earth to join in praise of God

Isaiah 11:6-9
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.’” – Isaiah’s vision of the earth healed and restored to the innocence of Eden, when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frankfurt_Liebfrauenkirche_Innenhof_Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg  By Sr. Maria Ludgera Haberstroh  Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolaes Maes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

Children of God

Friday

1 John 3:1-7

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Stained glass (detail) in the Chappel of Eyneburg, Belgium

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

There are things we don’t hear in this simple but wonderful sentence. We ordinarily use the term “children of God” somewhat loosely – or broadly – to refer to the whole human family. We use it as a natural corollary of calling upon God as Father. We use it in the baptismal liturgy – especially when we deemphasize the idea of dying and rising with Christ, or the washing away of sins, and focus instead on baptism as an adoption into the family of God.

But in the first century this is not a normal way of speaking. We may belong to the people of God, we may be children of Israel, but the phrase “children of God” implies something much more. It contains a grant of honor not unlike someone being named to the Daughters of the American Revolution or to Phi Beta Kappa. To be named a son or daughter of the emperor makes you a member of the noblest family on earth – second only to God. To be a child of God ranks you above the emperor.

Of course, these children of God are called to wash one another’s feet. Christ came among us as one who serves. We are sent as emissaries of God’s mission. But nevertheless this title “children of God” carries unimaginable honor.

The phrase “children of God” (“sons of God”) is used in the Old Testament for the members of the heavenly court (Genesis 6, Job). In Psalm 82 these are the gods of the other nations who serve like local kings at the consent of the conquering emperor. Failing to observe the high king’s policies of justice and mercy they are deposed from their thrones.

In the wonderful meditation of Psalm 8 the poet exults in the honor that God has bestowed on humanity, ranking them just beneath these heavenly beings:

3When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor

But now Jesus declares, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” And when pressed about the resurrection says of the resurrected, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God.”

We who were once – in our best – a little lower than the angelic beings now, at the very least, are equal to them. We are members of the heavenly household.

It might be easier to imagine this to be true once we have passed over from death into the life of the resurrection, but our author of 1 John declares we are God’s children now. Whatever else the world may say about us, however much the world may despise us, however high or low we may rise or fall on the social scale – none of that has any enduring value. We are God’s children now.

To be named a member of God’s household is an incredible act of divine grace, faithfulness and love: “See what love the Father has given us.” We should exult in it. We should respond with praise and adoration. But we should also think twice, thrice and more about any word or deed or silence that betrays the honor or the mission of God’s house.

 

By User:Lusitana (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

From the lips of children

Saturday

Psalm 8

2From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.NIV

I have pondered these lines often. I like best these sentences I don’t understand. They are the ones that make me work, make me struggle, like staring at puzzle pieces trying to see how they fit together. The “Aha!” at the end is not only satisfying, it usually involves some breakthrough – and I never look at the text the same way again.

It is those tough texts that are the easiest to preach. The struggle is harder, but in the end I know I’m talking about the text and not my ideas.

But this verse eludes me. And not me only, based on the variety of translators and commentators.

2Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger. NRSV

2From the mouths of infants and sucklings
You have founded strength on account of Your foes,
to put an end to enemy and avenger. TNK

For poetry, such uncertainty has a place. It’s good that some days the text tastes like strawberries and other days like toast.

“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.” Does our poet suggest that the babbling of infants before they learn to speak is a language of angels singing God’s praise? Is it a sound of joy echoing through the world that belies all our work of hate and destruction? Is it a sound that melts the human heart, eternally creating smiles and drawing people together? Is it this that silences our eternal foe? Or maybe it is just the satisfied gurgling of a nursing child at its mother’s breast, that wondrous bond of love and tenderness, that is the bulwark against all life’s evils.

Or perhaps it is meant to be more literal: the power of a child’s cooing to stop the hand of vengeance? The psalmist speaks in Psalm 137 of wanting to dash the heads of his enemies’ children against a stone; does their babbling stay his hand and heart? And what if God is the avenger? This, too, is deep in the scriptures. God the protector of widows and orphans. God who rises against pharaoh who would murder the infants of the enslaved. God who declares “vengeance is mine, I shall repay”? Does the cooing of an infant stay God’s hand? Is that why God forgives Nineveh to Jonah’s dismay? Is that why the wicked prosper? Why the wrath of God is slow? Has God filled the universe with the sounds of children to remind him to have mercy on us all?

Perhaps if we could hear the chorus of children we might stay our hand, stay the sale of weapons of war, stay the bombings and shootings, stay the lust and perversion, stay the anger and rage, stay the neglect and greed, stay the hunger and poverty, stay all that leaves so many children in tears.

The text is rich with such thoughts, such uncertainties, so that it becomes not just one of these meanings but all of them. There is something in the happy utterance of infants that is a bulwark against life’s evils. Something in their babbling that melts the hearts of all. Something in the brightness of new life that causes even the face of God to shine. Something that stands tall against every dark vision and abandoned hope. Something that forms a bastion against despair. Something that testifies to the God of life.