Do we laugh?

File:Donkey and Villager 0744 (508121161).jpg


Zechariah 9:9-12

9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

I wonder if the people laughed at the voice of the prophet. I wonder if they looked around at the city built from rubble, subjected to a foreign power, and plagued with a poor economy, and laughed. No king is coming. No king will raise this backwater to the heights it once enjoyed. No king can arise in this feeble country to fight off the might of the Persian Empire.

We know from scripture that the prophets were not generally received with favor. King Ahab calls Elijah “you troubler of Israel” because he only has bad news to speak about his idolatrous and corrupt leader. Nor did he want to consult the prophet Micaiah ben Imlah when plotting war against Syria because “he never prophesies anything favorable about me.” King Jehoiakim burned the prophetic words of Jeremiah. Ahaz made a pious show of refusing Isaiah’s message.

The resistance of the ancient elites was certainly in part because the prophets of old stood in the way of the wealthy and powerful. They challenged the neglect of God’s law, the abandonment of the poor, the failure of justice and compassion, the loss of faithfulness. But was it any easier for Israel to hear a message of hope? When Isaiah announces Cyrus as the LORD’s anointed (the LORD’s ‘Messiah’) to throw down Babylon, when he proclaims a highway through the desert for a new exodus, did the people turn away from him as a starry-eyed dreamer? And do we, too, dismiss such words of peace? Do we smile benignly at the promise that swords shall be beaten into plowshares? That Jerusalem shall be a city of peace? Do we ensconce the words of Jesus in a pious frame rather than build our lives on the notion that the poor and peacemakers are the blessed and honorable ones in God’s sight?

The prophet promises a king, a king who will “cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem,” who shall “command peace to the nations,” and whose “dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Yes, the prophet may well have meant, “from the Euphrates to land’s end” (i.e. the shore of the Mediterranean), but we recognize the big brush with which the prophet paints. He is not just talking about a new king for Israel. This is a new reigning power for all creation.

So do we smile benevolently like listening to a child’s dream? Or do we dare put our trust, hope and allegiance in this promise of a dawning reign? And do we see this dawning reign in the one who healed and forgave and taught us to treat all people as members of our kinship group then rode up to his fateful destiny in Jerusalem on the day we have come to call Palm Sunday?

“Lo, your king comes to you,” says the prophet, “triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Do we laugh or bend the knee?

Image: By James Emery from Douglasville, United States (Donkey and Villager_0744) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

A fistful of dollars


Mark 6:1-13

File:American Cash.JPG5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

If you are standing on a street corner trying to hand out one-hundred-dollar bills and no one trusts you, you are going to have a lot left over at the end of the day.

Jesus is in Nazareth – though Mark tells us that he came to his people, his father’s place. So, yes, Jesus is in Nazareth, but the story is a parable about all God’s people. (Not “the Jews” mind you, but you and I, all who consider themselves God’s people.) Jesus has come to the place of his father. He is there in the power of the Spirit. He is proclaiming that God’s day of new creation, the reign of God, is at hand. And they say 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”

It is not a puzzled inquiry. It is a rejection. “We know this guy. He’s a carpenter. What’s he doing talking like this? Who does he think he is?” They are words designed to cut this uppity peon down to size.  “You are no better than us, Jesus.”

And he could do no mighty work there.

Jesus has a fistful of one-thousand-dollar bills and no takers.

Why is it so hard for us to receive the gifts of God? Is there something intrinsic to religious life that closes us off to the life of the Spirit? Do we spend so much time going to the golf club for lunch that we think we are golfers and never go out to play the game?  Do we hang out in the faculty lounge and think that we are scholars and have no reason to study anymore?  Are we “Republicans in name only” (or Democrats, or pick-your party/organization) and think we need never donate our time and money?  Do I give to the World Wildlife Fund and have their little sticker on my car, and think that makes me an environmentalist, without ever setting foot in the woods or taking thought for my carbon footprint?

We are like this in many ways.

And when our kids come home and challenge our lifestyle we say things like “Who do you think you are? This is what paid for your college education?”

“Who do you think you are Jesus. You are no different than we are. You are a common laborer. Don’t imagine that you are worthy of greater honor than us.” Of course, in our time, it comes out more like: “That’s all very well and good, Jesus, but we live in the real world.”

Does it break the heart of God when he sends prophets and teachers to those who name themselves as God’s people and they want none of it? “I like my religion my way, thank you.”

And Jesus has his fistful of one-hundred-thousand-dollar bills and no takers.


Image: By Revised by Reworked (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Unwelcome prophets

Watching for the Morning of July 5, 2015

Year B

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

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Nicolás Francés – The Twelve Apostles

Following the healing of the woman with the twelve year infirmity and the raising of Jairus’ twelve year old daughter, Jesus goes to his ‘hometown’. But Mark doesn’t say he went to Nazareth; the word Mark uses is something more like ‘fatherland’. This is not just about Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth; it hints at his rejection by the twelve tribes of Israel he has come to heal.

Prophets are not welcome in their hometown. We hear his townspeople respond with a kind of “Who does he think he is?” attack on a member of the community who acts outside his station. It is the same attack made by the leadership of the nation.

Prophets have not been well received in Israel – despite their huge influence on the shape of the Biblical tradition. Jeremiah was imprisoned, his message callously thrown into the fire by the king, page by page as it was read to him. Amos was accused of treason and told to go home and ply his trade in Judah when God sent him to warn the northern kingdom of Israel. But Amos was not one of the professional prophets – the talking heads who assured the king of God’s favor.

Sunday we hear of Ezekiel’s call to deliver God’s message – though he is sent to a house of rebels who will not hear. Though the psalm will claim that the people are attentive to God, like a servant watching the master’s hand, both the reading from Ezekiel and the Gospel text will suggest otherwise. We are a stubborn people wanting to hear what we want to hear rather than what God has to say. And so God’s power to heal is not welcomed in Nazareth – and too often lost to us.

But God is not deterred. Jesus sends his twelve – twelve to represent the whole community of believers – to announce God’s dawning reign and dispense God’s gifts of healing and life. And where they go, the realm of Satan is driven back.

Outside the theme – yet obliquely connected – is Paul’s struggle to defend his ministry and his acknowledgment of a “thorn in the flesh.” Whatever it might be, it reminds him that the power is in God not himself. He is not a victorious crusader; he is one of the wounded who knows the wondrous grace God.

The Prayer July 5, 2015

O God, whose will it is to gather all people into your eternal embrace,
make us ever mindful of your call,
and ever fruitful in our task,
to bear witness to your reign of grace and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 5, 2015

First Reading: Ezekiel 1:28b – 2:5 (appointed 2:1-5)
“I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me.” – Having received his overwhelming vision of God, the prophet is summoned to speak God’s message to the rebellious people of God.

Psalmody: Psalm 123
“As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.”
– A pilgrim song, the poet imagines the people as an attentive servant awaiting the master’s kindness.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 (appointed 12:2-10)
“To keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh.”
– Paul must defend his ministry by “boasting” of his gifts, yet fully aware that all is by God’s grace.

Gospel: Mark 6:1-13
“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” – Rejected at Nazareth, Jesus continues and expands his mission, sending out his followers as heralds of God’s kingdom.


Image: Nicolás Francés [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Faithful God; faithful people

Watching for the morning of December 28

The Sunday in Christmas

Singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve at Los Altos Lutheran Church (2012)

Singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve at Los Altos Lutheran Church (2012)

Our parish departs from the assigned lectionary readings during Christmas. There are wonderful feast days during the 12 days of Christmas: St. Stephen, the first martyr, on the 26th; St. John the Evangelist on the 27th; The Holy Innocents on the 28th; The Holy Name of Jesus on January 1. But these days and the various assigned lessons for the First and, sometimes, Second Sunday of Christmas seem to obscure the thread of this season. So in our parish we read the Luke Nativity on Christmas Eve and the John text “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” on Christmas Day. Then on the Sunday in Christmas we read the remainder of the Luke text, with Simeon and Anna greeting the Christ child, and on the following Sunday, nearest January 6th, we celebrate the Epiphany and read of the birth, the magi, Herod’s frightful response and the flight to Egypt from Matthew.

This Sunday, then, has us still inside Luke’s narrative of a faithful God and a faithful people. Mary and Jesus come to fulfill the commands of the Torah in the temple. There, Simeon and Anna wait, longing for God’s anointed – and they have eyes to recognize the promise embodied in this peasant child, Jesus. The faithful God has fulfilled his promise.

But, for all the joy of God’s coming deliverance, for all the sweetness of these Lucan narratives, there is a shadow over this child. Simeon sees what Mary has sung: “This child is set for the falling and rising of many in Israel.” The wheel turns; the poor are lifted up, but the greedy rich sent empty away. Simeon sees and rejoices, but also perceives the opposition this child shall engender – and the sword that shall pierce Mary.

Jesus is perfect grace and real trouble. He is the fulfillment of all God’s promises and the provocative voice announcing a new world. At his first sermon, among his own people in Nazareth, his “coming out” party following his baptism by John and the descent of God’s Spirit, the congregation will rise up and try to kill him.

The faithful rejoice to see this Jesus, but others will not – and everything hinges on how that tale spins out.

The Prayer for the Sunday in Christmas, December 28, 2014

Gracious God,
by whose word we live
and whose promises all come to fulfillment,
we give you thanks for those faithful among your people
who, like Simeon and Anna, have eyes to see your dawning work among us.
Grant that, with them, we might see where your hand is working
and share in its joy;
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 December 28, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10,
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.” – In a text full of words that ring with added meaning for the Christian community – words like ‘proclaim good news’ (a noun form of this verb is rendered Gospel in English) and ‘Salvation’ the prophet calls the nation to rejoice in God’s work of bringing the exiles home.

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son.” – Paul recites the core message of what God has done in Christ for these Galatians. They are members of God’s household and heirs of God’s promise through the gift of the Spirit in Christ, not because of their outward obedience to the tradition.

Gospel: Luke 2:21-40
“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” – The narrative of Jesus’ birth continues with Mary and Joseph’s faithful obedience and the recognition and reception of Jesus by Simeon and Anna, representatives of faithful Israel.