A cup of water

File:Small Cup LACMA AC1997.253.17.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 2, 2017

Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 8 / Lectionary 13

A cup of cold water. That’s all it takes to be remembered in heaven: a cup of cold water. The simplest gesture of hospitality to the ambassadors of heaven’s reign will be rewarded.

After all that Jesus has said to his followers about their mission, after the instructions to give freely, to take no provisions, to carry no beggar’s bag, to stay with whomever will receive them; after the warnings that they are going out like sheep among wolves and will be dragged before the authorities; after the warnings that they will be betrayed even by members of their own family and hated by all because of Jesus name – they should expect, after all, no different treatment than their master received – after the declaration that those who will not take up the cross are not worthy of him comes this sweet and simple promise that “whoever welcomes you welcomes me.”

We are emissaries of the new kingship that is come to the world. We go out as runners to announce that the old empire is falling and a new empire marching towards them – an ‘empire’, a dominion, that heals the sick and raises the dead and gathers the outcast and sets free the oppressed.

The world of greed and violence and slaveries will not surrender easily; but a new dominion marches through the land, and all who show welcome to that reign shall stand forever in the king’s radiance.

We don’t live in the world of rival claimants to the throne waging war and summoning every town and village to declare their allegiance, but we know enough about the dark side of politics and international affairs to understand. There is risk in siding with the insurrection. And risk should you choose wrongly. The inertia is with what is known not what might be. But we are called to be children of what might be. We are called to be emissaries of the one who heals and blesses and gathers and forgives. We are sent as agents of compassion and mercy and truth. We are sent to be healers and reconcilers in a world of death and division.

And though the old regime will not surrender easily, the war is decided. The grave is empty. What might be, will be. And the simplest hospitality to the messengers of that kingdom will be remembered and rewarded.

The Prayer for July 2, 2017

Almighty God,
you send your followers into the world
to proclaim your justice and mercy,
promising that every act of kindness shown to them
will be honored in heaven.
Grant us courage to go forth as your faithful people
bearing witness to your light and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 2, 2017

First Reading: Jeremiah 28:1-9 (appointed: 5-9)
“As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” –
Jeremiah confronts the prophet Hananiah who has declared that God is about to set Judah free from the hand of Babylon – a message in conflict with the warnings God has spoken through his prophets in the past.

Psalmody: Psalm 89:1-4, 15 (appointed: 1-4, 15-18)
“I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.” – In a prayer that will cry out to God in distress over the loss of the Davidic kingship, the poet here sings of God’s faithfulness and his promise to David.

Second Reading: Romans 6:8-23 (appointed: 12-23)
“Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.”
– Countering the objection that justification by faith (restoration to a right relationship with God by trust in and fidelity to God’s work and promise) leads to lawlessness, Paul argues that if we have come under the reign of God in baptism, it makes no sense that we should continue to yield ourselves in service to the dominion of sin and death. The “wages” for serving sin is ultimately death (death came into the world because of Adam’s sin); whereas the “wages” of serving God is the free gift of the life of the age to come.

Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” – Jesus concludes his instructions to his followers on their mission as heralds of the reign of God by affirming that they go as his emissaries. Christ is present to the world in and through their witness, and no gesture of hospitality shown to them shall go unrewarded.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Small_Cup_LACMA_AC1997.253.17.jpg, public domain.

A fire in the bones

File:Charbon - charcoal burning (3106924114).jpg

Watching for the Morning of June 25, 2017

Year A

The Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 7 / Lectionary 12

The prophet cries out against God, accusing God of having duped him, called him to his ministry on false premises. He was sent out to declare the word of the LORD, but no one has listened. Indeed, he is met with scorn and derision. In an era of prosperity, all he sees is the bitterness of God’s pending judgment. The sins of the nation are ever before him, its folly abundantly clear – they are on a path to destruction while the leadership of the nation imagines only glory.

The prophet’s preaching has achieved nothing. But every attempt to hold his peace ends with a burning passion:

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.

The word demands to be spoken.

Jesus doesn’t hide anything from his followers. He tells them that their message will face opposition. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!” It’s not really the best strategy for recruiting followers. We rather prefer the message of the American prosperity Gospel: God wants you to be successful and wealthy. But the healing and redeeming work of Jesus leaves scars on his hands. And we are sent to carry on that work.

We are sent, as we heard last week, to proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’We are sent to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” We have “received without payment” and we are to “give without payment.” We are to dispense the gifts of God, to scatter abroad the benefactions of the new governance dawning among us. The reign of heaven, the dominion of God, the rule of the Spirit, the new creation – this is the gift we carry to the world.

But the world rather likes its bloodletting and grasping, and not everyone will rejoice at the dawning of grace and faithfulness.

So we are sheep amidst wolves. We are bearers of the cross. The message will heal and it will anger. It will unite and also divide. There will be hostility, mockery, even violence. But the God who is mindful of even the sparrows is mindful of every hair on our heads. And “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”

The fields are ripe for the harvest. The world is ready for grace to reign.

The Prayer for June 25, 2017

Gracious God, Your word divides as well as heals;
it closes ears as well as opens hearts.
Grant us courage to be faithful in our witness
and diligent in our service
that, with boldness and joy in your promise,
your grace and mercy may be revealed to all people;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 25, 2017

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
“O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.” – The prophet raises a lament towards God for assigning him a message of judgment and destruction that has resulted in nothing but hostility and persecution. And when he tries to be silent, God’s message burns like a fire within him.

Psalmody: Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
“Zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – The poet cries out to God in the midst of persecution and trouble.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
“Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!”
– In the course of setting forth his message that all are justified (in a right relationship with God) by grace (God’s merciful action) through faith (trusting God’s promise), Paul anticipates the objections of his opponents that if our sin shows how great is God’s mercy, why not continue to sin? Such a notion is rejected because joined with Christ in baptism we have entered into a new reality. We have come under Christ’s dominion, being transferred from the realm of sin and death and living now in the realm of grace and life.

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – the path of discipleship is not an easy one. The world will resist God’s claim on life, but the followers of Jesus are sent as agents of God’s transforming justice and mercy.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACharbon_-_charcoal_burning_(3106924114).jpg By Serge Melki from Indianapolis, USA (Charbon – charcoal burning) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons



Romans 6

File:Beatitudes P1020612.JPG

Mosaics in Mount of Beatitudes: QUAE SURSUM EST IERUSALEM “The Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:26)

12Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.

We don’t like to talk about sin these days, although I suspect that human beings have never liked to talk about sin – at least not our sins. Talking about other people’s sins has become a multi-billion dollar business we call the “News”, but that’s a different matter. I miss Walter Cronkite.

I suspect part of our problem in talking about sin is that we are working with a notion of sin that doesn’t match the world of the scripture. We tend to think of sin in terms of sins, specific thoughts and actions that are against God’s rules. But if we use that concept of sin, the opening line of Sunday’s reading makes no sense.

12Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.

Paul imagines sin as a governing power, capable of exercising dominion, capable of making us “obey their passions.” Whose passions? Sin’s passions? It confuses most of us.

Much ink has been spilled trying to explain Paul. Some of the problem is that we are listening to half of the conversation. Paul is arguing with people, but we are not privy to their objections. Some of the problem is that Paul leaves out important elements of the argument because both he and his listeners can fill in the blanks. We are not so fortunate. And part of the problem is that the world in which Paul lives is different than ours.

As a consequence of all this we tend to pick out the verses we understand “The wages of sin is death” and skip over the rest. But then we are reading in our own ideas rather than understanding his. And so we are back to the idea that sins are deeds and their result is death, but Jesus has endured the death in our stead so we are free.

That’s true as far as it goes; it’s just not quite what Paul is saying. Paul sees sin and death as a governing force in the world. It is an evil lord that thrives on misery. It keeps Narnia frozen in ice (C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe). It turns Eustace into a dragon (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). It binds and enslaves like an addiction. We chose to act in ways that harm ourselves and others, and yet we cannot choose otherwise. As Luther says so profoundly we are turned in on ourselves. We are born running from God. What we consider ‘free will’ is a will already bound to disobedience, a will that wants to be God rather than let God be God.

In our “natural” state we can serve only ourselves. An infant knows only its own wants, needs and desires. Parents sand off the rough edges of that self-centeredness – and the neighbor kids beat some it out of us (either you share the ball of they don’t let you play) – but it still lurks there in our inner selves.

Until Christ comes. Until we are encountered by selfless love. Until we are met by true generosity. Until we are Val Jean given the bishop’s precious silver with the surprising transforming grace: “you forgot the candlesticks.” (Victor Hugo, Les Miserables)

Such radical grace carries us into a different realm, a foreign territory – a realm Javert cannot comprehend. But there Paul’s comment begins to make sense: “Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies.” Do not let our innate rebellion rule. Do not submit yourselves to serve it as master. Submit yourselves to the one who has called you into his grace.

Choose to stay in the realm of life and not to submit again to death. Choose to abide in the realm of righteousness and not in the realm of sin. Choose to remain in the realm of grace and not law. Choose to dwell in the New Jerusalem not the old. Choose the realm of freedom and don’t go back to old chains.

There is choosing involved. I didn’t choose to journey to this foreign country – but once I have been carried here on the Samaritan’s donkey, then I have a choice whether I will stay or go home, whether I will bend the knee to serve Christ or submit myself back to the dominion of brokenness.

“Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies…You, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness….so now present your members as slaves to righteousness.”

Into thirsty sands


Romans 6

File:Benin baptism2.jpg

Benin Baptism, By Ferdinand Reus from Arnhem, Holland

 4 We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life

I don’t know exactly what it is about this picture of a woman being baptized in Benin that I find so compelling, but compelling it is. Perhaps it is the posture of kneeling. Perhaps it is the gentleness of the hands pouring water over her head. Perhaps it is the white robe. Perhaps it is the expression upon this woman’s face. Maybe even her simple beauty. Somehow all these elements together move me deeply.

Baptism is a remarkable thing. It declares a majestic holiness and tenderness of God that gathers us from far and wide and brings us near to him who is the center of all things. It speaks of homecoming, of welcome, of center, of peace. It speaks of limping from brokenness into wholeness. It speaks of answered longing and belonging. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”

Baptism also speaks to us of dying and rising, of old and new, of what is left behind and what is embraced ahead. No longer are we bound in the realm of life’s sorrows and struggles; now we have entered into the realm of grace and life. Yes, we must all get up and go home and deal with the challenges each day presents. Yes we must work the day’s labor in the sweat of our brow. But we have been embraced by the holy, our shame set aside, washed away into the sands. We have become citizens of heaven even as we dwell on earth, citizens of the age to come even as we live out this present age.

In world of violence we have become part of the realm of peace. Buried as frail, mortal creatures we rise to walk in newness of life. All this is present in that kneeling figure, in the gentle hands, in the simple splash of water, in the white robe, the bowed head and the thirsty sands.