The feuding farmers

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Watching for the Morning of July 23, 2017

Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 11 / Lectionary 16

We call it the parable of the wheat and the tares, but it should perhaps be called the parable of the feuding farmers. A householder sows good seed. He is raising wheat, which means he has good land, not the poorer land hospitable only to barley. It is a high quality product.

Feuding is the reality of life in ancient honor-shame societies. “Enemies” are inherited adversaries, families contending for status in their communities. The back and forth between feuding families provides the substance of village entertainment. In this man’s good field with good seed, his adversary has sown a weed whose telltale signs don’t appear until the wheat begins to put forth its berries. When it does, the farmer looks the fool, as though he were conned into purchasing poor seed – or was unable to see that the seed he had preserved from the previous year was laced with weeds.

He is a laughingstock. Honor is diminished. And the social pattern calls for revenge. But whereas any other might weed his field, this man lets the thatch grow. Though the village snickers, in the end he gathers not only a fine harvest of wheat, but fuel for his fires. The tables are turned; it is the enemy who now looks the fool.

It is with the kingdom as it is with feuding farmers. Despite the hostility of an enemy, a rich harvest comes.

Patient endurance and the certainty of God’s promised reign weaves through our readings this Sunday. Through the prophet, God assures a troubled people that they shall see renewal: “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants…Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses!”  The psalmist trusts in God’s faithfulness as he cries for help against those who threaten his life. Paul speaks of the creation waiting “with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” saying, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”  And then we hear of the feuding farmers and the wisdom of the one who waits knowing that the good seed shall certainly bear forth a great and abundant harvest.

The Prayer for July 23, 2017

Gracious and eternal God,
whose will it is to draw all things into your grace and life:
Grant us confidence in your promise
and joy in your Spirit
that we may be faithful to what seems right,
and suffer with patience what seems evil,
until that day when your goodness reigns over all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 23, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 44:1-8 (appointed 44:6-8)
“You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one”
– To a people in exile in Babylon, the legacy of the nation’s folly and a fifty-year-old war that left their homeland in rubble, the prophet speaks of God’s faithfulness and the certainty of God’s promised future.

Psalmody: Psalm 86:11-17
“O God, the insolent rise up against me” –
the poet recalls God’s words of promise and seeks God’s help in trouble.

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-25
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us”
– Paul speaks of the Spirit bearing witness that we are children of God and inheritors of the promise.

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field”
– with the parable commonly referred to as the wheat and the tares, Jesus bear witness to the wisdom of patient endurance and confidence in the dawning of God’s reign.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAEL_Saemann_und_Teufel_-_zweite_Fassung.jpg Albin Egger-Lienz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A wondrous harvest

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Watching for the Morning of July 16, 2017

Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 10 / Lectionary 15

An unstoppable harvest. An unstoppable word. A song of praise at God’s bounty. And the wondrous declaration that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Grace abounds this Sunday. It abounds every Sunday. From the opening words of the confession and absolution to the final words, “Go in peace,” grace abounds every Sunday. But the texts this week are rich beyond measure. “There is no condemnation,” writes Paul. Through the prophet, God declares: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven” without failing to work their work of giving life to the world, “so shall my word be.” Forgiveness will work its work. God “will abundantly pardon,” and you “shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” The psalmist sings of God’s bounty: “the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.” “Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs.”

And then we hear the words of Jesus promise an incomprehensible harvest. The reign of God will come. Though so much seed seems to be wasted – the birds, the weeds, the rocky soil – kindnesses abused, charities neglected, healings taken for granted – yet the harvest will be a hundredfold. Even the thinnest soil will yield many times what could ever be imagined. Grace is pouring out on the world in abundance.

We need to be reminded of this in those times when all we seem to see are the weeds of riches choking the world and evil snatching away the good. When the news seems perennially despairing, when violence and lies abound, when kindness and mercy seem scarce, when anxiety seeps in like unwanted moisture through the basement walls, making the air musty and damp, we need to be reminded that God’s word does not fail. God’s kingdom comes. Mercy abounds. And wherever it is sown, it will reap a wondrous harvest.

The Prayer for July 16, 2017

Gracious God,
you lavish your grace and life upon a world
where it is often trampled underfoot,
yet where your Word takes root the harvest overflows.
Let your Word take root in our lives
and bear fruit abundantly in love for you and our neighbor;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 16, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-13
“You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” – Like the rain that waters the earth to bring forth its bounty, God’s promise of forgiveness and return to the land shall not fail to achieve its purpose.

Psalmody: Psalm 65:5, 8-13
“You visit the earth and water it.” – A hymn of praise to God who provides abundantly for the world.

Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
– God creates a faithful people not through the commands of the law, but through the working of his Spirit.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Listen! A sower went out to sow.” – Jesus provides a parable declaring that it is with the reign of God as it is with a harvest: though the seed grain is gobbled up by birds and strangled amidst weeds, the fruitful harvest comes. Only this harvest is wondrous beyond imagining!

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APikiWiki_Israel_38203_Swimming_in_Wheat_Pool.jpg Aran Yardeni Pikiwiki Israel [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fire and Wind

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Watching for the Morning of May 15, 2016

Year C

The Festival of Pentecost

Worship this coming Sunday is filled with powerful words and images: fire, stormy winds, life-giving Spirit, humanity’s rebellion from God and the collapse of the tower-building, empire-building, attempt by humanity to make a name for themselves. And behind the wind and fire stands the voice of God speaking at Sinai and the Israelites pleading for God to speak instead through Moses. And, ahead, the day when Babel is undone and all humanity gathered in perfect communion – a day that is dawned in Christ Jesus.

We begin on Sunday with the narrative from Acts 2 about Pentecost – the festival 50 days after Passover, at the end of the grain harvest, that remembered the revelation at Sinai when God gave the newly freed slaves the commandments that would guide them to be a just and merciful community. We hear how the Spirit fell upon Jesus followers, amidst the roar of wind and sight of flame, empowering them to proclaim God’s praise in every language. And in worship we will hear people reading Acts 2.38 (“Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”) in many languages evoking that great and powerful day in which began the mission of the believers to the world.

Fire and wind – signifying the holy presence of God – and the voice of God sounding forth through Jesus’ followers. And then we will read of Babel and how humanity’s rejection of God’s command lead to confusion. We will hear the psalm sing of God’s Spirit that renews all life. We will hear Paul remind us that we have received God’s Spirit, that we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters, that we may walk in freedom and fidelity. And then we are again in John 14 hearing the promise of the Spirit, a promise fulfilled by the risen Christ.

And though worship will be fun and dramatic, and unique from all others in the year, it will also bid us come and kneel and pray for the Spirit to be stirred up within us – that we may know its healing and its power, that we might be faithful witnesses to the world.

The Prayer for May 15, 2016

O God of every nation,
who by the breath of your Spirit gave life to the world
and anointed Jesus to bring new birth to all:
breathe anew upon us
and upon all who gather in your name,
that in every place and to all people
we may proclaim your wondrous work.

The Texts for May 15, 2016

Pentecost Reading: Acts 2:1-21
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” – With the sound of wind and the image of fire, evoking God’s appearance at Sinai and fulfilling the promise of Joel, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon the first believers.

First Reading: Genesis 11:1-9
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” – Humanity’s rebellion against God’s command to fill the earth, in order to build a city and a name for themselves, leads to the multiplicity of languages and the confusion of human speech.

Psalmody: Psalm 104:24-31 (appointed: 24-34, 35b)
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures…When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.”
– The poet sings of God’s wondrous creation and life-giving and renewing Spirit.

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17 (Appointed: 14-17)
“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”
Paul writes that we are heirs of God’s promise, adopted as God’s sons and daughters and sharing in the Spirit.

Gospel: John 14:8-17, 25-27
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” – Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to be our guide and defender.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMildorfer%2C_Josef_Ignaz_-_Pentecost_-_1750s.jpg  By Creator:Josef Ignaz Mildorfer (http://www.gnadenquelle.eu/meditation.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At great cost

Watching for the Morning of October 25, 2015

Year B

Reformation Sunday

Photo credit: dkbonde

Martin Luther was a pious monk, pastor and Bible professor. He did not set out to start a revolution. He wanted only to correct some abuses he saw happening in the hands of the indulgence preachers.

Naïvely, Luther thought (or at least claimed to think) that Prince Albert and the Pope would want to know what was being said in their name and would want to correct it. He wasn’t looking for excommunication and the threat of burning at the stake.

Luther seemed to think that if he just had the opportunity to explain himself, everything would be straightened out – but the more he explained, the deeper grew the hole. The message of the grace of God he found in scripture didn’t blend with the amount of money and power that was at stake in the indulgence controversy or the renaissance papacy.

So when the long sought opportunity to discuss (so he thought) his teaching finally arrived in 1521 at the Diet of Worms (the governing body of the Holy Roman Empire, now presided over by Emperor Charles V), Luther was not prepared for the outcome. He was given no chance to defend himself, only asked whether the books were his and whether he was ready to recant. A parliamentary maneuver requesting a night to think it over allowed him to say a little more the next day than a simple “yes” or “no” – but not much more, only a recognition that some of his writings were statements from scripture and he could not in good conscience recant those. He needed to be shown what in his writings was false.

Luther’s prince, Elector Frederick, was better at reading the tea leaves and arranged for a band of armed men to kidnap Luther and take him into hiding to the Wartburg castle. Luther was condemned by the council – and anyone who aided him liable to forfeiture of all their lands and titles. But there, in the Wartburg, Luther – needing something to keep busy – set about translating the New Testament into German. Thanks to the invention of the printing press, the Bible began to became available to all.

Eventually, Luther could stay on the sidelines no longer and returned to take control off the chaotic reformation underway in Wittenberg. When Katie offered to marry him, Luther was still under sentence as an outlaw of the empire, though the Emperor was unable to enforce it until he seized Electoral Saxony in 1547, a year after Luther had died.

We forget, sometimes, the price that some of our sisters and brothers have paid for confessing Christ – a price that people are still paying in various places in our world.

And we forget, sometimes, that God’s free grace did not come without price to God.

Reformation Sunday takes us into the scriptures (as it should) and takes us into prayer for the Spirit to work its reforming and renewing work in and among us (as it should) – but this day also takes us back to remember and honor those of the 16th century whose rich insights into the Gospel, fought for at great personal risk, are our privilege to inherit. And it bids us remember all those who even now confess the grace of God at great personal cost.

The Prayer for Reformation Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gracious and eternal God,
who by your Word called all things into being,
and by your Spirit sustains and renews the earth,
send forth your Word and your Spirit upon your church,
that ever renewed they may bear faithful witness to your grace and life.

The texts for Reformation Sunday, October 25, 2015 (assigned for Reformation Day)

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
– Though the covenant formed between God and Israel when God’s law was given at Sinai lies broken, God will create a new covenant relationship, where God’s teaching/commands are written on the heart.

Psalmody: Psalm 46
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – A hymn proclaiming the power of God to protect and preserve the people and expressing their confident trust in God’s saving work. It provided the inspiration for Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” – Paul’s classic expression of his understanding of the function of law and gospel and the idea that we are brought into a right relationship with God (justified) not by the law, but by the free gift of God (by grace) apprehended by our trust in that gift (through faith). This phrase “Justification by grace through faith” becomes a summary statement of the 16th century reforming movement and subsequent Lutheran churches.

Gospel: John 8:31-36
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – This promise of freedom in Christ – freedom from authorities or powers that would prevent their living in service of God – is spoken to followers who do not abide in Jesus’ teaching, and his challenge will reveal their true heart.

 

Photocredit: The Wartburg, dkbonde

Life even in death

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Friday

Psalm 91

11For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

In the account of the temptation of Jesus in Matthew and Luke the devil uses this text to deflect Jesus from his path. The temptation is simple enough: “God has given a promise; test it to be sure. Why would you dare walk into the future without knowing for sure that God will catch you?” But Jesus’ asks for no proof of God’s faithfulness. He knows it. He trusts it.

It is a wonderful psalm, rich in faith

1You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”

and rich with promise of God’s protecting hand.

5You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
6or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.

A colleague and friend of mine read this to her dying husband – also a colleague and friend. He was the victim of a medical mistake. A stupid, senseless mistake.

He should have come home from the hospital. He should have rejoined our text study. He should have stood again at the altar to celebrate the wondrous gifts of God. He should have proclaimed to us again the faithfulness and mercy of God. But he did not. Instead he lay perishing in the hospital as his wife read these words: “You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.”

It was the psalm for which he asked.

He saw no contradiction between the promise of the text and the reality of his suffering. He saw the promise as something so much larger than a promise of physical protection that these words were only comfort. He heard in the psalm the assurance “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The devil hears none of this in the text. He sees only a promise God cannot possibly keep. Life is full of tragedy and woe. We are driven by our fears and sins. Sometimes we harm ourselves. Sometimes we harm others. Sometimes it’s the simple mistake of a nurse’s aid. Sometimes we live. Sometimes we die. Sometimes we live wounded. Life is random. God’s promise of protection is silly in the devil’s ears.

But those who know the goodness of God hear nothing silly. They hear boundless love. They hear faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness. They hear strength greater than our weakness, mercy greater than our imagining, forgiveness beyond limit. They hear life even in death.

 

Image from the Murals of the Voroneţ Monastery, Romania. Photo: By Man vyi (own photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Majesty and Mystery

Watching for the Morning of May 31, 2015

Year B

Holy Trinity

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Hildegard of Bingen, Miniature of the Holy Trinity

We come this Sunday to the day known as Holy Trinity, and every pastor thinks he or she must try to explain the doctrine of the trinity and will likely use some frail and heretical illustration like ice, steam and liquid water, or the person who is a Father, a son, and a husband. The trinity is a doctrine over which the church fought for hundreds of years and is fighting still, but Trinity Sunday is not about a doctrine – it is about the God who has revealed himself by the name, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” declares the risen Lord, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Among all the gods of the ancient world – and all the gods of the modern world – only one is known as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and that is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Exodus and Sinai, the God of justice and mercy, the God of David and the prophets, the God of the exile and return, the God of creation and new creation, the God who came among us as Jesus of Nazareth, the God who suffered and died and rose, the God who is present in and among us by his Holy Spirit, the sign and seal of the age to come.

“Father, Son and Holy Spirit” identifies the God of whom we speak as this God – not a god of prosperity, not a God of power, not the rain god Ba’al, or any of the gods and goddesses of fertility, not the gods of power and conquest, but the one God, the true God, the God of the cross and resurrection, the God of reconciliation and New Life.

The doctrine of the Trinity is important. Very important. But it is important only because it protects the identity of the God of whom we speak and to whom we pray as this God no other.

So Sunday we come together in awe and wonder and fear and praise to sing of this God and to hear the word of this God, the one we acclaim and confess as earth’s true Lord.

The Prayer for May 31, 2015

One God, Holy and Eternal,
before whom all heaven sings,
and to whom belong the praises of all the earth;
you have made yourself known by the name Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let your Word shake the wilderness,
bringing new birth to all creation
and gathering all things into your eternal song;
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 31, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.” – When an earthquake shakes the temple, Isaiah (a priest) has a vision of God on his throne and is called to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.”
– The psalmist uses the imagery of a powerful thunderstorm arising off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing over the Lebanese mountains to describe the majestic power of God’s voice/word.

Reading: 1 Kings 19:4-13 (added by our parish to worship this Sunday)
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” – Following the stunning showdown with the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel, the queen is unimpressed and vows to slay Elijah. He flees to Sinai where God encounters him, not in the power of wind, earthquake or fire, but in a silent stillness.

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17
“You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”
– In this climactic chapter of Paul’s letter laying out his preaching and teaching we come to the central proclamation that we are no longer bound to our humanity in its fallenness, but bound to the Spirit of God, adopted as sons and daughters, heirs of all the gifts and bounty of God – heirs of the dawning reign of God.

Gospel: John 3:1-17
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” – Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night trying to understand this strange yet wondrous prophet. Jesus speaks to him about being born ‘from above’, but Nicodemus misunderstands and cannot understand how it is possible to be born ‘again’.

 

Photocredit: By The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

New life is coming

Wednesday

Romans 8:22-27

File:Gravid - pregnant woman.jpg22“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves…” I suppose the significance of these words depends on whether we place the accent on the word ‘groaning’ or the word ‘labor pains’. That the world is groaning is not hard to see. What human greed and callousness does to the sea, the air, the soil and one another is deeply disturbing. When the honey bee population falls by half, when frogs are going extinct, when rhinos are slaughtered for their horns, when oil covers the shoreline, when groundwater is poisoned, when we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction event due to the human impact on the environment, its easy and proper to say that the creation groans. But Paul is talking about the groans of birth pangs, not the endless aches of an abused world. The creation is in labor. The contractions have begun. The New Creation is in the process of coming forth. The dry bones are being summoned together. The banquet table is being prepared. Water is turned to wine. Unclean spirits are being cast out. The Holy Spirit is loose in the world. The Holy Spirit is loose in us, crying out to God in inexpressible words for the healing of the world. I remember the long hours of the night in which my first daughter was born, the feeling that we were getting nowhere, the weariness. I wanted to sleep. I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do. Deb wanted to go home. But new life was coming. We had no choice but to receive the life to come. And the only wise path was to work with rather than against the contractions. New life is coming. The grave is empty. The Spirit is poured out. The Spirit is interceding. All we can do is receive the life that is coming. And the only wise path is to work with rather than against the contractions.

Photo by Øyvind Holmstad (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.  Page: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGravid_-_pregnant_woman.jpg

These bones will live

Watching for the Morning of May 24, 2015

Year B

The Festival of Pentecost

File:Freska u kaloti krstionice, manastir Žiča, Srbija.jpgWhat will the future bring? Ezekiel preaches to a broken community in the aftermath of the Babylonian assault on Jerusalem. Every symbol of God’s favor – city, temple, priesthood, king – has been broken, slaughtered or captured. The people are dry bones. Hope is cut off. But there is life to come.

The reading from Romans speaks of the earth groaning in travail, longing for the day of God’s redemption, the day the earth is set free from its brokenness and sorrow and radiant with the Spirit of God. The day is begun, Paul reminds them. The Spirit intercedes for us. The Spirit has been given.

The Psalm speaks of the joy and wonder of the creation, abundant with life – yet all life dependent on the breath of life/spirit of God. Without it we are but dust.

And then Jesus speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit – in the shadow of the cross, in his followers grief at his departure, comes the promised Spirit who will keep them in Jesus’ word, in the life and love of the Father.

This is the Sunday in which we read the story of the first Pentecost when, with the sound of a mighty wind and images of fire, the wondrous work of God in Christ is heard in every language – the work of God to raise the dead, to raise Jesus, to raise the world into the life of that age when God is all in all.

The Prayer for May 24, 2015

O God of every nation,
who by the breath of your Spirit gave life to the world
and anointed Jesus to bring new birth to all:
breathe anew upon us and upon all who gather in your name,
that in every place and to all people
we may proclaim your wondrous work;
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 24, 2015

Pentecost Reading: Acts 2:1-21
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” – With the sound of wind and the image of fire, evoking God’s appearance at Sinai and fulfilling the promise of Joel, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon the first believers.

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.” – Ezekiel speaks to a dispirited community in the wake of the Babylonian assault on Jerusalem. A field of bones, the remnant of devastating war, a people without hope of resurrection because their bones have been scattered, are dramatically restored and filled with God’s spirit/breath of life.

Psalmody: Psalm 104:24-33 (appointed 24-34, 35b)
“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”
– In a psalm celebrating the wonders of creation, the poet marvels at the manifold creatures of the world, and the breath/spirit of God that gives them life.

Second Reading: Romans 8:22-27
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
– Writing to the community of believers in Rome, a church he has not founded, Paul lays out his witness to God’s work in Jesus. Speaking of a world yearning to be freed from the burden of its alienation from God in the dawning of the age to come, Paul reminds the community of the work of God begun in them through the Spirit.

Gospel: John 16:12-15 (appointed John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” – Jesus promises his followers that he will sent the Spirit, who will call to mind all they have heard and learned in Jesus

 

Image: fresco in the conch of the baptistery, Zica Monastery, Serbia.  Photo by BrankaVV (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.  File:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFreska_u_kaloti_krstionice%2C_manastir_%C5%BDi%C4%8Da%2C_Srbija.jpg

Abundant mercy

Watching for the morning of July 13

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 10 / Lectionary 15

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James Tissot, The Sower

The texts this Sunday overflow with rich and abundant mercy. That a nation should so betray its heritage as to come to absolute ruin, its temple and palace and holy city reduced to rubble and plundered of all that was precious, its people scattered to the winds or carried off into exile – that such a nation could find mercy in the wilderness is beyond comprehension. But “my ways are not like your ways,” says the LORD – God forgives. Through the prophet, God proclaims that his word of grace is unstoppable: like rain bringing forth a harvest, it will achieve its purpose of bringing his people home.

The psalmist, too, speaks of water, of the rich abundance of water that God provides to an arid land, and the bounty of joy that flows from hills alive in fresh green. It is, in its own way, a resurrection.

The reading from Paul begins with that sweet line, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The grace of God has done what the law could not do, create a holy people, a people alive with God’s Holy Spirit.

And so we come to that fabulous parable of the sower scattering the seed freely and widely, recklessly, lavishly. Despite all that might fall among the birds and the weeds and the stony ground, there is an abundant harvest. God lavishes mercy on the world – and it comes back thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.

The Prayer for July 13, 2014

Gracious God,
you lavish your grace and life upon a world
where it is often trampled underfoot
yet, where your Word takes root, the harvest overflows.
Let your Word take root in our lives,
and bear fruit abundantly in love for you and our neighbor;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 13, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-13
“You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” – Like the rain that waters the earth to bring forth its bounty, God’s promise of forgiveness and return to the land shall not fail to achieve its purpose.

Psalmody: Psalm 65:5, 8-13
“You visit the earth and water it.” – A hymn of praise to God who provides abundantly for the world.

Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
– God creates a faithful people not through the commands of the law, but through the working of his Spirit.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Listen! A sower went out to sow.” – Jesus provides a parable of the kingdom about a surprising harvest though the seed grain is gobbled up by birds and strangled amidst weeds.

“Why?”

1 Kings 17

Grief

(Photo credit: tombellart)

18 She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”

“Why?”  It is the most relentless and agonizing of questions in the face of sudden and unexpected death.  I have heard a woman grieve bitterly at the death of her child, though he was 68.  “It is not right for a mother to bury her son,” she wept, “The son is supposed to bury the mother.”  And then that troubling and persistent cry, “Why?”

Facing that question, the heart trembles at the thought that God might be punishing me.  It may be only a fleeting thought, but it haunts the shadows.  I push it away from me, but I know it lies in wait.

And so the widow of Zarephath speaks bitterly to Elijah: the prophet’s presence has brought her to God’s attention and for her past sins God has struck down her son.  Or so she fears.

Elijah is not a pastor that needs to shepherd her soul away from guilt towards the message of God’s grace, goodness and love.  He can take the child and draw down the power of heaven, beseeching God to restore the child’s life.  The breath/spirit of God is powerful in Elijah and it breathes upon the unbreathing and he is restored.  But I, I am left with the grieving mother – and my own grieving heart.

Faith is not believing so much as trusting.  I cannot persuade my head that God is not against me – I can only trust his promise that he is for me.  To the grieving widow I can only speak that same promise one more time.  These are not empty words designed to silence the grieving, nor mere platitudes of a funeral; they are words of power calling us to live in the promise proclaimed to us in Christ Jesus:

31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?

33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:31-39)