Partners in the song

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Watching for the Morning of October 1, 2017

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

On this first Sunday of October, nearest to the feast day of St. Francis, our parish celebrates the blessing of the animals. The readings for the day are chosen around that theme. Follow this link for a comment on the regularly appointed texts for this Sunday. Other comments/reflections can be found for by following this link, Proper 21 A / Lectionary 26 A.

File:Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) Tswalu.jpgThere are hundreds of glorious pictures to choose from when you begin to look: the creation is stunning in its variety and splendor. The creatures with whom we share this awesome world are wondrous in their diversity, beauty, majesty – and, sometimes – strangeness. It seems impossible for a picture of meerkats not to make you smile. Fawns of any kind evoke tenderness. In its familiarity, we forget how strange is an elephant’s nose. Butterflies seem such an ephemeral beauty – yet monarchs migrate thousands of miles. Whales, chipmunks, water buffalo, and the myriad things that squirm and make us squirm – it is an amazing world.

File:Giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park 2013.jpgStand beneath redwoods or giant sequoias. Let yourself be cradled in the arms of an oak. Walk among aspens. Ponder the tiniest alpine flowers. Consider the myriad forms of things that grow. Some we love – pears and peaches and fresh corn.   But then there are nettles and poison oak. And there are mosquitos, wondrous in their form but irritating and sometimes dangerous in what they carry.

Horned toads. Penguins. Emu. Fox. The strange things hidden deep in the sea. The microflora in our gut. The world is bursting with life.

File:Caesio teres in Fiji by Nick Hobgood.jpgEven beasts as terrifying as the great white shark are wondrous and beautiful.

Walking to and from the office on suburban streets past rose bushes, decorative trees and chirping birds, amidst all the distractions of tasks to be done and routines followed, it is possible to forget the wonder and mystery of the natural world. We don’t stand in awe of night skies; we cannot see them. We don’t search the horizon hoping for rain and fearing hail, knowing our lives are dependent on the fragile green stalks turning into bursting clusters of grain. We fear no beasts in the night. We see little of the beauty of the sunrise or sunset.

File:Väimela Mäejärv 2011 09.jpgSomething is lost in our relationship not only with the natural world around us, but with the divine. There is a taste of the holy in the beauty of the world. There is a shudder of the holy in the power of its storms. The enduring faithfulness of God is whispered by the pattern of the seasons and the enduring hills. The tenderness of God is witnessed in the care of songbirds for File:Gavia immer1 BS.jpgtheir chicks. Watching the small screen on our cell phones we lose track of the far horizon, the enduring truth that we are small and there is something greater than ourselves, the enduring truth that we must care for one another if we are to survive, the enduring truth that we must care for the land if it is to care for us.

You cannot cut down the fruit trees when you besiege a city, says Deuteronomy, and it is not legislation but vision: Are the trees men that you should make war on them?” You can take the eggs from a nest, but not the hen that lays them. You must give thought for the future. The Sabbath law applies even to animals. We must care for the world around if we are to know life’s goodness. We must care for one another. We must become partners in the song of all creation.File:Butterfly Green-underside Blue - Glaucopsyche alexis 01.jpg

The Prayer for October 1, 2017

Gracious God, from whom and for whom all things exist:
In the wonder of the creation you bear witness to your majesty and grace.
All things proclaim your praise.
Grant us wisdom and courage
to tend with faithfulness all that you have entrusted into our care
and to lift our lives to you in thankfulness and praise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 1, 2017, Blessing of the Animals

First Reading: Psalm 104
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.” – The psalmist sings of the wonder of the created world and summons us to recognize their the majesty and goodness of God.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-20
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created.” – In the opening verses of this letter the author sings of the mystery of Christ Jesus as the truth at the heart of all existence and its ultimate goal.

Gospel: John 1:1-4
“In the beginning was the Word…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” – The opening of John’s Gospel sees in Christ Jesus the embodiment of the Word that called all things into existence and speaks life to the world.

Images:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALotus_flower_(978659).jpg By Hong Zhang (jennyzhh2008) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMeerkat_(Suricata_suricatta)_Tswalu.jpg By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGiant_sequoias_in_Sequoia_National_Park_2013.jpg By Tuxyso (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGavia_immer1_BS.jpg By Cephas (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AButterfly_Green-underside_Blue_-_Glaucopsyche_alexis_01.jpg By Zeynel Cebeci (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Creation

File:A break in the clouds - Flickr - rachel thecat.jpg

25Then he [Jesus] said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

When Jesus walks with his followers on the road to Emmaus, he takes them back through the scripture to help them understand the fundamental witness of the Biblical writings. He is not proof-texting the resurrection, but opening their eyes to see that the fundamental narrative of the scripture concerns the sacrificial love of God – love that has its fulfillment in the cross and resurrection.

So the sermon series in which our parish has embarked has as its purpose not only to tell these pivotal stories in scripture, but to show how they bear witness to the God whose face we see in Christ.

As we developed this idea, our sanctuary arts people proposed placing a series of pictures in the sanctuary that related to the story of the day. That led to the production of a booklet that summarized the story and identified the pictures.

Here is the text of the booklet from week 1 on Genesis 1.  This Sunday we will talk about Genesis 2.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_break_in_the_clouds_-_Flickr_-_rachel_thecat.jpg By rachel_thecat (A break in the clouds) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Genesis 1:1-2:3


“A wind from God swept over the face of the waters”


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At the beginning of God’s creating, there is nothing but the breath of God hovering over a storm tossed sea.

And then God speaks.

It is God’s word that brings order, beauty and life. Before God’s word, apart from God’s speaking, there is neither order, beauty or life.

Speech is relational. It connects. It creates. It enlivens. For God to speak, means that God is relational. (When the author of 1 John writes that “God is love”, he is describing the kind of relationship God has with the world: God is faithful to us.)

Though our words can also create division and harm, God’s word creates community, goodness and life.

The Biblical account is set down in this form when Jerusalem has been destroyed and the leadership of the nation carried off into exile in Babylon. Those surviving peasants who hadn’t fled the war were left to farm the land. They posed no threat of resistance or rebellion. But the people of the city now inhabit the ancient equivalent of a refugee camp. They live in the aftermath of the chaos of war: grief, suffering, disease, dislocation. The temple and priesthood, symbols of God’s presence are destroyed. The sacrifices that were the means of grace and connection to God are lost to them. They are a people in the darkness of a storm-tossed sea.

But the Spirit of God is present.

And then God speaks.

North Pacific storm waves as seen from the M/V NOBLE STAR
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWea00816.jpg by NOAA (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/bigs/wea00816.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“God called the dome Sky”


File:Milky Way over Devils Tower.jpg

God’s first act is to create light and to separate the light from the darkness.

The ancient world imagined darkness as a thing in itself, rather than the absence of light. So into the stuff of the world which is darkness God calls into being a new stuff: light.

And the light is good.

God gathers the light together so we can live in the light. There is now day and night.

Next God speaks into existence the dome of the sky. Imagine a glass bowl upside down in the bathtub: water all around, but a bubble of air under the dome. God has made a space in the midst of the primal, chaotic waters where goodness and life can happen.

A panoramic image of the Milky Way galaxy stretching across the sky over America’s first national monument, Devils Tower. 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMilky_Way_over_Devils_Tower.jpg by NCBrown (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Let the earth put forth vegetation”


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Now, God gathers the water together so that land appears. And the land is summoned to bring forth all the living, growing stuff we see.

The text calls these ‘days’ though there is yet no sun or moon or stars to mark the days and seasons. But the cycle of day and night suggests images of labor, God is working to call forth his world. And the language of days suggests time; God is building something that takes time. And time itself is moving towards its completion, towards Sabbath.


“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky”


On the fourth ‘day’ God calls forth the lights that span the dome of the heavens and appoints them “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.”

The ancient words for ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ were the names of gods. The lights in the sky were considered spirit beings, creatures of fire and light rather than earth, divine beings to be adored and called upon for help. But the Biblical author doesn’t call them ‘Sun’ or ‘Moon’; these are but lanterns in the sky, placed there by the word of God. We use them only to count days.

It is a startling claim for a people whose god has been crushed in battle by the (presumably) more powerful gods of Babylon. The Lord could not protect his own house, his temple. The Lord could not protect his household staff, his people. Yet here our writer proclaims that these powerful so-called gods of Babylon are no gods at all.

Flower of an Indian Lotus
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALotus_flower_(978659).jpg by Hong Zhang (jennyzhh2008) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“ Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind”


File:A butterfly feeding on the tears of a turtle in Ecuador.jpg

Now God begins to summons forth the creatures of the earth. The waters proliferate with creatures and birds fill the skies. It is good. And God utters a blessing: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

God will also speak this blessing over humans. They are among the living creatures. They are not creatures of the air. They are not spirit beings. They are part of the good world God calls forth in all its wondrous diversity.

The fish and birds are called into existence on the fifth ‘day’, creatures of the land and humans on the sixth day.

We are creatures. We are one with the creation and yet the crown of creation. The care of the earth is entrusted into our hands. We are blessed as the creatures are blessed. But we are also charged to exercise “dominion”, governance, stewardship, lordship. And the model of true lordship is not one of control and domination, but the God who provides and cares, and the lord who lays down his life for the sheep. St. Francis is correct when he speaks of the creatures of the world as our sisters and brothers.   The world is to be tended not plundered.

Two Julia Butterflies (Dryas iulia) drinking the tears of turtles (Podocnemis expansa?) in Ecuador. Turtles bask on a log as the butterflies sip from their eyes. This “tear-feeding” is a phenomenon known as lachryphagy.  
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_butterfly_feeding_on_the_tears_of_a_turtle_in_Ecuador.jpg amalavida.tv [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“In the image of God he created them”


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The word ‘image’ in the ancient Greek translation of Genesis comes into English as ‘icon’. An icon was an image that represented the presence of another – like the United States planting a flag on Iwo Jima to represent the authority and presence of the nation. Humans represent the presence of God. Or, at least, we are supposed to so represent. We are the agents and signs of God’s presence, the agents and signs of God’s care, the agents and sign of God’s love. Or at least, again, this was God’s intention. This is our calling. This is our true identity.

Perhaps the ancients thought we shared the same physical appearance as God. But the truth is we have no other language or imagery to talk about a loving, speaking being.

These humans are given fruit to eat. And the grazing animals grass. In the beginning we did not yet kill and eat each other. It’s why the prophets say that in the end, when God’s creation is finally restored, the lion can lie down with the lamb.

Milky Way lying above a lady’s silhouette, at Trona Pinnacles National Landmark, California.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHeavens_Above_Her.jpg by Ian Norman (http://www.lonelyspeck.com) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sabbath Rest

“On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done.”


File:Paints of sunrise on Langtang National Park.jpg

So now we come to the final day, the consummate day, the goal toward which all things move: Sabbath. Rest. Completion. Perfection. Shalom. Peace. Wholeness. Harmony. This ‘day’ is holy, sacred, radiant with the divine. Jesus will call it “the reign of God.” St. John the Divine will call it the “New Jerusalem”.

The world is not complete in six days. It is complete with Sabbath.

And Jesus will declare that the reign of God is at hand, so it makes perfect sense for him to heal on the Sabbath. He is not working, doctoring; he is bringing that final Sabbath when all things are made new.

The Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the deep now breathes in all people. The promise of Joel is fulfilled (Joel 2:28-29). Pentecost has come (Acts 2). The Torah is written on every heart (Jeremiah 31:31). The heavenly banquet is begun (Isaiah 25:6-8). Swords are beaten into plowshares (Micah 4:1-3) and the lion eats straw like the ox (Isaiah 65:17-25).

It is all “very good.”

View from mountain pass Laurebina-la
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APaints_of_sunrise_on_Langtang_National_Park.jpg  by Q-lieb-in (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
 © Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

The river of life

File:Río Dynjandisá, Vestfirðir, Islandia, 2014-08-14, DD 118-120 HDR.JPG

Watching for the Morning of August 21, 2016

Year C

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 16 / Lectionary 21

How arid has faith become when you resent a person being healed on the Sabbath? How barren when we are so committed to the form of religion that we have lost its life breath?

And do not think this is a problem of those archenemies, the Pharisees. It is the problem of every religious tradition.

We have all been in that place where we resent the attention someone is getting, when we can feel the ground of our position, authority or respect weakened. Our innate tendency in such moments is to see the other’s faults – and point them out. We diminish the other in whatever way is available to us. We mark their errors. We minimize their accomplishments. We sneer and snicker, gripe and complain. We murmur. On a human level, we understand the Pharisees.

But however understandable it may be, humanly speaking, it is dark and haunted spiritually. Before us stands the anointed of God dispensing the gifts of that ultimate Sabbath rest when all heaven and earth are united in peace, when God’s spirit of grace and life governs every heart, and all that has gone wrong since Eden has been left behind with the grave clothes in the tomb.

Before us stands a foretaste of the final Sabbath – and in our resentment we see instead some upstart, untrained, Nazarene who should be working the construction site not presuming to speak for God. We don’t see healing; we see work that could have waited a day. We don’t see deliverance; we see doctoring. We don’t see salvation manifesting itself in our midst; we see the mundane. We miss the wondrous and dwell in the ordinary. Without realizing it, we have abandoned the rich green land of promise for the dry grass of a spiritual desert.

This Sunday, through the prophet, the poet, the author of Hebrews and by the voice of Jesus, God calls us to renewal: to reenter the promised land, to drink again from the river of the water of life, to feast on the bread of heaven and sing anew: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”

The Prayer for August 21, 2016

God of healing,
bring your reign of light and life
to all who are broken or bound,
touching us with foretaste of that feast where all are fed,
every wound healed
and every tear wiped away.

The Texts for August 21, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14
“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” – In the difficult years after the return from exile in Babylon, when Jerusalem still lay in ruins and faith had grown lackluster before the trials of daily existence, the prophet calls the people to renewed faithfulness.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:1-8
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” – A hymn of praise, celebrating God’s abundant mercies.

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”
– Having concluded his great recital of those who put their trust in the promise of God, the author contrasts the threats and fear experienced with the giving of the Law at Sinai with the promise and grace of life in Christ – urging us not to miss such a gift.

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17
“Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” – Jesus frees a bound woman on the Sabbath, incurring the hostility of the religious leaders. But Jesus was not “doctoring” on the Sabbath; he was bringing the Sabbath rest of God.

 

Reflection adapted from 2013. Follow this link for other reflections on the texts for this Sunday.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AR%C3%ADo_Dynjandis%C3%A1%2C_Vestfir%C3%B0ir%2C_Islandia%2C_2014-08-14%2C_DD_118-120_HDR.JPG by Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“They brought to him all”

Friday

Mark 1

File:Rembrandt Christ Healing the Sick.jpg

Jesus healing the sick. Rembrandt, Christ Preaching (The Hundred Guilder Print).

32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

It was not just Peter and his family that ‘immediately’ brought Jesus to his mother-in-law; as soon as the sun sets – as soon as the Sabbath is over – the whole town gathers at the door to Peter’s house, bringing all who are in need to Jesus.

We shouldn’t be distracted by the word ‘many’, as if it meant that Jesus healed many but not all. The sense of the word in Greek is that Jesus healed a large number of people. We get a better sense of Mark’s message if we hear it like this: “he cured lots of people who were sick with lots of different diseases and he cast out lots of demons.”

The authority of Jesus is not limited, and every attempt by evil spirits to gain control over Jesus fails: “he would not permit the demons to speak.”

There is a revolution at hand. In a world without antibiotics, a world before vaccines, a world without the concept of germs, a world without a system of water purification, a world where a broken bone can lead to sepsis and death, a world where half the children die before the age of five – a world where all these, including accidents, seem like the work of malevolent spiritual forces – not to mention a world of poverty and imperial tyranny – now, suddenly, there is a power of life in the very center of their town. They are being released from every form of evil. They are being released from every prison of spirit, mind and body. “Morning has broken.” The world of creation’s first Sabbath is in their midst. The new creation is dawning. The favor of God has flooded their city.

Can we imagine that such a people would ever take Jesus for granted?

Rest

Wednesday

Matthew 11

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Fresco in Kariye Camii (Kariye Kilisesi) in Edirnekapı, Fatih, İstanbul. In his hand, Christ holds the Gospels open to Matthew 11:28

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Rest is not a small word in Israel. On the seventh day God rested: the work of creation moves towards rest. The slaves God delivered from Egypt were commanded to observe a day of rest, rest not just for themselves but for their servants and animals. Even the fields were to have a Sabbath rest. Rest is in the fabric of creation and it is our salvation. The Book of Hebrews speaks of the age to come as our Sabbath rest.

The Sabbath is a unique covenantal sign of Israel, an ever-abiding command. The neglect of the Sabbath was one of the reasons for God’s judgment against Jerusalem, and honoring of the Sabbath one of the defining marks of the faithful eunuchs and foreigners God welcomes into his sanctuary.

Jews were mocked by Roman society for giving slaves a day off. The Pharisees defended it forcefully – even against Jesus’ attempts to heal and free on the Sabbath. But Jesus rebuked them for failing to understand the Sabbath. Sabbath is not a ritual obligation; it is the day of salvation, the day of new creation.

So in this simple and familiar promise, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” Jesus is speaking a profound word. “I will give you rest.” I bring you God’s Sabbath. I give the rest God intended for us. I give deliverance. I bring the day of salvation. I lift the burden of humanity’s weary labor by the sweat of their brow. I restore humanity to those days when God walked through the garden in the cool of the evening. I make all things new.

This is far more than a promise to weary field hands and servants. It is the invitation to enter the reign of God, into the realm of the spirit, into the world of joy and life and peace, to dwell in God’s grace and compassion, to become sons and daughters of the Most High, to live the kingdom.

Jesus does not do away with the Sabbath, he fulfills it. He brings our true rest, our healing, our wholeness, the fullness of our humanity. And he invites us to live it.

“It was a sabbath day”

Saturday

John 9

stained glass14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

It’s not that the Sabbath day doesn’t matter. It’s not that this is an old archaic practice that is no longer binding. It’s not even that Jesus was challenging a too literal observance of the Sabbath command. Jesus was fulfilling it.

The Sabbath is the day of rest when all creation has been brought to perfection. God separates the light from the darkness. God separates the waters above from the waters beneath. God separates the waters to allow dry land to appear. Then God populates the sky with heavenly bodies, the land and sky with earthly bodies, and in his consummate creative act creates humans, male and female, in God’s own image. Over all this God seven times declares it is good – the seventh and consummate declaration spoken over the whole thing was that “it was very good.” The creation is brought into perfect life. And God rests. All things are good and perfect and whole.

And then the perfection is lost. The first humans trust themselves more than God. They hide from each other behind fig leaves – and from God in the bushes. The joy of childbirth becomes joined with pain. The joy of tending the land becomes the sweat of work in a world with weeds. Cain rises up against Abel. Blood is shed. God tries to stay the bloodletting by protecting Cain, promising to avenge any harm to him – and Lamech trumps God by promising seventy-sevenfold revenge to anyone who harms him.  Weapons are made.  The line between heaven and earth is broken by angels consorting with humans. Were it not for Noah, the world would be lost.

But God ponders Noah and grace triumphs. God sets about restoring his creation. Redeeming it. Setting it free from its bondage. Restoring his garden. He calls Abraham. He gathers a people out of bondage in Egypt and teaches them to live God’s justice and mercy. He gives them a land where all can be fed.

And then it goes astray. But Moses and the prophets and the psalms lay the foundation for God’s restoration of his world. They bear witness to the day when sins and forgiven and the Spirit of God poured out on all. They promise a day when swords are beaten into plowshares and the lion lies down with the lamb. Through the law and prophets and writings God promises to bring his creation to its ultimate Sabbath rest, to bring us into the perfect peace of God.

This is what Jesus is doing on the Sabbath. He is fulfilling the rules not breaking them. He is bringing light into the world. He is healing every wound. He is releasing us from our debt of shame. He is restoring our sight. He is bringing God’s perfect peace.

The tragedy is that these very religious people could not see. The sorrow is that “the world loved darkness.” We harp on the rules and miss all that they promise: A world where God is God. A world where God’s name is not used for falsehood. A world where all enjoy God’s Sabbath rest. A world where the elderly are protected and provided. A world where no harm is done to another’s life or family or reputation. A world where truth reigns and there is no evil eye. A world gathered at one table. A world of light and life.

It was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 

Exactly.

 

 

Fear’s end

Saturday

Isaiah 11

Image of an etching by artist William Strutt i...

Image of an etching by artist William Strutt in 1896. Isaiah 11:6,7: The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

A chill runs through me whenever I read this text.  This line describes that moment when parents freeze in realization that their child is in mortal danger, that flash of a second before they spring into action.  It is the ancient equivalent of looking up to see your child chasing a ball into the street.

I took my mother to the emergency room several times as a child; twice to have my stomach pumped of deadly chemicals, once to have my forehead sewn up from falling through a window, once from stepping on a nail, once gashing my foot on a broken bottle hidden in the grass.

When I became a father I realized that the gift of a child was both inexpressible joy and boundless fear.  Your heart is full love and delight, yet terrified at the thought if something should ever happen to your child.  Every physical and emotional wound my girls experienced I felt. I gained new appreciation for the suffering love of God.

I received twenty-six stitches in my six-year-old forehead, perilously close to the eyes, from going headfirst into that window.  I remember, in those days before 911, my mother’s frantic calls for help, and her terror as she called my name, wanting me to stay with her.  I also remember coming home one day, years later, and feeling a deathly pall in the house: my younger sister had run through a sliding glass door, nearly slicing her femoral artery.  My brother was 22 and my daughter 19 when they were laid to rest.  Writing this I realize why Mother still worries so constantly for us.

So when the prophet speaks of a time when this broken earth is healed, when humanity’s turn from God is finally turned toward home and God’s spirit reigns in every heart, when the path is open to a new Eden where “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,” there is no more apt description of the lifting of fear than to say: “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.”

Sunday morning around the table of God – and every encounter with the voice of God – is meant to be for us a taste of that day, a moment of Sabbath rest as we await that great Sabbath when all the earth is at peace and fear is at an end.

It is this promised peace that is embodied in the blessing of the animals in worship this Sunday.  It looks back to God’s blessing at the beginning of time, and forward to the blessing at the end of time, reminding us that such blessing is upon us even now in this moment of time.

Sabbath rest

Sunday Evening

Isaiah 58

13 if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable…
14then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;

We don’t worship God on the Sabbath, we worship God for his Sabbath.  The Sabbath is not a day; it’s a time.  It’s not an item on the calendar; it is a reality to be lived and enjoyed.  Christmas is not just a day; it is a state of mind and heart.  Thanksgiving is not just a date; it is – at its best – a time of family and goodness, of bounty and welcome strangers.  Sabbath is not Saturday or Sunday; it is our participation in the peace of God.  It is rest, and joy, and the treasure of God’s word of peace.

Yes, there is the commandment to observe Sabbath each week.  Yes, there is the command to rest and give rest.  But Christians gather on Sunday because it is the day of resurrection.  It is the eighth day, the day of new creation.  We come to hear the voice from heaven that does not shake the mountain but opens the grave.

We come to break the bread and sing the songs of heaven.  We come to lay our burdens down for a time, to leave the struggle of life aside for a morning, to step away from our rush.  We come to bless the LORD and forget not his benefits.

All this is lost when Sabbath is regarded as a rule rather than a gift: what must be done rather than what has been given.  Christmas can become this – the obligation of purchasing presents rather than the joy of giving.  This is why Christians center Christmas around the gift of the child rather than the paper and bows.  The presents and the tree and the meal take their spirit from the child; they are not an end in themselves.  Just so, Sabbath takes its spirit from the God who creates and redeems in love and speaks to his troubled, rebellious world a word of grace and peace.

Who would not come to Christmas dinner?  And what could keep us from this our Sunday dinner?  It is the long table set on the lawn beneath the shade with fresh corn and apple pie and children giggling as they run with cousins.  It is a remembrance of all God has given and all that is yet to come.  It is a time when God’s Sabbath draws near and burdens are lifted, the stranger welcomed, the broken embraced, the bent stand upright, and our hearts and lives are refreshed.

18You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12).

Sabbath

Thursday

Isaiah 58

13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
… I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.

English: the 4th Commandment on Nash Papyrus &...

English: the 4th Commandment on Nash Papyrus “Remember the Sabbath” row 9, words 5-8. in Hebrew script: “zahor et yom ha’shabat”. similar to Exodus 20:7 Egypt, 2nd century CE עברית: הדיבר הרביעי מעשרת הדברות בפפירוס נאש, “זכור את יום השבת” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Keeping Sabbath is one of the ten words.  For those who would boil the rich and wonderful legal codes of the Torah down to ten commandments, the Sabbath is one of these ten essentials.  No matter how you number them, breaking Sabbath is in the same select list as murder, kidnapping, elder abuse and violating another’s marriage.

At first glance it doesn’t seem to match up.  Keeping Sabbath looks to us like a ritual obligation.  All those that follow are filled with deep ethical dimensions that affect the well being of society by governing the way we treat one another.  Keeping Sabbath seems like an obligation towards God.  In our society, such a religious obligation seems clearly secondary to the “higher” ethical norms concerning the treatment of others.  Why then does the prophet equate keeping Sabbath with such fundamental humanitarian concerns as feeding the hungry and caring for the poor?

For most of human history we have enslaved one another.  Binding another to serve one’s will seems endemic to human nature.  There have been formal institutions of slavery, encoded in law, and many informal and indirect ones.  There is a serfdom that binds you to the land, but also a serfdom that binds you with debt – the coal miners living in mining towns paid in script only good at the mining stores.  There is the slavery that binds by law, and the enslavement that binds by fear we see in human trafficking and the conscription of child soldiers (join us or we kill your family).  The bent woman before Jesus in Sunday’s gospel is spiritually enslaved.

It is easy to hear the exodus story as God’s triumph over the mighty empire of Egypt, but why then would God need ten plagues?  Wouldn’t one or two massive exercises of power have sufficed, just as the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought Japan to surrender?  Why start with a silly trick of turning your staff into a serpent?  Why begin with a few days of polluted water?  Because this is not about power; it is about redemption.  The Nile was the source of life for Egypt and God is declaring that he is the author of life.  The serpent was a symbol of royal power in Egypt and God is the one who holds Pharaoh and his kingdom in his hand.  God’s purpose was not just to save Israel, but also to save Egypt.  It didn’t take ten assaults to break Israel free; God provided ten opportunities for pharaoh to repent, to turn away from the prison of slaveholding.  Pharaoh behaved like us all: only as the price became more and more unbearable did he finally relent.

With the Sabbath command, the God who delivered Israel and Egypt from the house of bondage takes his stand against all enslavement.  The commandment isn’t just that I should rest on the Sabbath, it is that I must give rest to others.

Humans were not created for work.  In the Babylonian myth, humans were created to serve the gods.  In the Genesis narrative humans were created to walk with God.

When I “trample on the Sabbath,” I trample on my neighbor.  If I cannot turn off my wants and needs, if I cannot for one day set aside my “own interests” for the sake of others, then the life of all is degraded.

I understand the “modern economy,” but when I want to be able to go to the grocery store in the middle of the night, that choice affects not only me and my household, but all who must work in order that the store might be open at my convenience.  And when the demands of work encroach ever further into our lives, children and families and neighborhoods are undermined.  It may be the way of the world, but the way of God gives Sabbath.

So the Pharisees were right – Jesus needed to honor the Sabbath.  They just didn’t understand that is exactly what he was doing: the woman was being set free from her bondage.