An indescribable and glorious joy

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Friday

1 Peter 1:3-9

8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

This is a wonderful verse. But there are so many words in it that we hear differently in our time. This word ‘soul’ for example, is the Greek word ‘psyche’. For most of us, I suspect, the word ‘soul’ refers to the substance of the self that occupies the body such that, when the body dies, the soul continues. However we imagine this, the concept is that the me that is me continues somehow.

It’s not easy to pin down the meaning of this Greek word. It means, on the one hand, our life, our physical existence. In Matthew 2:2, when Jesus had been taken to Egypt for safety, the angel speaks of those “who were trying to take the child’s life.” It would sound weird to us to say they were trying to take the child’s soul. The same is true in Matthew 20:28 where Jesus says the Son of Man came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” It wouldn’t make sense to us to say he gave his soul.

But this ‘life’ is something more than biological existence. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus talks about those who can kill the body but not kill the ‘soul’. You can kill my body, but you cannot destroy my ‘life’. Or in 10:39, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” There is something in the word ‘psyche’ that is more than biological life. There is something that speaks of the mind, the heart, the spirit – yes, the ‘soul’ – of a person: their character, their being, their identity, their story – “who they are”.

What is being saved? I am being saved. Not my ‘soul’, but me. Me, who likes the color blue and chocolate chip ice cream. Me, who started in math but turned to medieval history in college. Me, who loved being father to my daughters. Me, who learned so much at my parish in Detroit. Me, who loves the woods and the high desert and good coffee. Me, who grieves my brother and my daughter and aches with all those with whom I have walked through the shadow of the valley of death. Me, who stands with open hands at the communion table and treasures the wonder of the gift given.

I am being saved.

And this word saved – it means to heal, to rescue, to make whole. I am being saved. I am being healed. I am being made whole. I am promised a place at the table when all things are made new and death is slain and all creation feasts in God’s abundance.

Whatever exactly all those metaphors mean of a banquet on Mt. Zion, a New Jerusalem, swords beaten into plowshares and the lion lying down with the lamb, they point to a making-whole of all life. They point to an end to fears and release from regrets. And this must, in some way, mean a healing of relationships and a restored bond to my brother and daughter and to the whole fabric of the human community.

And all of this is not just awaiting me in the future, but this healing, this saving, this making whole is begun even now. Even now as I hold out my hands at the table, and as I sing the songs of the angels, and as I hold those who are dear to me, and as I welcome those who are new to me – as I breathe the breath of the Spirit. All this is both then and now, future and present, promise and reality, “an indescribable and glorious joy.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APorto_Covo_July_2011-6.jpg By Alvesgaspar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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Rejoice in the Lord

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Watching for the Morning of December 13, 2015

Year C

The Third Sunday of Advent

Though the appointed texts for Sunday keep us focused on John, our children are presenting their Christmas program, so we have shifted our focus to joy. Sunday we will read of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth where the two unexpectedly pregnant women exult in God’s salvation, John the Baptist leaps in the womb, and Mary sings for joy. We will hear Paul write to the Philippians urging them to rejoice always. And together we will sing the song of Mary, the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

The joy of Christmas cannot be contained. It leaks into Advent and echoes through the Sunday’s after the Epiphany. It is the joy that comes from the knowledge that what has long been longed for is near at hand. It is the joy of the lightening skies at the end of a long dark night. It is the joy of seeing land on the horizon after a lengthy voyage at sea.   It is the joy of the childless when, at last, a pregnancy comes near to term. It is the joy of the impending wedding (when all the planning is done – or when we have entrusted it all into the hands of a perfect planner).

It is not the joy of a holiday – we know such joy is ephemeral and uncertain. It is the joy that heaven draws near: God comes. God comes to save. God comes to redeem. God comes to heal. God comes to dwell with us. The eternal heart of the universe beats for us and with us. The font of all life is coming to dwell with us.

Such joy cannot be contained.

The prayer for December 13, 2015

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Bring the desert to full bloom,
and fill with joy our path to you;
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 13, 2015

(Because of the Children’s Christmas Program this Sunday, our parish has adjusted the readings during this season. We also try to retain the practice of singing the Magnificat on the third Sunday of Advent. So we will read The Visitation as our Gospel this morning and sing the Magnificat. We included the preaching of John (Luke 3:7-18) in the Gospel reading for last Sunday.)

First Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
– Though Paul is in prison facing the possibility of death, he urges his community to abide in joy.

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55, the Song of Mary (the Magnificat)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – In response to her encounter with Elizabeth, Mary sings with joy of God’s coming to set right the world.

Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
“As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” –Having heard from the angel Gabriel that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, is also wondrously with child, Mary comes to greet her. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit, and the child in her womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy.

The texts as appointed for 3 Advent C

First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” – though the prophetic book speaks in cataclysmic terms of the judgment coming upon the nation, it nevertheless ends with a song of joy. The prophet calls the nation to rejoice for God shall come to reign over his people.

Psalmody: Isaiah 12:2-6,
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” – the prophet sings a song of thanksgiving, anticipating the day of God’s redemption.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” – Though Paul is in prison facing the possibility of death, he urges his community to abide in joy.

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” – John summons the crowd to show their allegiance to the dawning reign of God in acts of justice and mercy.

 

Image: Fra Angelico (circa 1395–1455), The Visitation,  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Without fear

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Friday

Luke 1:68-79

69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,…that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear.

In the aftermath of the shooting in San Bernardino, people are not only frightened of possible terror, Muslim Americans are frightened of their neighbors. I can’t imagine how I would feel if the situation were reversed: a minority Christian in a Muslim dominated country when some Christians are making bombs and proclaiming, “Jesus is Lord,” as they shoot up a crowd. If the majority culture knew little about Christianity, I would fear they would view all Christians as possible terrorists – or terrorist sympathizers. It disgraces the name of Christ. It would disgrace me.

Some Christians already disgrace me (and, I think, Christ), but there are enough of us around for people to recognize that shooting up abortion clinics, church prayer groups or black youth on the street isn’t intrinsic to Christianity. But if people didn’t know Christians or Christianity…

I would keep my head down. I would be on constant guard.

Living in fear is corrosive of the human spirit. It restricts our joy. It limits our freedom. We live in the shadows, even as children of an abusive parent find places to be out of sight and mind. It is not the life God intended for us. For any of us.

It takes courage to go on national television and speak of your shock and sadness when your brother has inflicted mass casualties. It takes even more courage to wear a headscarf. Hate is made easier when you are easily identifiable, when you look ‘different’.

69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,…that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear.

I hear these words and think of the Judean experience under Antiochus Epiphanes IV who tried to stamp out what he and his cultured despisers regarded as a backward religious belief and practice that refused to embrace the values of the ruling powers. When there is the threat of death for circumcising your child – or soldiers going village to village with drawn swords demanding you eat pork – fear becomes your daily bread. It is a much different fear than the dominant culture’s fear of terrorism. It is a fear for your very being. The fear that makes you withdraw and hide.

When I served in Detroit, the kids in my parish made fun of white folks. But beneath the laughter was a buried fear. Away from their turf, an encounter, any encounter, with the dominant culture could go south quickly and unexpectedly. You needed to always be on guard. And they are not the only ones who live with such a low grade, chronic fear.

There is no want of fear in our world. It seeps into relationships and homes and communities and human hearts. It corrodes the human spirit. Compassion rusts. Tolerance wears thin. We divide. We arm ourselves. Then someone breaks into a school a workplace, a holiday party and starts firing. And then nations rise up and go to war.

To a fearful world Zechariah sings his song:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David.
70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.”

Maybe Zechariah was thinking about the occupying Roman forces. Maybe the song is older, from the days of Antiochus. But maybe Zechariah understands perfectly that the enemy from which we are delivered is not Muslims or jihadis, terrorists or troubled teens, but the brokenness of our own existence.

And into this world where our brokenness has wrought its evil for generation upon generation, into this world comes a child, his child, John who will be called “the baptizer”. This child he holds in his very own hands will open the door for the one in whom the world finally begins to change:

You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

To guide our feet, yours and mine, out of fear and darkness into the way of peace.

 

Image: By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia (Portrait of Refugee  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Lift up your heads

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Watching for the Morning of November 29, 2015

Year C

The First Sunday of Advent

So much of our imagery of the end of the world seems to describe “the end of the world.” We get stuck on the four horsemen of the apocalypse and forget that the whole narrative of Revelation drives towards the vision of the New Jerusalem – the making new of the world. Maybe that’s because “the end of the world” is so common in our experience. The loss of parents, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a job – they all contain elements of a life that will never be the same, life that seems irrecoverable, life that seems at an end.

I remember how often I tried to remind my girls that some catastrophe at school or at home – a broken relationship, a broken toy or spilled milk on a report – was not “the end of the world.” But even there, “the end of the world” is equated with disaster – just a bigger one than whatever misfortune has just occurred.

Though Christianity recognizes how deep and stubborn is the rebellion in the human heart, how prolonged the labor pains might be in the birthing of God’s new world, it is about God’s world made new – restored, freed, healed, redeemed, saved. Those are all the words at the center of Christian faith, not the dark woes of apocalypticism.

There is a stunning realism in this religion accused of being “pie in the sky” – a realism about the darkness that lurks in human societies, and the wastes and wraths of our sorrows. Kings go to war, bombing villages and destroying ancient communities, disrupting food and water supplies, leading to disease and death long after the sword has passed through. Leading to the suffering of children and innocents. Leading to the birthing of hate and revenge. Leading to the birthing of despair. There is realism in Christianity.  The central story we tell is about a brutal torture and execution of an innocent man.

But the end is not the grave. The world belongs to God and not to suffering and death. We were created for joy not sorrow, for meaningful work not slave labor, for union not divorce, for a life with God in the garden not hiding in the bushes. We were created for life not death. And though we yield so easily and completely to the powers of death (revenge, hate, neglect, cruelty, greed, bitterness, and the darkest nihilism) we are creatures born of the breath of God in whom we can also see all that is glorious about our made-in-the-image-of-God humanity: love, tenderness, laughter, play, kindness, care of strangers, sharing of bread, coming to the aid of those in need.

So on the first Sunday of the year our eyes are on the horizon – not because the world ends in whimpering and silence, but because it ends in joy. And the God who comes on the horizon of history is the one who has already met us lying in a manger, and at a breakfast barbecue on the shore of Galilee.

The prayer for November 29, 2015

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Make us ever mindful that our lives move towards your Grace,
that we might be faithful children of hope;
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 November 29, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
– In the aftermath of the national catastrophe when Babylon’s armies came and crushed the nation, destroying Jerusalem and the temple of its God, the prophet rises, daring to declare that the LORD’s promise to Israel is not voided. That God will yet fulfill his promise under the banner of a true and faithful king.

Psalmody: Isaiah 51:4-11 (appointed: Psalm 25:1-10)
“The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads, sorrow and sighing will flee away.” – In place of the appointed psalm, our parish sings the song of salvation from Isaiah 51 where the prophet declares that the faithfulness of God is more enduring than earth and sea and heralds the return from exile in “everlasting joy.”

Second Reading: Philippians 1:3-11 (appointed: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)
“This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more… so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless.” – Though Paul writes from prison, his eyes are on the fulfillment of God’s promise to establish his reign of grace and life and writes his beloved congregation, rejoicing in their faith and urging them to faithfulness.

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” – Reading now in Luke at the beginning of a new church year, we start with eyes turned toward the horizon of human history and the promise of the ultimate dawning of God’s reign over all creation.

 

Image: Filippino Lippi, Archangel Gabriel in the fresco of the Annunciation, Carafa chapel.  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Like Christmas morning

Christmas Tree and gifts

Friday

Romans 3:19-28

There is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

I was baptized in a Lutheran congregation as a child, in the church where my father had been raised. My mother was raised in a Lutheran congregation. Their parents were all from Scandinavia, so of course they belonged to Lutheran churches. I made my confirmation in a Lutheran church; I attended a Lutheran college; I went to a Lutheran Seminary. But it was in my fourth year of seminary that I became a Lutheran.

I was one of those students who would ask the provocative question. I was never content to take notes and regurgitate answers; I wanted to understand, to push through to the heart of the matter. So one day, when my required World Missions class had a guest speaker from the Lutheran Church in Thailand, I raised my hand and asked “Why do you, a person from (then) 20th century Thailand, identify with a 16th century German monk?”

Without being phased at all, he answered me: “I don’t identify with a 16th century German monk; I identify with his understanding of the Gospel.”

In that moment all the light bulbs went off and I became a Lutheran. The Lutheran expression of Christian faith isn’t about the culture of church music, hymns, coffee and potluck suppers. It is about an idea. One central, unshakeable idea: God has come to make us his own for no reason but his own goodness. God has come to give salvation as a gift. God has come to heal a broken world, forgive an indebted world, deliver a captive world, redeem a world in bondage. God is the physician who does not ask whether her patient is worthy of her ministrations; she simply works to save the life of the patient before her. God is the lifeguard who does not ask what kind of idiot swims out beyond their depth. God is the fireman rushing up the World Trade Center without asking if its safe; there are people to be rescued and a fire to be extinguished.

Lutherans call it grace. The official phrase the 16th century reformers used to summarize all this is: justification by grace through faith. We are brought into a right relationship with God by his free gift and favor, a relationship that is a relationship of faith, of trusting the gift that is given.

There are other things to talk about in Christian faith. What does it mean for us to live as sons and daughters of the Most High? What is our mission in the world? What does the scripture mean when it calls us to holiness of life? Lutherans can argue about all manner of things – and usually do: sexual ethics, capital punishment, worship and liturgy, gender neutral language, the authority of bishops, whether we should even call them bishops. But none of this defines us. What defines us – or should define us – is this idea of grace.   We defend that idea like a dog with a bone.

It’s not grace and works. It’s not grace and a certain spiritual experience. It’s not grace and a doctrine. It’s not grace and democracy or capitalism or liberalism or anything. It is just grace. Life is gift. Redemption is gift. Forgiveness is gift. The life of the age to come is a gift. It is not the only doctrine, but it is the font of all other doctrines.

Yes it’s a gift that is of no use unless you receive it. But the receiving of it is no credit to us. No one stands around on Christmas morning to say, “Oh, look how well you opened that gift!” They ooh and aah at the gift.

Sunday morning is, and should always be, a kind of Christmas morning, oohing and aahing at the gift.

And Christian life is living every day as Christmas day.

 

Photo: dkbonde

Ransomed

Watching for the Morning of October 18, 2015

Year B

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 24 / Lectionary 29

File:Abbatiale Saint-Pierre d'Orbais-l'Abbaye (51) Verrière de la Rédemption2.jpgThe coming passion still dominates this section of Mark’s gospel as we hear for the third time that Jesus will be shamed and killed in Jerusalem, but “after three days he will rise.” The disciples are still uncomprehending that the Messiah could suffer, and James and John boldly make a play for the premier positions of power and honor at Jesus’ right and left hand “in his glory”. But we who hear this Gospel know that at Jesus’ right and left hand will be the two thieves.

So once again Jesus teaches his disciples about the shape of life in the kingdom. Those who would be great must be servants. Those who have the position of honor at the banquet of God are bearing to others the baskets of bread as if they were the slaves. And then comes the punch line: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Suddenly we have this word ransom. When members of elite families are captured in war their families must purchase their freedom. Christ is come to purchase our freedom. Christ is come to free us to serve. Christ is come to free us for our true humanity. Christ has come to heal and redeem our world.

The idea of ransom reconnects us with the passion prediction that begins our Gospel reading. It also takes us into the first reading where we hear the prophet declare:

he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole.

‘Ransom’ is the heart of our reading from Hebrews where the author portrays Christ Jesus as the true and perfect High Priest, declaring: “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

And this theme of redemption is embodied in the rich and wonderful imagery of the psalm that promises God’s protection: “With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.” The language seems hyperbolic – A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” – until we remember that we are talking about the ransoming of the world and the dawning of the new creation.

The Prayer for October 18, 2015

You are our refuge, O God, and our holy habitation.
Grant that, dwelling in you, our lives may honor him
who gave his life as our ransom:
your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 18, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-12
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” – In the 6th century BCE, the prophet speaks of a servant of God who suffers on behalf of the people, and “by his stripes we are healed.”

Psalmody: Psalm 91 (appointed 91:9-16)
“You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
– The poet sings of God’s faithfulness.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10
“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
– Christ is our true high priest, appointed by God, who mediates our reconciliation.

Gospel: Mark 10:32-45 (appointed 10:35-45)
“Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” – James and John approach Jesus looking for positions of honor in the new administration and Jesus has to once again explain that the kingdom of God inverts the values of the world.

 

Photo: By GO69 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Page: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abbatiale_Saint-Pierre_d’Orbais-l’Abbaye_%2851%29_Verri%C3%A8re_de_la_R%C3%A9demption2.jpg

No other name

Making up for Thursday

Acts 4:1-13

File:Florentinischer Meister um 1300 001.jpg12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

Well there it is, that troubling sentiment expressed so poorly by some who assert or imply that everyone who isn’t a Christian (and usually, everyone who isn’t their kind of Christian) is going to hell.

Here we face the great challenge of rightly understanding the message of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke are all quite clear that Jesus proclaimed that people should turn and show allegiance to the dawning reign of God. And even though the Gospel of John uses very different language to describe the reality of this life that has come in Jesus, yet the fundamental elements of the message are the same. For John, who uses the language of eternal life (in Greek the life of the ‘aeon’, the life of the age to come), this life is something we have now in Christ. It is not waiting for us in heaven after we die; it is a present reality he describes as abiding in the Father. What the other Gospels describe as ‘the kingdom of God’ is this same imperishable life, a transformed existence of a world – and our lives – that has been brought into the realm of God, brought under the gracious life-giving governance of God’s Spirit. All four Gospel bear witness to Jesus bringing a world restored, healed, transformed, resurrected.

If our fundamental narrative is that good people (good morally or good from good works or good from trusting Jesus) go ‘up’ to some place called ‘heaven’ and bad people (bad morally or bad because they did not trust/believe in Jesus) go ‘down’ to some place called ‘hell’ then this statement – “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” – is going to sound very different than if our fundamental narrative is that God has come to heal the world in Jesus, to carry us from this broken age of sin and death into a new age of grace and life.

If Jesus is the only way to get into a place called heaven, and I don’t believe in Jesus, then we are stuck putting me and all those like me in hell. But if Jesus is the one who heals a dying world, who reconnects God and humanity that they might dwell together, then his ‘name’ is what heals. Regardless of your religious experience or behavior, regardless of your psychological health or moral history, his name, his power, his identity, is what heals.

It still leaves open, of course, the question whether I am going to show allegiance to and trust in that ‘name’, but it will not be my trust that gets me “into heaven”; it is Jesus who brings heaven to the world.

The Greek words ‘to save’ and ‘salvation’ mean to heal, to restore to a full life in your social context – to restore you to family and friends and fields and the religious life of the nation. Someone who has been ‘saved’ gets to return home. They get to return to the temple. They get to return to their life. Saving the world means restoring God’s creation so that we live in harmony with God and one another. God doesn’t want us to dwell in heaven (the heavens) with him, he wants to dwell on earth with us: the lion and the lamb, the new Jerusalem, the wedding banquet that has no end. The martyrs under the altar in Revelation 7 are waiting for God’s New Jerusalem on earth; they don’t want to stay under the altar.

It is Jesus who brings healing to the world. It is the crucified one, who did not wreak vengeance on his enemies but forgave them. It is the risen one, whom God declared as his true and righteous one. It is this one who would not be tempted to turn his power or authority to his own ends but remained the perfectly faithful son (the ‘son’ we have not been) that brings wholeness to all existence.

Power, War, Sex, or any of the governing powers and ideologies of our world will not do this. War can’t bring peace. It can crush an army, but it cannot bring peace. My mother can force me to share with my brother, but force cannot make me want to share. Only a boundless generosity and love can create me as a loving, generous person. Only the boundless love of God manifest in Jesus will heal the world. That is a far different claim than “believe in Jesus or go to hell.”

Christians don’t have to – and shouldn’t – surrender and say there are many paths to heaven to avoid the ugliness of “believe like me or die.” We have to only understand that “heaven” is coming to us. Jesus is bringing to us the healing of the world.

And we are invited to show allegiance. We are invited to trust it. We are invited to live now the healing that awaits us. To forgive as we have been forgiven. To love as we have been loved. To open wide our hands and arms as God has opened wide his arms to us.

 

Image credit: By Florentinischer Meister um 1300 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Death, Resurrection

Watching for the Morning of March 22, 2015

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

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Christ en croix, The Musee national du Moyen Age, (National Museum of the Middle Ages)

Shattered covenant, shattered world. New covenant, new world. A grain falling into the ground to die, yet bringing forth life. An exaltation upon a cross. A priest, like the cryptic figure of Melchizedek to whom Abraham gave a tithe, who is an eternal priest. A son made perfect through suffering. A priceless revelation of the heart of God come to abide in our hearts: I treasure your word in my heart.” The way and will of God written on our hearts.

The mountain range that was far off when we began this journey towards the Paschal Triduum, the three-day celebration of the cross and resurrection, draws ever nearer. The cloud and thunder at the mountain peaks echo across the plains. We hear the dramatic and transforming sounds of the coming days.

Through Jeremiah, the prophet of doom, God promises a new beginning. That covenant created at Sinai, “I will be your God and you will be my people,” has been utterly and completely shattered. It lies on the ground like the broken walls of the city, the burnt cedar beams and collapsed stone of the temple, the gold and bronze and jewels stripped and added to the royal treasury of a foreign nation. Priesthood and Kingship ended. The people have betrayed the one who was a husband to them. Irredeemably. And yet: the promise of a new creation, a new covenant, a new day.

And Jesus, by all accounts betrayed and broken, stripped and shamed, crushed and dead upon the timbers of a cross, yet exalted for all the world to see. For all the world to believe. For all to enter the world of living bread and new wine and the broken made whole and the blind now seeing. To enter the world of imperishable life.

A high priest forever, writes the author of Hebrews, the source of eternal salvation. “With my whole heart I seek you,” sings the psalm.

For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for Lent 5: Renewing the World with Justice and Mercy

 

The Prayer for March 22, 2015

In your Son, O God, we see your face,
giving yourself to bring life to the world.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, your law of justice and mercy
may be written in our hearts,
and we prove faithful to you and to all;
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 March 22, 2015

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.” – In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, God promises to make a new covenant with crushed and scattered nations of Israel and Judah. Though they have betrayed and broken their covenant with God, God will start again, promising to write God’s commands on their hearts.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:9-16
“I treasure your word in my heart.” – A portion of the majestic hymn to the revelation of God’s will and way in the Torah, God’s word/law/teaching.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10
“He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”
– Jesus the faithful one has become our perfect high priest.

Gospel John 12:20-33
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” – When Greeks come to “see” Jesus (see with faith), Jesus knows that the hour is at hand for him to be exalted/lifted up on the cross. He will lay down his life like a grain of wheat – and his followers also – for the sake of a rich harvest that gathers all people into life.

 

Art: By Chatsam (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For a world in rebellion

Watching for the Morning of March 15, 2015

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

File:Klu Klux Klan1922.jpgThe term ‘world’ is not morally neutral in John’s gospel. The world is the Judean society that has refused the invitation to be born from above. It is ‘the world’ that cannot see and denies what the blind man now sees. It is ‘the world’ that has decided that anyone who confesses Jesus is to be put out of the synagogue. It is ‘the world’ that ‘hates’, that shows no allegiance to, Jesus or to his followers. It is ‘the world’ that did not receive the Word made flesh, the true light that the darkness cannot extinguish. And yet, it is because God loved this rebellious world that he provided his only-begotten. Because of God’s steadfast love, his faithfulness to his promise, the Word came down from heaven that we might be born of heaven.

The author of Ephesians recognizes this. We were dead in our trespasses but have been made alive in Christ. We were following the powers of this age, we were driven by our passions, we were inheritors of wrath – but now, now God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ.

The people of Israel in the wilderness were in open rebellion from God – refusing to take the land (there are giants there!) and then, when they hear that message about forty years, they rebel again and try to take the land without God. Beaten down they are headed back towards the Red Sea, mouths full of bitter, poisonous words. And then there are poisonous snakes. But God in his mercy offers them healing – if they will trust and obey. God in his mercy delivers them, as he delivered the sick in our psalm.

Faithful to a world in rebellion. Merciful to a world without mercy. Light for a world in darkness. Love for a world enmeshed in hate and hardness of heart. Jesus didn’t come to judge – we are already in the realm of wrath. Jesus came to heal, to save, to grant us birth from above.

For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for Lent 4: Renewing Communities of Faith

 

The Prayer for March 15, 2015

In the lifting up of your Son, O God,
you revealed your glory
to bring your imperishable life to all.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our communities of faith
that, rooted in Christ, our trust in you may be deepened,
and we prove faithful to you and to all;
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 March 15, 2015

First Reading: Numbers 21:4-9
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’” – Having failed to trust God in God’s first attempt to lead them into the land of Canaan, the Israelites must turn back towards the Red Sea to come to the land by another way. Their words become poisonous as they turn against God and against Moses. Met by poisonous snakes, they cry out to God and God answers – and in trusting God’s word (to look upon the bronze serpent) they are saved.

Psalmody: Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
“Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction… Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.” – A psalm of praise for God’s faithfulness to his covenant, shown in his acts of deliverance.

Second Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
– By God’s Grace we have been brought from death into life.

Gospel John 3:7-21 (appointed, verses 14-21)
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – Jesus speaks with Nicodemus about being born “from above” and testifies that he alone has come from above (the heavens, the realm of God) and returns there. Just as seeing the bronze serpent “lifted up” brought healing and life to the Israelites in the wilderness, looking to Jesus “lifted up” grants the life of the age to come.

 

Photo: By National Photo Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Thursday

Matthew 2

File:Rembrandt van Rijn, Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt.jpg

Rembrandt, The Rest on The Flight into Egypt

15“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

These are profound words. Frightful words. Tragic and exulting words.

The people of Israel were God’s ‘son’. He fathered them through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He gathered them out from Egypt. He made a covenant with them at Sinai. He led them through the wilderness into a new land. He guided them through the prophets. He delivered them through the judges and the kingship of Saul and David. The people of Israel were God’s first born.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Matthew is quoting Hosea 11. There God speaks his anguish over his faithless son, his rebellious people, who constantly look to the gods of Canaan, who put their trust in the gods of fertility and abundance, who give their allegiance to money, sex and power.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

It is not only Israel that wanders from the path. It is, indeed, the whole human story. But the people of Israel were God’s ‘son’, God’s adopted, the heirs of all God’s promises through whom God would bring blessing and life to his whole rebelling creation. How shall salvation enter into the creation if God’s people are faithless? How shall the earth be healed? How shall the wars and greeds that are the painful norms come to an end if there is no faithful son?

The flight of the holy family to Egypt is not just a dramatic plot twist in the narrative, or a fulfillment of ancient prophecy; it is a profound declaration. The one who is before us, the one from the line of David whose birth was announced by angels, the stars, and holy writ – the one who is before us is the faithful son. He embodies the story of Israel, but to a different ending. Kings seek to destroy him as Pharaoh sought to destroy Israel. He goes down into Egypt and is led back by God just as the people of Israel went down and were brought back. But this Jesus will be faithful. He will be God’s agent of healing and redemption. He will place his trust in God and not his own wisdom and understanding. When tested in the wilderness he will remain faithful to God’s word. When tested before the cross, he will seek God’s will not his own.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Jesus travels the path we have not traveled. He has loved with a complete love. He has forgiven even his tormentors. He has done justice and mercy to the least of these. He has regarded all as members of his own household.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

With this simple line all Matthew’s readers hear the sermon Haggai spoke. They know the charge against them – and they recognize what is being said of Jesus. He is the faithful son; in him blessing comes to the world; in him the universe is healed.

And we are healed.