Burdens heavy and light

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The “work” of scripture

Once more from last Sunday

Last Sunday was warm – not as warm as it has been, but it was the weekend following the fourth of July, so it seemed right to begin the sermon by saying:

On a hot summer day it seems hard to say more than “God loves you; go in peace.” We should be at the beach with our toes in the sand. We should be at a lake in the mountains, or on the back porch listening to the ball game with an iced-tea in our hands. We should be holding hands in a movie where the theater is cool. Or visiting a friend with air-conditioning and children the same age running around the back yard. Hot summer days don’t seem like the days for work.

But scripture is work. It asks something of us. It bids us listen. It asks us to see. It calls for self-examination and an open heart. It summons us to generosity and compassion and the hard work of reconciliation.

Scripture is work. But scripture is also promise. It comes to heal. To comfort. To reassure. To encourage. It comes to free what is bound and restore what is broken. It comes to gather what is scattered and unite what is divided. Scripture is work, but it is also promise. It bids us bend the knee, and yet raises us in an eternal embrace.

If you would like to read the whole sermon, it is posted here. It is rooted in the Gospel text for Sunday that includes harsh words of judgment against the cities of Jesus’ day and the sweet word of invitation:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Here are two other thoughts from the sermon:

People wouldn’t listen to John because he was too freakishly religious, and they won’t listen to Jesus because he’s not religious enough. At least, he’s not their kind of religion. But this is the deal. We don’t get to pick the god we want. We have to deal with the God who is.

+     +     +

There is a yoke here. There is a life of service to be lived. It is not an easy yoke in the sense that it doesn’t ask much of us; it asks very much indeed. But it is light because the work of mercy and grace lifts the heart and frees the Spirit and leads to joy and life.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKom%C3%A1rom554.JPG By Szeder László (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In the breaking of the bread

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Watching for the morning of April 30, 2017

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

A resurrection appearance still dominates the readings for Sunday. This is the week we hear Luke tell us of the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

The narrative is pregnant with meaning for a community known as “the way” – literally, “the road”. The unseen Christ walks with us. Through him the scriptures are opened to us. In the broken bread we recognize him. It is the story not only of the first believers but of every generation.

Where else can we turn to make sense of this unexpected ending to the one who opened the gates for us to see and taste the kingdom? In his words the scriptures were alive. In his teaching was the Spirit of God. In his work was mercy for the margins and a daring challenge to the ruling center. In his hands crowds were fed, sinners welcomed, a new path set before us. And in that moment when the old empire should fall, he is stolen away. Where else can we turn to understand? And as we reread the ancient words they shine with a new light. The suffering servant of Isaiah. The humble king of Zechariah. The faithful one of the psalms. Suddenly the scriptures seem to explode with new insight.

And then there is the bread – the promised feast in Isaiah, the five loaves and two fish, the last supper, and now the bread and wine. All the threads of scripture, all the hope of a world made whole, weave into this moment when bread is broken like his body was broken – and shared freely as he shared himself freely for the sake of the world.

In the teaching, in the bread, they see him. They recognize his presence. They see the perfect love. They see the dawning of the promise – a world governed by this wondrous and holy Spirit.

Now the vision is complete. Christ is gone but not gone. And they race back to share the vision, to proclaim the news, to rejoice in the wonder of God.

So Sunday we will hear Peter declare the promise is for all and invite them to turn and show allegiance to this crucified one whom God has made both Lord and Messiah. And the psalmist will sing of deliverance from death and Peter writes that we “have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

The new creation is dawning. We hold the bread of the great feast in our hands.

The Prayer for April 30, 2017

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
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 April 30, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” – a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from a threat to his life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism, here urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATand%C4%B1r_bread.jpg By jeffreyw (Mmm…pita bread Uploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“I am only a boy!”

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Malachi, Jonah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah. Christ the King Church, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

Saturday

Jeremiah 1:4-10

6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

We have history with certain texts. When an angel greets Gideon with the familiar words “The LORD is with you,” Gideon responds, “Pray, sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” I remember that text from when I was eighteen and the pastor read it at my brother’s funeral. The text never quite escapes that moment in time. And the promise lingers: though we do not see it, God is with us.

There is a text from the Gospel of Mark that my high school youth group advisors wrote in a small Bible they gave me as I went off to college. It had a profound, almost haunting, influence on my life. There is a text in Psalm 11 that prompted me to risk accepting a call to inner city ministry in Detroit. There is a text in Romans 8 with which I struggled mightily for a paper for my Romans class in Seminary. In that struggle the secret of understanding the scriptures was revealed to me. And then there is this text in Sunday’s reading that was given to me as I headed off to a summer mission in Taiwan after my senior year in High School.

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.

All through the scriptures people try to avoid the task God lays before them. Moses claims he cannot speak. Isaiah is “a man of unclean lips.” Saul demurs that he is from the least clan of the smallest tribe. Gideon is the youngest in his family. Jonah simply refuses and flees. Jeremiah claims no one will listen to a mere youth.

But it is the message that matters, not the messenger. It is about the word God speaks, not the vessel God chooses. God’s words can irritate us like a shutter banging in the wind, or haunt us like the wind through a poorly sealed window. They can sustain us like foundation stones or connect us like a bridge over troubled water. They can be a polished mirror of self-discovery or a whispered shame. They can raise up and cast down nations. And they will do these things no matter who speaks the words. It was a sermon from the most inept preacher I have ever heard that had the greatest impact on my life. It is the message that matters, not the messenger.

The word that Jeremiah speaks is not his own. It lives in him and through him but it is not his own. These are not the words of his passion or rage at corruption of his time. These are not the hopes and desires of his own spirit – there are others who are skilled in speaking in God’s name exactly what their audience wants to hear. The word Jeremiah is commissioned to speak is from beyond him. It is rooted in the tradition and springs forth from the Spirit. His task is to hear and to speak what he hears.

Such words are routinely dismissed – sometimes for some defect we find in the messenger – or simply because we don’t like what we hear. King Jehoiakim takes a knife, calmly slices every few columns from the scroll of God’s words through Jeremiah that is being read to him, and tosses it into the fire. But there is power in those words. They will do their work. They judge and condemn. They will also heal and forgive.

Jeremiah’s age matters not. What matters is hearing truly and speaking faithfully. For the power is not in the speaker; it is in the Word God sends us to speak.

 

Image: By Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca (www.flickr.com/photos/eltb/6221310983) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.  Page: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChrist_the_King_Church%2C_Monterrey%2C_Nuevo_Leon%2C_Mexico00.jpg

A box filled with plowshares

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Thursday

Ephesians 3:1-12

8This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

Most modern scholars don’t think Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, but that doesn’t take anything away from its authority as scripture. It is part of the canon not because Paul wrote it, but because the community of faith recognized the voice of God in it. It bears witness to the character and work of God.

It’s not my purpose to review the academic argument, only to point out that what we listen for in these ancient writings is the living voice of God. These writings are not dictated by God as an authoritative legal code or historical record; they are inspired, “inspirited,” breathing the breath of God, encountering us with God’s creating and redeeming speech that brought forth the world, reveals the heart of God and draws us into his will and purpose.

Paul is a servant of that word, that message, that living speech of God that calls our name and bids us follow, that forgives our sins and draws us into the realm of grace, that nourishes us through the wilderness of this world like manna in the desert and water from the rock.

Whether these words are from Paul, Paul’s secretary, Paul’s friend, Paul’s disciple, or someone writing in Paul’s memory doesn’t matter. These words have their origin in the Holy Spirit and continue to be a vessel of that Spirit. They bear witness to the mystery of God’s purpose in the world: 6the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

It doesn’t seem strange to us now to think that God is the God of all, that we are – and are meant to be – a single human family. But it was radical news at the time. And we still have trouble with it – not with the concept of one God, Lord of all, but with the reality of receiving all people as sisters and brothers.

We are wired to put things into categories: these are apples, these are oranges, these a bananas. They are all fruits. They are not meat. They are not vegetables. These are edible. These are not. Pennies go in a gumball machine; they don’t go in your mouth. Gum goes in your mouth, but you don’t swallow it. Oak leaves are pretty in the fall, so are poison oak leaves – but they go in different categories.

We are wired to put things into mental boxes. The mystery of which Paul speaks is that there is one box labeled ‘people’. There are not separate boxes for tall people and short people, fat people and skinny people, dark complexion and light. There are not separate boxes for liberals and conservatives, sinners and saints, Christians, Muslims and Jews. There is just one box: all God’s children.

The church is meant to be the sign that there is one box, a community of all kinds of people across language and culture and time. We are also the bearers of the message that there is only one box – a box filled with “the boundless riches of Christ.” A box filled with grace. A box filled with compassion. A box filled with love of neighbor. A box filled with plowshares and pruning hooks.

 

Image: agricultural tools used in Ferizaj.  By Diamant Hetemi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There are no pyramids in Judea

File:Sphinx and pyramids of Giza panorama.jpgSaturday

Psalm 123

3Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

If we stop and pay attention to verses like this we will understand something important about Biblical faith and the scripture: it is, for the most part, written by the conquered not the conquerors. It is an exilic faith, a diaspora faith, a faith born out of human suffering rather than success. For all the glories of the kingdom of David, it was not an empire to compare with Egypt or Babylon or Assyria. There are no pyramids in Judea. No magnificent temples on the acropolis. No ancient works of art like those of Persia that ISIS is looting and destroying. What remained of Israel was a book. A book written by those who had seen their nation crushed, their temple destroyed, their king blinded and led away in chains. All the boots of tramping warriors had marched again and again through their land. They had known the contempt of the proud.

The struggle inside Israel and Judah was a struggle for its character. Some aspired to glory. Others aspired to justice and mercy. Kings built altars that matched Assyria. Prophets spoke on behalf of the poor. Moses commanded a Sabbath that they not be a nation of slaveholders and slaves. The wealthy sought to discard such archaic ideas. Moses spoke of shared bread. Isaiah excoriated the lavish feasts of the rich and promised a day when all would gather at God’s abundant banquet.

3Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

Whether the psalm prays for relief from foreign oppressors or their own home grow elite, the truth of the prayer remains. It is the cry of the poor, a cry God hears.

 

Photo: By kallerna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit?”

Saturday

Acts 19

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Peristeria elata, “Flower of the Holy Spirit”

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

It is a question that divided congregations when the charismatic movement swept though mainline denominations some years ago. This narrative from Acts 19 seems to suggest that there is a difference between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit. Several Christian traditions depend upon that distinction. Personally, I think the text shows the exact opposite. Baptism and the Spirit belong together, and whenever they seem separated, it is a situation immediately remedied.

But the right use of the text is not first of all as data for a theological conversation on the doctrine of Baptism and the Holy Spirit. The right use of the text is to let the text speak to us – in this case, to question us.

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

We are the Ephesians. We are those who, at least in name, are following Christ. So, as we come to stand before the text, the voice of God asks: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”

Paul may be asking the believers in Ephesus a question of fact, but the question comes to us as a probing of the heart: Did you receive the Holy Spirit? What has become of it? Is it working in us and around us? Is it shaping our lives? Is it drawing us into a deeper faithfulness to God and to love of our neighbor? Do we see in ourselves the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Do we know how to recognize the promptings of the Spirit? Do we know how to discern its presence? Do we know how to open ourselves to the movement of the Spirit?

If the Spirit is not alive and kicking within us, then it is time to seek the Spirit, then it is time to fan into flame the gift of God(NIV). And if the Spirit is alive and kicking, then it is time to trust it, to depend on it, to let it burn brightly. The only other choice, I suppose, is to renounce the faith and go home, for there is no in-between way, no adopting the name of Christ without engaging the Spirit of Christ.

So here we are, standing before the text, standing in the presence of God, who asks a simple but crucial question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?”

And whether we are spiritually alive or spiritually moribund, it is important to wrestle with the answer.

 

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

He will reign

Saturday

Psalm 72

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Christ Pantocrator (ruler of all) in the dome of “St John the Precursor” in Bratsigovo, Bulgaria

1 Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.

The question is whether the psalm is a prayer or a promise. The translation in the 1984 New International Version declares:

He will judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

But the 2011 revision of the NIV changes it to:

May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

So does the next line say “The mountains will bring prosperity to the people,”(1984) or “May the mountains bring prosperity to the people.”(2011)

Does verse 8 declare “He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth,” or “May he rule…”?

And does it mean “to the ends of the earth” or to the ‘end’ of the land where soil gives way to sea? The Hebrew word ‘earth’ is the same as in the phrase ‘land of Israel’. So does “sea to sea” mean Red Sea to Black Sea (or Caspian Sea?), and “from the River to the ends of the earth” mean the Euphrates to the Mediterranean – an exaggerated version of the furthest extent of David’s kingdom? (Or, alternately, Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and Euphrates to land’s end at the Red Sea?)

There are two different ways to hear the psalm. The one is the psalm in its original context, the accession of a new king and the prayer that he will rule justly over a great empire. The other is to hear the psalm with the people of God looking back through the long history of kingship with all its terrible frailties and hear in the psalm the promise of a new kind of king, one endowed with God’s own judgments, one who reigns over all creation, who brings God’s vindication for the poor, whose reign is never ending, and before whom all earthly kings show obeisance.

When we read or sing this song in worship, it is no longer about an earthly king on the throne of David; it is now about the eternal king, incarnate from heaven, reigning over all creation, breathing into all existence his holy spirit. And so, on Sunday, we will use the old NIV that does not pray “May he defend the afflicted among the people” but declares: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy.” He will come. He will reign. “He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.” He will “save the needy from death.” He will gather our broken world under his just governance.

Indeed he has come.

And, with the Magi, we come to kneel before him.

Image: Spiritia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

On the front lawn

Sunday Evening

Photo credit: dkbonde

Photo credit: dkbonde

Isaiah 11

9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Today we celebrated the blessing of the animals. And whereas there was one small dog last year that wasn’t excited about a blessing and snapped at my hand – there was another darling dog this year who leaned out several times hoping to give me a ‘kiss’.

There is something interesting about holding our service on the front lawn near our busy corner. I wonder what it looked like to those driving by or waiting at the intersection stoplight. We had set some chairs along the walk for those who might have had trouble walking on the uneven grass. Others brought lawn chairs or blankets from home and sat beneath the trees. We set up a large wood table for an altar and brought out a nice reading desk. On the table were a small bouquet of flowers and the bread and wine for communion. I didn’t wear my usual alb, just my black slacks and clergy shirt, though I wore around my neck a kente cloth stole given to me by my inner city parish in Detroit when I left.

Was it clear to our passersby that this was a worship service? That we came to honor and praise that power of life and love at the heart of existence?

Would people have any appreciation for the sacred texts that had been assembled and preserved over some 1,200 years beginning near the end of the Bronze Age and handed down in its present form for another two thousand years? Handed down because in these jewels of human creation we hear the voice of the divine? Handed down because they bear witness that the heart of the universe is life and love?

Was it clear that this was a gathering taking place in remembrance of that man from Nazareth who fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish – a sign and promise that the essential and enduring truth of life is found in shared bread? Would they have seen in the act of breaking bread the story of a man whose life was broken upon the cross in order that his life might be in us? Would they have recognized that we were doing something far more than mere fun – something that bears witness to the interconnectedness of all life and to our calling to be caretakers of God’s creation?

Do you think from our small gathering of humans and dogs (all dogs this year) that passersby would know that we are declaring that all things have their origin in this author of life and that all that is is both good and blessed?

Would they know that we are keeping alive the message that all creation was meant to be a chorus of harmony? Would they know that the resurrection of Jesus was divine testimony to the ultimate truth of his life and work – to the ultimate truth of sacrificial love? Would they know that we are seeking to align ourselves – like a compass needle to magnetic north – with a world where swords are beaten into plowshares and the lion lies down with the lamb? A day when all the earth is reconciled and imbued with the Spirit of God? A day when every debt is lifted and every tear wiped away.

Do even we who are gathered together understand all this?

Probably not. But we keep telling the story. We keep reading the ancient texts. We keep acting out the sacred drama of shared bread. We keep singing the hymns and offering the prayers and opening ourselves to that divine Spirit in hope and confidence that we will be shaped by it, that we will know something of its lasting peace, its enduring compassion, its profound courage, its imperishable life.

In praise of confusion

Friday

John 10

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Map of Jericho in 14c Farhi Bible by Elisha ben Avraham Crescas

6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Jesus doesn’t very often say things plainly. We should take warning that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about. It’s not only John that utilizes this narrative element – the disciples come off poorly in all the gospels. Part of this, of course, is that we cannot understand Jesus until we have seen the cross and resurrection. The crucifixion is the interpretive center of everything Jesus says and does. Words like redemption, which generally meant throwing the Romans out, gain an entirely new meaning in light of Jesus’ death. The meaning of loving our enemies is missed if it’s only seen as a method of getting rid of them or living peaceably with them.

We should not imagine that we understand. Too often we laugh at the thick-headed disciples as if we were clear-headed. Jesus is and should be a puzzle. What he asks of us isn’t naturally obvious. Loving our enemies is widely acknowledged but rarely accepted. And we have substituted one false notion of salvation for another: we think salvation is a prize waiting for us beyond death rather than living now under the reign of God.

People sometimes complain that they don’t understand the Bible – and I want to say, “Good.” The Bible isn’t meant to be understood; it’s meant to change us. Confronted with the puzzle of Jesus’ words, in the struggle to understand, we are changed.

So Jesus talks in parables and metaphors and allusions. He makes us wrestle with who are the thieves and robbers and whether we are sheep and to whose voice we listen. Whose voice do I follow? Does it lead me “in and out”? Does it lead me to good pasture? Does it lead me to life? Does it shape my daily going forth? What is good pasture? What is the pasture to which Jesus leads me? Does he lead me to happiness? Service? Religious ecstasy? Assurance? Peace? Communion with God? A spirit of compassion and mercy? Do I recognize his voice or am I listening to robbers? Am I a robber, plundering other sheep?

Listening to Jesus is not a simple process. He is not transmitting facts. Knowing that the earth is the third rock from the Sun is a different thing than seeing that image of the earthrise on the moon and recognizing what it means that we all inhabit that one small blue marble in a sea of darkness.

Believing the notion that God created the world in six days is far easier than seeing and understanding what it means that I and everything around me arises from the hand of God. I was startled by a spider yesterday and immediately crushed it. My primal instincts asserted themselves – fear and revulsion lead to violence. But I did apologize to the to spider as I tossed the tissue bearing his crushed carcass into the toilet; I am still struggling with the notion that all life is from God.

But these words with which I struggle lead to good pasture. They lead to Life.

Was it not necessary?

Sunday Evening

Luke 24

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17th Century Russian Icon of St. Luke

26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

The more I read the Gospels the more I am amazed at the literary skill with which they are crafted. Luke is an especially talented writer. He is not simply giving us a record of events, he is weaving a narrative that brings the reader into the presence of the risen Christ – that makes our hearts burn within us – and, hopefully, makes us see the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.

Luke begins his Gospel with those finely crafted narratives we call the nativity stories. But calling them nativity stories, and turning them into Christmas plays, divorces those narratives from the composition of Luke’s Gospel. It is as if you were to cut off all the scenes in Hobbiton from the start of the Lord of the Rings. Those events at Bilbo’s birthday party are essential to the larger narrative, setting up themes about the goodness of growing things that are crucial to the larger story.

This first volume of Luke’s two-volume work, his narrative of the words and deeds of Jesus, begins and ends in the temple. It opens with Zechariah serving in the temple and concludes with the followers of Jesus “continually in the temple blessing God.”  An archangel appears to Zechariah and to Mary and the risen Christ encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus and in Jerusalem.  Mary trusts the promise of God – but the disciples are slow of heart to trust.  Angels bear witness to the shepherds and angels encounter the women at the tomb.  A rock-hewn tomb holds the body of Jesus as a manger holds the infant.  The shepherds come to see “this thing that has taken place” even as the women come to the tomb.  Simeon and Anna, looking for the redemption of Israel, recognize the Christ child and the two disciples at Emmaus recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.  The 12-year-old Jesus teaches in the temple just after the beginning of the narrative even as Jesus teaches there just before the end.

There is layer upon layer of rich and wonderful work by Luke knitting his account together. And in that great sweep of the whole narrative we are overwhelmed by the marvel of God’s work, the certainty of God’s hand in all these events, and wonder at the ancient witness of the scriptures fulfilled in all that has taken place.

This is not chance; it is “the plan and foreknowledge of God,” as Peter will say at Pentecost (Acts 2:23).   It is the work of a God determined to redeem his world, to gather it back to himself, to lift away the burden and shame of all its sins, and bring it to its ultimate goodness and glory.

Hearing the whole story of these remarkable events leaves you breathless. And this is only the first volume of Luke’s work. The story of Jesus continues with the outpouring of God’s Spirit, the gathering in of Samaritans, the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion. The whole world is drawn into Christ as we follow these witnesses across the ancient Roman world to the heart of the empire itself. In the place where Caesar Augustus proclaimed himself “Savior of the whole world” by the force of his armies, the band of Jesus’ followers proclaim earth’s true savior. The imitation of “peace” created by the threat of Roman force – by the brutality of the cross – yields to the true peace brought by the crucified and risen one. He is God’s anointed, creation’s true lord, earth’s true redeemer.