Blessings

File:Harvest (13429504924).jpg

Saturday

Psalm 67

1May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.

We all want God to bless us. We want God to bless our homes and our children. We want God to bless our tables and our jobs. We want God to grant us prosperity and peace. We want God to protect us from all evil.

And when we are generous, we want God to bless every table – though the truth is we are more concerned with our own than those neighbors far away.

We think blessing is an end in itself, that it is good to be blessed, that it is good to have safety and security and abundance. We have a much harder time thinking of blessing as a means to an end. God intends to accomplish something through it. God is not just giving us an overflowing pantry. God is giving such a pantry that others might know God’s grace and power.

And it’s not this strange American perversion: “Look at me. I’m rich because of God. You can be rich, too.”   It’s rather, “Look at the abundance of God that there is plenty to share.”

There are two types of wealth in scripture. There is the wealth that comes from rich fields and timely rains. And there is the wealth that comes from profiting at the expense of others. The first is regarded as God’s blessing; the second as “unrighteous mammon”. But the wealth that comes from the fortune of good weather and land – wealth that is gift from God – is meant to be shared. If my fields prosper, I have the obligation to aid those whose fields did not. This is the failure of man in the parable of the rich fool. When his barns overflowed, he thought only of himself and not his obligation to his neighbors. He was at ease, but no one else. This is also the problem of the rich man with Lazarus at his gate.

So the psalm is a harvest song, calling upon all creation to recognize God’s goodness, God’s abundant generosity. The harvest is meant to bring joy to all – and give rise to praise from all. God’s blessing has a purpose: “that your way [God’s generosity and goodness and care for all] may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.”

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A new world

Thursday

Acts 4:32-35

File:Barmhartige Samaritaan Han Wezelaar.jpg

De barmhartige Samaritaan door Han Wezelaar

32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

I grew up when the great worldwide threat was communism and this text posed an uncomfortable challenge to accepted thinking. Perhaps it does in every age.

A lot of ink has been spilled disputing Luke’s claim of an idyllic early church, when what we should hear is the message being proclaimed: the dawning reign of God Jesus announced is, in fact, what came. The world is being changed. The Spirit is claiming dominion of the human heart. Grace is reigning over greed, compassion over selfishness. A new human community is being born that chooses to see all as members of a common family and lets none go hungry.

If the grave is empty, the new world is begun. That some should hear and believe, trusting their lives to the new creation and seeking to live its truth, shouldn’t surprise us. It should only question us: Where do we stand in light of the empty tomb?

 

Attribution: By Gouwenaar (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wise or Foolish?

Wednesday

Matthew 25

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Tending the flame: Close up of Friedrich Wilhelm von Schadow, The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’

I was always troubled as a child by the fact that the five didn’t share. It seemed like the kind of thing Jesus would expect us to do. After all, weren’t we told to share our food with the hungry poor? The blessed of the Father hear Jesus say, I was hungry and you gave me food in the parable of the sheep and goats. The rich man is in torment for not sharing with Lazarus at the gate. And then there is John declaring: “Let him who has two coats share with him who has none.”

But this parable is not about sharing. It is about wisdom and folly, about understanding the times, about serving your lord.

If we change the parable so that it is a CEO delayed in returning from takeover negotiations, and ten junior execs waiting with last minute spreadsheets – we wouldn’t expect the five to share data with those who were not prepared. We would nod our heads and acknowledge that the prize goes to the prepared.

Or ten people waiting for rush seats to the theater – should the five who left the line to use the restroom, grab a sandwich and get their coat expect to have their place preserved?

The prize goes to the prepared.

The bridesmaids are not friends of the bride from school; they are like an honor guard, young maidens of client families come to honor their patron. They have come to give him and his bride a grand candlelight reception. Their families depend upon the bridegroom’s favor. He is their guardian in civil matters. He is their security net in time of crisis. They are eager to serve him however they can, for he is their benefactor.

For the bridesmaids to show up unprepared for whatever he may need is folly. And disrespect. The five wise know whom they serve, and how much he means to them. They are prepared.

So the parable asks a simple but discomfiting question. Are we wise or foolish? Are we prepared for service or nonchalant? Are we awake and watchful or dulled by the lures of the world? Are we eager and prepared to serve our Lord? Do we recognize what is asked of us? Will our master say of us, I was hungry and you gave me food”?

Foundations

Friday

Acts 1

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Prayer at the foundation stones of the Second Temple. Carl Haag, the Wailing Wall, 1859.

14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

In English the presence of the word ‘certain’ suggests that only certain women were present, but Luke will tell us later that there were 120 gathered together on Pentecost when the sound of a mighty rushing wind came. What Luke is telling us is that the leadership circle from the very beginning included women. The church will not be built on a foundation of twelve men. It will be built on a foundation of prayer and the Holy Spirit. The number twelve will matter because it corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel. So twelve apostles will represent the twelve sons of Jacob. The followers of Jesus are the legitimate extension of Israel’s ancient faith. Jesus is the anointed of God. So there are twelve men we call apostles; but the community gathered in prayer is men and women.

The fact that it is men and women tells us that the church is a household. Public gatherings would be segregated, but the community of believers is a household. God is our Father. Jesus is our elder brother. We are sisters and brothers.

A household doesn’t mean nuclear family. Clan might even be a better word, certainly an extended family. But the defining character of these relationships is the solidarity of kin not the agonistic relationships of the public square. We are for one another not competing with one another. In the market we are trying to take advantage of one another to our own profit (measured in wealth in the U.S. and honor in the ancient Mediterranean). In the household we are seeking to defend, support and sustain one another. This latter is the meaning of the word ‘love’ in the first century.

So the community of believers is united in solidarity. They seek the welfare of all. They build one another up. They provide for all who have need. They are a household where women share in the leadership and children are welcome.

And on their unity, love and prayer, the church is built, the Spirit poured out, and the message of Christ crucified, risen and ascended bears its rich and abundant fruit.

Necessary, part 2

Friday

John 4

File:Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Jruchi Gospels II MSS, Georgia, 12th cent.).jpg

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman,
Jruchi Gospels II, 12th Century, Georgia
Center of Manuscripts (Tbilisi, Georgia)

3He left Judea and started back to Galilee.  4But he had to go through Samaria

It was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria, to go the unexpected way.  It was necessary for this woman discarded by five husbands and not worthy of a marriage contract by the one she is with.  It was necessary for this woman unwelcome among the society of woman at the well in town.  It was necessary for this woman bearing a burden of shame that has her carting water in the heat of the day rather than risking a chance encounter with others.

But a chance encounter is what she finds.  A daring encounter.  For this strange man speaks to her, transgressing all social boundaries, asking for a cup of cold water.  This is the one who will once again say, “I thirst” on that day when he is lifted up for all to see the face of perfect love.

Judeans regarded Samaritan women as ritually unclean from birth, unable ever to be made pure.  To share a cup is as unthinkable as sharing a water fountain in the Jim Crow south.  And a man would not speak to a woman in public unless she was a member of his family – unless his motives were dishonorable.  Even to be alone, one on one, with a woman would disgrace her, except this woman is already disgraced.  Jesus does the shocking and bold thing.  He asks for a drink.

It is of this very act that Jesus says in Matthew, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”(NIV)  By this act the nations will be judged, the sheep separated from the goats, in that great concluding parable of Matthew 25 when the Son of Man declares, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink” – or, conversely, “I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.”

The gift of water, the sharing of a well, is an act that manifests the nature of God’s realm, the world brought under the reign of the Spirit of God, a world where resources are shared rather than guarded and horded.  By this simple request this woman is drawn into the reign of God, the realm of life and light, where shame and sin are lifted and all things made new.

It was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria.  Necessary for this woman.  And necessary also for us – for her story changes the trajectory of Jesus’ ragtag band not only this once in the beginning when the door was opened to outsiders, but again and again as her story is told and retold and continues to testify to the daring, radical, transformative mercy of God.

Rejoice

Watching for the morning of December 15

Year A

The Third Sunday of Advent

An antiphonary from the first Sunday of Advent...

An antiphonary from the first Sunday of Advent to the end of Lent by Zanobi Strozzi, ca. 1410. On display at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. L08.75.7 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We sing the song of Mary on this third Sunday of Advent, a Sunday once known as Gaudete Sunday, from the ancient collect that began with the Latin word “rejoice.”  Advent was once a season of repentance, like Lent, and this Sunday presented a break in the Advent fast.  We do not fast much, anymore.  We are part of a culture that does not believe in denying our impulses, whether they are for food, love or sexual pleasure.  In the midst of our carnal world, the Christian community remembers that we are more than our impulses – or at lest we should be.

But our Advent fast has shifted from self-denial to sharing.  This is the season of giving – sharing food and sharing the joy that is ours in the advent of the Christ.  This is a good shift.  And it represents the texts of this season that speak of the day when God gathers all people to rejoice at a common table.

This Sunday, in our parish, we will hear the children present their Christmas program.  And in their young voices we will hear the voice of the angels declare peace on earth.  Peace is far from us – and yet it has come near in this child of Bethlehem.  And it is the destiny towards which we move.  Christ the crucified is risen, and he shall restore all things.

So we sing the songs of hope and joy.  We hear the prophets speak of lions lying down with lambs.  And we seek to live the world that is coming.

The Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent, 2013

Gracious God,
who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of our journey homeward,
and teach us to see and rejoice in your life-renewing work;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for the Third Sunday of Advent, 2013

(Because of the Children’s Christmas Program this Sunday, we will read only the first reading and sing the Magnificat)

First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad.”
– The prophet announces that God will come to save the people, making springs abound in the wilderness, and creating a highway through the desert to bring the people home to the promised land.

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55 (The Song of Mary, the Magnificat)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary sings of God’s righting of the world, bringing down the high and raising up the lowly  – in place of the appointed Psalm 146:5-10.

Second Reading: James 5:7-10
“Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” –
The author of James exhorts the Christian community to steadfastness and hope.

Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
– John sends his followers to Jesus to inquire whether he is the awaited one, and Jesus points him towards the works that have been accomplished among them.