Walking on water

File:Bril Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee.JPG

Watching for the Morning of August 13, 2017

Year A

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 14 / Lectionary 19

We know it’s not possible to walk on water. At least for those of us in the modern western world, our perception of the nature of reality excludes that possibility. Tragically, we can therefore only see the story as nonsense or fairy tale (or, more charitably, as metaphor). But the ancients didn’t share our somewhat limited understanding of reality, and we will miss the power of this narrative if we focus on physics (or the suspension of physical laws). This is an account of a profound experience. Throughout the world and throughout history most people have understand visions and experiences such as this as decidedly real – more real than everyday life. We need to understand this possibility if the narrative is to work God’s work in us.

The followers of Jesus have an experience in the face of one of the sudden squalls that sweep powerfully across the lake. They inhabit a world in which such storms are the products of spiritual forces rather than material ones. These are forces and powers that are not subject to human control but reign over us. So they face a hostile wind, a malevolent spirit, a transcendent power threatening to drown them. Imperiled and fearful, they then see another spiritual reality: Jesus striding across the sea, untouched by this inimical power, treading it underfoot. But until they hear the voice of Jesus, they fear they see only some other spirit, a ghost.

Peter, recognizing that they see Jesus, asks to come to him. He trusts himself to Jesus’ authority over the powers that beset them. Stepping out of the boat, however, the wind grabs his attention and he loses confidence in Jesus’ mastery over the hostile forces at work in the world. He sinks, but the hand of Jesus takes hold of him. And now Jesus is with them in the boat upon a calm sea. The wind has yielded, and the disciples prostrate themselves declaring, “Truly you are the Son of God” – truly you are the anointed one who reigns at God’s right hand.

Like the account of Elijah at Mt. Sinai, this is an encounter with the truth of God. Above all the mighty forces threatening human life – above the storms of war, racism, hatred, fear, hunger, poverty, political instability, famine, rains and fires, sorrows and diseases and the troubles brought by shame and shamelessness – Jesus walks as Lord. And battered as we are by fear and doubt, he says to us, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

So Sunday we will hear God speak to Elijah in the stillness. The psalmist will sing about the God who speaks “peace to his people.” And the apostle Paul we will speak of this living message that calls us from the storms of life into the peace of God – all of us, across every boundary in human society, summoning us not by the words of a legal code, but the voice of the one who raised Jesus from the grave and leads the world out from bondage into freedom.

The Prayer for August 13, 2017

Gracious God,
in the storms of life you bid us come to you
and sustain us by your word.
Grant us confidence in your command,
and clarity in discerning your voice;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 13, 2017

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9-18
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” – Threatened with death by Queen Jezebel for his attack on the cult of Baal, the prophet has fled to Sinai. There God encounters him in the silence and commissions him to the next stage of his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 85:8-13
“Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.” – The poet expresses his confidence in God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Second Reading: Romans 10:8-15 (appointed: 10:5-15)
“There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” – It is through fidelity and trust in God’s mercy (manifest in Christ), called forth by the proclaimed message rather than by observance of the law, that all are saved.

Gospel: Matthew 14: 22-33
“Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’” – Following the wondrous provision of bread in the wilderness, Jesus comes to his disciples upon the sea – saving Peter when he begins to sink.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABril_Jesus_walking_on_the_Sea_of_Galilee.JPG Paul Brill [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is my Son”

Saturday

Mark 9:2-9

File:Oak Cathdrl interior.jpg

Interior of Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart,

We read this story of the transfiguration every year at the conclusion of the Sundays after Epiphany.  It is a wonderful element in the architecture of the church year.

This season follows the celebration of the Epiphany, the feast day that tells the story of the Magi kneeling before the child Jesus. It echoes with all the great themes of the Epiphany: Christ Jesus revealed to the nations; Jesus the light of the world; Jesus the incarnation of God.

With the incarnation God declares that human life is a fit vessel of the divine, the finite can bear the infinite. And, in a stunning reversal of the natural order of things, the divine is not rendered ‘unclean’ by its contact with the fallen world, the world is made ‘clean’ by its contact with God in Christ.

Dropping ‘clean’ food on the floor doesn’t make the floor clean; but the Christ has made us clean. The earth, once holy and perfect and good, is made holy again. God, who once walked with us in the garden, walks in our midst again. The water set aside for cleansing has become wine.

On the first Sunday of this season we celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord and heard the voice of God declare that Jesus is God’s beloved son. It is the kind of declaration made by the emperor when he has chosen a successor and declares him his son. It is the Old Testament language for kingship. God has designated Jesus as second in rank only to the Father. In Christ God has come to reign in us and among us. And so, in the Sundays that follow, disciples are summoned, demons are driven out, the sick healed, sins forgiven, prisoners released. A new reign is begun.

With Lent the church calendar will turn with Jesus toward Jerusalem: the holy city that has bent the knee in service to Rome. The holy city that has chosen power and wealth over justice and mercy. The holy city that has exalted temple and cult over the spirit and truth. The holy city that reflects the truth of every human heart.

Jesus has a destiny there: to be rejected. To be condemned. To be branded a liar. To be shamed and degraded and killed. The holy one is rendered unholy. The apparent triumph of an ‘unclean’ and unholy world.

But before we start this path through Lent to Good Friday and Easter, the architecture of the church year gives us the Feast of the Transfiguration so that we hear one more time the voice from heaven declare, “This is my Son, the beloved.” And then the voice of God commands us: “Listen to him.”

Something unexpected is coming, and we need to not lose faith before we get there. Something unexpected is coming, and we need to see this journey through. Something unexpected is coming, and we need to hear the promise that death will lead to life, the grave will yield to the empty tomb, the violence of the world will not stop the kingdom.

Hate cannot conquer love. The darkness cannot overcome the light. The lie cannot defeat the truth. The Father of lies will be dethroned. The Spirit will be poured out. God’s reign of grace and life is begun. The world is being made holy. We are being made holy, fit vessels of the Spirit of God.

“This is my Son. Listen to him.”

 

Photo: By Skier Dude (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

The name matters

Watching for the morning of June 15

Year A

The Festival of The Holy Trinity

File:Trinity-of-the-broken-body-1911.jpg

Robert Campin, Holy Trinity. 15th century. Gold, silver and silk embroidery, pearls, glass beads and velvet applique on linen. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

The doctrine matters, but it is not the doctrine we adore. The teaching of the Trinity is vitally important, but it is not the theological articulation about the character of the divine in which we put our faith, hope and trust. When we worship on Sunday we worship the God who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Names are important. Names distinguish us from one another. Names make clear of whom we speak. Names identify whose authority stands behind a promise or a command. And the name of God is no less important. We live in a world with many gods – and many different ideas about God. We cannot use the word ‘God’ and assume everyone knows of whom we are speaking. The reality identified by the name Allah is not the same as that identified by the name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Our ‘names’ for God are not frail approximations of a single ultimate reality – they are statements about the nature of that reality. They are identifiers. Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the god who has made himself known in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, risen and ascended.

We use the word Kleenex as if it were a generic term for facial tissue – but all tissues are not the same. All coffees are not the same. All cars are not the same. All diamonds are not the same. Cut and clarity and color make some an expression of love and others an effective edge for an industrial tool.

‘God’ is a generic term. What we say about the ultimate transcendent reality of existence is revealed by the specifics. The names Kali and “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” say very different things about the divine.

The Festival of the Holy Trinity is not about the doctrine; it is about the one named “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. The God we worship and follow is the one revealed as the creator of all, who called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by a promise, who delivered Israel from Egypt, who spoke through Moses and the prophets, who entered into human existence in Jesus, who brought the healing and life of the reign of God, who was the perfectly faithful son, who bore the burden of human sin was declared righteous and faithful by his resurrection, who pours out his abiding, empowering Spirit upon his followers, and will ultimately bring all things under his gracious rule.

All coffees are not the same. Some are better than others or there wouldn’t be a Starbuck’s on every block. Not everything said about God is faithful to the name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Nor is every reference to ‘God’ speaking of the same reality. The name matters.

The Prayer for June 15, 2014

Almighty God, hidden in majesty and mystery
yet revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Grant us true and honest hearts
to worship you with reverence and awe,
trust confidently in your grace,
honor your commands,
and boldly proclaim your name

The Texts for June 15, 2014

First Reading: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” – The first chapter of Genesis telling of the creation of all things by God’s word, God’s declaration that the creation is good, and God’s blessing of humanity and their commission to care for the earth.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him” – The psalm celebrates the majesty of God and marvels at the position of honor and responsibility God has given to humanity by entrusting his wondrous creation into their care.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” –
In his final greeting at the close of his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul uses the familiar language that ultimately leads to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Following Pentecost we return to the Gospel of Matthew, resuming here at the end of the Gospel because of the Trinitarian name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With these concluding words, the risen Jesus declares his abiding presence among his followers and sends them to make disciples of all nations.

The faithful son

Watching for the morning of January 12

Year A

The Baptism of Our Lord:

File:Joachim Patinir - The Baptism of Christ - Google Art Project 2.jpg

File:Joachim Patinir – The Baptism of Christ – Google Art Project 2.jpg

The child who was acclaimed savior and king at Christmas now stands before John at the river Jordan and the voices of the angels and magi and the testimony of scripture and the heavens will be confirmed by the voice of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus is the faithful son, embodying the story of Israel, attacked by kings and brought out from Egypt to be a blessing to the nations.   The Jordan is as the Red Sea, the voice from heaven as God speaking at Sinai, and Jesus will come up out of the water to be sent off into the wilderness and tested.  But he will not fall.  He will fulfill Israel’s destiny.  He will bring salvation to the nations.

Sunday we hear the prophet speak of his suffering servant who is given as a light to the nations.  We hear the rolling thunder of God’s voice in the psalm – a voice that will speak also at Jesus’ baptism.  And we hear Peter speak of Jesus, crucified and risen, as Lord of all.

The Prayer for January 12, 2014

Gracious God,
in the waters of the river Jordan
your son was baptized by John and anointed with your Spirit,
making visible in the world your reign of grace and life.
Renew within us the gift of your Holy Spirit
that, abiding in your word, we may bear forth into the world
the fruits of your Spirit in lives of faith, hope and love.

The Texts for January 12, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights… I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” – The prophet proclaims that this people, wounded by exile, is the servant chosen by God to bring justice to the earth.  (For the followers of Jesus, he embodied and fulfilled this suffering servant of God.)

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.” – Taking imagery from the thunderstorms that crash against the Lebanese mountains, the poet declares this is not the voice/sound of the Canaanite storm god Ba’al, but the voice of the LORD who is the earth’s true king.

Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” –
Peter’s message about Jesus to the household of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, after God has shown him in a vision in that God has declared all people ‘clean’.

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’” – After John has called Israel to a new allegiance to God’s way and announced that one is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, Jesus comes to the Jordan and we hear God declare “This is my son.”