Around a single table

Lutheran Altar

Altar at the Castle Church in Torgau

Sunday Evening

Mark 4:35-41

38 They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

I don’t know whether it was the mood of the whole worshipping assembly today or just mine, but the tragedy in South Carolina seemed to hang over worship. It rattled around in the sermon about Jesus stilling the storm. Perhaps I should have spoken directly about the violence that invaded Emanuel Church where nine laid down their lives – or had them stolen away – but I was not ready.   Nevertheless, it was there when we talked about the power of God’s word that brought order, beauty and goodness out of the chaos of the primeval waters – a word that Jesus had authority to speak. It was there when I talked about the storm at sea through which God obstructed Jonah’s flight from God’s command to bring God’s word to the hated Ninevites. Jonah would rather perish than carry to Assyria a message that might save Israel’s enemy. It’s a comical story with a profound message – a message Jesus takes up when he declares:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

We don’t really want to hear that God loves everyone. And, like Jonah, there is a part of us that runs from that assignment. Who wants to bear witness to skinheads and white supremacists? Who wants to challenge bigoted and prejudicial speech? The safety of our like-minded churches is much to be preferred. Or, at least, what we thought was safety.

All hate is linked. We need to get this through our heads and hearts and souls. All hate is linked. We cannot disseminate vitriolic emails about Muslims, Obama, Democrats or Republicans, or climate change supporters or deniers, without adding to the level of hate and intolerance in the country. We cannot oppose the building of a mosque without adding to the desecration of all religious traditions. We may enjoy the snarky remarks, exaggerations and falsehoods on the news channel of our choice, but we are adding to the spiritual pollution of our time.

All hate is linked. And it is linked over time. We are not far in time from lynching as a public festival, with children in their Sunday best watching a body in flames. We are not far in time from segregated schools and segregated buses and segregated workforces. We are not far in time when persons of color died because a white hospital would not treat them. We are not far in time when a white woman’s word sealed the fate of a black man, any black man. We are not far in time when white sheriffs picked up black men for ‘vagrancy’ and ‘hired’ them out to work in the orange groves. We are not far in time when a black child with a toy gun is shot on sight.

All hate is linked. And it is linked over time. We have hated “Commies”. We have hated the Japanese before them. Interestingly, we tended to hate Nazi’s rather than Germans, but made no such distinction about imperialist Japan. We have hated the native peoples who occupied this land. We have hated the Irish when they first came to this land and, at various times, Italians and Jews and most other migrant groups in their time. We have allowed our hates to morph and shift rather than choose the path that Jesus’ proposed – well, actually, commanded.

The sin lies in all of us. And repentance doesn’t mean feeling guilt. It means changing our allegiance, changing our path, changing our loyalty from self-interest to the well being of our neighbor. It means changing from the spirit of our age to the Spirit of God. It means truth telling about our story and listening with care to the stories others tell. It means restraining our greed and considering well the welfare of the whole community. It means restraining our speech. As St. James records:

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” (1:26)

It means taking to heart what James declares when he says that the tongue is

a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (3:8-12)

All hate is linked. But the eternal source of life, who commanded the sea to be still and brought forth the world of beauty and goodness, has come among us in this Nazarene. And he gathers us still, week after week, around a single table to remind us of his promise to gather all nations into the banquet of perfect peace. And he has made us his witnesses that our lost humanity can be restored.

The authority to speak

File:Backhuysen, Ludolf - Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee - 1695.jpg

Ludolf Backhuysen, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1695

Watching for the Morning of June 21, 2015

Year B

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 07 / Lectionary 12

The stilling of the storm is one of those troubling stories that challenges our modern understanding of what is possible given the laws of nature. But Jesus’ command of the wind and waves is not only conceivable to the people of his time; it is filled with dramatic significance.

Out of the stormy chaos of a raging sea, mighty wind, and darkness, God speaks to create the world. At the time of Noah, God opens the floodgates in the heavens to allow the sea that destroys all life to pour in. God drives back the waters of the Red Sea by a mighty wind, and by his word sets limits the sea cannot pass. God even sends a storm to oppose Jonah in his flight from his ministry in Nineveh.

We hear some of this in Sunday’s other readings.  When God breaks his silence and questions Job, God asks Job where was he when God constrained and set limits for the sea. The psalmist sings of Gods deliverance of sailors at sea. They cry out in terror before God stills the waves. All of this reverberates through this narrative of Jesus rising from sleep to command the sea.

What confronts the followers of Jesus, struggling in their frail boat, is the authority of Jesus to speak God’s word of command over the primal forces of chaos. It is not a “miracle”, a dramatic show of Jesus’ divine power. It is the authoritative proclamation of one commissioned to speak on behalf of the God who called all things into being. And we are as the disciples in the boat: He who has authority to speak God’s word to the sea, speaks God’s word also to us.

The Prayer June 21, 2015

God of all creation,
who brought forth the earth and all its creatures
and set the bounds of the sea,
come to the aid of your church, beset by storms and danger,
granting us faith that your will and purpose to redeem all things cannot be overthrown;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 21, 2015

First Reading: Job 38:1-11
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” – God responds to Job’s persistent demand for God to explain his innocent suffering.

Psalmody: Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”
– The psalmist sings of the steadfast love of God who delivers those in distress.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
“We urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.”
– The ministry of Paul was attacked in Corinth by new teachers who came after he left, saying he lacked the proper credentials and his teaching was self-serving. Paul urges the community in Corinth not turn away from the message he brought them – and the favor of God to which it testifies – and cites his endurance despite many trials as evidence of the worth and validity of his teaching.

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” – The disciples, though experienced sailors, are terrified by a hostile wind, while Jesus is at peace, asleep. Their loyalty to Jesus and his message of the dawning reign of God is shaken by this attack, but Jesus rises to command the sea to be still.

Let me try again

A second attempt at: ‘He’ who?  Me?

I received feedback that people had trouble following my last posting, I hope this revision is clearer.

For Wednesday

John 1:43-51

File:Montréal - Oratoire Saint-Joseph (04).jpg

Philip, Andrew and Nathanael at the la basilique de l’oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, à Montréal.

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

Our translator puts Jesus’ name at the beginning of this sentence. It’s not unreasonable, given the Greek, but the name ‘Jesus’ is actually connected to the word ‘said’ at the end of the sentence. Literally it says: “He decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip, and Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

It’s unusual for there to be a question about grammar in John’s Gospel. His writing is elegant, simple, poetic. But here, there is a puzzle. Does John intend us to understand that Peter (the subject of the preceding line) went to Galilee and found Philip, or does our author mean that Jesus himself went to Galilee and found Philip?

In the preceding verses, John the Baptist points to Jesus saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God,” and two of John’s disciples follow Jesus and ask, “Where are you staying?”

This question has a literal meaning about where Jesus is spending the night. But, like so much in John’s Gospel, it has a deeper, more profound dimension. The word these disciples use is ‘abide’. They want to know where Jesus abides. And the answer to this, as we will come to learn in this Gospel, is that Jesus abides in the Father. Jesus answers them saying, “Come and see,” inviting them to come with him and see that he abides in the Father and the Father abides in him.

That this encounter with Jesus is much more than a simple question about residency is clear in what happens next: Andrew goes to get his brother, Simon (Peter), saying, “We have found the Messiah/Christ.” Andrew’s encounter with Jesus – the invitation to see –results in the confession that he is the Messiah, the Christ.

Andrew brings Peter to Jesus, and Jesus gives him the name Cephas. Peter’s encounter with Jesus – like that of the two before him – seems strangely simple on the face of it. But Jesus has not just given Peter a nickname; giving a name means calling someone into a new reality, a new destiny.

Our verse immediately follows this giving of a name. Unfortunately, my Bible adds a paragraph break and a section header that makes it seem like we’ve moved on to a new topic. But John, our gospel writer, didn’t give us section headers (or paragraph breaks or periods, either, for that matter). So, once Jesus says, “you will be called Cephas,” the gospel continues saying ‘he’ decided to go to Galilee and gets Philip. Thus our question: who is this ‘he’?

If the ‘he’ that begins this verse is Peter, then the narrative goes like this: John points Andrew to Jesus, Andrew gets Peter, Peter gets Philip, and Philip finds Nathanael.

Each of these is brought to Jesus, has an encounter with him and makes a confession about his identity: Lamb of God, Messiah/Christ, the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Son of God and King of Israel.

The problem is that we are so used to the story from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke where Matthew and Luke follow the basic outline created by Mark), where Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee summoning disciples, that we tend to bring that picture to bear in our hearing of John. We assume Jesus is summoning disciples. But John shows us believers bringing others to Jesus who then ‘see’ and acclaim him.

Mark gives us a story where Jesus calls disciples, but the disciples are dimwitted and don’t understand anything. Matthew softens the picture a little, and adds that the risen Jesus opens their minds to understand. Luke adds the dramatic story of Pentecost, where the disciples are transformed from fearful refugees to bold witnesses.

But in John, the present and past combine. In John, then as now the followers of Jesus are participants in the gathering of a community around Jesus. They see and bring their friends to see. This combining of past and present is also seen in John when the voice of Jesus sometimes morphs into the voice of the community. When, for example, does Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus end and the testimony of the community begin? What seems like Jesus speaking switches to the plural pronoun in 3:11 when he says “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” Similarly, is it Jesus who says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son?” or is that the voice of the community? The truth is, it is both. John’s story is not just about Jesus; it is about us.

The Gospel of Mark wants to be sure that we hear in Jesus the power of God’s word/command: “Follow me.” This is the same voice that stills the storm and casts out demons. Jesus is empowered by God to speak with God’s authority and power. In John, Jesus is more like us, a witness pointing towards the wonder and mystery of God. Jesus gives us signs –signs that are meant to help us see that he is the new wine and the bread of life and the living water.

The Jesus in John’s gospel teaches rather than commands. He doesn’t speak the Word; he is the Word made flesh, the word that makes free.

And we are witnesses, bringing people to this living Word.

John’s Gospel is about Jesus and also about us. It is about then, and also about now.  We are a community in Christ and Christ in us, bearing witness to the light and life of the world. Like Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael, we are gathering others to Christ that, together, we might share in the Life that does not perish.

‘He’ who? Me?

Wednesday

John 1:43-51

File:Montréal - Oratoire Saint-Joseph (04).jpg

Philip, Andrew and Nathanael at the la basilique de l’oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, à Montréal.

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

It’s unusual for there to be a question about grammar in John’s Gospel. His writing is elegant, simple, poetic. But here, there is a puzzle. The subject ‘Jesus’ doesn’t show up until the final verb “Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

The subject is undetermined at the beginning: “He decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

Was it Jesus who went to Galilee and found Philip? Or was it Simon Peter to whom Jesus has just spoken?

When you look back we find John the Baptist pointing to Jesus saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”   Two of John’s disciples then follow Jesus and ask where he ‘abides’ – meaning not just “staying”(so NRSV) but all that we will learn about Jesus abiding in the Father and us abiding in Jesus. Jesus answers them, “Come and see” – again, suggesting not just that they will see where he has pitched his tent, but ‘see’ that he abides in the Father. Andrew then goes to get his brother, Simon, saying, “We have found the Messiah/Christ.” Andrew brings Peter, and Jesus names him Cephas.

My Bible has a paragraph break here and a section header that makes it seem like we’ve moved on to a new topic. But John gave us no section headers (no paragraph breaks or periods, either, for that matter). So, once Jesus says, “you will be called Cephas”, ‘he’ goes to Galilee to get Philip.

If the ‘he’ is Peter, then the narrative goes like this: John points Andrew to Jesus, Andrew gets Peter, Peter gets Philip, and Philip finds Nathanael.

Each of these is brought to Jesus, has an encounter with him and makes a confession about his identity: Lamb of God, Messiah/Christ, the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Son of God and King of Israel.

We, however, are so used to the story from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke where Matthew and Luke follow the basic outline created by Mark), where Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee summoning disciples, that we tend to bring that picture to bear in our hearing of John. We assume Jesus is summoning disciples. But John shows us believers bringing others to Jesus, who then ‘see’ and acclaim him.

Mark gives us a story where Jesus calls disciples, but the disciples are dimwitted and don’t understand anything. Matthew softens the picture a little, but adds that the risen Jesus opens their minds to understand. Luke adds the dramatic story of Pentecost, where the disciples are transformed from fearful refugees to bold witnesses.

But in John, the present and past combine. In John, the followers of Jesus are already participants in the gathering of a community around Jesus. They see and then bring their friends to see. And the voice of Jesus sometimes morphs into the voice of the community. When, for example, does Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus end and the testimony of the community begin? The plural pronoun ‘we’ is used in 3:11. Does Jesus say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son?” or is that the voice of the community? Or both? John’s story is not just about Jesus; it is about us.

The Gospel of Mark wants to be sure that we hear in Jesus the power of God’s word/command: “Follow me.” This is the same voice that stills the storm and casts out demons. This is not absent from John, but John wants us to recognize that we are part of the story. We are a community in Christ, bearing witness to him who is the light and life of the world. And we are gathering others into Christ, that together we might share in the Life that does not perish.

Photo: By Concierge.2C (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Stilling storms

Friday

Luke 8:26-39

Backhuysen, Ludolf - Christ in the Storm on th...

Backhuysen, Ludolf – Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee – 1695 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

26Then Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes.

The translation “arrived” is perfectly good, but it obscures what is happening.  Jesus and his students have arrived by sail.  That reference to sailing matters because what happens to the man among the tombs is connected to the stilling of the storm from which they have just arrived.  Fierce storms sweep up suddenly on the Sea of Galilee and can quickly sink a small fishing boat.  They have faced destruction and witnessed Jesus rebuke the wind and raging sea and bring calm came upon them.  Now Jesus is met by a man in whom another storm rages.

The only way the ancients could describe this man was to say he was possessed of demons.  His soul and spirit are out of control.  He lives naked among the tombs, unsheltered in the land of the dead.  He cannot fit into the human community.  When they restrain him, he breaks loose the chains and is driven by his demons into the barren places.

We all know something about emotions and thoughts – and sometimes lives – that spiral out of control.  We know that emotional chaos we call a tantrum in a child and a breakdown in an adult.  If we have not been there, we have probably walked near the border.

I have sat with patients in the hospital who were hearing a cacophony of voices and wished with all my heart I could cast them out with a word.  I have seen families dissolve into rage and wished that there, too, I could cast out the chaos.  And have listened to a sweet and terrified women with dementia, convinced that she had been kidnapped, begging me to help her escape what was not foreign agents but a reasonably nice nursing home.

We yearn for that day when we are each restored to our right mind and sitting at Jesus’ feet.  But, until that day, we will come each Sunday to sit before Jesus’ word, to share the banquet, to taste some small measure of the peace of Christ, and rejoice in the perfect peace to come.