As no fuller

File:Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. Novgorod XVI Russia.jpg

Watching for the Morning of February 11, 2018

Year B

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Elijah is taken up in the whirlwind this Sunday. The psalm sings of God as a devouring fire. Paul refers to the glory of God in the face of Jesus. And Mark speaks of shining white garments “as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3RSV).

We don’t know what fullers are anymore, so our current translation will say “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them,” but I like that old word. There are people whose job it was to cleanse fabric. The Wikipedia article linked above says: “In Roman times, fulling was conducted by slaves working the cloth while ankle deep in tubs of human urine.” It’s valuable for us to take the scriptures down from their pious mountains and remember the reality in which they speak: No amount of the ammonia in human urine could get Jesus’ clothes as white as they became in the cloud of God’s presence.

It was at the fuller’s field that Isaiah spoke to Ahaz promising the sign of a child named Immanuel. Malachi declares that one is coming who will be like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap

Slave work. Divine work.

Sunday speaks of the event known as the Transfiguration. This is the festival that brings this season of the Sundays after Epiphany to its conclusion. Once again we hear a voice from heaven testify to Jesus. As we heard at Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of this season, so again we hear: “This is my Son, the Beloved.” Unfortunately, most of us have become so used to them that they will not make us quake.

Pick an empire ruling in majesty and might over vast domains and then imagine you, a mere peasant, hear the shout: “Behold the king’s son!” We would fall on our faces. We would tremble with awe at the radiance of royal majesty. But we will likely hear Sunday’s text without terror and awe.

Perhaps that’s appropriate. The one who has come has come to save. He has shown himself our healer and redeemer. He has declared the Father’s love. But the divine command ought not be neglected: “Listen to him.”  There is a radiance here that comes from no fuller on earth.

The Prayer for February 11, 2018

Holy and Wondrous God,
hidden in mystery yet revealed in your Son, Jesus,
to whom the law and prophets bear witness
and upon whom your splendor shines:
Help us to listen to his voice
and to see your glory in his outstretched arms.

The Texts for February 11, 2018

First Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-14
“Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.” – As Elijah heads toward his end in the whirlwind, Elisha seeks a “double share” of Elijah’s spirit, an expression drawn from the inheritance that goes to the eldest son.

Psalmody: Psalm 50:1-6
“Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.”
– With the imagery of a storm over Jerusalem the poet speaks of the majesty of God who comes to speak to his people.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6 (appointed 2 Corinthians 4:3-6)
“It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – Paul expounds on the story of Moses, whose face radiated with the glory of God after God spoke to him in the tent of meeting.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
“He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
– Peter, James and John serve as witnesses when God appears to Jesus (and, like Moses, his appearance is transformed) and testifies that he is God’s beloved son to whom we should listen.

+   +   +

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATransfiguration_of_Jesus_Christ._Novgorod_XVI_Russia.jpg By Новгородская живопись XIV века [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Advertisements

Jesus the destroyer

File:Christus heilt einen Besessenen.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 28, 2018

Year B

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

A demon comes forth this Sunday. It rises up in the middle of church – in the middle of the sermon – as the crowds are marveling already at this lowly laborer’s audacity to preach – and cries out “What are you to us, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us?!” Or maybe that first expression means “What are we to you?”

“Why are you bothering us, Jesus? What have we done to deserve this? Keep on preaching like this and you will destroy us for sure.” You don’t have to think him demon possessed for such thoughts. Jesus’ challenge of the existing order is exactly why the leaders will put him to death. Mark alludes to it (11:18). John lays it out clearly: “So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

How ironic it is that Jesus is accused of endangering the nation, when it is the Judeans themselves who rebel from Rome and rain destruction on their nation.

But there is a spiritual battle going on. The demon calls Jesus by name and reveals his identity: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” It is a standard notion that to possess the name of a spiritual being (god or demon) is to be able to control it. But the demon is helpless before Jesus. And the crowds are amazed – not by the presence of a possessed man (such people were common) but by the teaching. Jesus’ presumption of the authority to teach is confirmed by his command of evil spirits. He must rank above them to rule over them. Here is a ‘tekton’, a construction worker, but he has supreme authority over those powers that possess, drive and govern human life. It confirms his authority to teach. And the crowd is blown away: A teaching with new power. A teaching with new focus not on purity and law but compassion and fidelity to all.

So Sunday we will hear Deuteronomy promise a prophet like Moses who will bear God’s word to us. And the psalm will sing that God “has shown his people the power of his works.” And Paul will speak of the “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” And the amazement of the crowds at the authority of Jesus will linger in the air and bid us to recognize that we are in the presence of a supreme authority. His teaching ranks above every other.

The Prayer for January 28, 2018

God of power, God of grace,
you have spoken by your prophets and in your Son Jesus,
to call us out from death into life,
from despair into hope,
from sin into forgiveness.
Deliver us from all that binds the human spirit
and free us to live in you for the sake of the world;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 28, 2018

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:9-20 (appointed 15-20)
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.”
– Moses addresses the people after their forty-year journey through the wilderness, just before they enter the land, warning them not to imitate the religious practices of the Canaanites. Then, in a passage that will come to be heard as a promise of the Messiah, Moses declares that God will raise up a prophet for them.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart.”
– A psalm of praise that exalts the faithfulness and mighty deeds of God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
“Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – Paul continues to attack the distorted notion of freedom in the Corinthian congregation that fails to recognize the obligations of the members of the congregation to one another as the body of Christ.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’”
– Having summoned Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus enters the town and begins to teach in the synagogue, astounding the community with his authority to teach and to command the spirits.

+   +   +

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChristus_heilt_einen_Besessenen.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Like children in the marketplace

File:Mayan girls playing sack race on the market of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.JPG

Watching for the Morning of July 9, 2017

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

There’s a sweet word coming in the Gospel text for Sunday. Jesus is going to say those familiar and comforting words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And God knows, we are weary: Weary of the cacophony in Washington. Weary of the rush of modern life. Weary of the challenges of health. Weary of the press of finances. Weary of the drumbeats of war. Weary of the fear that seems to seep into every corner of our lives.

But before we get to that promise, there is a rebuke: we are like children in the marketplace pouting that we don’t get our way. Maybe Jesus is quoting something like a nursery rhyme. Maybe he is just acknowledging the taunts that get made when people won’t go along with the game. But it is clear Jesus is rebuking those whose excuse for not listening to John the Baptist was that he was too rigorous and demanding. But they won’t listen to Jesus because he isn’t rigorous enough. He laughs. He tells jokes. He teases. He dines with sinners and tax collectors. They mocked John because he lived on locusts and wild honey and Jesus because he didn’t.

Hypocrisy comes pretty naturally to us. Trump makes a career of denying the validity of Obama’s birth certificates and then accuses the media of being “fake news”. McConnell says his highest priority is to deny Obama a second term and then accuses the Democrats of being obstructionists. I tell my children they can only have two cookies but, when they go to bed, I help myself. Jesus did say something about not worrying about the splinter in my neighbor’s eye when I have a log in my own – but we do.

Hypocrisy is pretty natural to us. It allows us to do and say what we want without the work of self-examination or amendment of life. It’s comfortable to make excuses for ourselves but grant no grace to others. So Jesus has blunt words for the self-righteous before offering rest to the weary: If Sodom and Gomorrah had seen what you’ve seen, they would never have been destroyed.

The ‘righteous’ are hard to reach; it is the poor and burdened who can see the joy and freedom of serving Christ.

So Sunday we will hear the prophet Zechariah speak of the coming king who comes humbly on a donkey and sets prisoners free. And we will sing with the psalmist of God’s gracious deeds. And we will struggle to understand the latest section of Paul’s letter to Romans – but resonate to the word of thanks to God for delivering us from the bondages of our human condition. And we will hear Jesus welcome the weary and speak of the yoke of service that is not always simple, but lifts the heart.

The Prayer for July 9, 2017

Gracious God,
in Jesus you invite all people into the path of your teaching and life.
By your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and lives to your message,
that following your Son, we may find true rest for our souls;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 9, 2017

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – In the weary years after Babylon has fallen but Judah is a poor backwater of the Persian empire, comes a prophetic message from the book of Zechariah promising a king who shall arrive like the kings of old and command peace to the nations” and reign “from sea to sea.”

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-14
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” – A hymn of praise to God who reigns as earth’s just and faithful king.

Second Reading: Romans 7:14-25
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Paul uses the image of possession (compelled to act against our own will) to expound his notion that the death of Christ has freed us from our bond-service to sin and made us servants of God.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus rebukes the fickle crowd (who criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for being a libertine) and praises God for opening the eyes of the poor and marginalized to see and take up the yoke of God’s reign of grace and life.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMayan_girls_playing_sack_race_on_the_market_of_Quetzaltenango%2C_Guatemala.JPGright By Erik Albers (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“If you love me…”

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Exhortation to the Apostles (Recommandation aux apôtres) - James Tissot.jpg

Watching for the Morning of May 21, 2017

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Again, this Sunday, we hear Jesus speaking after supper on the night of his betrayal. Again we hear him providing for his little band as he faces what he knows will be his death. Again we hear him speak of the Spirit who will come, an ‘advocate’ who will turn the hearts of the crowd in their favor. Again we hear the promise that Jesus will come to his followers. Again we hear about love and fidelity and abiding. And again we hear about living out Jesus’ teaching: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”

Fidelity to Jesus will mean fidelity to his teaching.  We are not joining team Jesus against team Pharisees. We are not joining team Jesus against team Humanists. We are not joining team Jesus against team Hillary or Team Trump. We are disciples, students, of the one who redeems the world: the one who forgives sins, who heals families and communities, who restores the world to its true source and life.

All the other promises weave together with this one: faithfulness is seen in the doing. There is no faith in concepts, ideas or doctrines. Nothing is gained by believing in a six-day creation or a literal ark. Nothing is gained by nodding to the notion of forgiveness. Those who have looked into the eyes of grace will live grace. Those who have fed at his table will feed others. Those who have been touched by his healing hand will extend their hand to others.

When I was about ten my step-father allowed a friend to store his sports car in our garage. We sat in the driver’s seat and roared through the gears, drinking in the wonder of this machine. But make no mistake; we were not driving it.

So, Sunday, Paul will call the citizens of Athens to hear the message that the “unknown God” has been made known in this Jesus. And the author of First Peter will summon us to do what is good even if it brings suffering. And the psalmist will speak of faithfulness in the midst of trial. And the table will be set that welcomes all and the songs will be sung that hint of the harmony to come, and we will be drawn again into the redemptive love made visible in this Jesus who sends the Spirit and comes to abide with us and in us.

Preaching Series: Genesis 3: Fall

We are in the third week of our series going through key stories of the scripture to see, as Jesus showed his followers on the road to Emmaus, that the scriptures bear witness to the sacrificial and redeeming love of God that is manifest ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The story before us this week is the moment when the harmony of God’s good garden goes wrong, when humanity reaches out for the knowledge of life’s joys and sorrows and finds itself now alienated from the world, one another and God.

We are capable of imagining a world of perfect peace and harmony, but we know that the world is full of woe. We are capable of ugliness of spirit and act. We hate. We fear. We abuse. We wage war. We build ovens. We harm even those who are closest to us with words that should have gone unsaid. We know the beauty of the world; why must we also know its ugliness? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars.”

The Prayer for May 21, 2017

Gracious God,
you have given us your Spirit as our advocate and guide
that we might abide in you and you in us.
Grant us courage and faith to follow where you lead,
to obey your commands,
to love as you 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 May 21, 2017

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31
“Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’” – Paul, traveling by himself to avoid a conspiracy to murder him, comes to Athens where he seeks to engage the leaders of that city with the message of God, the creator all peoples.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:8-20
“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.” – The psalmist calls for all nations to praise God for his gracious deeds to deliver those in need.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” –
The author’s continuing exposition on baptism, now touches on the Ascension: “Baptism…now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” The author urges his hearers to remain faithful in the face of hostility, to do what is good and be ready to give account for the hope that is in them.

Gospel: John 14: 15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” – Continuing last Sunday’s reading, Jesus makes provision for his followers in light of his impending death, promising that God will send the Holy Spirit (the ‘Paraclete’).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Exhortation_to_the_Apostles_(Recommandation_aux_ap%C3%B4tres)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Haunted

File:

“Christ and Nicodemus”

Saturday

John 3:1-17

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

The skeptical can look at the reported wonders wrought by Jesus and dismiss them easily enough. It is not possible to walk on water. The dead girl was just in a coma. The generosity of the boy with five loaves and two fish made all the rest of the crowd bring out their hidden lunch. It is possible to dismiss them all. But these reported deeds of Jesus are haunting. Here is a man who, for whatever reason, brings healing. Here is a man where sinners are forgiven, outcasts gathered in, the sick restored to their families, the human community restored. Here is a man untouched by the storms of life – who drives out those storms from the troubled. Here is a man who is reported to have forgiven even the foreign soldiers who tortured him to death. The stories haunt us. Even the most skeptical must admit that there was something there or such stories would never have been told.

The stories haunt Nicodemus, too. There is something of the presence of God in this Jesus or he could not do such signs. But this Jesus is so different than anything Nicodemus would have expected of a man of God. He is haunted by Jesus. Drawn to him, but confused. He hears Jesus’ words but doesn’t understand them.

Nicodemus is a moth to the flame. This Jesus is dangerous to him. He excites his imagination, but threatens his understanding of the order of the world. Nicodemus is a member of the ruling council. He is charged with a tradition about sacrifice and purity. He guards the temple, as it were. But here before him is this wondrous loose cannon who talks of a birth from above and a world reborn, who talks of the wind of the Spirit, of a new and better wine, of living water and a bread of life – who talks of the life of the age to come as if it were a present reality.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God…” Jesus haunts him. So Nicodemus will find himself trying to defend this Jesus when the plot is afoot to wipe him from the face of the earth. And Nicodemus will find himself carrying spices fit a king to give this Jesus an honorable burial.

Jesus haunts him. And he should haunt us, too, for there is something wondrous at work here, something that proclaims a profound and imperishable grace and truth and life.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%22Christ_and_Nicodemus%22_-_NARA_-_559136.jpg By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He shall be the one of peace

File:Gdansk Jesus and apostles.jpg

Jesus and the Apostles. (Note that the weapons they carry are the instruments by which they were martyred.)

Wednesday

Micah 5:2-5a

4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
5and he shall be the one of peace.

The cries for war seem to persist through every generation. We are like children squabbling over toys. Kings, queens, rulers, ruling councils, governing bodies, senates, parliaments, economic powers, or whomever stands to gain by plundering the possessions of another cries “Foul!” and raises the rabble to march to slaughter. Our faith in the use of force is very deep. Our trust in our righteousness quite blind. Fear and hate so easily sown.

Tribes raid tribes. The poor pilfer from the rich. The rich plunder the poor. Graft is the order of things through most of human history. We ask only one question, “What’s in it for me.”

And then we wake up after years of warring and grieving and wonder how to escape our madness.

He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD.

Peace seems beyond us. Beyond our nature. Beyond our will. Beyond our reason.

But there is one who comes. One whose rule is just. One whose reign is faithful. One who feeds the flock rather than fleeces them.

There is one who comes. One who comes in the name of the LORD. One who comes in the majesty of the LORD. One who brings true security to the ends of the earth. One who is our peace.

We don’t follow him very well. We use his name as an instrument of war, as a justification for violence, as an addendum to hate – though he revealed that we are all members of a single human family and commanded us to treat one another so.

We don’t follow him very well. We claim him as a partisan in our causes. We pick and choose his words to support what we want to believe and do. We even murdered him in the name of God.

But he lives.

And beyond all imagining he bears no grudge. He loves. And he continues to bid us to follow.

He is the one of peace.

 

Image: St. Mary’s, Gdansk.  credit: By PawełS (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

Heaven and earth

File:Mourne Mountains from Carlingford - geograph.org.uk - 985645.jpg

Glancing back to Sunday

Luke 21:25-36

33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Heaven and earth won’t pass away. That’s not the meaning of Jesus’ words. The meaning of this expression in the ancient Mediterranean is simple: as impossible as it is for heaven and earth to pass away, it is more impossible for my words to pass away.

What will pass away is this age when children are found lying lifeless in the surf, and infants are buried beneath rubble. What will pass away is the world of tribal animosities and racism. What will pass away is the slash and burning of the rainforest. What will pass away at the cruel words spoken in homes and streets. What will pass away are the tears of the bereaved.

Heaven and earth won’t pass away. Neither will the words of Jesus. The words that call us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The words that speak mercy and forgiveness. The words that call for the sharing of bread and the welcoming of the outcast. The words that say “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (not “Go and make church members,” or “Go and make Christians,” but “Go and make disciples, students, followers of the way of Christ.”)

Jesus’ words will endure, the words that say “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This age will end. This age of warring and grasping, of greeds and sorrows, of lusts and shames – this age will pass. But the heavens and earth will endure, the handiwork of the eternal: the rising and setting of suns, the swift motion of planets, the wash of waves upon shores, the cry of the wild, the beauty of the natural world, the mystery of life, the wonder of love, the laughter of children, the bonds of affection, the truth of goodness and the goodness of truth, it will endure.

This age will pass and all its discordant cries. But the creation will endure. And Jesus’ words will endure. They speak things that are eternal. They speak harmony. They speak life.

 

Image: Norman McMullan [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Making space

File:Moving Mess.jpgWednesday

John 8:31-36

31“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

It doesn’t sound like an insult to us. It sounds like a promise. But we are not a society that makes a sharp social distinction between those who are freeborn and those who are manumitted. Jesus’ hearers take offense at the suggestion that they need to be made free and respond indignantly: “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

This little exchange reveals much. These Judeans have pledged their allegiance to Jesus; they have ‘believed’ in him. But Jesus is doubtful and tests their fidelity.

John’s Gospel is full of examples where Jesus is speaking of a spiritual reality and his hearers are stuck in a literal meaning. Nicodemus is told he must be born ‘from above’, but the word also means ‘a second time’ and he puzzles over how it is possible to enter back into the womb. Jesus tells the woman at the well that if she knew who it was that asked her for a drink, she would ask him for living water (which also means fresh, running water), but she responds that Jesus has no bucket. So here, Jesus speaks of freedom and his hearers think only of the institutions of slavery and bond-service. All by itself, this opening exchange reveals that there is something lacking in the professed faith of these Judeans.

The dialogue will get worse. Jesus will question their parentage. He will announce that their deeds show they are not children of God but children of the devil. “There is no place in you for my word,” says Jesus.

The Greek word means to make space. Imagine moving in with a new spouse who makes no room in the closet for your clothes, no shelf in the bathroom for your sundries, no space in the living room for your family photos. These pseudo-disciples have made no space in their lives for Jesus’ teaching, his word, his Spirit.

There is a reason that Christians spend time in the scriptures, in worship, in books that deepen the life of faith. They are trying to make room for the things that Jesus says. They are trying to make room for the Spirit’s gifts. They are moving out old furniture and clearing out closets in order to make room for God.

They want to know true freedom.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMoving_Mess.jpg, By Steve Ryan from Groveland, CA, USA (Moving Mess – Day 4) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A torn world made whole

File:Frankfurt Liebfrauenkirche Innenhof Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg

Watching for the Morning of October 4, 2015

Year B

The Commemoration of St. Francis and The Blessing of the Animals

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 22 / Lectionary 27

File:Nicolaes Maes - Christ Blessing the Children - WGA13814.jpgDivorce. St. Francis. Jesus blessing children. The blessing of the animals. The praise of God who is the author of all. Eden and the creation of a good and perfect partner equal to the first human. All the readings and elements of our worship on Sunday actually fit together rather nicely – though you wouldn’t expect it. Why preach about divorce on the day you invite friends and neighbor to have their pets blessed? Because we are a people created for Eden and living outside it. Because Christ has come to restore the lost harmony, the lost grace, those lost fidelity, the lost joy and life of the world.

Christ is not come to give us a new and stricter rule about divorce. It just sounds like it if you are not listening carefully. Jesus changes the conversation, steering us away from the commands in the law to the gift in creation. Jesus changes the conversation from what rules we have to follow to what does righteousness look like and where does it come from? How do we find our way to the life for which we were created?   How do we find our way to innocence and joy? How do we find our way from the broken world after humanity turns from God when “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you,” back to the original exultation: “this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”? How do we find our way from the curse to the blessing?

The Pharisees are on the attack trying to trap Jesus with a politically explosive question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The king, Herod Antipas, (technically a tetrarch) has divorced his wife, Phasaelis, and the country is now at war the with the spurned wife’s father (the king of Nabataea). The Queen, Herodias, has divorced her first husband Herod II (called Philip in Mark) to marry Herod Antipas, Philip’s brother. John the Baptist has attacked the marriage as a violation of the Law – and, as a consequence, he has been beheaded. So when the hostile Pharisees ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”, it’s a very dangerous question.

It’s a dangerous world, far from the goodness for which God created us. And it’s a wounded world, where humanity tried to kill the wolves rather than preach to them. Where humanity neglected the poor rather than cared for them. Where the crows were hated rather than beloved. Where we did not see the earth as brother and the moon as sister and all creation joined in a great song of praise, as St. Francis expresses in that great hymn we will sing: “All Creatures of Our God and King”

We live in a world of rent relationships. And the answer is not a strict enforcement of a stricter law. The answer is that Christ has come to heal the creation’s wounds, to restore the world’s lost grace, to reconcile all things to God and one another. Christ has come to open the way to the tree of life.

Christ has come to be the tree of life.

And so this Sunday we will hear of the gift of a partner to the first human and our need to live in relationship with others, with God and the creation. We will sing the psalms praising God for God’s wondrous creation. We will hear the promise of the world made new. And we will rejoice in the blessing that has been spoken, and the blessing that is come and the blessing that will be.

The Prayer for October 4, 2015

Holy Father,
who holds all creation in your loving arms,
guard and keep us, that we may not rend what you unite,
nor reject whom you receive;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 4, 2015

First Reading: Genesis 2:15, 18-24 (appointed: Genesis 2:18-24)
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” – When all the animals of the world will not do, God creates an equal to the first human.

Psalmody: Psalm 8
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
– The psalm sings of the wonder of creation and the mystery of humanity’s place as those “a little lower than the heavenly beings” into whose care the world is given.

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-3a (appointed: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12)
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”
– We begin to read from Hebrews where the author assembles a rich witness to Christ from the Hebrew scriptures.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-16 (appointed: Mark 10:2-16)
“Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – Jesus is back in public, teaching, when he is faced with a challenge from the Pharisees and turns the table from what is allowed in scripture because of our hardness of hearts to what God will create in us.

Texts in the liturgy for the Blessing of the Animals:

Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.”
– The poet calls all heaven and earth to join in praise of God

Isaiah 11:6-9
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.’” – Isaiah’s vision of the earth healed and restored to the innocence of Eden, when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frankfurt_Liebfrauenkirche_Innenhof_Franziskus-Mosaik.jpg  By Sr. Maria Ludgera Haberstroh  Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolaes Maes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

Where else will we find anything like this?

Friday

John 6:56-69

File:Cristo nel labirinto.jpg66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Now the Feast and Celebration,” the liturgy composed by Marty Haugen for the Campus Ministry at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, uses this verse for the Alleluia sung by the congregation as they rise to hear the reading of the Gospel:

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Each Sunday in which we use this liturgy contains this small yet profound acknowledgment that the words of Jesus are beyond us but precious to us, challenging yet comforting, confusing yet compelling.

Where else shall we go? Here we hear the challenge to build our house on rock, to enter through the narrow way, to judge not lest we be judged, to forgive seventy-seven times. Here we hear of evil driven from hearts and minds and bodies, yet his body surrendered to torture and death. Here we hear the unthinkable – that God sends rain on the just and the unjust, that sinners are forgiven, that the unclean are welcomed. Here we hear the requirement that love of God is more important than love of family, that our attachment to God supersedes the duties to parents. Here we hear that we cannot serve God and possessions. Here we hear Jesus tell the rich man to sell all and tell us that it is better to lose a hand or an eye than to lose the kingdom.

It is too much. But it is compelling.

We want to hear this Jesus. We don’t want him buried in the slop of a lovey-dovey gooey marshmallow God. Nor do we want him hidden in that bitter grist of an angry God demanding blood in payment for our debts. We cannot have him lost beneath a sterile white bread, white potatoes, repristination of middle class morality. We want this strange, compelling Jesus whose words push those in power to murder. We want these strange words – and deeds – possessed of eternal truth and life. We want the good shepherd who lays down his life, the royal king who is butchered by usurpers but rises from the dead, the precocious child who has more wisdom than all us religious teachers. We want this perfect vessel of the Spirit through whom God heals and redeems and raises the dead. We want the man who welcomes the little children and speaks blunt and brutal truths about the elites. He names them blind guides yet welcomes Nicodemus and tries to help him see the life that is from above.

This Jesus is wonder and mystery, puzzling and outrageous, making a whip of cords and kicking tables but telling us to love our enemies – enemies he forgives though they have his blood on their hands as they throw dice for his clothing.

We want to know more. We want to hear more. We want to be encountered by this strange wondrous man. So even though his words puzzle and offend, we stay. Even when it’s not what we want to hear, we listen. Where else will we find anything like this?

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.

For information on the picture go to: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACristo_nel_labirinto.jpg