Lynching: A hometown response to Jesus

File:Angry mob of four.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 31, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 4:21-30

28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

Jesus has dared to suggest that the grace and mercy of God are not the possession of God’s people but are God’s gift to all. It nearly gets him killed. We take our religion pretty seriously. We want to hear that God is on our side, that God’s wants us to be happy, healthy and wise, that God will protect us in the day of famine or disease and not someone from our hated enemies.

Jesus’ problem is twofold. First, he acts like a prophet when he is just a construction worker. He’s too big for his britches. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” is just a snarky way to say “Who does he think he is?!” and to begin the process of cutting him down to size. This is what leads to the second accusation: “What does he think he’s doing spreading God’s gifts around! Charity begins at home. He should be doing his healing here among his own people, not wasting them on people from other towns and villages.” And so we are into the argument and Jesus is confronting them with reminders about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and Elisha healing Namaan the Syrian.

Jesus seems pretty rude in this exchange. But he is exposing the poison in their hearts. He is lancing the boil. He is provoking them to reveal their hardness of heart. And they oblige – wanting to throw him from the brow of the hill.

This story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry foreshadows the end – the cross and resurrection. For they will indeed kill Jesus, but he will “pass through their midst.”

So Sunday we hear of corrupt religion and the violence it can engender. And we hear that God’s work is not stopped by it. And we will hear of Jeremiah’s call to preach God’s message – for which he will be afflicted, but God’s word will do its work. And we hear the psalmist cry out for protection against enemies. And in the background of all this embattled preaching is Paul singing about faith, hope and love enduring forever – and the greatest of these is love. This is the life to which these followers of Christ have been brought. Here we are invited into the dawning of that new age that Jesus has told us is fulfilled in himself.

The Prayer for January 31, 2016

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you revealed your gracious rule
to bind up the wounded and set free the captive.
Let us not fail to understand your will and your way,
but grant us willing hearts to receive your word and live your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 31, 2016

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” – God calls Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 71:1-6
“In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
– The psalm writer cries out to God for protection “from the hand of the wicked.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” – Paul continues to teach his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the gifts of God’s Spirit and their life together as a community. All gifts serve the community and the greatest gift is love – concern for and fidelity to one another

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
– The message Jesus announces in Nazareth that the age to come is dawning even as Jesus speaks is met with hostility and a murderous attempt on his life.


Image: by Robert Couse-Baker (Flickr: angry mob) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Every good and perfect gift is from above


James 1:17-27

File:Chartres JBU09.JPG17Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

This seems like an awkward translation to me. The verse I remember is from the old RSV is “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above,” and the NIV has simply “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” There are two words being used for gift and the first can mean either the act of giving or the gift itself (thus the NRSV translation above), but the adjective is ‘good’ and I am reluctant to restrict that to ‘generous’. “good giving” isn’t very poetic, but fits the point is that all that comes from God is both good and gift.

Our appointed reading for Sunday picks up in the middle of a thought. The author of James has begun by talking about rejoicing in trials and declared No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God.” God doesn’t send evil; what comes from God is good and gift.

Evil, trial, temptation, all has its roots in us not in God. God is the author of good; we are the authors of what is not.

One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

God is not like the gods. The gods are fickle, jealous, impulsive, willing to cast thunderbolts and storms, willing to throw down as easily as they raise up. God is not so. God is “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

People outside the tradition – and sometimes those within – read the Old Testament (and the book of Revelation) and see a god of thunderbolts, sanctioning war, capital punishment and terrors. Perhaps this is what comes naturally to us as frail creatures beset by forces beyond our control. Hurricanes and tragedies become, in our minds, “acts of God.” But it is a false reading of the record. The plagues that come upon Egypt are the consequences of a society founded on injustice and slavery. Each natural crisis is an opportunity to repent, to change their ways. It is not a story about the vindictiveness of God; it is a story of our persistence in sin and its terrible price. And it is a story of a God determined to bring justice to the world.

God is a giver of good and perfect gifts. The scripture does not shrink back from telling horrifying stories – but they are stories about our warring passions, our cruelty, our callousness, our brokenness. In the face of the corruption of the world God remains perfect goodness.

So we are not, says James, to attribute our trials to God but to ourselves and to our place within a fallen human community. What we are to do is remember that “he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” We are to be “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” We are to “look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act.” We are, in other words, to live in and from the perfect goodness and generosity of God.


By Jörg Bittner Unna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Majesty and mercy

Mountains of the Olympic Peninsula 2Watching for the morning of February 8

Year B

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Majesty and mercy echo through the readings for this Sunday. Jesus leaves the synagogue for Peter’s home (across the street) where he brings God’s healing to Peter’s mother-in-law. When evening comes and Sabbath is over, the town brings all their sick and troubled to Jesus and they are healed.

Such authority to heal and renew belongs to God of course, and of this power and grace the prophet and the psalmist sing. With memorable poetry, Isaiah declares to the exiles in Babylon that God is creator and lord over all creation and will bring deliverance to the people. And in one of the five ‘Hallel’ psalms that conclude the psalter – psalms beginning with Hallelujah, “Praise the Lord” – the poet sings of God’s majesty and mercy: gathering the exiles, rebuilding Jerusalem, and reigning over all creation and every heavenly power.

Majesty and mercy, power and grace, Lord of all and tender healer of the brokenhearted, God knows every star by name – and the name of each one of us.

The people of Capernaum would like to keep such a wonder-worker close at hand, but there is a mission to be fulfilled in the world.

The Prayer for February 8, 2015

Almighty God, healer of all our sorrows,
grant that we might not seek to possess you for ourselves,
but joyfully bear your word and grace to all people;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 8, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31
“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” – The prophet addresses the exiles with a promise that the God who laid the foundations of the earth has not forgotten this people but will restore them:

Psalmody: Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
“Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God.”
– A psalm of praise proclaiming God’s power and grace as revealed in God’s work of creation and in his mercy to Israel.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
“I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” – In the middle of Paul’s response to the question whether believers can partake of meat that has been offered in sacrifice to other gods – a response that begins with the necessity of not acting in a way that derails another person’s faith – Paul offers himself as an example of serving others in love.

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
“Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
– Having summoned Simon, Andrew, James and John, and astounded the crowds in Capernaum with his teaching and authority over the unclean spirits, Jesus dispenses the gifts of God, healing Peter’s mother-in-law and many others in the community. The next morning he announces that they must take this message and ministry to all the towns and villages in Israel.

It is enough for God just to be God

For Friday

Psalm 111

File:Aert de Gelder, Simeon's Song of Praise (detail).png

Aert de Gelder, Simeon’s Song of Praise (detail)

1 Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

“Praise the LORD.” In the Hebrew, this opening line comes into English as ‘Hallelujah’. There are several psalms that begin this way. Perhaps there is some ritual or liturgical significance to this opening line, some clue to the congregation or choir, some call to worship. Like the opening chords of a country western song, it tells us what kind of music is to come. But there is something profound about beginning with “Hallelujah”. It is one thing to sing God’s praise in response to something wonderful, to sing God’s praise for deliverance that has come, for healing that has come, for answered prayers. It is natural for praise to follow after the majesty of God has been acknowledged, or the great works of old – the deliverance form Egypt, the return from exile. It is natural even when pondering the thundering cataracts of the snow covered mountains or the mystery of sexual love. But the author starts with praise. He says “Hallelujah” before anything else has been said. As if it were enough for God just to be God.

Before we pray, before we petition, before we lament, before we chatter on about our weal or woe, the author simply says “Hallelujah”. This is the word that lies in his heart day and night. This is the first word in the morning and the last word at night. This is the air he or she breathes.

I will extol the LORD with all my heart. (NIV1984)

With all his heart, with every breath, with the core of his being, he praises the LORD. No matter what fortune favors or befalls, he will praise the LORD – not in denial of his circumstance, but in deeper affirmation of God’s essential goodness.

I will extol the LORD with all my heart
in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

This is a public witness. It is not a private cheerfulness, a personal optimism; it is a public confession of God’s goodness. God is to be praised, and he is not afraid to give God thanks and praise:

2 Great are the works of the LORD;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.


Image: Aert de Gelder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From darkness into light


Genesis 1

Original painting by C. O'Neal

Original painting by C. O’Neal

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

A storm at sea on a black night is perhaps the most terrifying thing a desert people could imagine. Perhaps one doesn’t need to be a desert people; storms are frightening even on land.

I wasn’t used to the summer thunderstorms of the Midwest when I began seminary. I had endured the winters, but gone back to California in the summers of college. But seminary started with summer Greek, three hours a day in a room with many young men (at the time, still men – could it be? It hardly seems possible now) and no air conditioning. The hot humid summer air gave fuel for dramatic evening storms. Our apartment was on the third floor, on top of a hill that dropped down to a freeway beneath our west facing windows. We could see the storms coming, and they hit us full blast. Growing up in California we rarely had lightning – certainly not thunderheads or tornadoes. That first year we ate dinner several times hiding in the small hallway of our apartment with all the doors closed. Add water and total darkness and you have true terror.

Jerusalem had known true terror. The Babylonian armies encircling the city. The signal fires of all the surrounding towns extinguishing one by one. The growing famine in the city. The desperate fear. The siege works. The break in the walls. The raging troops. The blood. The tears. The fire. The desolation. The chains. The long march to Babylon.

But there in Babylon they composed this narrative of total chaos – and then God speaks. Light comes to the darkness. And the light is gathered to form a day and the darkness restricted to a night. Into chaos comes a gracious order: day and night.

Again, God speaks. And the waters are divided. Limits are set. The dome of the sky is established. More limits are set. The water yields to land. And then vegetation, fruit trees, seeds and grains, the lush countryside, the grass covered hills, the cedars of Lebanon, the mighty oaks, the transcendent redwoods, the brilliant flowers, cherry blossoms, dogwood, redbud, trout lilies, day lilies, trillium, lavender, onions, garlic, barley, wheat, raspberries, thimbleberries, pomegranates, an explosion of goodness where there had once been only chaos.

In the dome of the sky a vast array of twinkling lights – and a big light and a little light. No names are used because the names for sun and moon and stars are the names of gods. These are not mighty powers, just an umbrella of beauty over a good world.

It is a remarkable composition. A wondrous affirmation in the midst of war and chaos and evil: “God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

And humans. Humans, the authors know, are capable of such horror. But they are not evil. They are fashioned in the image of God. And God blesses them. And God entrusts them to one another and entrusts to them his wondrous creation.

This is not a creation story. It is certainly not written as a textbook. This is a great and profound confession of faith by those who had known unimaginable chaos and sorrow: the journey of the world is not into the darkness – but from darkness into light.

We are right to say that it is inspired.

Let the sea roar


Psalm 96

Let the sea roar1 O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.

“Sing to the Lord a new song.” Our praise should be ever new. Not, in this psalm, because God has done some new thing, but here just for the majesty of God who has shown himself to be worthy of our praise. Other gods are mere idols; they have no power to create or redeem. They have no power to speak. They have no power to shape the world. But the Lord is a god who saves, who heals, who makes whole.

It is not the song itself that must be new, not the words or the music, but the singing. We sing as those who live in the continual discovery of God’s goodness, not as those for whom the charm has worn off and everything is taken for granted.

Like a long married couple still in love, like an athlete who loves to be on the field every game, like a painter for whom every flower, every field, every sunset is brilliantly new, we sing every song as if it is springing forth from the heart for the first time. For all creation is singing. The fields are jubilant and every bird and creature stirring within. The trees of the forest sing for joy. The sea roars in praise. The mountains echo in reply. The wind whispers the mysteries of God. And all the families of the earth are invited to join the song.



Psalm 103

Innocence Is Bliss

Innocence Is Bliss (Photo credit: drp)

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

All.  Every fiber of my being. Every ache and longing.  Every fear and sorrow.  Every joy and happiness.  Every labor of my hands.  Every affection of my heart.  God is to the soul as spring drawing us outdoors into the warm sunshine after a long winter.  God is to the human heart like the rains after the dry season, bursting the desert into bloom.  Children run barefoot in the grass.  Even the dowdiest adults take off their shoes and wiggle their toes in the fresh cool green.  God is as a cold lake after a long day’s backpacking.  God is as the aroma of fresh baked bread – real bread that rewards a day’s labor and patience.  God is as grandmother’s welcome embrace.  God is as mother with a cool washcloth to a child’s fever.  God is as the laughter of a happy thanksgiving table.  God is the source and goal of all good.

There is nothing in this psalm that imagines life is easy or free of pain.  It knows God is our healing balm not an eternal inoculation.  So we see bodies laid out after the chemical attack in Syria, and a mother gently tucking her child in as though he were bedding down for the night.  There is no end to sorrow in life, but God is as the tender mother’s caress.  God is as the bread freely given in scarcity.  God is as the unexpected kindness from a stranger on the road.  God is as the voice of truth to those denied it.  God is as the day of release to those unjustly imprisoned.  God is the surprising mercy, the unforeseen help, the peace in trial, the calm bequeathed by strong and able arms.

And so ever fiber rejoices in him.

If you cannot sense this, find some fresh grass for your toes.