Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I am the light
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." Then the Pharisees said to him, "You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid." Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf." Then they said to him, "Where is your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also."
Comments: On New Years Eve I hear this passage saying: I am confident that what I say is true; God is the only authority I need. The Pharisees are asking him to footnote his sources for his teaching (a normal way of rabbinic teaching). But Jesus is saying what I am telling you is evident—open your eyes, listen to God.
There is no way to prove God to people unwilling to perceive the light. Love is not something that can be proved, only lived.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
A thousand years as one day
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
Comments: There are those in the Christian communities that are beginning to tire of waiting for the Parousia. The writer of Second Peter is reminding them that God’s time is different than their time. This is sage advice. Now 2 millennia later we are still waiting for the coming of Christ.
All too often Christians get all hot and bothered about Judgment and the Second Coming just like the community that 2nd Peter is written to. But it is more important how I live my life from day to day. The response to the unfailing love that is marked for me in the Incarnation is to live a life of love. Lives of love are not lived in fear of judgment but with the confidence of the support of Christ.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Jesus true family
While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
Comments: Some traditions celebrate the feast of the Holy Family with in the first week of Christmas. It seems appropriate since we put so much emphasis on the family at Christmas time. But this passage is interesting in that Jesus seems to be choosing his followers over his family.
In the Middle East, one had to have family. It was impossible to function, even to get food and clothing if one was not member of a family, or adopted by one. One’s life was quite circumscribed by the family. The senior male, or patriarch dictated what you did, what you could have. The commandment to honor one’s father and mother took on incredible weight in such a system. The system had become so unbending that often people were imprisoned in their family system their whole lives, never exercising the talents that God had given them.
Jesus, in this passage, is offering a sense of freedom from the family system for those who were in the system’s grasp. I do not believe that Jesus was being disrespectful of his family in this passage. In fact, the kind of freedom that Jesus was offering in this passage would have made the family more loving by freeing it from its social expectations. Jesus shows that it is the respect and caring we have for others is what claims one as family rather than one’s blood kin. Faith is not a system we adhere to; it is a loving relationship we have with God.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The word of life was revealed
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us - we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Comment: I have served two congregations named for St. John the Evangelist. Pastors are always looking for a time to party and the patronal feast is always a good idea, but with St. John’s feast coming two days after Christmas I could never sell that party.
It is also interesting that the reading for the feast comes from one of the epistles. There is some question if the Epistles of John and the Gospel were written by the same person. Certainly they were written by people steeped in the same theology, the community of St. John. But there is evidence that the Epistles of John were written some years later when the theology of the Gospel of the John had evolved.
The Johanine community understood that sin—no matter how small, could ruin one’s relationship with God. It was for that reason that confession of sin and knowing the forgiveness of God is essential to understanding the greatness of God. There is such a feeling of gratitude when I know that I am forgiven for my mistakes, foolishness or even my intended nastiness. The humility is good for my soul and makes me vulnerable enough to allow God’s love to be planted in my heart. It allows the transformation to become more Christ-like in my behavior, more peace-loving in heart and more centered in God with my life.
Friday, December 26, 2008
It's Boxing Day!
Whatever that may mean to you, I invite you on this day to simply share five things that today, December 26th, will bring for you.
1. I have been commenting on the daily bible reading from ELCA on my blog, so I have remembered the Feast of Stephen today. The feast of St. Stephen was a day when one’s diaconal ministry was to be exercised. I need to serve others today.
2. I had forgotten some of the history of Boxing Day. It was when the employees were given their gifts by their employers. It was a time of giving to those less fortunate. It has reminded me of the need for alms giving. It is rather ironic that the radio that I have streaming at the moment is singing the “Veni Creator Spiritus”. Word of God-Word of Life! God is always talking to me in music. It may not even be in words—the music just speaks to my soul.
3. I have to go pick up a prescription for cholesterol-lowering med that the doctor had determined I need. I think after yesterday’s dinner, it is appropriate.
4. I am quite tired and a bit crabby (probably sugar-crash). December 26th is a day when I recoup. Christmas Eve at church was sooooo beautiful. I want to savor the warmth, the fidelity, the sense of family that was all around me. It was so much fun to see families who had grown up together get back together. The forty-somethings that went to Sunday school together back together with their children. How much fun!!!!
5. Turkey Sandwiches!! This is what J and I look forward to. I think J likes the sandwiches better than the roast turkey dinner. So tonight it is turkey sandwiches in front of the new Christmas present TV.
The plot against Stephen
Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, "This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us." And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. ...
"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it."
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.
Comments: In the countries that were British colonies, today is called Boxing Day. It was the time that employees received their gifts. Throughout Europe the day is celebrated as the Feast of St. Stephen. It was a day of giving alms and giving gifts to those who were not as fortunate.
Stephen was one of the first deacons that was chosen by the apostles to serve the Greek-speaking Christians in Jerusalem. Stephen was a zealous man. He preached of the faith to those who found fault with his preaching. He was brought in front of the council of the synagogue. There were those who wanted to be rid of the young firebrand and brought false charges against him for blasphemy. Mob rule took over and he was taken out and stoned. Stephen was the first martyr of the Christian movement.
Today the day after Christmas has a tendency to look like Black Friday. It would be good to reinstitute the celebration of the Feast of Stephen and share our Christmas with the poor.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Tom was a farmer. He was a man of few words. He ran the family farm that his father and his grandfather had worked before him. All his brothers and sisters had gone on to other jobs and vocations in their lives but they all enjoyed coming home to the family farm for the Christmas holidays. It made for a mad house for a few days with his siblings and spouses and children, but it was a time for family and friends. Tom enjoyed that, but this year Tom was tired. He felt burdened by the annual onslaught of the family. He still had to milk the cows and see to the daily routine of running the farm. He and his brothers and sisters had all been raised in the Church. And his brothers and sisters and their families were fairly regular in their attendance. But Tom’s attendance had fallen off as he had gotten older. The wife and the kids went, but he had work to do. So when it came time for the whole family to go to Church on Christmas Eve, Tom just stayed home.
He never said why he didn’t want to go to Church. He didn’t want to argue religion with his family. All of that church stuff was a pain in the neck any way. He was a grown man. He didn’t believe in God becoming man. He believed in God; that was ok. But all of this baby Jesus stuff—that was all myth, wasn’t it? He was a good man. He dealt justly with his neighbors. He was good husband to his wife and a fine father to his children.
He sat in the quiet living room, looking out on the birds and geese that he so enjoyed about the farm. This was peace for him—quietly looking out upon his farm watching the birds. A bitter cold front was coming in. He watched the birds and the geese in the sleet. He hated to watch animals in distress. They were freezing to the trees and into the pond. He knew if they just stayed huddled out there, they would freeze. He ran outside and tried to shoo them out of the pond. But the birds didn’t move. He went to the barn and opened the doors hoping the birds would be saved by flying inside where it was warmer. But the birds would not enter the barn. He could not save them because the birds did not understand that the barn was a place of shelter.
He stood there broken-hearted, knowing that he could nothing to save his lovely cardinals, titmice, starlings, phoebes and beautiful Canadian geese. If he only could speak bird talk, he thought. If only he could be a bird and lead them into the barn….
And then the light went on in Tom’s heart…. He understood!
God so love the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
He understood what the story of the Christ child was about. It was about a God who so loved creation that he became human so that we would know how to come in from the storm.
The Incarnation of God, the miracle of God becoming human is not so hard to understand. There are theologians who would make it involved and complex. There are those who would say we have to believe in all kinds of mind-bending things to have faith—Virgin births, Immaculate Conceptions, Triune Gods, Justification by Faith. But all doctrines are, are ways to explain complexly the simple truth of God’s love for us and all creation. The God of Love came to us to teach us how to love one another. The God of Love gave himself to us in the Christ. He showed us not just how mighty he was. She showed us not just how loving she was. God just came among us and lived with us so that we could know how to care for one another, how to live for one another, and how to die for another.
Faith is allowing ourselves to be moved by that God who became one of us. Faith is allowing ourselves to be transformed by the goodness of the Divine so that we might model our lives after one who was like us in all things but sin. Faith is a matter of trusting that the truth of the Holy is as available to us today as it was 2000 years ago. It is just as real to us as it was for shepherds in the fields. God’s entering into our lives is not miraculous. It is the stuff of living life to the fullest; it is the stuff of living life richly.
Tom didn’t get to Church that night. To be honest, Tom really didn’t get to church much of that year. But when the family came together the following Christmas, he went. In the candlelight he celebrated the God who spoke to us in our own language of love. His life began to change. Not dramatically, but things took on new meaning. It didn’t make his farming any easier, but somehow his life seemed richer, his family seemed dearer, the relationship with his wife, closer. His life was more connected somehow to something greater than himself. He had no need of complex doctrines or arcane ways of worshipping. He merely knew that someone had opened the barn door for him. He knew that there was a benevolent wisdom who guided him. He attended the church to hear more about this God who would welcome him so. He found that he could live a life worthy of the gospel with the help of the Divine Presence. And now he gave thanks for an icy evening when he learned the meaning of the Christ story.
Christmas in church is my favorite time of the year. I really began my own journey in Christ at the Christmas Eve service some 40 years ago. In those days I was a professional musician and Christmas time was the most lucrative time for a struggling French horn player. But that night at a candle lit service not much different than this, my music became offering and God took my breath away. And she hasn’t given it back since. The Spirit lit a fire in my heart that has kept me warm ever since.
My hope for you is that this service, or whatever way that you have of communicating with the God who loves you more than life, may provide for you an experience of the Holy that will begin your transformation into what it is God holds for you. My prayer is that the Christ who comes as a child will allow you be vulnerable enough to accept his love for you so that you may share it with others. And most of all, may the Spirit of the Incarnate God build a fire in your heart that will never fade. AMEN.
Comment: I am indebted to the Revs. JEU and CG for this story.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
T’was the day before Christmas. The Church was a mess.
Sermons weren’t written; vestments not pressed.
Bulletins were printed but in great disarray,
In hopes that the Christ Child would …please, be delayed.
I in my snow boots and weather’d long johns
Found the shovel and ice melt all long gone
I scraped off the ice from the frozen front steps .
And hoped that no congregant would slip or upset.
The choir had practiced till blue in the face,
The coffee was perked and cookies all baked,
All was ready, or so we all thought.
But where were the candles that last year we just bought?
How can we have Christmas without candlelight?
How can we sing Gloria and sweet Silent Night?!
Hither and thither we searched and we sought
But no little candles were there to be found.
I could just feel my Neilson rating plunge to the ground.
O Baby Jesus, where are you today?
Can you find us candles right now? we pray.
And to my surprise in a closet most foul,
The wayward tapers came forth from its bowel..
All is ready. The church, finally done.
The crèche is a’ waiting, the sermon is fun.
The Christ Child is coming, Alleluia, Hooray!
May every one have a Blest Christmas Day!
Salvation is near
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Comments: Now, this is a reading that I can really appreciate the day before Christmas Eve! This is when I wake up to the fact that I have forgotten something that is important for the holiday—mother’s Christmas present, the lights for the crèche, something. It is a reading that reminds me that stuff is just stuff and bother, just not worth it. It is when I wake up to the reality that Christ is alive in my life in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. It is HE that is worth all the rushing around. It is he that comes that makes family, friends, church, life worth it. The rushing around is just part of what it means to be human at this time of year. The rushing around is so that we can celebrate the center of our lives.
At the same time this reminds me to address the consumerism in my life that takes away from the basic needs of those who have nothing. It reminds me to rejoice but also work to help those whose lives are burdened by lack. And in the midst of all the rush I must remember it is a simple child in a stable that makes my life meaningful.
Monday, December 22, 2008
The word is near you
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that "the person who does these things will live by them." But the righteousness that comes from faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' " (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the abyss?' " (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?
"The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart"
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For 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."
Comments: I love this passage. There is much about Paul I don’t care for, but in this passage, he’s got it! The Word—the Christ that comes is not a matter of something we have to hunt for. We can find him in the depths of our hearts. Love is what turns us from being self-centered to other-centered and it is through the love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ we are empowered to love others. For me it is not a matter of salvation that is important—it is, how can I manifest the love that God loves me with to others? The word speaks in our hearts and acts in our lives.
This kind of nearness is not something that we wait for—like Christ coming in Advent. It is more like the nearness of “something on the tip of my tongue” or just outside the periphery of sight. This word is ready to be spoken whenever we are willing to let the truth of ourselves show
Sunday, December 21, 2008
The angel appears to Mary
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
Comments: This passage is called the Annunciation. It has never occurred to me before but the angel of the Lord tells Mary that she is pregnant. There is nothing in this passage that says that Mary had any opportunity to refuse this child. Women before the pill really didn’t have much say in whether they were going to conceive or not. They sometimes had some say in having intercourse, but women never have had much say about whether they were going to conceive until recently. Mary asks how this can be—she knows the facts of life. She also hears that her relative, Elizabeth is also pregnant. Such happening out of the normal course of life! But “nothing will be impossible with God” the angel says.
I am not taken so much by the miracles of conception as by Mary’s response—“I am the servant of the Lord.” In Latin it is Ancilla Domini. The word in Greek is slave. To be an agent of God must I be a slave? Sometimes it feels like that. But most of the time I have the right to say no. But Mary didn’t. She accepted her role in the salvation of the world without much fuss or self-examination. Ancilla Domini.
All too often when situations arise over which we have no control, we are often overcome by them. By accepting the situation as it is, and then being about God’s work is what makes the situation take on the likeness of salvific work. I have no control over the weather—I just have to go with it. Ancilla Domini.
I feel weird. We called off church today. Snow is coming down; the roads are a mess. Today was supposed to be the children’s pageant, the first one for some years. I am not sure if the kids are going to be sad or glad, but I do know that the Sunday school teachers were looking forward to it.
I got out and started to church. I could have made it, even up the big hill, I think. But then again, I DO have 4-wheel drive. What about those who don’t have the luxury of driving the interstate and those who have conventional, sensible cars. We come from 5 different counties to our little church. And I know the upstaters are a hearty bunch. But the thought of anybody in the ditch because I didn’t have the nerve to call it off sits on my shoulders. I would rather be safe than sorry in this instance. More snow is moving in from the east so it would be worse trying to get home.
J had no way to call off church in her little churches, but those folks don’t have to travel as far as my folk do. So she is off doing the work of God while I sit in front of my laptop. I can’t stomach the churches on TV. I guess I will read Morning Prayer and chalk it up to the will of God. But my theology doesn’t really work that way.
By golly, I might just get some work done around the house! I could take a nap—what a novel idea! I can fix a hearty stew for supper when J gets home. It is just weird being home on Sunday morning and not be sick. It just doesn’t happen! Curl up with a good book, that’s a good plan. I do hope everyone else is having a hard time figuring out what to do with their Sunday morning too.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, "This is really the prophet." Others said, "This is the Messiah." But some asked, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?" So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why did you not arrest him?" The police answered, "Never has anyone spoken like this!" Then the Pharisees replied, "Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law -- they are accursed." Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, "Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?" They replied, "Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee."
Comments: Nazareth was in the Galilee some 150 miles north of Jerusalem. It was in Jesus’ day the “Hicksville” of Judah. It was an area of “loose” observance of Mosaic law and it had been a place of enforced conversion to Judaism about 150 years before—which made the area suspect in their religious purity. Those in Jerusalem looked down upon the Galilee. Nicodemus, the one who had come to Jesus under the cover of night and who had wondered about how one could be born again, challenges those who would condemn Jesus without at least hearing from him. They even try to condemn Nicodemus because he called for fairness.
In the present difficulties in the Church this kind of mudslinging is present. It is seen in both the ELCA and the Episcopal churches. You see it among factions of Roman Catholicism or whatever denomination. There is a fear that if there are new ideas, they are to be suspect and not tolerated. But the church has always changed. From the days of Paul and Silas, there has been the need for new ideas to call the Church to newness. This passage says to me that I need to be willing to hear the whole story, not just judge based upon where the ideas comes from.
Friday, December 19, 2008
There are only five full days before Christmas Day, and whether you use them for shopping, wrapping, preaching, worshiping, singing or traveling or even wishing the whole darn thing were over last Tuesday, there's a good chance they will be busy ones.
So let's make this easy, if we can: tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.
1.I need to wrap Mom’s Christmas presents and get them mailed!
2. I have to get a light for the manger for church. Home Depot here I come!
3. A sermon, a sermon, my kingdom for a sermon!
4. When am I going to get the house ready????
5. Christmas Dinner? It is snowing like %%*&^%$$ here and this is my only day off between now and Christmas to get the last of my stuff done. I can’t get out. The visibility is only about a half block and the roads are awful. ARRGG!
The ark of God enters Jerusalem
It was told King David, "The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God." So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
Comments: I am surprised at these readings during the third week of Advent. I am not sure that these are part of the Daily Office for the ELCA, but they seem strange for this time of year. However there is an abiding understanding in Christianity that Jesus is the Ark of the New Covenant—that Christ is the embodiment of the law and that there was no need for the ancient Ark of the Covenant any longer.
I believe many of those who followed the Way of Jesus were those who longed for the reunification of the 12 tribes of Israel, the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem and the return of the Messiah. It would be a time like the Davidic reign—the greatest Israel had ever seen.
Those who subscribe to a kind of Christianity or Judaism that are trying to restore the ancient kingdom of Israel in order for the Messiah to return fail to understand that Christ’s coming is a spiritual one, not a political one. It was misunderstood in Jesus’ day, and it led to the crucifixion. It is misunderstood today when we see such political wrangling going on in the Middle East.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The advent of the ark of the Lord
David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. David was afraid of the Lord that day; he said, "How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?" So David was unwilling to take the ark of the Lord into his care in the city of David; instead David took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months; and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
Comments: This is one of those stories that could easily be left out of the daily rota. But it does make for great movie scenes! In this passage, David is trying to move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem where he can have the protection of the Ark. David is trying to solidify his power as king by bringing the Ark—the most powerful of Israel’s cultic objects, to his city. But the death of Uzzah makes it clear that God’s power is not to be manipulated. David realized that nothing could control the God of Abraham.
All too often I find myself trying to control God too. It is easy to think that we can because we find God so loving and helpful. But the God who is love is not one that can boxed in or limited. As I await the Nativity, I am reminded that the love that came at Christmas is also the love that overwhelms us. I find among those who call themselves ‘orthodox’ ( I do not mean those who are a part of the great Orthodox Churches of Eastern Christianity) try to manipulate God’s power to change their world. Their desire to control the God of the Universes eventually destroys them. Certainly in the Episcopal Church, those who tried to manipulate the Church have found themselves cast out. The God who comes as an infant is not weak. What a mystery!
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He said to them, "Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him."
Comments: The prophet Malachi foretold that Elijah would return before the Messiah came. As the disciples come down from the mountain of Transfiguration, where they had seen a vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah, Jesus tells his disciples not to share what they had seen. Elijah has already come, Jesus is saying to them, and the people of Israel treated him poorly. Jesus is also trying to tell his followers that he will be mistreated like the rest of the prophets.
In Advent I have a hard time thinking about if Jesus is coming or has already come. Granted, the readings are dealing with the Second Coming, but daily I am trying to live with the Christ that has already come to my heart. I do not subscribe to a theology that has us living in fear of the Second Coming. I believe that Christ has inserted the Divine into my life through the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I have a model to follow. I have a God to whom I can relate. Jesus was the Son of Man—a human. The Transfiguration show to the disciples that Jesus is not just a human—he walks with the greatest of Israel’s prophets. There are no words that can fully describe his relationship with God. The disciples didn’t understand; I don’t understand either. But I stand in a tradition that recognizes him as God. The Christ I know does not require me to make distinctions between God and man. I merely trust that friendship with him is also friendship with the God of the Universe and transformative for me.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
And Peter said, "And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.' And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, 'And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.' When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.
Comments: I have often wondered what it would have been like to hear Peter and John in the Temple. There might have been other speakers in the Temple, but Peter and John must have been dynamic, teaching in the same place that Jesus had taught, Ezekiel, or Isaiah had taught. They were standing on the same ground that all the prophets had preached. It would be like me preaching from the pulpit of the National Cathedral (which I have done), Canterbury Cathedral or Schlosskirke, in Wittenberg, Germany.
Peter and John reminded the people of those who have prepared the way for Jesus, those who waited for the Messiah just as surely as I do today. I too, wait reminded of the promises of the prophets. And I am reminded that it is through me and every believer that God’s name is proclaimed. But the real issue is Do I live as though the Messiah has come? Am I living as if the fulfillment of the prophecies has been lived out? It is sometimes easier to live like Christ has not yet come, at times. It is harder to live the life of one who IS saved than to live in hope of what might be. The Prince of Peace has already come to my life—how then, do I live each day to make that coming a reality? Hmmmm.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Comments. I am not of the mind that Paul wrote Ephesians—or at least that was what was being taught when I was studying Paul. For the early Christians who were persecuted and being used for sport in the various blood sports, putting on armor, having a breastplate and shield probably were important analogies. Today, however, when most of the death-dealing blows to faith come not from outside, but from inside the Church, this Stand Firm message is a liability. If anything, today, faith needs to be more compromising than the kind of literalism that abounds in American Protestantism. Mainstream Protestantism is undergoing great change at present. It is what is going to allow Christianity to survive.
Luther’s changes—while more revisions than changes, allowed Christianity to survive in the west 500 years ago. The changes that are going on today—the collectivization of denominationalism and the globalization of ethics, the use of scientific and literary study applied to scripture and moral standards, and the availability of the internet to proclaim the Christian message are all changes that remind us that faith is far more fluid and embracing than it has been in other ages. Today, I do not need a Spiritual sword, I need the ability to listen and share in the name of Christ.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
In the morning, when Jesus returned to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" Jesus answered them, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."
“Some scholars believe that since the fig tree had leaves on it, from a distance it gave the appearance of being fruitful. But upon closer examination it became clear that there was no fruit on it at all. So perhaps Jesus' cursing of the fig tree was an acted-out parable that taught the disciples that God will judge those who give an outer appearance of fruitfulness but in fact are not fruitful at all. Matthew is very big about pointing fingers at those who are not righteous, or just—those with compassion.” Ron Rhodes
This passage has always troubled me—the scholars are also divided on how to read this passage. There are times when I have asked for the mountain to be moved and it has not happened. Do I then assume that I have either asked wrongly or without faith? No. I do not believe that is what Jesus means. I believe that in prayer we are changed. I must admit I do not ask for things in prayer. I ask that I may face whatever comes in faith. It claims then a co-creative position with God. It is this partnership in meeting the events of my life that makes all moments holy. It is in this holiness that mountains are moved even if they are metaphorical.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Sophia from Revgals has put up a Friday Five that has to do with vision:
This Friday Five is inspired by my husband's Lasik surgery yesterday....He'd been contemplating it for a while and was pushed over the edge by the fact that we put too much money in our healthcare spending account this year and it would have been gone anyway. (There was only enough for one eye, but the kind people at the eye clinic figured out a way to divvy up the charges between surgery and followup in January=next year's spending account). So please say a little prayer for his safe recovery and share with us your thoughts on eyes and vision.
1. What color are your beautiful eyes? Did you inherit them from or pass them on to anyone in your family?
My eyes are quite blue. My father’s were blue also as were my grandmother’s. When I went to the ophtomologist a couple of weeks ago, I was told that I didn’t have much pigment in my irises and that I would be sensitive to bright lights as I get older. Grrrr!
2. What color eyes would you choose if you could change them?
I have always liked my blue eyes, but I guess I would like a bit more pigmentation so that night driving wouldn’t bother me so much.
3. Do you wear glasses or contacts? What kind? Like 'em or hate 'em?
I started wearing glasses when I went to graduate school. I am astigmatic and near sighted so I wear varigated lenses. I really hate wearing them and take them off as often as I can. I tried contacts once, but I hated putting them in and I couldn't see as well as with my glasses.
Both of my parents have gone blind. Father had diabetic retinopathy and Mom has macular degeneration. I must admit I am more that a bit wary of my eyes having seen what it has done to my parents’ old age.
4. Ever had, or contemplated, laser surgery? Happy with the results?
I have been told I am not a candidate for lasik. I am not sure why that is. I do have cataracts that will have to be removed, but they are not ready to be removed yet. It means that my eyes tire quickly and after a day at the computer I can’t read in the evenings. This getting old is a pain ….
5. Do you like to look people in the eye, or are you more eye-shy?
I am definitely a ‘look you in the eye’ kinda gal. I can stare down the best of them. Too many years of teaching jr. high, I guess. It was also a value of my era and locale growing up. Looking someone in the eye meant that you were truthful. It has stuck with me.
Bonus question: Share a poem, song, or prayer that relates to eyes and seeing.
The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You.
O Lord, I have heard of your renown,
and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.
In our own time revive it;
in our own time make it known;
in wrath may you remember mercy.
God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise.
The brightness was like the sun;
rays came forth from his hand,
where his power lay hidden.
Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed close behind.
He stopped and shook the earth;
he looked and made the nations tremble.
The eternal mountains were shattered;
along his ancient pathways
the everlasting hills sank low.
Comments: Habakkuk is visioning a time when God’s presence will once again be clear. Teman and Mt. Paran are in the Sinai and in the region of where God gave the law to the Hebrew people. A millennium later, Habakkuk is calling for God to make the Divine presence visible again. There are times I would like to be able to call down God’s vengeance. But that is not prophecy. Habakkuk is trying to remind his people of God’s power.
I must admit I don’t read Habakkuk all that often. It is good to be reminded of his vision of how God could be present to the people of God once again. I prefer the quiet still small voice of Ezekiel myself rather that this Cecil B. DeMill version. But when I saw the work of Katrina in MS, I too stood in awe of the power of God. I don’t believe that Katrina was sent by God, but if nature could do such destruction, how much greater could God’s power be? The earth does shake and humanity is humbled.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come,
it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
the arrogant do not endure.
They open their throats wide as Sheol;
like Death they never have enough.
They gather all nations for themselves,
and collect all peoples as their own.
Comments: Habakkuk is called as many prophets were to be a watchman for the people of Israel. He was to look to the future –how the actions of the present would play themselves out if the people continued on their way. He is advising his people to remain humble and hopeful for the coming of the Messiah.
In waiting for the coming of Christ it is still important for me to remain alert and hopeful because Christ can come at any moment. Most of the time, I don’t recognize Christ when he comes to me until after the incident. Then I could kick myself because I wasn’t aware of Christ in another at the moment. But I think that is how Emmanuel reveals himself to me. It is important then for me to be reflective of those special moments with others to find the Christ who is ever present to me. A good Advent practice.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
Comments: John Baptist was from the temple aristocracy. His father was a priest. They were “righteous people”, an important designation in the Gospels. Righteous person or just person were those who lived out the law of Moses with compassion. John Baptist was dedicated to God at his birth—to be a nazir, a holy man. He became a prophet to the badly fractured Judean society.
Prophets are often seen as demanding and hard line, but I do not think that is true. Prophets merely see the cleavage between that which honors God and that which leads us away from God. Often it is difficult to see when I am on the edge of losing focus on Christ. Preparing my heart for the coming of Christ requires vigilance that I cannot always develop for myself. It is the prophets in my life that help me stay on track and allow me to be prepared for Christ when he comes.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."
Comments: This passage tells us of how Peter began to accept those from other nations as Christians. It required Peter to accept those who ate non-Kosher food, a real stumbling block to the followers of Jesus. As head of the Christian community, Peter’s acceptance of those who were not Jewish changed the whole of the Jesus movement. He had to accept things that he had always consider evil.
The customs of a religious community change as we find that there are better ways to speak the will of God in our lives. Today’s acceptance of gays and lesbians in the life of the Church is a good example of this. It is important that the Church become the spokesperson for gays and lesbians because it has for so long been the demonizer of LGBT persons. The Church, more than any other institution of society needs to take the lead like Peter because it has been the greatest persecutor of LGBT persons. The Church must be about repentance just as surely as individuals.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Comments: The life of a Christian is about transformation. But transformation—becoming a better person because of the love of Christ does not come without recognizing that there is a need to reform. If we see something wrong either in our lives or in society, it is our joy to be about changing. It isn’t a duty. It isn’t a matter of if I don’t change I won’t be saved. We are already saved by the act of our Lord on the Cross. But in order to have a deeper knowledge of the One who gave himself for us, we must clear the baggage out of our way. We must prepare our lives to receive him.
Baptism is generally the beginning of our lives in Christ, but there are those who have never been baptized who know the Lord in their hearts. Baptism is not only the sign of our submission to the way of the Lord, it is a sacrament—it confers the grace of God. It makes it possible for the baptized to be about the acts of transformation throughout their lives.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, "By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?" Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me." They argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But shall we say, 'Of human origin'?" -- they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
Comments: All too often I am confronted with problems of authority in matters of faith. Even Jesus was confronted with those who questioned how he could say the things that he said about God. The author of my faith relationship with God is God. No one has greater authority in my life. Those who need footnotes to their faith have not "got it." The have not had that encounter with the Divine that makes all other authority pale.
I am told in the Church that scripture is the authority, or the teachings of the Church, or perhaps a specific “orthodox” teaching is the authority. But when all is said and done, it is the relationship with God that the faithful must turn to as the final say in matters of faith. This means that others are going to hear God much differently than I. I need to be willing to trust the relationship with God that others have that guides them because ultimately it is by their fruits that they are known. It is by the fruits of my living that my faith is known. God’s authority must show forth in my life if I am going to have any authority to my preaching or teaching.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the Lord said to me,
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord."
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."
Comments: Jeremiah was just a youth when he heard God’s call to be a prophet of the Most High in 628BCE. He was of the priestly family of Kohen and went to the Temple in Jerusalem to proclaim God’s will for the people of Judah. He warned of the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. He was not accepted by the people in Jerusalem but his prophecy ran true.
Often we are called to be prophets—to our children, families, church. Most of the time, we are only making suggestions that can help others to live out their lives with God more fully. Sometimes we don’t even know where the words come from. But God told Jeremiah where the words would come from.
In the effort to serve God, I believe that God gives us the words and the ability to endure the reactions of those who would rather not listen in love. It matters not if we are young or old. God provides us with the words to speak God’s love all the time.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
"Come, let us return to the Lord;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth."
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,
I have killed them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Comments: The theme of Judgment continues in this reading. Hosea’s prophecy in the 7th century BCE was to show how Israel, the Northern Kingdom had strayed into worshipping other gods. The imagery he uses is that of a marriage fraught with infidelity. The resurrection motif catches the eye of Christians but the most important words to the present day are the last ones in this passage.
God desires steadfast love—hesed (Hebrew). It is the kind of love that goes through thick and thin. All too often we find ourselves trying to save ourselves through good works rather than offering to God the humble heart of gratitude. Sacrifice can be mindless. What God desires is a willingness to be present to the Holy at all times, open to the always present Divine love. A difficult task, to be sure, but one worthy of our effort.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of your servants
to the birds of the air for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
mocked and derided by those around us.
How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?
Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
Pour out your anger on the nations
that do not know you,
and on the kingdoms
that do not call on your name.
For they have devoured Jacob
and laid waste his habitation.
Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and forgive our sins,
for your name's sake.
Why should the nations say,
"Where is their God?"
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes.
Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
according to your great power preserve those doomed to die.
Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors
the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!
Then we your people, the flock of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your
Comments: Psalm 79 sounds as though it was written by those who were not carried off into slavery following the Babylonian invasion in 58b BCE. It tells of Jerusalem in ruins. The song of the psalmist does not deny the sinfulness that led to the punishment of Israel. The psalmist merely promises that the people will continue to be steadfast in its praise. This is not a personal prayer. It is the plea for a nation that is in total disarray. They no longer have a center for their lives. God alone must be the center.
I appreciate the honesty of this psalm. There is no trying to hide past sins. There is no equivocating, but merely the plea, “how long, O Lord?”. God is never angry forever at our sinfulness. It is our return and constant prayer that reminds us that the relationship with God is what makes life full and whole despite the destruction around
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. He called out with a mighty voice,
"Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
It has become a dwelling place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit,
a haunt of every foul bird,
a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
For all the nations have drunk
of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury."
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,
"Come out of her, my people,
so that you do not take part in her sins,
and so that you do not share
in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
Render to her as she herself has rendered,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed.
As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously,
so give her a like measure of torment and grief.
Since in her heart she says,
'I rule as a queen;
I am no widow,
and I will never see grief,'
therefore her plagues will come in a single day --
pestilence and mourning and famine --
and she will be burned with fire;
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her."
And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
"Alas, alas, the great city,
Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgment has come."
-Comment: In Revelations, John’s name for Rome is Babylon. The dream of John longs for a day when Rome’s influence is over. The people of God are called out of her because Rome is a place of iniquity. Recent fires in Rome show God's denouncement of Rome.
John is warning his followers of the powerful but insidious influence of the Roman Empire. He forecasts a day when Rome will fall just as Babylon did. In this case, there is no Jerusalem for the people of God to return to. It had been destroyed in the year 70 by Rome. A new Jerusalem will have to be built—a new home for the faithful will have to grow up in the hearts of the faithful.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:
"Great and amazing are your deeds,
Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations!
Lord, who will not fear
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your judgments have been revealed."
After this I looked, and the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen, with golden sashes across their chests. Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever; and the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were ended.
Comments: Just like the People of Israel who sing a song of God's praise following their deliverance after crossing the Red Sea dry shod, the followers of Jesus are the ones who have crossed the glass sea. This liturgy of praise is the song of those who have championed over the evils of life and entered into the realm of God. "Those who have been victorious over the beast" is a metaphor for non-conformity--the refusal to accept the dominion of the beast and its way of life.
For us today, we too are liberated from following the ways of consumerism, egoism, and mindlessness when we refuse to follow the way of a society that would steal us away from the way of Christian love and fellowship. I find the Christmas rush has a tendency to steal away the love of Jesus so I avoid Black Fridays and Christmas sales as best I can so that I too can sing this liturgy of God's praise.
Today, of course is the First Sunday of Advent. It is the first Sunday of the liturgical year. It is the beginning of the year we spend listening to the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the oldest of the Gospels that have come down to us. It was written most likely during the Jewish Revolt and scholars usually fix the date about the year 65. It is before the total destruction of Jerusalem in 70, but it was while Judea was under siege.
The reading we hear from the Gospel today is called the “little apocalypse”. Much of the passage is reminiscent of the seventh chapter of Daniel. It was part of the common parlance of the day. People were talking about the times as being the time when the Messiah would return. Mark reminds the followers of Jesus that though there are wars and horrible things happening not to look for Jesus’ return in them. For about 150 years the language of faith had much of this apocalyptic flavor about it. People used to see such things as wars, earthquakes, plagues, etc as signs of the end times. The prophecy of Israel—those books that made it into the canon of scripture and those like Enoch or the Book of Jubilees that did not, described a time when God would bring destruction on the earth and judge the nations. Then God would send his messiah to reign forevermore.
In this passage Mark uses this kind of language to remind the followers of Jesus not to get distracted. The Messiah had already come. Don’t go about listening to the false prophets, Mark says. Do not join up with these various factions that were fighting for Israelite freedom and get embroiled in the fights, he says. “The truly frightening stuff described in Mark 13 is, for Mark's readers, not a prediction to frighten future generations, but words of comfort for a generation that used this vivid language, the language of nightmares mixed with literal retellings of the kinds of betrayal and threats facing community members, to describe what they'd already seen brothers and sisters in Christ going through.”
The people of Mark’s day had heard the stories of how Jesus had been crucified. They had heard the stories of how those who had followed Jesus had been stoned and put out of the community. They had heard how Jesus taught people how to be free—like women and slaves. He had freed people from debilitating disabilities and demons. He had disturbed the status quo giving the people a type of hope that they had never experienced. That was what was important, not signs of war or pestilence. Mark was telling his community not to look for signs of the Messiah in the wars and fear. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” The words of love, freedom, and hope that Jesus had taught were the signs of Christ’s presence, not the portents of doom and gloom.
Nine and ten years ago we began to hear people talking about the end of the world. There were those who predicted a total crash of the computer systems and the plunge of the whole banking system into chaos. When the year 2000 finally rolled in, the whole thing was a flop, no catastrophe happened. We still have numerous novels, movies and TV programs out there that tell us of the end times. There are denominations that are preaching a catastrophic coming of Christ. But personally I don’t give that kind of interpretation to those passages.
The kind of coming of Christ that I know does not come from the clouds. It comes from remembering the tenderness with which God has always welcomed me. The torment of my soul may have opened me to surrender to Christ’s message. But it has always been the welcoming of God that has brought me closer to him.
The coming of Christ does have to with judgment—it has to do with when we recognize that sinfulness in ourselves and that with Christ’s love we can make the changes in our lives necessary to know the freedom of faith. For those of us who have known that complete turn-around in life that Christ can bring, the event was tumultuous. It changed us completely. For those of us who have always known the presence of Christ in our lives, it has been a constant welcome—that sense of homecoming that nudges us back into the family of God when we have strayed.
Advent is a time to reorient our lives in anticipation of Christ’s reality in our existance. Advent has a tinge of the penitential in our purple hangings, but more importantly Advent is a time of hope. It is a time when life can be adjusted to put away fear and trust in the one who comes to us as a child.
I have often said that Advent should incite in Christians the same kind of anticipation of Jesus that the sound of the can opener has for my cats. We need to be able to hear the sounds of Advent and be chopping at the bit for Christ’s return to our hearts. But all too often we allow the season of Advent to be overcome with holiday panic.
The “Be alert” or “Keep watch” of this passage is not so much about being afraid. It is a reminder about what is important. We as Christians are to look for the hope in life. We are to look for the presence of Christ in our midst. All too easily we are caught up with the fear of our age—fears about stock markets, about oil prices, about whether our children or our grandchildren are going to grow up ….or whatever. We so often allow ourselves to be taken over by fears that say that we should be in control. But in reality, we are not. Advent is the time when we as Church remind ourselves that it is Christ who is in charge. We are to keep vigilant and point to God’s reign.
Today we begin a new Church year. We begin too our journey to Bethlehem. We begin again that familiarity with a God who would come to us as a child. We begin again a way of life that claims God as the center and not ourselves. Let us begin our new Church year with a freshness not born of Black Friday sales. Let us begin our new year with anticipation not burdened with the aftermath of the Thanksgiving excess. Let us begin our new Church year centered in a kind of vigilance that is rooted in God’s love that calls us to be awake, to anticipate, to hope in the newness that God offers to us in each passing day. AMEN
Saturday, November 29, 2008
"So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'There he is!' -- do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, 'Look! He is in the wilderness,' do not go out. If they say, 'Look! He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
"Immediately after the suffering of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see 'the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven' with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Comments: I did a paper on this when I was in seminary and I must admit I STILL don’t know what it is about! Matthew has taken this from Mark who is speaking in apocalyptic language which was fairly common in his day. Mark is writing this during the Judean Revolt when there were all kinds of partisan battles going on. And he is warning the followers of Jesus not to fall into the idea that this was when Christ was going to reappear. The tradition of Israel’s prophecy had developed into this kind of apocalyptic description. Every one wanted to know when the Messiah was going to come and save them. But Mark is saying to his people—look for the signs of Christ—look for the love, look for the freedom, look for the peace, look for the joy. There you will find the Christ.
All of the millennial hokum that has been preached over the past 20 years is just that! Christ comes to our hearts—sometimes from the clouds of our darkness and gives through Divine love the possibility to live each day in his light. It need not be cataclysmic—it sometimes is to our soul-—but it can be the quiet still voice of love.
Friday, November 28, 2008
See, a day is coming for the Lord, when the plunder taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee by the valley of the Lord's mountain, for the valley between the mountains shall reach to Azal; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.
On that day there shall not be either cold or frost. And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the Lord), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light.
On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter.
And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.
Comments: I am told that even Martin Luther was flummoxed by this prophecy. Zechariah is telling of a time that he envisions that God will come and rule Israel and rule of kings will be over. It was the kings and their dealings with one another that had gotten Israel into the mess they were in. No longer was the nation paying attention to God Almighty. This vision that Jerusalem would be overrun would come to pass. One third of the nation was taken off into slavery to Babylon and the words of Zechariah would ring in the peoples’ ears.
Today we hear these words and look for the second coming of Christ. Personally, I believe that the second coming of Christ will be more like fog, coming on cat’s feet. The coming of Christ into our hearts is less a battle as it is assent, less triumphant, as it is true friendship. The reign of God is when we say yes to allowing God to be first in our lives all the time.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
When I was in my twenties, I went to Mexico as a missionary. I knew that the area I was going to was poor by American standards, but I was not prepared for what I saw. In those days we did not see beggars on the streets in the US. We sometimes saw disabled vets of WWII selling pencils or giving out poppies but nothing like the beggars around the doors of churches in the Mexican town I lived in. Everyday on my way to Mass I was confronted by Dona Paulina, a woman who saw my blond-haired, blue-eyed, tall, Nordic self walking down the street and she would accost me with her hand out, and a keening whine to help a poor soul.
I had been warned not to give to such beggars by the sisters in my community and by the members of the parish. For weeks I tried to avoid her, but I couldn’t hide in a populace of small, dark eyed, dark-skinned people. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was the NordeAmericana who was rich—because all NordeAmericanos were rich in her mind. Finally when I could fight her off no longer, I began to talk to her in my broken Spanish. Slowly I began to know more about her. She was in her 80’s, lived in a small ranchito outside of town. She lived in a shack made of sticks with a corregated tin roof that had once been a grain bin. And she was the sole support of her 9 year old great-grand son. I began to bring her things from our kitchen rather than give her money. She would teach me the proper words in Spanish and we would share the things that we liked to eat—she was intent on me knowing the totality of Mexican cuisine. And slowly but surely I began to enjoy my visits with Dona Paulina.
While I was there I fell and broke my hip. It ended my missionary career. I had to return to the US to have it operated on. It took me several days before I could get all my things together to catch the bus back to Mexico City so I could fly to my home in Texas. But when the time came for me to catch the bus, there were many people from the parish there to wish me well. On the fringe of the group was Dona Paulina. Quietly she came up to me to say good-bye. Tears were in her eyes as she pressed 2 cintos—worth at that time a 10th of a cent US. She said—“buy some gum on the trip.”
Those two coins burned in my hand as I got on the bus. I could not keep back the tears. And there I sat, chewing my gum with tears running down my face.
I have preached about this story before. I preach about it as an illustration of the widow’s mite. I preach about it on stewardship Sunday. But most of all I remember this story because it was such a touchstone in my life about generosity. It is an incident in my life that spoke to me of what it meant to be gifted with so much when I had done so little. Even in my mid-twenties I did not know what it really meant to be thankful down to my toes. I don’t think that comes easily to us Nordeamericanos. We don’t accept the gifts of others easily. We are rugged individualists. We like to do for ourselves. We are do not have the humility to accept the gifts of others. And consequently we have difficulty giving thanks.
It takes humility be people of gratitude. We have to allow ourselves to receive the gifts of others—to be in that step-down position, to be appreciative of what we have been given.
Now I do not mean to be a guilt-producer in this sermon. I just want us to reflect on what it means to be in the position of receiving. What do you have and who are you now because of the Dona Paulina’s in your life? What was in your life it that taught you of gratitude? When did you understand that being grateful was a way of living that made a difference in your life? I found that I was changed by those 2 quintos pressed in my hand—they were worth nothing in real life but they were the gift of finest gold. They taught me so much about the basic goodness of people that I cannot ignore because they don’t fit my image of people I want to hang with. They taught me about the need all people have to give. They taught me that the act of giving is more important than what is given. They taught me because it had never occurred to me that Dona Paulina might think me valuable enough to gift me in her poverty. So many lessons learned with such a small thing.
We all have touchstone moments in our lives. We have those moments when thanksgiving becomes real. Tonight we remember those moments in the humdrum of our lives that we will celebrate tomorrow with family and friends. It is a time when we stop and give thanks for those incidents that brings us to that place of humility that we do not deserve the blessings that are bestowed upon us.
In the midst of writing this sermon, I had to go to the grocery store. Now, Wegmans in Binghamton is where many go for special items for the holidays, and it was a mad house when I went. There were too many carts trying to get down filled aisles and too many people pushing them. I was pushing my cart and a young man in a wheelchair came my way. He most likely had cerebral palsy and was having difficulty pushing a regular cart and managing his wheelchair. Because I had once worked at Wegmans, I knew the store had some motorized carts that would have made it easier for him. I suggested the motorized cart to him. “They are all being used,” he said. “I am just glad I can get out,” he said, “I’ll be fine.”
I walked out of the store touched by his thankfulness—a kind of gratitude that most likely if I had not come to know who God was in my life, I would not have understood. All too often I find myself grumpy because things don’t go my way. I let myself forget the Dona Paulinas in my life who remind me of living a life of gratitude. I know when I am reminded of her generosity, I can let go of my busyness, my need to control my world. I also can give up the idea that I have to be in charge.
Within the Judeo-Christian world thanksgiving is most often marked at meals. Whether it is the blessing at the Shabbat meal, or the grace before dinner, the act of eating is a time of remembering all that we have received. This is true in other religions too. Thanksgiving as a feast is one which all humanity can share. Every religion teaches its believers to be thankful.
As we come together to share the bounty of God’s goodness there are many things that we are thankful for: family, friends, food, a home, community, and even for our existence. But we also need to be thankful for those who taught us how to know what it means to be grateful. It might be a family member—a loved neighbor, a teacher, a friend. These saints are those who allowed us to understand what it means to be vulnerable enough to return thanks.
Like the Samaritan leper—who was the only one who had the humility to return to Jesus, we often need to be reminded to be grateful. And even though Thanksgiving Day ends up being more about football and turkey, it is a time when we can remember of all that we have been given. We can also give thanks for all those who have given us hearts know the power of God who provides for all of us. AMEN