Time, two times and half a time

There is a lot about time in this week’s Lectionary readings. Isaiah is speaking about a time to come. Paul writes you know what time it is. And Jesus says no one knows what time it will be!  We might as well include Chicago’s Does anybody really know what time it is, just for good measure. (And no its meter isn’t half time; least wise I don’t think so.)

With all this talk about time, it’s a good time to remember there are two times in scripture: chronos, the time our watches, phones, tablets and time-cards keep,  the time by which we order our days, our lives. There is also kairos; likely best described by example: It was their time. or It was the right time.  We know the difference by the context of ‘time’ use.  

Robert Lamm’s lyrical dance, while phrased with questions of time, actually ponders human relationship subsumed by everything else; we are driven by what time it is, we’ve all got time enough to cry, we are pushed and shoved trying to beat the clock, we’ve all got time enough to die, everybody’s working, does anybody know what time it is, does anybody really care? [i] It seems Lamm explores the danger of valuing humanity by measured time rather than experience of time; of valuing humanity as commodity rather than relationship. In the vocabulary of this week’s readings, Lamm explores the danger of confusing chronos and kairos.

Sunday is the first day of Advent when we prepare to look at the time that was, and to experience the time that will be; Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ return. I wonder what Advent would be like if we prepared to explore our relationship with our incarnate Lord as it has been, and how it can be.

 

Ordinary rapture

Up at 6:30 or 7:00, make the coffee, put the dog out, pour the coffee, on the way to the living room to read, remember to let the dog in, settle in to my chair, read the daily papers, review the night’s emails for family, my self and both churches, preview the day’s to-do list, shower and dress, morning errands, travel to church, morning prayers, stop by the office, then off to a rehab home visit, a lunch meeting in Memphis, including an inconvenient phone call on the trip there,  back to office, more email, a task or two, set up an evening appointment, finish reading commentaries for Sunday’s lectionary, the evening meeting and home. All in all it is an ordinary day, full of ordinary events in the life of a priest.

 

Arland Hultgren’s commentary on this week’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel put’s an emphasis on the ordinary. [i] “… eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” are normal; that’s what people do; working in the fields and at the grist mill, that’s what people do. He notes there is no moral judgment between who is taken and not; though there clearly is divine distinction. The story about the thief in the night is Jesus prompting the disciples to be ready, all the time, in the midst of everyday normal activities. Jesus will come when you do not expect it, when you are not ready; so always be ready.

I’m generally not a fan of rapture stuff; however in writing I recalled a bumper sticker that reads In case the Rapture this car will be vacant. We can argue the theology expressed another time; however, it does express a degree of preparedness that Jesus is teaching. His teaching also reminds me of the Boy Scout Motto Be Prepared.

My day was ordinary. There is nothing that intrinsically is being prepared for the end of days. That, I think, is a matter of heart, a matter of fundamental motivation of life. I.E. Why we do what we do? I make coffee at 6 am in routine stupor. (I am not a morning person.) The discernment for tomorrow is: of what I did today, what was done in Jesus name, i.e. motivated by God’s love for me or my love for the other beloved of God? and what was motivated by anything else?

 


[i] Arland Hultgren, Working Preacher, workingpreacher.com, commentary on Matthew 24:36-44

 

Unexpected thanksgiving

Quite unexpectedly yesterday ended up being dedicated to plumbers, well almost half the day. It seems tree roots really like the water in the waste water line. Why on a day it is half raining and half sleeting I haven’t a clue; what’s new? In any case, I am thankful for plumbers, and thankful for the ability to call for and receive help in times of need. (There was a news story last night that told the story of some people whose genuine need for electricity and heat is being lost in a legal battle between land lord and the utility.)

The second influence for this blog is from a colleague’s blog announcing his family’s trip to homelands for Thanksgiving.

The third influence is our own plans for Thanksgiving, which includes starting the day serving meals at a local Thanksgiving Feast providing sit-down, to-go and delivery meals to anyone who asks. I had the privilege of serving there a couple of years ago and missed it so much we scheduled this year family gathering around it.

Matthew’s Gospel story for Sunday is Jesus teaching that the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Moving from the specific to the general, Life is unexpected. Jesus’ teaching is to be prepared for life. And since we cannot know what life will bring, [i] we cannot be prepared for an endless list of specifics (like power, plumbing, family, others) we must then prepare by having developed and continuing to develop, resources for all eventualities. The only one I know of are the teaching of the Lord. [ii]  We may know them as light, or unity or peace, but they are all the results of an awareness of the Divine Presence.

I am thankful for the gift of being able to back and see the presence of the Divine, and to look forward to Divine presence, not in the hereafter, or even the morrow, but today, in ways yet revealed. 


[i] Matthew 24:36 ff
[ii] Isaiah 2:3 

A sermon for Christ the King

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Canticle 4 or 16, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

Today we celebrate Christ the King!  It’s perhaps a bit strange to hear Luke’s Gospel version of Jesus’, the same said King, crucifixion. But, perhaps not. After all, all kings die, and lots of kings die violently. 50 years ago Friday our “king” was brutally taken when John F Kennedy was assassinated. If you are my age and older, I expect you know exactly where you were when you heard about JFK’s death. I was getting on the school bus, one of my classmates told me President Kennedy was killed. I  called him a liar. Fifty years ago our president our king, was assassinated, since then many things have changed, but much is still the same.

Two Thousand years ago the King of kings the Lord of lords was crucified,  and everything changed. But I don’t really think we get it.  We don’t get it because we have never lived in an absolute monarchy, where one person was absolute control over everything, absolute control over you! Oh yes, in tragic moments, like the violent death of a political leader, we form an impulsive emotional bond, but we never envision ourselves as bound to any leader; after-all there is always the next election cycle. Because of this we miss out on how viscerally different Jesus’ language of the Kingdom of God is. In truth, because of our bias to read scriptures piously we miss a lot of what Jesus does that is different from expectations. Not counting his twelve year old stunt at the Temple, when he stays behind to chat with religious leaders, during his three year romp through Judah Jesus is always doing the unexpected, like stopping to help whoever needs help; in at least one instance he is one his way to heal one person and stops to heal another. And all the healing, all the demons he casts outall the arguments are about revealing, to those who will see and hear, the Kingdom of God. And he is not talking about a Kingdom in some  secure unknown far out location, nope, God’s Kingdom is right here right now.

To be honest, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up to bad for not getting that God’s Kingdom is not like: Rome, Greece, Persia, Assyria, Egypt, or any other Kingdom the Jews know about.  Almost no one then did. God’s Kingdom is not about food to feed the urban masses, not about safe trade routes, not about armies necessary to secure all that, not about power. That’s what everyone expects; listen to the taunts while he is dying on the cross. No, God’s Kingdom is all about all that stuff in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples: it’s on earth, not in some celestial haven, it’s about daily bread, about daily life, it’s about forgiving and being forgiven it’s about God’s glory, which from the Hebrew root that means weight, and from the Greek root that mean show, both imply presence, so it’s about God’s presence, it’s about following God, not the latest imposter.

Perhaps the clearest revelation, of this difference, is the stark contrast between the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus. The first, cries out to Jesus to save himself, so you can save me!! His hope is exactly what everyone expects a messiah, a savior, a long awaited hero, to do: vanquish the enemy, and save us, well actually put us in the positions of power, wealth and influence. The other criminal admits his guilt, says that Jesus is innocent, and asks Jesus to remember him, when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus tells him: …today you will be with me in paradise. It’s the only place in the Gospel ‘paradise’ is used. A little etymology, word study,  reveals its root is from the Hebrew meaning  orchard, which put me back to the preceding phrase, … today you will be with me… The promise is the criminal will be with Jesus, today!

If we work backwards from here through today’s story from Luke’s Gospel: We read of the soldiers mocking Jesus; they nail a sign above his head King of the Jews; it turns out to be true. The Jewish leaders mock Jesus they taunt him to save himself, and then to save others; after three days, it turns out to be a transforming truth.  And just before this Jesus is doing what Jesus always does, interceding with God for others, no matter their action, even when they are crucifying him, no matter their ignorance.

Knitting all this together we glean God’s Kingdom is not about splendor, it’s about being with Jesus, being with God; it is not the weight of gold, it’s the weight of divine presence; it is not about power, it’s about other’s lives; it is not even about proclaiming what will be, it’s about being a sign of what is.
In just a minute we will celebrate Little Ray’s baptism. As we do so, let’s remember this story, not forgetting Jesus dying, while placing the priority on Jesus continuing to reveal God’s weight, God’s presence, as together we: teach, break bread, share prayers resist evil, by not doing what we shouldn’t  and by doing what we should; as together we: speak and be the Good News, seek and serve Christ in others even as they make a mess of their lives and ours; and as we respect the dignity of everyone, including ourselves.

Fifty years ago Friday JFK was assassinated; to be honest I had forgotten the date, but when reminded of it, I knew exactly where I was and my response. Two thousand years ago, Jesus was crucified; I never forget the date, and I always know where I am, where you are, in the presence of God. It’s a story worth knowing. It’s a story worth living. It’s a story worth sharing.

Scott Hoezee  cep.calvinseminary.edu, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
Next Sunday is November 24, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
This Week‘s Article: The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 23:33-43

Walter Harrison Jr, New Interpreters Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003

Look to speak

This afternoon at the rehearsal for tomorrow’s baptism I was surprised when two families members are deaf. More than twenty years ago, before seminary, our neighbor’s two sons were deaf, so I had some experience. What little sign language I had picked up was gone. But I did remember to always look directly toward them.

I am used to making eye contact when preaching, teaching, leading a discussion, making a presentation. But this is both different and not. It is different in that I am making eye contact with someone for them; else where I make eye contact at least in part for me.

And here we come across a key element of Baptism. We gather for the person being baptized. Not for the Church. Not for ourselves. Actually it’s a key element of all Christ based relationships, for all Jesus actions are for God, or are for us, all humanity, all creation, never for himself. (Even his drawing aside to pray and recharge is eventually for God and us.) What would the world look like if everything we did was for the other person?

More than one percent

Sometime ago my thinking about this Sunday’s lectionary centered on Christ the King and how we have no idea what that means. I do no think we can, because we have no idea what King means. O yes, we have an intellectual understanding, some may even have a sophisticated understanding of the varieties of monarchy, kingship. But none of us, citizens of the US, have any real life experience of living under absolute monarchy, all sovereigns in one person. We have always lived under a democratically elected republic sovereign. We have no frame of reference about the power dynamics.

Well may be we do.  Mariam Kamell uses the phrase one percent in her commentary. (1)  even with the multi billion dollar fines some companies have agreed to as a results of decisions that lead to the 2008 economic collapse not a single corporate officer has faced charges, and less than a handful of employees have, or likely will. The one percent are individuals who because of their great wealth and indulgence can and do act with impunity.

I do not believe the one percent are by definition evil. However we are all aware of the power they have. Kamell wonders when Christians will realize we are the one percent, that we have power that exceeds anything Wall Street, or any billionaire can wield. As heirs of Jesus ministry we have the power of God to led people out of any darkness that captures them and show them the light of life eternal that exceeds anything we can imagine, even the extraordinary images of Revelation. I wonder, as does Kamell what the world, what our home towns could look like, if we dared to act with the power of our resurrected King? As did the power of Rome, the power of one percent fades in the presence of the first born of all creation.

Mariam Kimell, Working Preacher, Commentary on Colossians 1:11-20, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1849

Baptism, crucifixion and beyond

How in the world did it get to be Thursday already? No matter, it is, and I am trying to keep focused on Sunday’s baptism. In perusing what has past, and what’s to come I’m noticing that most of what I’d think of as distractions are not. For example, yesterday I was blessed to serve Thanksgiving Dinner to the folks of Abilities Unlimited for several hours, last night I spent two hours with several parishioners engaged in the church’s Reimaging survey, tonight I’ll be at the Charitable Clinic for four or five hours; all of these are baptismal activities. Only one is directly related to church, but then again our baptismal responsibilities are explicitly beyond the church. Activities that are beyond the church are a reflection of Luke’s Gospel account of Jesus’ crucifixion.

When one of the two criminals shouts at Jesus: Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us! he is expressing the expected behavior of a messiah, or any leader expected to save his people. Jesus’ refusal to act in expected ways, i.e. his telling the other criminal: … today you will be with me in Paradise. and giving himself to death should not be a surprise. Little of Jesus’ ministry and teaching is expected, at least in his day, and we are jaded by post resurrection expectations.  And since a significant aspect of our Baptismal Theology, we are baptized into Jesus’ death, and to his resurrection, we should not expect baptismal responsibilities to be anything other than the unexpected, even two millennia later.

 Celebrating Ray’s baptism Sunday is only a beginning. Real work begins Monday as we work to fulfill our commitment to support him in his life in Christ. [i]  As we know, that life is to be unexpected. What I am wrestling with is not that yesterday’s activities, or even Tuesday’s Executive Council, are baptismal, but that I intentionally commit to, and participate in them, as an exercise of Baptismal responsibility. 

For the moment I will ponder Baptism beginning in Jesus’ crucifixion and moving beyond all expectations.

 


[i] Book of Common Prayer, 303

Crossed up baptism?

The morning was consumed with 2nd half of the month’s bills.  The afternoon went to trimming over grown hedges. The early evening was dedicated to a board meeting. After supper was all about getting ready for Wednesday because tomorrow is the Executive Committee meeting. That includes reading Sunday’s lectionary readings, and a first glimpse at commentary wisdom.

This Sunday we will baptism the youngest child of a new family. Christ the King is a good, though not preferred, day for Baptism. Then I read the Gospel which is from Luke’s account of the crucifixion. Panic? Not after reading Scott Hoezee’s commentary [i] which focuses on the nature of God’s Kingdom, in particular that the Kingdom is not some far off starry -starry night futuristic wonderland, nope the Kingdom is right here right now. Every time a child is baptized, every time we celebrate Eucharist, every time we pray, every time we reject the values of this world and without judgment, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, heal the sick,  … every time a child, or anyone else, sees the people of God living the values Jesus teaches all the way to death on a cross.

What a great background story to begin a new life in Christ.


[i] Scott Hoezee, cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is November 24, 2013 (Ordinary Time), This Week‘s Article: The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 23:33-43

A sermon for Proper 28

Isaiah 65:17-25, Canticle 9, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

 

You know that as much as David wanted to build a house for God, God did not give him that honor. Instead, it was Solomon who was blessed to build the Temple, and my goodness, how splendid it was. Craftsmen and materials from around the world came to Jerusalem and built God a permanent home on earth. Remember, God already had a home, the Tabernacle, the tent that traveled with the Hebrews as they wandered across the lands to their now fixed abodes. Some 400 years later,[i] in 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar [ii] destroyed the Temple and took the Jews away into captivity. Last week we read from Haggai’s story and his prophecy regarding rebuilding the Temple, lead by Ezra and Zechariah between 515 and 520 BCE. Flip forward some 500 years and the Temple is well worn. The Roman vassal Herod rebuilds the Temple. With imperial like resources he was able spare no expense in restoring its former glory. It took ten years, but was it was magnificent, 400,00 people could fit inside, it was the rival of all the eighboring kingdoms’ pagan temples, and certainly brought the glory Herod sought. [iii]  Actually that was phase one; Herod’s descendants are still building when Jesus and his followers are walking by. [iv]

So, we should not be surprised that Jesus’ followers are awe-struck as they walk past the gigantic polished stones that form the walls of a truly splendid space; thinking: Surely this must be the home of God on earth

Take a moment and think of a similar experience you’ve had. What have you seen that evoked an over whelming sense of awe, a deep sense of pride in your people? I can recall walking the beach by the Pensacola Naval Air Station and seeing the aircraft carrier John F Kennedy, she was tremendous, stately, exuding power. About the same time I saw one of the first C5As on approach.It was so large that at descent speed it looked like it was hanging in the air; truly a miracle of modern engineering; a sign of our abilities that are well beyond what anyone else can do. And not much later, I visited Canterbury Cathedral; the titular home of our Anglican heritage. It is ancient beyond its years, even in the midst of milling tourist you feel its grandeur,  ~ its glory. Canterbury is, as Camp Mitchell folks will say, a thin place;  surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. [v]

Think of a similar experience you have had. Recall the feeling. That is how the disciples are feeling. It is no wonder they respond in abject terror as their trusted leader viscerally tears it all away saying:  … all [this] will be thrown down.” They can’t imagine such a tragedy. Actually,  they can imagine it. Jewish history is replete with stories of destruction and occupation. Jews acknowledge their prior captivity, they know the story we reviewed just a minute ago. And remember, they are a conquered people. Jerusalem is occupied by the Roman army. Knowing they can, yet again, lose the source of their identity, their strength, their security, is all to imaginable, it is terrifying. 

What terrifies you? something beyond the grief of unexpected death.  I‘m not referring to the terror of the event itself; it’s not like the mortal struggle of the Philippines, after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. Its anticipation so terrifying, it dominates everything. I lived on the Alabama Gulf Coast just as it was fully recovering from the damage of Hurricane Ivan, some years before, when the Deep Water Horizon blew up in April 2010. That disaster shaped every conversation, every action, every hope, every prayer; before  ~ the tangible effects of the disaster. 

What is your existential fear? Recall its feeling. 

Now put those two feeling right next to each other. I was on the Gulf Coast when the hope of recovery was suddenly right up against the existential fear of oil from the Deep Water Horizon explosion. Feel the dissonance between glorious anticipation, smack up against, shattered expectations. Feel the raw scrape of hopefulness grating against pummeled possibilities.

All of us, I know I did, immediately want to turn to Isaiah’s prophecy of God creating a new heaven and a new earth making everything alright. We flee to the certainty of Canticle 9’s Surely, it is God who saves me;  … for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel. But not Luke.

Yes, the story we read this morning stops in a place that allows hope in endurance. But Luke continues with Jesus telling about the destruction of Jerusalem, how she will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled. The story goes on with predictions of  signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars … distress among the nations,  … confusion caused by the … seas and the waves. Jesus does not let up. [vi]  The disciples continue in the raw emotional dissonance between glorious anticipation, smack up against, shattered expectations. 

 

I want to revisit the initial experience at the Temple. The disciples draw a sense of pride, strength, and security from the Temple. There is even a sense of stability in its presence. But they know its history, their history. If they’d let themselves they could acknowledge such pride, strength, and security are hallow, based on false premises. In fact that has been a recurring fault with Israel’s and Judah’s kings. Every time they face a threat they turn to Persia, Babylonia,  Assyria, or Egypt, even to each other; but never – never God. Reading the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles will bring you up-short. It does me, because I see in these books the very behavior I witness in ourselves, in our elected political leadership. When faced with an existential threat we turn to the Seals, Rangers, special forces, regular forces, and Home Land Security;  we turn to the NRA; we turn to science and technology, known and at times not yet developed, we turn to the false certainty of the past . We behave very much like ancient Israel and Judah. We behave very much like the awe struck disciples as they walk by the Temple’s splendid walls. And our circumstances have certain similarities. 

 

Except one. When Luke’s audience hears/ reads his Gospel account, the Temple already in ruins; Jerusalem is already destroyed. The endurance Jesus speaks of is not enough. 

This chapter ends  with a parable about a fig tree, and an exhortation to be watchful. But Luke seems to end Jesus’ prophecy at the Temple wall the verse prior:  28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Redemption!

Mere days after Jesus’ birth, his parents bring him to the Temple for rite of presenting their first born to God. The prophetess Anna sees Jesus and after years of silent fasting and prayer she begins  … to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem

Redemption; from the beginning it has been about redemption.

Richard Sawnson notes: our redemption, Christian redemption,  is Jesus’ resurrection.  He ends this week’s commentary:  

Sometimes endurance is not enough, not even nearly. When it really matters, only resurrection will do, and in Luke’s story, we wait for resurrection.

 Thursday I blogged about staying in the moment of grating dissonance. I’ve come to glean it’s not about staying in the moment, it’s not about waiting for the resurrection. Jesus’ teaching is about trusting God, especially in moments of grating dissonance. … indeed—God is my salvation.  I trust, I [will not] be afraid. [vii]

 

 

[i] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/The_Temple.html
[ii] Matthew George Easton , Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[iii] Richard Swanson  Commentary on Luke 21:5-19, Workingpreacher.org http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1853,
[iv] Easton, ibid
[v] Janice Cowan
[vi] Swanson, ibid
[vii] Isaiah 12:2, The Message, Canticle 9