Radiant Revelation

that your people may shine with the radiance of Christ‘s glory … is one of two core phrases in Sunday’s collect for the day and Paul’s line as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ… are connecting as I wander through this week’s sermon prep process. In making the connection I realize I have changed the tense of both phrases, from future to present. I.e. Jesus is already being revealed, and we are already shining with the radiance of Christ glory.

However, there is more to it. I also know we are very good at covering up radiance, and hiding revelation. Perhaps it frightens us, or is inconvenient, or we don’t think we are worthy. It may be that it is the wrong person, who shares the image of God we all bear; someone who’s gay, or the wrong nationality or race or religious conviction; someone we don’t believe is worthy of being an image of God.  

Such thinking is wrong on both counts. God created us (male and female) in God’s image. [i] Yes, we, humanity, broke the bond of that relationship; however, Christian faith is God redeemed it via the ministry of Jesus.  Is there work to be done?  Yes. But it is not the work of redemption that has been accomplished. It is the work of acceptance and sharing, the work of evangelism. Redemption is complete, evangelism not yet. This week David Lose shares 3 step evangelism: notice, share and invite. [ii] Notice the Divine presence in life, ours and others; share what we notice within our faith community, then invite others to join in.

In ending I’ll go back to Paul’s beginning. I thank God… for it is not mine, nor yours nor anyone else’s efforts or presence or skill or insight or gift that’s efficacious, whatever we have (or not) is of God and for that I am thankful, thankful enough to share it, even with a stranger. Or at least I should be.


[i] Genesis 1:27

[ii] David Lose, Craft of Preaching, Notice, Share, Invite, January 19, 2014, WorkingPreacher.org

Obeyed

A colleague of mine has focused on a line from collect for Sunday … illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth. It’s a powerful bit of prayer. I don’t know a Christian who wouldn’t agree with the first to bits of being so illumined: for Jesus to be known and worshiped. I rather suspect that many would just as soon ignore the obeyed bit, if for no other reason than we really don’t anybody telling us what to do.

However, as I read through Isaiah 49:1-7 there is an implicit piece of obedience, perhaps no so much. The servant’s response to God’s speech is I’ve wasted my time; I’ve done my best to no avail! God’s reply is:

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

At first reading God seems to be pilling on; so you haven’t done any good, okay, in addition to Jacob/Israel, now you are to tell the story of salvation to the ends of the earth. (And no matter how big one’s vision of earth may be, it’s big.) On the other hand, God expresses increased certainty that the divine plan will come to fruition as he speaks of a once despised Israel being respected and honored by rulers of the earth.

To some extent there is persistence message here; God wants the servant, either the prophet or Israel, to be persistent irrespective of what they perceive the results to be. On the other hand I see an element of obedience, precisely because the servant cannot correctly see the future, nor the effect of the work. That means doing the work anyway, and that means trusting God, which is at the very heart of any relationship.

A sermon for Advent 4

Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

We all know the Music of Handel’s Messiah, well at least the Alleluia Chorus. I would have said that he was no slouch when it came to lyrics, but then I learned, they were written by his good friend, Charles Jennens, a large land owner, patron of the arts,and devoted Christian scholar with particular interest in primitive Christianity; living as 1st century Christian did, and John Chrysostom, [i] the saint with the unpronounceable last name. So, I would now observe that Jennens, was no slouch when it came to storytelling. The lyrics are entirely from scripture, and he chose well, particularly from the new testament. Luke’s version, with his long journey, a city full of “no vacancy,” a sparse, spare manger, night shift shepherds, and angel choirs, is a really grand story. Jennens masterfully weaves it together, and Handel’s musical genius well its lasted centuries. 

But this is not the only biblical story of Jesus’ birth. Matthew includes a birth narrative in his Gospel account; and it’s quite different; and it’s as dramatic, on its own terms. We heard it this morning. So we know Mary is engaged to Joseph. We know she turns up pregnant. We know Joseph intend to quietly divorce her. Finally we know Joseph: listens to God’s messenger angel, marries Mary, and names the child Jesus. To our ears, Joseph seems rather harsh, a self-centered prig. Until we forget all our social customs, and immerse ourselves in Joseph’s world; for Joseph’s story, challenges how we live today. 

Let’s start with marriage. In the first century, there is no falling in love, asking her father for her hand in marriage. Sons’ fathers made arrangements with daughters’ father. There were contracts. A dowry was paid to ensure the bride’s future, and to compensate her family for the loss of a productive family member. The payment of the dowry made a marriage legal before any feast. [ii] Then there is Deuteronomy 22:23 ff 

 23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her,  24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death,

 The first thing we hear about Joseph, is that he is a righteous man; and that means he is very intentional about living his life by the law. His decision to divorce Mary is not out of anger or feeling of betrayal, it’s out of his deep religious commitment. Love as we think of it in marriage is simply not part of the equation. It is not Joseph’s choice, it is his obligation. [iii] Yet, even in the first century there were legal interpretations, made by Rabbi’s through the years. And there was mitigation in cases of marriage contract violations, though they were harsh and humiliating. [iv] It reveals much about Joseph and about Matthew’s teaching, that Joseph seeks to follow God’s word, i.e. be righteous, and be merciful, perhaps stretching the boundaries of mercy, as Joseph seems to be more generous to Mary than rabbinic mitigation suggest.

We still have names to ponder. Joseph is common in scripture. The first time we read about a “Joseph” is the one with a coat of many colors. He is the eleventh son of Jacob, the first by Rachel. He starts out as a bit of a brat, gets sold into slavery by his brothers, makes a name for himself in Egypt, ends up running the show for Pharaoh, and when Jacob’s family shows up starving from the famine he generously provides for them, setting up the flowering of the Hebrew people. Joseph is a shepherd to the Hebrews. 

Normally a son would be named after his father. But Joseph is told to name his son Jesus, a common Hebrew name. Jesus is derived from ‘Yeshua’, which is derived from ‘Joshua’, who is Moses successor. By name Jesus is established as Moses’ successor.  [v] The importance of this might be akin to a person believed to be the successor to George Washington. By implication Joseph is the shepherd to Moses’ successor, as the true leader of the Jews.

There is one more element in this ever growing complex weave of literary fabric. Joseph, a righteous, merciful man, has a dream in which God’s angle, God’s messenger, tell him: 

            “… marry Mary, and name the baby ‘Jesus.’”

 And Joseph does. There is something in Joseph’s character, that allows him to receive God’s word, even though it beaks strong customs, the naming of first sons, and even breaks God’s law as set forth in Deuteronomy. And even though is sounds like a sound bite from the Reformation, which is a millennium and a half after all this, Joseph’s personal relationship with God is stronger than whatever is handed down to him by tradition or written law. Joseph knows God. And that relationship allows Joseph to be obedient to God, even though obedience makes him appear to be unrighteous, and subjects him to humiliation and ridicule.

What this morning’s Gospel reveals is a righteous merciful man obedient to God to the extent that he violates established norms and law to shepherd God’s anointed successor to Moses.

And oh yea, one more little tid-bit; Joseph, as is Mary, are two bit players, from two bit families from a two bit tribe. In no way, are they the ones anyone, including us, would look to, to bring God’s incarnate presence into the world, into our lives into your lives.[vi] There is no pedigree, there is no education, no training, no experience, no nothing, except: righteousness, mercy and obedience, from Joseph, and acceptance, 

“… let it be with me according to your word.” [vii]

 from Mary.

All of this rather muddles up, our preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. But that is only half of our Advent observation, the other being preparation for the return of the King. So, if one wants to actively prepare, to actively participate in what we pray for, every day, (at least I hope you do)

… thy kingdom come, thy will be done, one earth as it is in heaven.

we have a model to follow in Matthew’s birth narrative. From Joseph: be righteous in flowing the law, God’s as revealed in scripture and interpreted by faith leaders, and secular law, which, at least according to Paul, are also established by God for the benefit of God’s people; be merciful in the application of the law seeking not only your benefits, but just consideration of others, be obedient, be discerningly obedient, and when God calls you to act, against the current interpretation of God’s law, and / or secular law, do so  trusting in God. And finally from Mary, when called to accept the unacceptable, do so trusting in God.

It only took me a thousand or so words to get here but the Incarnation gives us four little words to prepare for the return of the King: righteousness, mercy, obedience, and acceptance. May they be your guiding light: to the truth of incarnation and to presence of our King.

Amen

 

————————————

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Jennens
[ii] Eaton’s Bible Dictionary
     Holman’s Bible Dictionary
[iii] Douglas R.A. Hare, Interpretation, Matthew
[iv] M. Eugene Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible
[v] ibid
[vi] Lose, Working Preacher, Matthew’s Version of the Incarnation, December 17, 2013
[vii] Luke 1:38

______________________
Arland J. Hultgren, Commentary on Matthew 1:18-25, Working Preacher, 12/22/2013
Scott Hoezee, Matthew 1:18-25, Center for Excellence in Preaching, December 22, 2013

 

Live righteously, do justice, and be obedient.

I got promoted last night. It was  well worth the two hours I spent standing in front of the big box store front doors ringing bells, wishing people “Merry Christmas” and saying “Thanks” when they made a contribution to the Blytheville Union Mission’s ministry to the homeless in Mississippi County and surrounding area. My benefactor was blond, maybe three. We exchanged Merry Christmas as she and her mom went in the store. Her mom contributed to the effort on their way out to a “Merry Christmas and thank you.” That’s when I got promoted, Dad arrived in their car, then as mom put her in her car seat, she said “Bye Santa” What a great ending to a long day.

I suspect it was my 60 year old gray beard and red pointy hat and not the exchange of “Merry Christmas” that lead to my promotion. But the truth is, it happened because I was where I was, doing my part to support the mission. In that respect the experience is a little bit like our relationship with Joseph. Scott Hoezee notes that Joseph never speaks a word in the Bible. (1) We know Joseph through his actions. He is righteous; he lives his life by the law (i.e. he intends to divorce Mary) he exercises justice (i.e. he chose to divorce her quietly, not exposing her to public humiliation and possible death) and he is obedient (he does what the angel of God tells him to do, and completes the marriage contract with Mary). At least according to Matthew, Joseph saves the day for the infant Messiah when, once again, he listens to God’s angel messenger and flees with his family (as unorthodox as it is) to Egypt to escape Herod’s fearful violent effort to keep what he has.

One could easily spend all their time reading the books and articles on how a church can make itself known through Face-book, Twitter, Web sites, Instagram, email news letters, and a bunch I don’t even know about. Jospeh’s story leads us to another conclusion. His model is to live righteously, do justice, and be obedient. I believe such a life will draw more attention than all the social media ever could.

(1) Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Matthew 1:18-25,

What’s going on?

A sermon for Advent 3

Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Canticle 15

 

It’s been a week, and we tend to forget readings from previous weeks, especially since we didn’t hear them ‘cause ice caused us to cancel corporate worship. We would have heard Matthew’s account of John down by the river side; he was calling the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repent. Actually he calls for them to prepare the way of the Lord; either way, the people need to change their behavior. We also hear John talks about the ax at the root of the tree, a reference of divine judgment against Israel. He also goes on about the chaff being burned with unquenchable fire, a likely reference to Israel’s corrupt leadership. So we have a pretty good idea of Matthew’s vision of John the Baptist.

Skip forward some time, not sure how much, though it is eight chapters, and this morning we hear John asking Jesus a question, through his disciples, because he is in jail. He wants to know if Jesus is the messiah. It’s a queer question, he did baptize him. However, only Jesus hears God’s voice, so we cannot know for sure that John knows Jesus is God beloved son. In fact we have a previous hint that there are questions; in chapter 11 John’s disciples ask Jesus’ disciples why they (John’s disciples) fast and they (Jesus’ disciples) don’t. There is no way of knowing if John’s disciples ask of their own or if John asks them to, because he is already in jail, having been arrested in chapter 4.

What we have is John down by the river side at his prophetic best; Jesus’ baptism, John’s arrest a question about fasting that may be from John, a question if Jesus is the messiah that is from John. 

John has put everything he has into this prophet thing, and now he is in jail; not what is expected. And to top it all off, Jesus isn’t exactly acting like a messiah, he isn’t wielding the ax, he isn’t burning chaff, and when he confront sinners, he eats with them. This is not what is expected. What is going on?

What is going on? Recently we’ve heard news of: Adam’s brain tumor, Mary Gay’s brother’s death, Bill’s arrest, Sally’s death, Brandon’s ATV accident, Jenny’s health concern’s, Joey’s heath concern’s, Mrs. Gladden’s death, Jerry’s cancer, Laura’s accident, and Gladys’ death. What’s going on? None of this is expected, at least not now!

I mean look around town, everything is decorated there are bright lights, brilliant vivid colors, the radio if a constant stream of holiday music. Our mail boxes are collecting more and more cards wishing us Happy Holidays! This is a happy, joyful time of year. We are looking forward to celebrating Jesus birth, we are looking forward to the return of the King, Jesus in full divine regalia! Yesterday the Ignite Christmas Box ministry gave 800 families a box of food, a box of hygiene products, a box of Avon products, a ham and a loaf of bread. That ~ is what is expected this time of year. So, what’s going on?

What’s going on is life. All of life, including those parts that are: grievous, frustrating, frightening, and emotionally and spiritually debilitating. The raw edges of life didn’t stop on the occasion of Jesus birth. We glamorized Luke’s version, but there is nothing glamorous about a day long (or more) donkey ride, to pay taxes to a foreign King. Matthew’s version is far less glamorous; he takes a scant six verses to tell the tale of Jesus birth. That is followed by the terrorizing tale, of Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaping Herod’s rage, and the slaughter of thousands of innocent infant boys.

Life goes on. The dark side of life continues. Whether we expect it or not, whether it is fair or not, whether we are prepared or not, whether it causes us to question Jesus or not, life goes on.

 And now we come to Jesus answer. Well actually he doesn’t answer the question. He tells John’s disciples to tell John what they see. I wonder if he gets a blank stare, you know the kind teachers sometimes get, because then he tells them what they see: the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, the lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead being raised, the poor having good news brought to them, and anyone who takes no offense at me is being blessed. ..

Each scene, relates to a portion of Isaiah’s messianic prophecy. Each scene, is evidence that the Kingdom of God is already on earth, is already transforming all creation.

The transformation of all creation is a facet of Jesus’ birth I fear we ignore. The incarnation is God’s fully divine presence being birthed in the fully human Jesus. The incarnation is also an infusion of the divine presence in every human, in every micro-corner of creation. That transformation of all creation is a facet of our messiah’s return I fear we tend to miss, ‘cause we get all caught up in judgment etc. Nonetheless our messiah’s return is the end of a transformation already in the making. In short, even as life goes on, God is in our midst. God is present in every corner of our lives, the resplendently bright bits, the surprisingly righteous one, the ones where justice reigns; even the scary, dark and lonely corners. But that presence is not static, far from it.

When we accept it, listen for it, listen to it, respond in faith and trust, God’s presence will enable ~ well some call it miracles, we know it to be the power of God in everyday life.

So, what’s going on? Life in the presence of God is going on, and there is no waiting because it’s right here right now. Amen!

___________________________

David Lose Working Preacher, Craft of Preaching, Disappointed with God at Christmastime, Sunday, December 08, 2013 12:43 PM

Arland J. Hultgren, Working Preacher, Commentary on Matthew 11:2-11, 12/15/2013

Brett Younge, Ministry Matters, KeepHerod in Christmas, November 30th, 2013

Change how we smell

Last week a colleague of mine tells the story of a food pantry. The weather was terrible, wet and cold, many of the patrons were severely under dressed.  As is their custom after the distribution was over they reviewed the process for improvements. Someone commented on the patrons being in the cold. Another said we could let them in, but where? Someone else suggested the sanctuary. After a time of silence the minister said no. After the review broke up in a select group of people, the minister noted his decision was primarily based on the fact that the public is … well dirty.

So that evening I am reading the lections for Sunday.  N.T Wright notes that Isaiah 11:3  His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. ‘delight’ actually means smell.  Wright goes on to note the custom of having people posted at the doors of churches and mosques who refuse entry to people who carry a scent of evil. [i]

This has got to connect.

This morning I got to thinking about walking into my mother’s kitchen and always taking delight in the wonderful delicate aromas swirling about when she was cooking. That reminded me that an origin of burnt offering is the smoke carrying the delicate delightful aromas to God.

As I finished my sermon, which includes John’s call to repent, his call to change, the idea of our need to change how we smell popped into my head.  To Change how we smell. has both a verb and adjective implication. In following John we change how we smell by turning from our sinful, evil ways. On the other hand would change how we smell by changing the odors we are searching for, to those that delight God.

 

[i] Tom Wright, Twelve Months of Sunday, Morehouse, 2012

The gathering storm

The prophetic voice that has our attention at the moment is the Weather Channel (sic) as we prepare and await the coming winter storm with up to ¾” of ice.  The milk and bread run is already visible. Many scheduled events, Christmas Tree lightings, Christmas Parade, Concerts etc are being rescheduled.  Conversation at lunch today was about generators, some are natural gas powered, and just turn on, others have been in storage for years and there are questions about their status, some are new out of the box – though at least one of those did not work. There are even the forward looking folks pondering Monday when the second wave of winter weather sweeps across the land.

And I know there will be those who do not listen. I’m sort of one as I don’t see the radar projections indicating our town in the way of rain, sleet or ice.  And so I wonder why some people ignore a prophetic voice; why some listen but, at least as judged by their actions, do not hear; and why others really hear the prophet’s voice and change what they are doing? I especially wonder about folks who know better, like me, I’ve been through one of these ice debacles before, don’t pay closer attention. I wonder about the Sadducees and Pharisees, they should know what John is up to, because they are educated to know, because it is a part of their vision to know; nonetheless some, at least those approaching John, don’t get it. I’d love to know why.

But what I’d really love to know, is what prophetic voice I’m not getting and why, so that I can follow John’s advice and change my ways, not so such for my benefit, but in order to honor God, in Jesus the Christ.