Life and Life

A Sermon For the 1st Sunday in Christmas; Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7, John 1:1-18, Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

 

Thank you to -Br. James for his vision about singing on Christmas Day’s (Koester). He wrote: We don’t have to give Christmas to some Hallmark moment

 … – we can sing. We can sing, … in hope of … a world of mercy, justice and peace, a Magnificat world.

which got me thinking about John’s prologue in musical terms as a different way of understanding it. Eventually , remembered as a kid going to hear an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performance of Peter and the Wolf. Before the performance began the conductor lead a sort of prologue. It goes like this

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfM7Y9Pcdzw&feature=youtu.be

The musical prologue framed how the story would be told, so we could hear and understand it.

Early Christians have a problem. Every other civilization around them has a divine system of many gods.

  • The Romans have multiple pairs of gods: Jupiter-Juno, Neptune-Minerva, Mars-Venus, Apollo-Diana, Vulcan-Vesta, and Mercury-Ceres.
  • The Greeks have: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Ares, Athena, Apollo, and Artemis.
  • Egypt has: Ra, Geb, Nut, Shu, Osiris, Isis, Set, and Horus.
  • Persia has: Adad, Ashur, Anu, Dagan, Enki, Ereshkigal, Inanna, Marduk, and a bunch more .

The Christians’ Jewish background believes in one God – God. And now these upstart Christians who claim to follow God also claim that God has come to earth, born of an earthly mother, is named Jesus, lived and taught among us, just as we do, died, and has risen from the dead, and is now back in heaven with God. This incredible story is completely unbelievable and so offensive they are being accused of believing in two gods. Others charge them of following various Greek philosophies. John’s prolog says no and sets the stage for the Gospel by revealing how God and Jesus are mystically one from the very beginning in poetry. He does so because poetry is a way to explain the unexplainable, through the beauty of the words, … underneath {which is}, the beauty of the truth (Rice)

John begins in an unusual place before the beginning, which is intended to turn our attention to God’s character (Harrelson). He draws on familiar Old Testament traditions, but none of them are in their usual form (Harrelson). From Genesis we know God’s word speaks the world into being (Gen 1:1–2:4a) (Gaventa and Petersen). Jewish writers, like Philo,

[spoke] of Wisdom … who represented God in human history, but … stopped short of saying that God became human (Slater).

He builds on Proverbs’ teaching that Wisdom was created before the beginning (Prov. 8:22-23) (Keener and Walton; Gaventa and Petersen) He makes use of Wisdom being linked with God’s creating Word in the Wisdom of Solomon (7:22; 9:1-3) (Keener and Walton). and references to God’s Word as light and life in Deuteronomy (8:1; 11:9), Baruch (4:1; 4:2; cf), Psalms (119:105) and the Wisdom of Solomon (7:26) (Keener and Walton).

John does makes use of The Greek philosophy, by using the Stoic’s idea of logos as the harmonious web of reason that holds all things in being to present a complete picture of the source and causes of creation (Gaventa and Petersen). The introduction of light and life shifts the story’s focus to humanity. It also provides us a source of strength by assuring us that though there is darkness and shadows in the word, they will never overcome the light of creation and the incarnate divine presence (Harrelson).

John also encourages us to think differently about who we are (Rice). He teaches us that God loves us so much that God/Jesus chose to leave the glory of heaven, become human, just as you and I are human, so that we might become more like him (Slater). We are so beloved that the Divine makes the invisible and unknowable visible and present sharing the perfect intimacy between God and Jesus with us to be a model for our relationships with each other and our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Gaventa and Petersen).

John closes the prologue saying no one has seen God, implying no one can see God, that only the Son, Jesus, has made, can make, God known. This tells his readers, including us, that the story that follows is not about Jesus, but about God who creates us, rescues us from our misbehavior that distances us from God and each other and supports us through all the travails of life’s journey (O’Day; Harrelson).

John’s prologue does more than set the stage for his gospel story, reveal the mystery of God’s presence in human form, and define Jesus’ ministry. He also sets up the Gospel as a calling to review our behaviors, acknowledge the shadows we cast, and accept the power of light to transform our ability to nurture others by introducing Jesus who makes God known. As theologically complex as John’s gospel is he reminds us that our behavior, what we say and what we do, is more important than what we profess (Slater). John gives us a strong place to anchor our souls (Slater). He opens the world of poetry to share the unexplainable. He opens the world of song through which we can share a Magnificat world of hope, mercy, justice, and peace (Koester). In poetry and song, we are empowered, by the love enkindled in our hearts to share how all the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. (O little town of Bethlehem). and not just 2000 years ago but every night until night is no more.


References

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Koester, James. “Sing.” Brother, Give Us AN AdventWord. SSJE, 25 12 2017.

Rice, Whitney. “In the Beginning…, Christmas 1.” 31 12 2017. Sermons that Work.

Slater, Thomas B. Commentary on John 1:1-18. 31 12 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

 

 

Ashes, Dust, Life, and repentance

A sermon for Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2,12-17, Psalm 103 or 103:8-14, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

 

 

We have heard the readings for today. In just a minute I will recite the invitation to participate in the ancient rite of repentance and restoration to the life in the Church. The structure of the service comes from the fist BPC in 1549, with several revisions (Hatchett). Ove the years I have preached on the readings. I have used the time to teach about repentance which is more than giving up, some semi-desired good for 6 weeks; or taking on some temporary good. One thing I have never thought about is the central image of this evening – ashes: The prayer over the ashes includes the phrase you have created us out of the dust of the earth: The imposition of ashes includes the words: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. So, what are the biblical images of dust and ash that might help us in the observance of a holy Lent?

Well the first is obvious, Genesis 2:7

 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

God formed us from the dust of the ground. In this creation, story dust is associated with the desert wilderness, and its chaos and danger (Gaventa and Petersen) A bit later we read that all living creatures are created from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:19). As often as dust is associated with life or abundance, we never seem to be rid of the dust in our house, dust is also frequently used to represent judgment, humiliation, grief, or mourning (Sakenfeld). The writer of Ecclesiastes notes (Cross References Gen 2:7):

 all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 12:5-8)

Paul wrote to the Corinthians  (Cross References Gen 2:7)

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:47-49)

You can hear the long complex use of ‘dust’ as it related to our lives, created, lived, and, died.

A similar word for dust is ‘ash’ In the bible ash is commonly associated with a personal or national crisis that provokes some ritual of fasting, indicating penitence. ‘Ashes’ designates a person or thing worthless, and symbolizes our mortality (Sakenfeld).

Some of the powerful uses of ‘dust’ and ‘ash’ in the church setting are at burials. In the Commendation, we hear:

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. (BCP 499)

And a bit later, by the grave we hear:

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our [beloved] N; and we commit [their] body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. (BCP 501)

 

In all this, we hear the deeply complex relationship between ourselves, made in the image of God, our lives, for better or for worse, and our dying.

So, let’s see if we can connect all this. Out of the chaos of barren wilderness, God brings life out of dust, and not just human life, all living animals. Throughout scripture when God’s people get themselves in a mess, which is a common story, dust and or ashes is a symbol of repentance, or the intention to change their lives. As we heard in Joel, whenever there is a prophetic voice pronouncing doom and calling for repentance, there also a voice that announces God’s desire for divine restoration. In the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, we hear the teacher proclaim all is vanity because in the end everything and everyone returns to the dust from whence it came. However, woven into the emphasis on vanity is the belief that really good can come from engaging in routines of life, for they are a gift from God (Sakenfeld). Paul tell the Corinthians

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:49).

The burial rite acknowledges that at death we all return to the earth, dust, and ashes. However, the rite is grounded in Easter, which is why we proclaim

yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

and

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ

The linkage of dust and ashes to life is, from dust and ash to life; in dust and ash we repent of broken bonds with the assurance of divine grace; at death, we return to dust and ashes trusting that we will know eternal life in God’s glorious presence. It is this circle of dust and ashes and life to life that gives Lent a purpose and our faith meaning.

Charles Hoffacker’s thoughts on Ash Wednesday focused on giving alms. He writes:

… alms releases us from a poisonous focus on ourselves, … [as we] recognize the need of our sisters and brothers, people made in God’s image, … we are humbled because we realize that what we can do is but little. [But in doing what we can] … we recognize how, in the face of human need, we are poor yet privileged (Hoffacker) (emphasis mine).

So, I’m not going to worry about doing Lent right. I can’t. Nobody can. Therefore, I invite you to join me to choose a discipline because as Hoffacker notes doing what we can will be valuable. And then let’s do our best to do justice; love kindness and mercy, trusting that as we fall short God continues to walk along side by side in our humble journey.


 

References

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayer Book. New York: HarperCollins, 1980. book.

Hoffacker, Charles. “Give Alms! Ash Wednesday – March 1, 2017.” 1 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

 

 

So you think you are a god

A sermon for Proper 4: 1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24), Psalm 146, Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17

If you watch any TV at all, you know about reality TV. There seems to be a contest for almost everything. There is a “So you think you are a …” contest for singers dancers, cooks, stage and movie makeup artists, and home makeovers. This morning we seem to have a “So you think you are a god” contest.

Elijah is in the northern Kingdom Israel. Israel’s’ kings have gotten progressively more sinful and Ahab worst of the worst. He is married to Jezebel and actively worships Baal; he builds an altar to Baal. God tells Elijah to announce there will be a drought. This is a direct challenge to Baal, who is the Canaanite god of rain and fertility (Hoezee, Harrelson, Sakenfeld). By a roundabout way, Elijah ends up at the gates of Zarephath, a Phoenician city and center of Baal worship (Harrelson). And although Baal must periodically submit to Mot, the Canaanite god death, which causes drought, it is clear the God of Israel is the cause of this drought in the very heartland of Baal home territory (Gaventa and Petersen).

Remember last week we heard the story of Elijah versus the prophets of Baal in which Elijah’s sacrifice is accepted in the blazing all-consuming fire after Baal’s prophets were unable to get a response to their appeals. I don’t think we got to the verses that immediately follow where God brings the drought to an end. The “So you think you are a god” contest is leaning in God’s favor. However, there is more to the story than drought.

Elijah meets a widow at the gates of Zarephath and offers her a source of unending bread and oil, an amazing abundance in the face of dire scarcity (Chan). She shares with him the last of her and her son’s food, and sure enough, there is grain and oil to last. We don’t know how long it takes, but the widow’s son gets sick and dies. She blames Elijah because he brought her, and her sins, to God’s attention. Elijah takes the child to his room, enacts some ritual, and asks God to restore his life. In the heart of Baal’s territory; in the heart of Mot’s territory, once again God brings life from despair and death revealing that God is sovereign (Harrelson).

The widow’s son is brought to life. The widow professes belief in Elijah as a man of God, and in that belief, faith in God. At this point, the contest is over, neither Baal nor Mot prevails; the Lord, the God of Israel, is God of all (Gaventa and Petersen).

Widow Zarephath’s story is not new; she is in the same crisis Naomi is in in the Book of Ruth. Despite the many laws and statutes designed to give widows extra consideration, in reality, widows continued to be an exploited group, invisible to most (Hoezee).

As Jesus approaches the Gate of Nain, he sees a funeral procession of a widow’s only son. The mother’s grief is deep and bitter. It’s less than a day since his death, and she has no idea what the evening will bring, never mind what will become of her from here on. She is shrouded in despair (Hogan). Uninvited, Jesus goes to the bier and stops the procession and just tells the man to get up. No ritual, no touching the body, just simply “I say to you rise.” And he does. Jesus brings life from despair and death.

A couple of observations about these stories’ context. Elijah could not be in a more hostile place, yet it is here, in the heart of hostile territory, in the heart of another belief system, that God calls him to bear witness to the presence and power of God. I’ll acknowledge a bit of cultural projection; however, uninvited, Jesus intercedes in a profoundly personal time and acts. One commentator asks:

What would be your reaction if a stranger walked in during the funeral of one of your [family] and stopped the proceedings (Hogan)?

The opportunity to be Jesus’ witness “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) is more often than not in unexpected, inhospitable, intrusive circumstances (Chan).

Widow Zarephath and the Widow Nain have been cut off from their communities by the deaths of their husbands and their sons. They have no prospects of providing for themselves. And yes, God and Jesus restore life to the dead sons; but they also restore life to the mothers (Hoezee). It is a common feature of healing miracles, that not only is life restored to the object of the miracle, but also to others, as community connections are also restored to life. A sign that our service in Jesus’ ministry is bearing fruit is that all sorts of things adjacent to the focus of our work begin showing signs of renewed hope, and budding life (Hoezee).

Bible stories like Widow Zarephath and Widow Nain are at one level comforting. At the same time, they can leave us uneasy, because we continue to live in a world that knows all sorts of death; from the death of loved ones, the loss of an opportunity, a job, a dream, or whatever. We are left not knowing how to respond, afraid of creeping doubt, fretful about the lack of our own faith. So how are we to respond? I have just read a book for my upcoming D.Min. class titled Leading Causes of Life. One observation is how much time and energy we tend to put into those things that cause death in an effort to stop death. These efforts are not wrong; however, the author observes how little resources we put into causes of life (Gunderson and Page). Perhaps ministry lies in nurturing life not simply fighting death. What Elijah’s and Jesus’ actions did that we can do is to nurture life. What we can do that is similar to their action is to sustain and nurture the potential that is right next to what is suffering, as the professional healers minister to the suffering. In both stories, it is the widowed grieving mothers who are at risk. In both stories, the act of ministry is not directed at them but at specifically their sons, or more generally some portion of life that is tangential to them which when nourished to flourishing will spill life all over them.

We all know Reality TV is not what it seems. Nonetheless, the reality is that the opportunity for service to Jesus ministry is not right in front of us, but perhaps in one of the surrounding communal relations. The reality is that with a touch of brazen uninvited interruption, or seemingly unrelated action, we can witness to the life-giving presence of God in Jesus by the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth.


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 5CCenter for Excellence in Preaching. 5 6 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Chan, Michael J. “Commentary on 1 Kings 17:816.” 6 9 2015. Working Preacher.

Ferguson, Shannon. “Green and Growing, Proper 5 (C) – 2016.” 5 6 2016. Sermons that Work.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Gunderson, Gary and Larry Page. Leading Causes of Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 7:11-17. 5 6 2016.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on Luke 7:11-17. 5 6 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. When Jesus Shows Up. 5 6 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

 

 

I know what to expect

A sermon for Easter Day

Acts 10:3443, or Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:12, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

Mary, Mary and Salome know what to expect. In the 1st century death was much closer to home. It was not unusual for what we call graves to be at home or in homes. It was also customary for family members to prepare bodies for burial. This is still customary today in some parts of the world; it’s a traditional and religious rite that complicated stopping the spread of Ebola. So it is not unusual for Jesus’ family and friends to tend to his body. They will have spices, and a linen shroud. They know that after three days well there may not be a stench, but the tomb is likely to be unpleasant. These ladies are witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion, they know how their beloved’s body looks ~ they know it will be unpleasant. Death is common, a family experience. Burial is common a ~ family responsibility. Mary, Mary and Salome know what to expect.

I know what to expect. My dad’s a retired doctor. In high school I worked weekends and two summers in the local hospital, primarily in the Emergency Room. I was on teams that drilled holes in skulls to relieve pressure on the brain, that worked at a vigorous pace to save young lives smashed in traffic accidents. I was present when kids my age died. I was present when children died. In seminary my CPE time was at the Veterans Hospital in Atlanta. I’ve served as a volunteer chaplain in every hospital in every city I’ve served. I know hospitals. I know ICU units. I know what to expect. Part of a lung has been removed, the incision will not be three little laparoscopic spots, there are chest tubes, oxygen tubes and multiple IV’s. I know what to expect.

Mary, Mary and Salome don’t talk about how they are going to go about their responsibilities. They are concerned about the stone that traditionally seals a tomb’s entrance. In another Gospel Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener they know or should know someone will be there, why else the mistaken identity?

To get to G’s room, you go down the hall, and turn left. For three days, at every left hand turn, my first physical motion was to the right.

Mary, Mary and Salome know the stone can be moved, their concern is a distraction. I know my left from my right, right is a distraction.

The human brain is remarkable. It has developed ways to protect us from all kinds of danger, physical and emotion, actual, and possible. It’s why we reflexively react so quickly to quick shadows or flashes at the very edge of our peripheral vision, or jump at sudden noises. Neuroscience is learning that our experiences actually build brain structures. Danger and risk create structures rapidly, contributing to our survival as a species. Happy and joy create structure, far more slowly. And all these structures can be passed on from generation to generation. That’s why children are afraid of lions and tigers and bears, without being taught. A stone, and mistaken direction are brains trying to protect us.

Mary, Mary and Salome don’t see what they expect, what they fear. The stone is moved away, the tomb is open. And Jesus isn’t there; who is there, seems to be an angelic being with the astounding message that Jesus, once dead, is raised, and that he expects the disciples to meet him in Galilee. And yes, fear is an element of their response, but so is amazement. They came expecting death, what they experience is life, and hope beyond expression.

After correcting myself, I made my way around the nurses’ station and looked the short distance across the ICU to far corner to the open door, of a darkened room. With every step the soft light reflecting off the back wall the combine light of LED’s and displays of numerous devices add a gentle muted illumination. With every step her face grows clearer and clearer. Quietly I exhale. Slowly, softly one considered step at a time I allow myself to move into her presence. What I see is her sweet face, relaxed, her hair loving brushed, and soft breaths.

Even knowing what I know, I ‘m not sure what I expected; what I see, is my daughter precious, full of life. What I see is a smile break across her face as her eyes open and she recognizes me. There is no fear like amazement. There is relief, there is life, there is hope.

And that is why we are here today.  We all know life is full of dark, dismal abysses. Death, in all its many guises is ever present. It’s why we turn right, or flee the unexpected. We here today to have written in our hearts the light that is not over whelmed by the dark, the dazzling which triumphs over the dismal, the divine relation  that bridges the abyss. And like our Eucharistic sacrament, it is far more than a celebratory memorial. This is a reliving, this is a divine rewriting on our hearts and in our minds that the love of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus is always present. Sometimes it is manifest as a displaced stone and a mysterious young man, sometimes it is manifest in a softly illumined smile, and sometimes, who knows, save its always there, the prevailing joy the triumphal hope for all forever and that sings Alleluia.

Dry or Wet Still Dead?

Dry Bones is one of my favorite scripture readings. I suspect because long ago I heard it read by a skilled Lector who brought the story amazing alive. I can still sense the evocation of winds, rattling bones, and emerging layers of flesh, and rush of breath.

Rush forward some decades and I drew a connection between the valley of dry bones, and the dead marshes in Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers.  It is the site of the Battle of Dagorlad at the end of the Second Age. Only here the bodies of the dead are preserved by the cold waters of encroaching swamps. As they traverse the dismal place Frodo and Samwise are warned not to touch the bodies else they risk falling to their own death.

The landscapes could not be more different: one dessert, arid, and desiccating, the other swap, cold, and sullen waters. Neither could they be more alike: both the scenes of long forgotten battles, where myriads fell and lie forgotten, given over to the ravages of time.

It is the stories that capture the imagination. The bodies forsake in the dead marshes are forever forsaken. There is no hope. While the bones of the valley, are not. There is hope for them for I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

That ruah (breath, wind, spirit) came and desiccated, detached bones ḥāyâ (revive) is improbable in its day. Today it is all the more improbable. But no more improbable than Creator God expending inconceivable force of love by which dust assembles and ruah brings ḥāyâ (life) for the first time. Therein lies hope beyond all understanding, for I, the Lord, have spoken and will act – actually has and continues to act.

5th in Lent, Dry Bones, Lord of Rings, death, life, hope, ruah,

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!

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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