Desert Remembrances

A sermon for The 1st Sunday in Lent 1; Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Psalm 32,
Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

 I first met George a couple of decades ago. On several occasions, we had been a part of energetic conversations with several priests. We had also had many one on one conversations that ranged from trivial to spirited debate. One day we got to sharing more personal stories. He asked me “Where are you from?” I told him just what you would expect, suburban DeKalb, County outside Atlanta Ga. Our chatter continued. A bit later he asked me, “Where are your people from?” And I shared some of my parents’ ancestral stories. George shared some of his ancestral stories. That evening our relationship grew, and a deeper bond trust formed.

When people ask “Where are you from?” they are not always interested in your geographic history. When they ask you “Where are your people from?” they are not always interested in your ancestral pedigree. What they may well be most interested in is what kind of person you are. And a way of learning who you are is to listen to you share the stories of your origins, and the stories of your roots. It works because who we are is shaped by our communities, and is deeply formed by the community of our origins (Johnson).

On Ash Wednesday, we explored the meanings of dust and ash the two principle images of the day. We heard from the creation story:

 [that] 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 (Gen 2:7)

We also learned that dust is associated with the desert wilderness, its chaos and its danger (Gaventa and Petersen). In a very profound way an answer to “Where are you from?” and “Who are your people?” is “The wilderness.”

Just before this morning’s Gospel story is the story of Jesus’ baptism. It ends: This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17) God’s words are heard by Jesus, and no one else. Jesus’ hears the affirmation of who he is. The very next verse tells us that the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, which has an implication of to search (NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament). I believe Jesus being lead into the wilderness right after he is told he is God’s son, is all about Jesus being in the place of his origins, the origins of all human life, the wilderness, so that he can reconnect to his origins, reconnect to his roots, and come to know who he is, and whose he is. David Lose writes that we cannot know who we are until we remember whose we are, and all of us are God’s because we are created by God. The temptation in Eden, has its origins in the snake, coaxing Adam and Eve into forgetting whose they are (Lose). The same principle is underneath all the temptations Satan challenges Jesus with.

Satan tempts Jesus to satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread. Notice that ‘stones’ is plural, there will be bread for many people. To do so, Jesus would put himself in God’s place reacting the story of manna in the wilderness (Boring). Jesus, remember he is God’s beloved son, and God will continue to care for him.

From the Temple pinnacle, Satan taunts Jesus to prove who he is by throwing himself off the because quoting psalms 91:11,

God will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’ (Matthew 4:6).

Jesus recognizes of Satan’s attempt to twist scripture to his purposes and away from God’s purposes. Jesus rebuffs the temptation, saying “you should not test God,” a reference to Israel’s testing God at Massah, when they were thirsty (Deuteronomy 6:16) (Olive Tree).

Next Satan takes Jesus to a mountaintop, a place where gods live, and a place where Moses meets God and offers him dominion over all the Kingdoms of the world. The temptation is for him to step into the role of The Emperor of Rome, rejecting his identity as the Son of God, and thus take on a rebellious role. Jesus remembers who he is; he remembers whose he is, he rejects worshiping anything, or anyone else other than God, his loving Father (Boring).

To hear all this as Jesus simply defeating Satan is to miss a larger picture. Audrey West writes:

  • Jesus refuses in the desert to turn stones into bread to assuage his own hunger, but before long he will feed thousands in the wilderness with just a few loaves and some fish (Matt 14:17-21; 15:33-38),
  • [Jesus] refuses to take advantage of his relationship to God by hurling himself down from the heights of the Temple, but at the end of his earthly ministry he endures the taunts of others (Matt 27:38- 44) while trusting God’s power to the end upon the heights of a Roman cross (Matt 27:46).
  • [And Jesus] turns down the devil’s offer of political leadership over the kingdoms of the world, and instead offers the kingdom of the heavens to all those who follow him in the way of righteousness (West).

Jesus doesn’t merely resist or defeat Satan. Jesus is connecting to who he is and whose he is so that he is prepared to go into the world and follow the ministry God has given him to do.

On Ash Wednesday I invited you to choose a Lenten discipline. And an aspect of that discipline might include a kind of wilderness experience. It is a time and place that leads you back to your origins; Where are you from? Who are your people? Whose, are you? All of us have different origins. We are all from different parents and different places. Even if these are the same, we are born at different times, with different physical makeups, and we have developed different friends. No matter the similarities or differences of where we are from, or who our people are we all share two common traits. We are all made from the dust of the earth (Gen 2); and we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26). We are God’s, more than that; we are beloved by God. May your Lenten journey renew your identity of who you are and whose you are. And in coming to know yourself may you come to know the ministry God/Jesus/Spirt is calling you to live.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 5 3 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 5 3 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Matthew 4:1-11 . 5 3 2017.

Johnson, Edwin. “Engaging Lent, Lent 1(A).” 5 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Choice Temptations. 5 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 1 A: Identity as Gift and Promise. 5 3 2017.

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

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

West, Audrey. Commentary on Matthew 4:111. 5 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

 

 

 

Let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting

A sermon for Easter 5

Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14

There is something divinely humorous touched with irony that on the Sunday I’m scheduled to be at Calvary the reading would be about St. Stephen. But before we get to acting out I mean Acts, a word from Joseph Campbell.

Campbell has a special place in my life. I know of his writings about myths and heroes, and one day I intend to read them; however, it was his answer to an unknown question from Bill Moyer:

If you are on the wrong path you know it, if you are on the right path you know it, and if you ever sell out for money you are lost.

that set off the chain of events leading to my accepting God’s call to priest hood, the five year journey to ordination  and the six or seventeen year journey here. In many respects that decision lives out another Campbell quote I heard the other night as the ending on Criminal Minds

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. [i]

The struggle to do jut this is seen in Thomas and Phillip in today’s Gospel reading, and in Stephen’s martyrdom.

We’ve skipped ahead several chapters in John. Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet during the Passover Supper. He has told them: he is going to be betrayed; instructed them to love each other, as he has loved them; and told Peter he will deny him three times before the morning comes, with the crock’s crowing.  

From this morning’s gospel we hear him, tell the disciples no worries believe in God, believe in him, he is providing a place them and they know the way. Thomas, never one to hold back from asking the unspeakable obvious answers:

Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?

Jesus answers:

 I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

“the way” connects with his I am the gate … statement from last week proclaiming he is the whole in the wall, the way through that which separates us from God’s presence. “No one comes … except through me” isn’t an excluding qualification. It alludes to the connection between God and the Word in the prologue. [ii] *

Gail O’Day writes:

[this phrase expresses the] unshakable belief that the coming of Jesus, the Word made flesh, decisively altered the relationship between God and humanity. These words affirm that Jesus is the tangible presence of God. … [it] is the joyous affirmation of a religious community that does, indeed, believe that God is available to them decisively in the incarnation. [iii]

Phillip just wants to see the Father. With satire in his voice Jesus replies:

You’ve been looking at him all these years. When you see me, you see him.

He goes on to say:

those who believe will do similar and greater works. What you ask in my name I will do.

It is easy to interpret this to mean ask for whatever you want and if you believe enough Jesus will do it for you. This is a common prosperity Gospel reading, and it can do great harm. First, it sets folks up for failure, I prayed for … it didn’t come to be, I guess I don’t believe enough. Second, it ignores the critical phrase the works I do. Jesus is empowering us to continue his ministry to invite people to come and see, and to join in fulfilling the purpose of John’s Gospel account:

so that [others] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing  … have life in his name.

 It is clear that neither Thomas nor Phillip understand what Jesus is saying. They, and to be honest all the rest of the disciples don’t get it, at least not yet. But it seems the community of The Way is making progress in storytelling, because it’s also clear that Stephen does get it.

Just in case you aren’t familiar with Stephen’s story he was:

  • the first of the first seven deacons, chosen by the Apostles to serve the physical needs of the nascent community.
  • He was full of grace whose works and signs drew the attention and ire of, some in, the Freedman Synagogue, who conspired to charge him with blasphemy.
  • He was arrested, and offers a stunning eloquent defense that only further enrages people, so they stone him to death.

This morning’s reading starts as the stoning starts. Stephen sees Jesus standing at God’s right hand, he doesn’t call out for relief, he invites the people to look and see; they won’t. Near his death Stephen asks God to have mercy on his killers.

It is important to understand this is not a Christian verses Jewish argument, it’s the traditional version of Jewish history verses a Christ centered version of Jewish history. In his argument he aligns the people of The Way with Abraham, Joseph, the Prophets and Jesus and the associates his opponents with the Egyptians, Joseph’s brothers, the rebellion in the wilderness, and ancestors who killed the prophets. [iv] To put this in Joseph Campbell’s terms Stephen is showing them the life that is awaiting them, when the give up the life they’ve planned. Like Thomas and Phillip, in today’s Gospel story, the people of Freedman synagogue cannot give up what they’ve so long held true.

There is no question we live in tumultuous times. Some changes such as the Big River Steel project we are ecstatic about; perhaps overly so, the project can be a great benefit to Mississippi County; but  ~  it will not be the savior of Osceola or the county. Other changes such as health care insurance and the status of state laws about marriage many are not so ecstatic about. Common Core and related education changes are disturbing many. And to be honest we continue to fear demographic changes

  • declining population
  • the aging of the population and
  • growing non Caucasian peoples;

and it is a daunting reality.

You know well, that Calvary faces challenges of your own. How we have been stewards of Jesus’ ministry in years past isn’t working any longer. The ministry itself, to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and to invite others to come and see is and always will be valid. How we go about it must change with the times. It has changed in the past, the Reformation, printed materials, the bible and worship in English, actually not in Latin, women serving in elected church offices, women ordained  priest and bishops, are all examples of historic changes that preceded us. None were easy. All required that we … let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

So here is the challenge we face: to believe, to trust God in Jesus so much that we can let go of what we are grasping so we can grasp what God is offering. [v] Not all the particulars have been revealed, but you know the magnitude of the changes. Resist them, and I do not know what will be save more of the same. Embrace them and know the glory, the presence of God in ways you’ve not imagined.

 


 

[i] http://thinkexist.com/quotation/we_must_let_go_of_the_life_we_have_planned-so_as/152714.html
[ii] Gail O’Day New Interpreters’ Bible THE GOSPEL OF JOHN INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
     *John 1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
[iii] ibid
[iv] Mikeal C. Parsons, Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL) http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2069 1/3 Commentary on Acts 7:55-60
[v] Mike Kinmen, Executive Director ERD,

Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17, Psalm 29

The horizon of our possibility reaches the very edge of the earth … and beyond.

I’m not exactly sure when but it was something like 10 years ago when I headed off to a conference in Nevada and we took the opportunity to go see Hover Dam. I had seen it in numerous pictures, and I expect a movie or two. But still it was very impressive. We were also take-in by Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US. From our perspective, you could not see the vastness of the lake. You could see the steep white sides where the water was several feet below normal levels. It looked a bit like the white cliffs of Dover. It was kind-of cool, until you saw the boat docks sitting on the ground, because the lake wasn’t just seasonally low, the lake was low because of drought. Lake Mead, and the Colorado River basin provide water to the entire south west; from Wyoming to California’s imperial valley, the source of 15% of our food supply; the lake and river provide water to 40 million people.

This week there was an article in the New York Times about the 14 year drought, the worst in 1250 years, which has area reservoirs at less than half their capacities. Lake Mead is currently at 1106 feet, (above sea level) at 1075 rationing begins, at 1050 drastic rationing begins, at 1025 rationing is draconian, at 1000 feet, Las Vegas runs dry. The era of “big water” is coming to an end. But people are creatively responding: a desalination plant, recycling sewage effluent, treating and returning to Lake Mead nearly all in door water use of southern Nevada. Much has been done, there is more that must be, and can be done. [i] In the face of extreme threat people are positively acting.

In preparing for today, the connection between the water crisis and the centrality of water to baptism, and Jesus’ baptism by John merged. But before we get there, let’s back up a bit and look at the back story of Jesus’ baptism as told by Isaiah.

It’s some 2500 years ago Israel has been taken into, well actually Israel, as the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom has been destroyed, and what is now called Israel, Judah, the Southern Kingdom, has been conquered, which is bad enough, but she’s also been taken into exile. And that means she is separated from the Temple, the home of God on earth, which effectively separates God’s people ~ from God. People are wondering if has God deserted them. Given that God’s city, and God’s Temple have been burned to the ground, people are wondering:  Is there still a God? Isaiah’s prophecy emphatically says Yes!  And he does so by speaking directly to the pain of tragedy, the pain of exile. He does so by naming how a divine servant will bring justice. Amy Oden writes:

Isaiah shifts Israel’s gaze here from themselves back to the wide casting of God’s promise and plan. The horizon of possibility is no longer the hand in front of my face but the very edge of the earth’s curvature. [ii]

It’s important to note, the servant will not act alone, four times the prophecy quotes God I the Lord and then names a specific action.

Six centuries and a decade later, Israel, Judah, is once again conquered. I’m not sure they are ever not conquered. They are used to foreign Kings and Emperors but this one also claims to be god, well at least a demi god, or the/a son of god. Even though the Temple is magnificently restored, and all the proper sacrifices are being made it’s all a bit edgy, it’s not quite right. A sign of trouble are communities of folks, who live in isolated communities, like the Essenes who live in Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, who preach a different relationship with God. Many of them practice a baptism that washes away sins. Perhaps the most dramatic of them is John the Baptist. Not only is John baptizing folks, he is declaring the kingdom of heaven has come near. [iii] He is proclaiming

the [presence] of one who baptizes with water and the Holy Spirit, … [whose] winnowing fork is at hand. [iv]

One day, as John is baptizing people in the Jordan, this promised savior shows up and asks John to baptize him. John doesn’t want to, he isn’t worthy, he believes he should be baptized by Jesus. Jesus replies:

Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.

And John, humbly, obediently baptizes Jesus. Immediately the Holy Spirit appears, and God pronounces Jesus to be his son, with whom he is well pleased. Unlike Mark, who presents this as a private conversation, Matthew presents it as at least partially public. God’s voice parallels Isaiah’s prophecy:

Here is my servant                        This is my Son,

my chosen                                         the Beloved

in whom my soul delights           with whom I am well pleased. [v] [vi]

It is clear that Matthew is presenting Jesus to be the servant of Isaiah’s prophecy. Here is the one who will bring justice to all people.

The idea of Jesus as the servant presented by Isaiah several times, is common. It’s in the text of Handle’s Messiah. But, there is a wrinkle with the servant passage in Isaiah 42. Though there are problems with her ability to act, Isaiah’s prophecy reminds Israel that she is God’s servant. Verses 5-9 build on God’s previously calling Israel to be a covenant to the people, to be a light to the nations. [vii] It’s also clear in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus is inseparable from the body of Christ, inseparable from the church. And I’ll admit, if it were left up to the Church, to us  there would be reason for despair. [viii] But is isn’t; and we aren’t alone. Remember ~ four times in Isaiah’s prophecy God says  I the Lord …  and names supporting divine action. In submitting to baptism, Jesus is

Standing in solidarity with those who often feel unworthy of God’s love and grace [it] is a powerful act that is vividly portrayed in this text and throughout the ministry of Jesus. [ix]

In short, the church, we, never have been, and are not now ~ alone.

A final little interpretive bit: Jesus says it is right for him to be baptized, to fulfill all righteousness. In English, ‘righteousness’ infers following established norms and obeying the law. In scripture, ‘righteousness’  infers fulfilling the covenant relationship  with God and with each other. In short ‘righteousness’ is fully living in relationship with God, everything starts from and moves towards God. Remember Joseph, who is righteous because he seeks to follow established custom and law, and is going to quietly put pregnant Mary away, and who is so righteous, is in such strong relationship with God he violates all that and humbly obeys God, marries Mary, etc …. [x] Jesus is fulfilling righteousness in humble obedience to God, in bringing the Kingdom of heaven to earth. John is righteous, in humble obedience to Jesus and baptizes him.

And so what. Well here is where the water story comes in. It’s a story of crisis. What was carefully planned, has failed. But the leaders have not simply thrown up their hands in despair declaring Woe is us! They have set about making dramatic changes.

The church is in a crisis moment. What was envisioned has not come about. There has been too much Woe is us! too much holding on to what no longer is, nor can be. It’s almost as if the water of baptism, is of less consequence, [xi] of less value than drinking water. It’s almost as if we Do the baby as a hedge just in case all this God stuff is real, or to placate Grand Mother. It is our calling by our baptism to continue Jesus’ ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven is here! And yes, it is a frightening task, it is an overwhelming task, but we are not alone. And yes, we will have to make dramatic changes, which we will intentionally set about this year, with:

Welcome Home,
Friday Families,
Brewing Faith, and
Stephen’s House,

and more; and we will not be alone.

Those planning how to respond to growing water shortage in the Colorado River basin cannot see the future; but they are not deterred from doing their best, and they are acting. I/we cannot see the specific details of the future of the Church, save faith that it will be,  and I believe that a cloudy vision shouldn’t deter us from acting. And we will begin acting by:

renewing our baptismal vows,
reminding ourselves of our relationship to God,
reminding ourselves that we are God’s people, God’s beloved
with whom God is well pleased,
reminding our selves we are called to bring justice to the world,
reminding our selves that we are not alone
that:
The LORD shall give strength to his people; *
the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.
reminding ourselves the horizon of our possibility reaches the very ends of the earth.


[i] MICHAEL WINES, Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States,  nytimes.com,  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/06/us/colorado -river-drought-forces-a-painful-reckoning-for-states.html

[ii] Amy Oden |WorkingPreacher.org, 1/12/2014, Commentary on Isaiah 42:1-9

[iii] Matthew 3:1

[iv] Matthew 3:11b,12

[v] Ben Helmer, episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/12/31/1-epiphany-a-2014/, 1 Epiphany (A) – 2014, January 12, 2014

[vi] New Interpreter’s Bible, Matthew 3:13ff

[vii] New Interpreters’ Bible One Volume Commentary

[viii] Center for Excellence in Preaching ****

[ix] Karyn Wiseman, WorkingPreacher.org, 1/12/2014, Commentary on Matthew 3:13-17

[x] New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Holman Bible Dictionary, righteousness

[xi] David Lose, Baptismal Problems and Promises, Jan 5, 2014, WorkingPreacher.org

A sermon for Christmas 1

Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7, John 1:1-18, Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Shiloh is where Joshua and the Hebrews setup camp after entering the Promised Land. It was the home of the Tent of Meeting, where the Ark was kept throughout Joshua’s reign, and through the Judges, until they lost the Ark in an effort to use it as a weapon. Shiloh was a seat of governance; a place of meetings for the Tribes; and Eli’s and later Samuel’s home. There is some indication a structure was built to replace the Tent. Shiloh was likely destroyed by the Philistines; archaeological evidence point to something like 1050 BCE. It’s destruction made a lasting impression in the peoples’ minds; so much so that it was used a reference by the Psalmist, Jeremiah, and an occasional prophet. It is clear that Shiloh was once the seat of Israel’s power and their connection to God. It was completely destroyed. [i] Nonetheless, God continued to be present to Israel, and the ministry of faithful prophets, priests and Kings continued after Shiloh’s destruction.

Thursday I blogged about Jehoikim’s court’s response to Jeremiah’s prophecy that God will make his house like Shiloh; suffice it to say they were not happy. My point was that Jeremiah does not back down, doesn’t seek safety, doesn’t try and negotiate his way out. Jeremiah trusts in God. I believe that Jeremiah drew inspiration for his strength from Proverbs (8:22 ff) (appointed for Friday’s Daily Office) which speaks to Wisdom’s part in creation; her delight in humanity; how those who listen to her find life and divine favor, and those who don’t find injury and death. Thursday was Stephen’s day, when we, if it weren’t the day after Christmas, observe his faithfulness, and his martyrdom. I believe he drew strength from Jeremiah’s example, from Wisdom, and from likely conversation with John, who wrote the Gospel whose prologue we heard this morning. John is among the disciples whom anointed Stephen.

The language of John’s prologue is similar to Proverbs 8:22, in its reference to creation, and relationship to God. We all know ‘The Word’ in John comes to be the incarnate Jesus. I believe Wisdom is an older story of the same divine manifestation, in other words Wisdom comes to be the incarnate Jesus. I also believe that the Church is the continuing incarnation of Wisdom and The Word. So while both speak to a particular fully human manifestation in Jesus of Nazareth, they equally refer to his continuing ministry of which we as Church are stewards. Both Jeremiah and Stephen, are exemplars of our calling to be stewards of The Ministry: Wisdom’s The Word’s and Jesus’.

Wisdom and the Bible also referred to as the word, as literary works tell the story of God’s active presence in the midst of creation in the middle of people’s lives. Wisdom and The Word as a manifestation of God are God’s active presence in the midst of creation in the middle of people’s lives. Ministry is the trick of using one to draw people to the other. Ministry is using Wisdom and John, or what-ever applicable part of scripture, to draw people to the presence of  God/Jesus/Holy Spirit. That’s the work Jeremiah and Stephen did so well, not necessarily by the results: Jehoikim’s house is destroyed, and Stephen dies, but how they did their work, in unabated faith and trust, in a promise they could not see but nonetheless believed. That is the road ahead in 2014 and beyond.

Beginning next week our service schedule changes. We will gather to celebrate Eucharist at 9:00 am, and then share fellowship and engage in faith forming discussion, previously known as adult Sunday School. We will do so on the 1st, 2nd, 4th and occasional 5th Sunday. On the 3rd, St. Stephen’s will offer Morning Prayers. Your vestry has worked hard to work out this new arrangement; it is a bold act. And they will be the first to tell you it’s not about an extra 30 minutes sleep Sunday morning. Not at all. This is an opportunity  to follow our Parton, St. Stephen, and not worry about the lurking fear of Shiloh, but to boldly love and share the Word, or Wisdom, or God, or the Holy Spirit, or Jesus , or however you encounter the Divine presence.

I know folks who should be with us. I suspect you know more than I do. So now you have an opportunity to invite them, to be as persistent as the widow seeking justice and as gentle as Jesus reply Come and see. We also have an opportunity to discern how to increase our inviting families of any configuration to Friday Families.

And as any late night, or early morning commercial, there is more. The first is a vision I’ve named Brewing Faith. The vision is to establish a place where two or three times a week, once in the morning, at mid-day and/or in the evening people will be invited to gather over coffee or tea, or other brew and talk about the light the word and everyday life. Everyone of any faith persuasion, including those who are not quite sure, and those who really don’t buy this stuff, is invited. The setting is intended to invite conversation, to shine the light to share the word of Old Testament Wisdom, and the incarnate Jesus.

The 2nd vision I have to share is a longer term calling, I’ve come to call Stephen’s House. As I have shared with your vestry, it honors our patron saint, it builds on the ancient custom of house church, and the ancient custom of cathedral weekday community space; did you know the naves of Cathedrals were community market places, something akin to farmers’ markets, only with more variety. However, as with every good faithful discernment it begins by us faithfully asking: How is God calling us:  to share the light? to share the Word? And then we ask, Does this facility enable or hinder that ministry?

Yes, it is scary stuff, it pushes the recessed fear of Shiloh almost into the foreground. However, Jeremiah’s threat notwithstanding, there is a light-side to Shiloh’s story. Yes, it is completely destroyed. But the ministry of God is not. The people of Israel, at least some of them, remained faithful to God, continued to believe in the divine promise; they trusted in God. Shiloh is gone, God is not. As it is for many, and perhaps all churches, it’s time to set aside the fear of Shiloh; time to trust in the wisdom of the word to trust in the presence of the Word incarnate such that the light of Christ shines forth in your lives as witness to all around you.

It is going to be a different year, my prayer for us is that we allow it to be full of wisdom of the Word and the light of Christ incarnate. AMEN

 


[i] Quick Verse 10; Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary,  Holman Bible Dictionary, Nave’s Topics, International Bible Dictionary

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

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

5 – 2 = 5.

5 – 2 = 5. No, I have not forgotten how to subtract; it is simply the truth, that five days of stuff to do, less two days out of the office equals five days of stuff to do. And just because, it’s been a week of: acknowledging death, encroaching death, the needs, more needs, and abusive? needs of folks, who believe, who have lost their belief, who don’t believe, and of whom I’ve no idea about their belief.  All this has been melding together with bits of this week’s scripture readings like: stretching or being stretched, buying property when it makes no fiscal sense,  (i.e. on the eve of crushing military defeat) stuff getting in between ourselves and God, our relationship with Eleanor Rigby, and all the other lonely and or poor, and the edict   “as for you, man of God, … run.”  And although I haven’t followed the usual and customary, reading, studying and cogitation, I am confident there is a word from God in all this. It’s almost like walking by the kitchen as the first order of a marvelous baking concoction begins to wafer about. And it’s three hours and forty nine minutes before our dinner guest arrive.  5-2 is feeling like 6.