Lead Us Not To Temptation

A sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent; Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13, Psalm 91:12, 9-16

GS’s family has had a very hard time lately. Some three weeks ago, a grandmother had by-pass surgery. The surgery went well; the by-passes are fine; her heart is fine. However, her lungs have almost quit working, she is still incubated, was recently moved to special bed that flips over so the patient is suspended, which may take some stress off the lungs. And this past week ~ an adult child was killed in an ATV accident.

The specifics are unique; however, the circumstances are not. I know families of St. Stephen’s who face significant challenges, sometimes from multiple sources. I expect it may feel as if they have been led into the wilderness. In my experience, I know there is a temptation. In my experience, I know people ask “Why?” I believe that Jesus’ encounter with the devil has something to share with all of us as we find ourselves in the wilderness, or tempted from a time to time. So off we go into the wilderness.

It has been 40 days, and Jesus is famished from fasting. He has already faced the devil twice. From the top of the Temple, the center of Jewish religious life, in the City of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish political and economic life, the devil taunts Jesus (Jones). He says:

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you, up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’

I’m certain the taunt sounds familiar; after all, we just heard it; the devil is citing Psalm 91 verses 11 and 12. It is possible to get into a debate about using scripture to fight scripture or how important knowing scripture is to face temptation (Rice, Jones). But, I want us to take a look at verse 2 of Psalm 91:

 “You are my refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.”

How interesting it is to see, that the same Psalm the devil uses to tempt Jesus is one source of Jesus’ defense; which is Jesus’ trust in God. This is one of those places where we ought to be careful. We know Jesus is fully human, and also fully divine. It is tempting to think there is some sort of divine fail-safe that prevents Jesus from human frailty. Historically the church says no. Jesus’ humanity does not influence his divinity, and importantly for our story this morning, his divinity does not influence his humanity. What Jesus has, and so do we, is the presence of the Holy Spirit (Hoezee). What Jesus has, that we can develop, with the help of the Holy Spirit and each other, is trust in God. The Spirit does not give trust to Jesus though she may whisper reminders from time to time. Jesus’ trust grows from his life’s experience, how he witnesses his family’s and community’s worship discipline. Jesus trust is affirmed in his baptism, which comes just before this morning’s story.

We now see Jesus withstands the devil’s temptations because he trusts God. We also know his trust grows from his knowing the story of God, which is nurtured by his family and faith community and the presence of the Holy Spirit. So now let’s take a look at temptation.

We tend to think that temptation is the enticement of something to do, or to have, that is morally offensive, or those things the world loves and values, that the world defines as power, as opposed to a behavior or position that is morally righteous (Lewis). Temptation can be things that are normally good for us but become the singular focus of our lives (Expertly). Richard Rohr writes that temptations are those things that fling us away from the center of ourselves luring us into chasing stuff on the circumference of being (Rohr). And while this is what temptation is often made of, it is not what temptation is. What temptation is, is a diversion of whose we are and what we are. Temptation seeks to tell us:

 we are not God’s,
we are not made in God’s image,
that God does not really love us,
that we can be like God,
and that we can be independent of God (Jones).

Temptation entices us to change our identity. Jesus resist the temptation to give up his identity for an illusion or false promise, by trusting in God’s eternal love, by remembering that he is God’s and God’s alone (Rice, Jones, Rohr).

So, now we have some inkling of what temptation really is. We have some idea that Jesus’ trust enables him to resist temptation. We have a notion of how that trust develops, and we know that everything that Jesus had is available to us. There is one more concern, and it also arises from Psalm 91; verse 10 begins “There shall no evil happen to you.”

What about GS? What about all the tragedy that has befallen families in St. Stephen’s, and around the world? I know, you know that they are people of faith, even if it different from how we express ours, they are people of faith. So WHY? What have they done to bring such wretched calamity into their lives? Matthew writes that Jesus says for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). In John’s story of the man born blind the disciples ask him “Who sinned?” Jesus answers “No one.” (John 9). In Luke Jesus says the folks, who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell, were no less righteous than those not killed (Luke 13:4). This reminds us that the events of life are not a measure of righteousness. There are no guarantees in life. When we pray our external reality may not change as we ask (Expertly). Somewhere along the line, Angie and I realized that life happens. The question is: will you let the vagaries of life define who you are, or will you reach back to eternal power to garner the strength to respond to the vagaries of life? In the language of today’s lessons: Will you let the vagaries of life tempt you away from God or will you trust God to help you discern and empower your response to the vagaries of life?

Luke’s wilderness temptation tale ends with the devil waiting for “an opportune time.” So, when the illusions, false promises or the vagaries of life are threating to fling you off into circumferential existence, trust the remembrance that you are created by God, in God’s image, who always has and always will love you. Know that you have everything Jesus had in the wilderness, you are marked as God’s own in your Baptism, and you are full of the Holy Spirit. And when temptation persists, seek out the faithful who will journey with you as you rediscover meaning, wholeness, and the shalom of life God wishes you to live.

 


 

References

Ellingsen, Mark. Lent 1, Cycle C (2016). 14 2 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 2 2016. <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. Lent 1. 14 2 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jones, Judith. Commentary on Luke 4:113. 14 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Filled With the Holy Spirit. 14 2 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Rice, Whitney. “Driven by the Spirit, Lent 1(C) – 2016.” 14 2 2016. Sermons that Work.

Rohr, Richard. Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer. New York: The Crosssbook Publishing Company, 1999.

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

 

 

 

A sermon for Palm Sunday

A sermon for Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Psalm 31:9-16, Matthew 21:1-11, 12-17 *

It is the best Saturday Night Live bit ever, and its presented years before SNL was, years before TV was a glimmer in some scientist’s eye. Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem leaves no authority unscathed.

Ever since Jerusalem got conquered the first time, there is a tradition of the conquering king or general entering the city mounted on war horse and parading through the city, with troops behind, as a symbol of dominance. It’s common throughout the history; look at depictions of conquering forces, and most always there is a parade of some sort. I recall seeing photographs of German forces parading through Paris in WII. Jesus mocks it all. He enters Jerusalem; riding a donkey the colt of a donkey, (no he’s not riding two animals like a circus artist, that’s all a poetic structure Matthew muddles up). [i] However, he chooses Zechariah’s prophecy because of its reference to a king’s humble entry, a reflection of Jesus teaching about humility. The donkey also evokes the story of Solomon riding David’s mule to Gihon to be anointed King over Israel. [ii] The cloaks being spread before Jesus draws from the celebration of Jehu becoming king. [iii] The palms and tree branches are reminiscent images of Simon Maccabeus entry into Jerusalem after driving Antiochus Epiphanes [iv] from Jerusalem [v] and Judas Maccabeus purifying the Temple[vi]  by removing all foreign idols and so on. [vii] At one level, everything draws from Israel’s history seems to be, as Matthew says,  been spoken through the prophet. However, it’s also parity against the established order who shares the same history; even speak similar words, but whose behavior does not reflect the righteousness and justice God demands.

Immediately after entering Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the Temple and starts throwing tables and coin boxes around. We imagine Jesus totally disrupting the whole place. Not likely, one: the Temple complex is just too large, two: had he disrupted everything he would have been arrested on the spot; no government tolerates a disruption of the flow of tax dollars.  It’s also common for us to miss that the buyers are also driven out! [viii] So if this is not about dishonest bankers, what’s going on? The key is the phrase robbers den which is a place robbers / thieves retreat to,  it’s a place of safety. Jesus is referring to  Jeremiah’s charge [that was] directed against those who came to worship in the  Temple”  [ix] after returning from a day of thievery,  murder, adultery, swearing falsely, offerings to Baal, and going after other gods that you have not known, [x]  Douglas Hare writes:

The allusion to Jeremiah … suggests that the market represents to Jesus the secularization of the temple by worshipers (buyers and sellers) whose lives do not conform with their religious profession but who claim nonetheless to find security in their religiosity (“We are delivered!”). [xi]

 

Having made a mess of things, and made yet another parity of establishment behavior Jesus turns to the margins of society, by healing the blind and the lame. This healing does not allow them into the Temple, they are already there. It does demonstrate a proper work of the Temple, healing – restoring to wholeness and the extraordinary inclusiveness of God’s House. [xii]

The children get it, they sing about it, drawing attention to Jesus. The chief priests and scribes, a combination that ought to get our attention since they are not natural allies, take offense. So much so, they are drawn into a week long series of confrontations with Jesus.

A historical note: When Matthew writes his Gospel account, the Temple has already been destroyed by the Romans. There is no discussion about it being rebuilt. There is lots of discussion of what will take its place. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ humble entry, his reference to purifying the Temple, the proper use of the Temple, and the powers at be misuse of the Temple shift[s] the focus from the temple itself to the Lord of the temple. [xiii]  Jesus himself replaces the Temple as the locus of God’s presence. [xiv]

There are always two steps to homiletics: first is exegesis or the explanation of texts; most of the above. So we now have a more informed milieu of the context in which Matthew wrote, and in which his original audience received his gospel. The second step is to ask: So what? Hare notes that throughout history this story has given rise to fierce anti-Semitism that is grossly misplaced. He continues:

We are best served by taking the passage as challenging us to self-criticism. Does secularism invade our churches? Do we use our religion as a source of security instead of allowing ourselves to be remade by it? [xv]

We have journeyed with Jesus into Jerusalem for the last time. This week, we walk with him to Golgotha. It’s a time to shed all our pretenses, a time for naked truth, a time to discern do we see with eyes clouded by established values, do we speak, or not, with voices of exclusion, have we prepared praise for ourselves? or do we see, do we sing, with the delight of children, Hosanna, save us, Son of David.

 

* St Stephen’s extends the Gospel reading of the Procession into Jerusalem for the Liturgy of the Word, and end the day’s worship with the Passion Gospel.

 


[i] Douglas R.A. Hare, Interpretation, MATTHEW A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor, John Knox Press, LOUISVILLE, 1993 
[ii] 1 Kings 1:31
[iii] 2 Kings 9:13
[iv] Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[v] 1 Macc 13:51
[vi] 2 MAcc 10:7
[vii] M. EUGENE BORING,  New Interpreters’ Bible, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
[viii] Hare, Ibib
       Boring, ibid
[ix] Boring, ibid
[x] Jeremiah 7:9
[xi] Hare, ibid
[xii] Hare, Boring
[xiii] Hare, ibid
[xiv] Boring, ibid
[xv] Hare, ibid

Butter, salt and light

A sermon for Epiphany 5

Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12), Psalm 112:1-9, (10), 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16), Matthew 5:13-20

This morning is another first; at least Friday afternoon I believed it to be another first. Last week I preached from lessons I’ve never preached from before. Today I’m preaching from the same set of lessons our bishop preached from last night. I don’t see this as a “for better or for worse” thing, it just is; and I was pretty sure he will not (and he didn’t) preach from Disney’s Ratatouille, so at least this will be different.

Actually it’s not the movie that’s the source of inspiration; it’s director/writer Brad Bird’s and, Remy’s voice, Patton Oswalt’s [i] worldwide excursion designed to immerse them into the culinary world hoping to add a degree of realism to a story of a mouse with dreams of being a master chef. My memory of their stories is from an interview on NPR, perhaps Fresh-Air but I really don’t know. In any case, two of their stories are particularly memorable. The first is a butter tasting, where the name of the cow, who gave the milk, from which the butter is made is known. Apparently you can actually taste the difference from one cow’s butter to another. Who knew!  The other story is of a salt tasting. That’s right, a salt tasting, where 17 (or some surprisingly large number of) salts, each from a different location, are sprinkled on a variety of foods. Each salt elicits a different flavor from various foods, some enhancing one food better than another and vice-versa. I still get the impression I’m missing out on a lot of culinary delicacies.

 The connection between Ratatouille and today’s gospel story is light; specifically Jesus espousing about that … so that they may see …. In my photography, I know light itself can be an interesting subject. However, more often than not, the value of light is what it illuminates, what it allows you to see. At my photography retreat last spring we spent a couple of days learning how to light subjects to get specific images. I spent two nights this week in my backyard playing with light and ice coated tree limbs, because I could not get the images I wanted in the day time, because of the distractions of the background. We know that both salt and light have intrinsic value. We also know, both are more valuable, for what they reveal in other subjects. This feature is at the heart of evangelism. But before we explore that, a word about what Jesus says about salt and light and us.

 This morning we read Jesus saying: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Not may be, not will be, not even should be, but you are. [ii] Because we are Christians, whether we want to be or not, we are salt, we are light, we are evangelist. The word ‘evangelist’ comes from Greek roots for good, and sent out, meaning: sent out with good news, or to proclaim good news. The way we understand evangelism today is to go around telling everybody about the presence of God in Jesus. It’s not a comfortable notion for lots of people. However, if we understand that being an evangelist is more akin to salt and light, that we bring out the presence of God in Jesus, that we illumine the presence of God in Jesus; just by our presence, we may relax a bit.

 But then we get to where Jesus says: we’ve got to be more righteous than the Pharisees. That’s a scary thought, until we get through Jesus’ wandering all over the place logic, and realize that they aren’t very righteous at all; it’s a scary thought, until we remember righteousness is a divine gift. Unlike any other gift it’s a gift that demands that we live differently than we would otherwise. [iii]

So we are salt and light, and so we have the divine gift of righteousness, but … what if we just aren’t very good at evangelism, even salt and light evangelism? Well, Jesus does say that those who break the law, who don’t live righteously, will be called least in the kingdom. But note, they are still in the Kingdom; they are still in God’s presence. Righteous perfection is not the requirement; although, a genuine righteous effort is expected.  I am, you are, he is, she is salt, we are all light. Together we can bring out the presence of God; together we can illuminate where God in Jesus are. In every circumstance, we are salt and light, we are evangelist, if by nothing else than our own humble presence.

Jesus says we are salt, says we are light. I believe we are also the message. And just as there is an amazing diversity of salt and light, there is an amazing diversity in us, and each of us reveals, each of us illumines, the presence of God in Jesus in our own way, and in unique circumstances. This amazing diversity of salt and light means that no one is beyond the reach of salt and light beyond the reach good new beyond the presence of God in Jesus. No one misses out on any righteous delicacies, and everyone knows the name of Jesus.

 


[ii] Scott Hoezee , cep.calvinseminary.edu, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, 
This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, 
and Amy Oden Working Preacher, WorkingPreacher.org, Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20

Matthew 5:13-20

[iii]  Hoezee, ibid

The Kingdom in the mundane

I am finding myself spending more time moving into the New Year than I had anticipated; hence the absence of postings. There has been some change in setting, but those changes are not the trouble; the troubles are in the usual and customary events of moving into the New Year. Many of them are perfunctory, calendars, files – both paper and computer, and the like.  As the week began all this felt at odds with the purpose of priest; now, not so much. All this work will support the month to month, week to week, day to day functions, which underlay my relationship with the church, the community and God. It’s becoming a task of mundane and righteousness.

This week’s Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism by John is the root of the emerging understanding. John has been proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of God and baptizing folks in the river Jordan for a while. He may be the most gregarious, but is not the only practitioner of a Jewish rite of Baptism that is related to purity. Jesus, whom John knows to be of the Kingdom of God, appears to John to be baptized by him. John does not understand why; he does not want to baptize Jesus; in fact, he believes he should be baptized by Jesus. Jesus relies: Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.

English usage of ‘righteousness’ implies adherence to established norms, following the rules. Biblical writers are seeking to show “the fulfillment of the terms of a covenant between God and humanity.” which is all about relationship with God. [i]  Matthew refers to Joseph as righteous, because he seeks to follow the law, and because his relationship with God leads him to contrary actions, i.e. marriage to Mary, contrary to law and custom.

Both Jesus and John display righteousness. Jesus from the start reveals his relationship to God, his purpose is to reveal the Kingdom of God. John, in humble submission to Jesus is righteous, he humbly submits to the presence of the Kingdom expressed in Jesus reason for seeking baptism. [ii]

John’s Baptism while not perfunctory is not unusual. Jesus is following a usual and customary form of expressing obedience relationship with God. And therein lies my learning, all things, perfunctory or singularly unusual, should be some expression of expressing our relationship to God and to God’s people. Yes, it brings a greater purpose to the mundane acts of getting ready for a new year, more importantly it (hopefully) will cause me to think about how what I am doing expresses the presence of the Kingdom.

 


[i] Holman Bible Dictionary

[ii] New Interpreters’ Study Bible, New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary

A sermon for Christmas

Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14(15-20), Psalm 96

  

The people who walked in darkness

       … those who lived in a land of deep darkness … 

It is no ordinary darkness Isaiah speaks of.  Isaiah’s prophecy emerges in the midst of all consuming political oppression. [i] Ahaz, King of Judah, the Southern Kingdom of the Jews, has formed a political alliance with Assyria because he is afraid of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and her allies. It is not a good deal, Judah is a vassal, under constant oppression, and frequent violence, that sets neighbor against neighbor. It is a dark, dark time. 

Judah’s / Israel’s relationship with Rome doesn’t begin with a willing invitation, they were simply conquered, and a Legion was garrisoned there, to keep the peace, ~ for Rome. Israel is again a vassal subject to constant oppression, and frequent violence that sets neighbor against neighbor. Augustus’ decree for a census is for the benefit of the Empire, not Israel, not Jerusalem, not Bethlehem, not Nazareth. Forcing everyone to return to their home town may be oppressive, it is certainly manipulative. It’s a demonstration of raw power; I speak: you and your entire family, town, tribe, are uprooted. Not sure how dark, but times are dark. 

Mary and Joseph get a double dose. They are going to Joseph’s home town, going to family, and in first century Palestine you expect hospitality, hospitality that is required. No Vacancy should never have been a problem. They should have been welcomed by someone, anyone in the extended family. And Mary’s pregnancy would make them, at least her, a priority. Think about your visiting family, uncle Bob might, but your pregnant Aunt would never draw the sleeping bag on the floor. [ii] Oppressed by Rome, rejected by family, Mary and Joseph are living in a deep darkness. 

Three stories over the last few weeks have sharpened, re-imaged, my tired view of Luke’s narrative. The first is a decades old memory. One cold winter night, as the last freight train of the night rolls out of town a hobo stays behind. The police soon pick him up. The hospital determines he is not sick enough to stay there. The local homeless shelter determines he is too sick to stay there. Everyone one else was, well you what it’s like this time of year. In any case, as an old gospel hymn says  “We Didn’t Know Who You Was;” 

                             … as you did to the least of these …

So, with no other place to go, the police took him to jail. And sometime night, when all who had responsibility dimmed the lights, alone, and in the deep darkness  he died. [iii] 

Elena Dorfman recently finished a stint for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to photograph refugees from the Syrian Civil War. Her task: to put a human face on unfathomable statistics; some two million refugees, of which seven to eight hundred thousand are in Lebanon. The photograph that grabbed my attention, is a discarded freight box, perhaps 3 feet high, and some 3 to 4 feet on each side. It is full of, who knows what; covered with worn, though clean quilt, and an infant boy with a sharp Mohawk hair cut plays inside. 

 

Image

 

Photo by: Elena Dorfman

It’s almost a quaint image, until you notice the bare concrete wall behind the box, and the dirt floor, with scattered pieces of broken rock. What you don’t see: is the working slaughter house, on the other side of the wall; what you don’t see is the pile of drying pelts, just around the corner. Though it is a bright photograph with vivid reds, and brilliant blues scattered throughout, it’s a scene of deep darkness. It’s of people displaced by local violence and oppression,  and foreign collaborators. There are no organized refugee efforts in Lebanon. Perhaps officials are counting on family, and tribal relationships to get the job done. [iv] For some it helps, nonetheless a baby plays in an abandoned crate, as deep darkness enshrouds the land. 

The Cones are Eastern Orthodox Christians, fostering a 5 and a 10 year old, who are brothers. They are gradually introducing them into their Advent and Christmas traditions for which the brothers have no context. Each night they share a couple of scripture verses, and a bit of candy. The night comes when the verses told of no room in the Inn, and baby Jesus’ birth in a barn with a manger for a bed. The 10 year old’s head bows, his face is drawn and serious. Ms. Cone asks what he thinks Mary and Joseph feel. Remembering the cold night on the streets, and sheltering in someone else’s car, as safe haven, ‘casue there was nowhere else to go; remembering his mother, ~~ abandoning them, he answers “Sad. Cold.” and quietly tears flow as the deep darkness is remembered. 

And then there are the answers to a continuous flow of questions: 

Is  the baby in the manger is the same Jesus they heard about at church. 

Yes.

Do Christians really believe that the Son of God was born in a manger, without a home to call his own. 

Yes. 

Did shepherds in that part of the world really sleep out in the cold while protecting their sheep from, among other threats, lions.

Yes. 

Did coming face to face with an army of angels freaked the shepherds out.

Yes.  [v]

Light begins to dawn, darkness begins to fade away as the glory, the presence of the Lord is revealed. 

For century upon century we have sanitized the Gospels’ birth narratives. Look at nativity scenes. All the characters are pristine and clean; but: 

  • Mary and Joseph have been on the road all day, there is no bath, 
  • the cave or barn is full of animals, ~ and animal stuff, 
  • the shepherds, are night shift shepherds, the bottom of the worthless working folk;
    and they’ve been working since when? and walking for who knows how long?
  • what about the angels? they left the shepherds in the field! there aren’t any at the barn! 

The birth scene writ large is the dominated by Assyrian and Roman oppression. Writ specific it’s context is familial rejection it’s setting is degrading, dirty and smelly. But, it is here where light of the world is born, not because of any human action, the powers of the day are as oppressive as ever, and family and friends are as capricious as ever, light is born into the world by the grace of God a gift of God to those who live in deep darkness. 

In ’67 we don’t know what powers pushed a man on to the lonely rails, we don’t know what standards were not met, nonetheless a lonely man who walked in the dark, dies, alone, in the dark. Today we know the powers at play in Syria. A baby refugee playing in an abandoned box is perhaps sign of parental ingenuity; certainly it’s a sign that we do not yet see the incarnate presence in front of us. Yes, Jesus is the incarnate presence of God. But incarnation touches every corner of the universe; it infuses every person with the presence of God, thus every person, every child is heir to the incarnation. In sharing Christmas with two foster sons the Cones are sharing light that can transform a young man’s dark experiences. But he too shares a deep truth that can transform us. Christ Jesus is born into darkness: the darkness of  the world the state, our community, our homes, and our selves. With the courage of a ten year old, when we face our darkness we will find:

a light shining brightly in our presence,

lives being transformed,

yokes being broken,

burdens being lifted;

we will find

peace, righteousness and justice;

we will hear,

no ~ we will sing ~ a new song:

Glory to God in the highest,and peace on earth,goodwill toward men!

 


[i] Ingrid Lilly, Working Preacher, Commentary on Isaiah 9:2-7,  Christmas 2013 

[ii] Rev. Cano n Frank S. Logue , episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/12/09/christmas-eve-abc-2013/, December 24, 2013 

[iii] Paul Greenberg, m.arkansasonline.com http://m.arkansasonline.com/news/2013/dec/21/fo ur-mo re-days-20131221/ Four more days

 [iv] Qainat Khan, NPR hereandnow.wbur.org http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/12/03/photographer-syria-portraits  

[v] Terry Mattingly, m.arkansasonline.com http://m.arkansasonline.com/news/2013/dec/21/telling-nativity-story-help-foster-boys-20131221/ Telling Nativity story with help of foster boys Saturday, December 21, 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,

A Litany for Coronation

Officiant:       The King is dead
People:         Long live the King
Officiant:       Let us offer Psalm 72  ….

Some of you may recognize the pseudo-liturgical setting above. I dreamed it up to help us connect with Psalm 72 a one of the Psalms offered at the coronation of the kings of ancient Israel and Judah. [i]  The psalm asks for God to give the king and the king’s son righteousness and justice; it asks for the land to yield prosperity, for the king to defend the cause of the poor and needy and to crush the oppressor. The psalm ask for a long list of good things to come to the king, each petition beginning May he  … It follows with rational for granting the petitions For he delivers the needy and poor, has pity on the weak, redeems their lives, for their blood is precious in his sight.  The psalm concludes with a petition for long life and a second list of May he petitions. It all sounds pretty good, if the king is to be ours. But we don’t have kings. We elect leaders. 

No, I have not forgotten that Christians believe Jesus the Christ to be our King, and he is. Nonetheless, as Henry Langknecht points out, this psalm really gives us pause when we move the object of the Psalm 72 to modern day leadership. [ii] There is really no need to pray for Jesus to have such attributes, Jesus and God are the source of justices, righteousness, etc. Langknecht asks: What if  … we took the petitions at their real-world face value and ask God to deliver justice and righteousness to the world through a new, surprising referent, a tangible contemporary entity ordained into leadership by God: … our secular representative republic. [iii] 

  1. Such a request is not contrary to the Constitution, it speaks only to what the government shall not do.
  2. Such a prayer does not preclude the church from any action.
  3. Such a prayer might be inspirational to our leaders; maybe, even ourselves. 

It is Advent, a time when we prepare for the completion of the coming of the Kingdom of God. The vision of Psalm 72 is a work bearing fruit of the Kingdom’s emerging presence.

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[i] The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary, 2010, Abingdon Press
[ii] Henry Langknecht , Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1907 
[iii] ibid