A Journey to Light, A Journey to Darkness

A sermon for Lent 4

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41, Psalm 23

If you watch enough Disney movies, you begin to notice a pattern: you are introduced to characters with wonderful lives; life breaks, often involving death; there is terrible hardship;  and with unexpected help the hero or heroine prevails. Think about the book of Job, we are introduced to Job, his wonderful extended family, and  his righteous life. We see a side bet between the divine court accuser and God. This leads to a horrific set of tragedies in which Job loses everything. Three friends offer unexpected help, “Confess your sins.” He protests, “I haven’t sinned!” and we know he’s his right. His wife eventually tells him to “Curse God and die.” He doesn’t, he persist in his conversation with God, though sometimes with vehement vim and vigor. God wins the bet; and Job’s former life is restored. Now I mention all this, because Job shatters the link between sin and life’s afflictions. It appears that no one in this morning’s Gospel story, except Jesus, knows the tale.

The disciples see a man born blind; in fact all they see is his blindness. They don’t want to know why he is blind; they know that – sin, they want to know who sinned? his parent or him? Jesus replies: No one. This man was born blind. Let the works of God be known. Then he put mud, made of spittle, a common healing agent of the day, on the blind man’s eyes and sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man does; and somewhere along the way his sight is restored, because when he returns, he can see. Notice, Jesus and the disciples are not there.

At this point the story has drawn me to the connection between sin and life’s afflictions. It is the belief of the day. Jesus completely rejects the idea. The maladies of life, horrid and inconvenient happen; let God’s work, God’s glory, or presence, be made know. I suspect that we don’t believe we connect sin to the afflictions and maladies of life as 1st century Jews did; but I’m not sure that is the truth. How often do we hear judgment in: that woman is unemployed, or this man is divorced, or she’s a single mom; he’s a high school dropout, he’s a failure; she’s an alcoholic, she has cancer, or he’s depressed. [i] How often do we hear an ideological or political position, regarding caring for the least of these, grounded in blaming the blind man? Listen for how we use phrases like nature or nurture, or nature or choice. How often do we respond to life’s maladies as our opportunity to reveal the works, glory and presence of God?

There is another gleaning about sin from John’s Gospel teaching. John posits that sin is not a moral issue, but a theological issue, sin is only about our relationship with God through Jesus. [ii] This results in a far greater change than one might think, because salvation shifts from association with Jesus’ death, to arising from Jesus’ life, in other words salvation is no longer sacrificial salvation is incarnational. Gail O’Day writes:

Judgment is therefore based not on what people do, as the disciples and the Pharisees in John 9 assumed, but on people’s embrace of God in Jesus. [iii]

At this point the story changes into two simultaneous journeys: the man born blind into relationship with Jesus; and the Pharisees into denial of Jesus. They are intertwined, but let’s look at them separately, starting with the man born blind.

The man born blind returns from the pool and he can see. His neighbors do not recognize him; at least there is a debate about who he is. It is as if they have never seen him before; as if all they ever saw was that he was blind. [iv] In explaining what happened the man born blind says:

A man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, told me, `Go to Siloam and wash.’  I did and received my sight.

 Next he is interrogated by the Pharisees. They ask how his sight was restored and he repeats the story. The Pharisees are also divided, so they ask the man born blind about Jesus. In spite of the implied threat he stands his ground [v] in answering: He is a prophet. Notice his relationship with Jesus changing from “a man called” to “a prophet.”

After the Pharisees interview his parents, they return to the man born blind demanding he give glory to God, and declare Jesus a sinner. The man born blind answers:

 I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

The interrogation increases, the threat is no longer implicit as the Pharisees try to intimidate him with their authority, but undaunted [vi] he answers:

We know that God … listens to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.

As a result, the Pharisees drive him out, of their presence, of the synagogue, of life in the Jewish community. His life has changed. Notice how the man born blind relationship with Jesus is developing, he now professes that Jesus worships and obeys God will.

Jesus reappears, asking the man born blind Do you believe in the Son of Man? He replies: And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him. Jesus answers: I am He replies Lord, I believe. And he worships him.

Sight and blindness are not defined by one’s physical sight, but by one’s openness to the revelation of God in Jesus. The man who had been born blind confession is the culmination of his progression in faith. He received his physical sight, but his true sight came as he moved through his ignorance to recognizing Jesus as the Son of Man, as the light of the world. [vii] The man born blind has become a child of the light, and Christ’s light is shining on him.

The Pharisees’ journey could not be more different. The man born blind is brought to the Pharisees with his amazing story. The Pharisees are divided; some don’t believe Jesus is from God, he worked, made mud, on the Sabbath. [viii] Others say a sinner cannot possibly do such things.

They move on to the man’s parents. It is a court room like hearing. His parents acknowledge he is their son and that he was born blind. They disavow any knowledge of how he received his sight; perhaps out of fear of being thrown out of the synagogue and cut off, in all ways, spiritually, socially and economically, from their community. In short they protected themselves. [ix]

The inquest returns to the man born blind. This time the opening is accusative; they declare that Jesus is a sinner. Later they declare they are disciples of Moses, whom God spoke to.

The Pharisees have moved from questioning to denial. Is it any wonder they fail to recognize Jesus? Scott Hoezee observes that as soon as questions about the miracle arise, Jesus disappears. He notes:

The minute we start denying the work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord so as to make things neat and tidy and in conformity to how we like things done, it’s pretty tough to see the real Jesus. [x]

In part the Pharisees are blind to who Jesus is because they are holding on to Moses etc. Their behavior is similar to Samuel grieving over Saul; he is having a hard time letting go. How often do we have a hard time letting go of what was, as good as it may have been, and fail to see how God is currently in our lives, [xi] how God is calling us to celebrate the grace and love the surrounds us.

And here we get to another gleaning in Today’s Gospel story. We know by observation and experience there is pain and misery and affliction in the world. We proclaim by faith, that God, in Jesus, by the Spirit over comes it all. And we have a vast ancient and not so ancient set of thoughts, liturgies, and physical settings we associate with God’s presence. And we hold on to them with all the vigor that Samuel is holding on to Saul, and the Pharisees are holding on the Moses, both of whom are of God. But life is not stagnate; it moves, it changes, situations evolve. What was is not what is. God tells Moses I am. Jesus tells the woman at the well and the man born blind:  I am. It’s a strange phrase that expresses both present and future being. God is in our present. God is calling us into a divine future. The man born blind journeys into the future Jesus revels to him, and he is healed, he becomes whole. The Pharisees refuse the journey, they reject Jesus’ vision of the future, and they cease being whole, they move into blindness, into darkness.

This is Lent, a time to reorient our lives to God. A time to let go of what was, as good as it may have been, and accept what is being offered. It is a time to see the world for what it really is, not what we are afraid it has become. [xii] It is a time trusts that though I may be blind, in Jesus’ presence, I can see.


[i] David Lose, Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher, Insights, ideas and inspiration by David Lose related to the coming week’s lectionary texts, Identity Theft, Part 2, Tuesday, March 25, 2014 8:42 AM 
[ii] Walter Harrison, New Interpreters Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003
   O’Day, ibid,
[iii] O’Day, ibid
[iv]  Robert Hoch,  John 9:1-41 Commentary by Robert Hoch – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1985 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 9:1-41 
[v] Sermon, worship resources and children’s sermon for March 30th (Lent 4) . March 30, 2014 John 9:1-41 Ephesians 5:8-14 1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm Copyright © 1970-2014, SermonSuite / CSS Publishing Company, All Rights Reserved
[vi] O’day, ibid
[vii] ibdi
[viii] O’Day, ibid
[ix] Lose, ibid
   Gerard S. Sloyan, Interpretation  JOHN, 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, ATLANTA

[x]Scott Hoezee  cep.calvinseminary.edu , http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php,This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is March 30, 2014 (Ordinary Time), This Week‘s Article: Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 9:1-41 
[xi] ibid 
[xii] Robert Hoch Michele Bilyeu “With Heart and Hands” (25 September 2012),  http://www.with-heart- andhands. com/2012_09_01_archive.html, accessed on 16 November  2013.
                Alzheimer’s Prayer: “I pray that [caregivers and family members will care] for their patients and loved ones as the                                    people they truly are . . . and not just who they seem to have become.”

88 to 9

The psalm appointed for today’s Morning Prayer is 88. [i]  The psalmist starts off complaining about his life; how it’s full of trouble, close to Sheol, and there’s no one to help, in spite of prayers for help.  The psalm continues:

10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
  Do the shades rise up to praise you?
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
  or your faithfulness in Abaddon? [ii]
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
  or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

The implied answer is no; so the psalmist continues questioning God about the miseries of life.

However, the implied answer is incorrect. God does work wonders for the dead; the dead will/do praise God, God’s love is declared in the grave, in Abaddon, God’s wonders will be/is known in darkness, among those who have forgotten.  Were it not so, there would be no hope; however, by God’s incomprehensible love there is always mercy, therein there is always hope. The irony is the psalmist knows this, after all the psalm being addressing God of my salvation.

And now I find myself thinking of the man born blind in John 9. His accidental [iii] encounter with Jesus leads to him becoming a child of light.

I suppose 88+9 = 15 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [iv]



[i] http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Psalm+88
[ii] angel of the bottomless pit, parallel with Sheol and death, Holman Bible Dictionary.
[iii] accidental in that he does not ask Jesus for healing, the disciples see him, wonder about the source of his blindness, and the rest his biblical.
[iv] John 1:5

A sermon on the Feast of the Presentation

 Malachi 3:1-4, Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40, Psalm 84

Focus: Life with God in the ordinary

 This morning is as new for me as it is for you. The feast of the Presentation is always February 2nd. The last time that was on a Sunday was … well I couldn’t find it; however, in a conversation Wednesday I was told the next time it occurs is 2025. That’s a long way of saying I’ve never preached this Gospel story before. We are all in for an adventure.

 I didn’t get six words into it before I was off into Bible dictionaries and Strong’s Concordance (which tells you what the Hebrew and Greek words are). I am aware of purification rituals, even that after childbirth women were ceremonially unclean, for thirty some odd days, and after that they underwent a purification ritual that allowed them to go fully back into society, allowed them to go in to the Temple. I was curious why it is ‘their’ purification, not ‘her’ purification.  It surprised me to learned the Greek participle αὐτός (autos) [i] is his, hers and theirs. In any case, Joseph and Mary follow the Law, as given by Moses and recorded in Leviticus; [ii] the gleaning is that they are righteous; they live in sound relationship with God.

 Their sacrifice of two pigeons caught my attention, and sure enough the prescribed sacrifice is a lamb and a dove; unless the couple cannot afford it then two pigeons are offered.  [iii] So we know that Jesus’ parents are of very modest means.

 We all know Jesus is the first born male. We might even connect that to that night in Egypt when all the first born males in the land die; except in houses with blood on the door post. As a reminder of their rescue, the Hebrews are required to dedicate every first born male to God; from cattle, flocks, herds to children. They can be redeemed for 5 shekels or about $15.23; [iv] however, there is no mention of Mary and Joseph redeeming Jesus. That may be because Luke didn’t know about it, his education is Greek, or it might remind us of Samuel whose parents, Hannah and Elkanah, in thanksgiving for having a son, dedicate their only son to God, and leave him with Eli at Shiloh, to serve God. As you know, Samuel grows to be a dynamic divine actor in Israel becoming a Kingdom, from nomadic people. Again this presents Mary and Joseph as being righteous, for by not redeeming Jesus for themselves means he is dedicated to God all his life, which is implicit in Gabriel’s telling Mary about Jesus barely a chapter, and maybe a year ago.

 Did you ever think so much could be woven into a single sentence? But it is all here: Mary’s and Joseph’s righteousness, revealed in the ritual of purification, their modest means, revealed in the sacrifice of pigeons,  and Jesus’ dedication to God, revealed in their not redeeming their first born son.

 Simeon and Anna are parallel characters. Both are very old, Simeon old enough to be near death, Anna is either 84, very old for the day, or has been a widow for 84 years, making her ancient even in this day and time. Both are righteous and devout, both spend all their time in the Temple, looking for praying for the consolation of Israel the redemption of Jerusalem. Both recognize Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Simeon praises God, for he has seen salvation, the light for all people, the glory for Israel. Anna praises God, and starts telling everyone who is looking for the redeemer about Jesus.

Fred Craddock writes:

… both are miniatures of Israel … at [her] best: devout, obedient, constant in prayer, led by the Holy Spirit, at home in the temple, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

They help us to recognize

that while God is doing a new thing, it really isn’t [new] … [because] hope is always joined to memory, and the new is God’s keeping an old promise. [v]

It is that new juxtaposed against the old, even the ancient, it’s Mary, Joseph and Jesus juxtaposed against the old Simeon and Anna, juxtaposed against the ancient Hannah, Elkanah and Samuel, juxtaposed against the more ancient deliverance in Egypt that reveals a trans-formative value of ritual observances, which are all but gone today. [vi] And just as purity rituals are not about minutia of action and words, but rather are demonstrative of a life given over to living all aspects life from relationship with God, and is inclusive of self, family, community, Gentile nations, flocks and herds, the environment, indeed all creation; ritual observances are all about grounding the new of our life in the beyond ancient hope of God’s redeeming promise. We will never know how Mary and Joseph’s righteous life affected Jesus. We do know, Jesus was himself righteous, and knowledgeable of life lived as a dedication to God.

When we limit God’s/Jesus’ presence to specific walls at specific times, everything else is diminished. The Psalmist sings:

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!  
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD ….

But that dwelling place is not the Temple; the Temple did not even exist if David wrote this psalm. The courts of the Lord are, as our Lord’s Prayer teaches us, on earth. I don’t think the story of The Presentation teaches us much about Jesus. I think it shows us what comes of living life in sound relationship with God, of living a modest life, of dedicating what we hold most precious of our belongings of our family, to God’s service, maybe in a specified calling but mostly in the ordinary routine of day to day life.

I have challenged us to take on the specific tasks of
–         welcoming folks home,
–         inviting family, friends and strangers to Friday Families,
–         reviving our commitment to shut-ins, including regular visits with communion,
–         kick starting Brewing Faith, and
–         discerning a new vision that may be from these walls, and may be from elsewhere.

And while, at least for us, all of it is new stuff, it’s really old; really – really old, its life is revealed in keeping ancient ritual disciplines, of prayer, study and service, its hope is grounded in God’s keeping an old promise; which we know is breaking through for: with our own eyes we’ve seen … salvation; it’s in the open for everyone to see: a God-revealing light to those who don’t yet see, and glory for your righteous people. [vii] When our work is done, may those who walked amongst us continue to grow and become strong, be filled with wisdom; and may the favor of God be upon them and us.


[i] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

[ii] Leviticus 12

[iii] Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor,

[iv] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm

[v] Craddock,


[vii] modified from The Message, Luke 22:30

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. 




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. 


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


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


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

The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former

When I read the pericope from Haggai the phrase  The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, and for some reason I wondered what the word ‘splendor’ actually means. And when verse 5 of psalm 145 began: On the glorious splendor of your majesty, I decided I would go look it up. And it turns out that ‘splendor’ from Haggai 2:9 and come from the Hebrew kābôd, meaning:  glory or honor; while ‘splendor’ from Psalm 145:5 comes from the Hebrew hādār meaning: glory, majesty, honor, beauty, beauty (which I was surprised to learn means: beauty etc), or excellency. Now that two different words have such similar meanings shouldn’t be a surprise, who hasn’t used a Thesaurus from time to time. Any way.

The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary [i] and Study Bible [ii], both speak about the rebuilding of God’s house as central to Haggai’s prophecy. And central that the effort is not so much that the people have rebuilt their houses and fields, and not the Temple, but what that reality says about their relationship with God. They have put themselves and their priorities first and God second.  That decision makes them unclean, unable to be in God’s presence. Rebuilding in essence is a form of ritual cleansing; and though the wealth will adorn the Temple it is God’s presence that will perfect it, that will cleans the people and restore them to relationship with God’s self.

All that being noted, I’m lean to the meaning of kābôd as honor, implying the people will honor God at this time, than they did in the time of the first Temple.  A long way to say this has little to do with building magnificent structures and is truth is about building  ever deepening relationships with God. In short, by yet another name, it’s salvation. 

[i] New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary, Edited by Beverly Gaventa and David Petersen, Abbingdon Press,
[ii] New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Walter J. Harrelson 

Hammer time

Because of a technical glitch, like I let the recording thingy fill up, my sermons for last two Sundays have not been posted on St. Stephen’s web site. So, as I was waiting on workmen, installing a new sign this morning, I took the opportunity to record them. It was an interesting experience. Two weeks ago Jesus blows up the 1st century cast/class order, a week ago Jesus blows up the relative value of family, and this week we hear the God does the unlikely and goes searching for one lost sheep, leaving the other 99 in the wilderness. Of course we are the lost sheep. It’s good news (if we ignore the whole being lost bit). It’s a tectonic shift; hammer blow, hammer blow, indescribable love.

Well, maybe. It all depends on where you are. If you are at dinner with Jesus, the parables are full of hope. If you are outside, listening in, because you don’t associate with the kind of people Jesus is eating with, it’s another hammer blow. First your class privilege, then your family prestige, and now your place with God, all dismissed by this upstart, no-count, iterate rabbi. Just who does he think he is!

Actually that’s the wrong question. What we need to ask is: Who do we think we are?

Lost … again

Twelve years ago I opened the office, turned on NPR, and to my utter surprise started hearing about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center Tower, not wait two planes crashing into both Towers; three planes; four planes…. After listening for a while longer, I could not be alone, so I went to my Sr. Warden’s store and together we watched televised coverage. I remember the towers, one after the other, crumbling into billowing clouds of consuming dust. I vividly recall the images of a person running down the street being overcome by the racing cloud, disappearing “forever.” Like many Americans I was lost.

This morning I recalled those feelings. I recalled two colleagues who were in Trinity Wall St. and the stories of their escape. I recalled hearing one talk of how his experience changed him, he no longer has any patience for the trivial, and how much more is trivial. I said good bye, and offered a prayer as he boarded a plane for the first time since that dark day.

This morning I pondered the difference in the national conversation. Twelve years ago there was a sense of unity, there was sense of dependence on armed might to go where ever in the world is necessary and strike a decisive blow for freedom and liberty.  Today as we debate the appropriate to another horrific violent act aimed at citizenry, nerve gas attack in Syria. It is lesser in scale, though no less terrifying. Gone is the surety in the long reach of armed might. Gone is the sense of unity. We openly discuss the complexities, and duplicities of events. We openly debate the range of appropriate responses. And like many I am, again, lost.

And so I experienced an entirely different response to the Parable of the lost sheep. Yes, I know no right minded shepherd would leave 99 sheep to go search for 1 lost sheep. Any prudent businessperson understands.  I was struck by a commentator observation that there is nothing special about the sheep, except that it is lost. Yet that is enough for God to scour the wilderness.

In the midst of my lost-ness, guide me to shun the paper securities of this world; draw me to seek the presence, to listen for the voice of the one who has, and is, and will always seek the lost and celebrate their return.