Sacramental Illumination

A Sermon for Epiphany2; Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

In Mission Impossible Fallout a terrorist organization steals plutonium cores and plans to use them to wreak havoc. The hunt (pardon the pun) is on; agents are searching major cities all over the world. They are surprised when the terrorists are located high in the Himalayas. Julia, Hunt’s partner, realizes nuclear explosions here would contaminate water for as much as half of the world’s population. It’s an interesting thought that the loss of water, after all, we have so much of it, could be a major crisis. And then I read an article in the New York Times about the Tuyuksu glacier which supplies water to 2 million people. It has shrunk by miles, and a water shortage likely in the next 20 years. When you look at all Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau, Himalayan, and Karakoram shrinking glaciers are the source of water for millions. It may not be a nuclear blast. but changing weather patterns are threatening the lives of millions and millions (Ruby and O’Neil).

In our Gospel readings for the last two weeks, water is significant. Last week Jesus is baptized (Luke3:15) in the waters of the Jordan River (Matthew 3:11). This morning Jesus turns water, reserved for rites of purification, into excellent wine. One aspect of this miracle is its Eucharistic, and sacramental, overtones (O’Day). By an act of the divine muse, this connected to a phrase from today’s collect illumined by your Word and Sacraments. I got to thinking about sacrament as illumination.

You recall that a sacrament

 is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace (BCP 857).

Pondering all Jesus’ miracles, you might notice a common trait, they all involve something extraordinary happening, something that is unbelievably beyond human possibility, something spiritual. Grace is defined as

God’s favor, undeserved, unearned, by which our sins are forgiven, our hearts stirred, and wills strengthened (BCP 858).

Grace, in part, is a sort of spiritual mitochondria. Mitochondria are the parts of cells that produce the energy they use, sort of little power plants. Grace is, in part, a spiritual power plant, that enables us to do those things that are beyond our human abilities.

Certainly, the transformation of water into wine is beyond human ability, so, by grace empowered spiritual action Jesus transforms water into wine. However, we get to easily distracted by the transformation; much more is going on here. The water was set aside for purification. In the Bible, purification rites are how an unclean person is restored to the enjoyment of religious privileges, and daily life. (Easton). It can be as simple as washing hands and goes from there. Our practice of baptism in part is developed from this concept (Sakenfeld). It is what John is referring to last week when he tells the crowd I baptize you with water (Luke 3:17). Another connection in this morning’s story is the revelation of Jesus as a presence of divine glory (Gaventa and Petersen).

When Jesus’s mother tells him about the wine crisis his response is What concern is that to me? It’s a good question, he isn’t the host (The Living Church). Jesus is a guest, and guests are supposed to bring food and wine as a sign of their support for the marriage, a shortage could be a sign of a lack of community support for the groom and bride (Trozzo). It was also customary to invite as many as people as possible to a wedding feast. To run short of wine would be a major hospitality blunder, shaming the whole family (Keener and Walton). In Jesus’ day water was not safe to drink, wine was the usual and customary drink, so, the lack of wine could be a public health issue (Trozzo). Beyond all these kinds of reasons there is scripture; Psalm 104:14 reads

You make grass grow for flock and herds and plants to serve mankind; that they may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden our hearts (The Living Church).

One of God’s attributes is bringing wine to gladden our hearts. In Proverbs and Hosea, the abundance of wine is an eschatological (end of time) image, of restoration (Trozzo). Biblical marriage ceremonies are also symbolic of the last days and the celebration of God’s future reign (Gaventa and Petersen). One final bit, when needs are met even commonplace needs like the one in Cana that day somehow joy follows, and that joy flows from the revelation of the glory of God (Hoezee). Which may be the point, the wine problem is a concern for Jesus, because in meeting the need of an everyday event, like the wedding feast, God’s Glory is revealed.

So, how does all this connect to sacraments? You know there are two great sacraments; Baptism and Eucharist, and several other sacraments: confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation of a penitent (better known as confession) and unction (anointing of the sick) (BCP 860). The Catechism goes on to say

God is not limited to our rites, they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us (BCP 861).

So, any time we are confronted with someone else’s problem, there is the opportunity for us to follow Jesus example and meet a common need, and in doing so reveal the presence and glory of God. And when the challenge is beyond our human abilities we can rely on the mitochondrial energy of grace, to empower such a spiritual sign. Any time the presence and glory of God are revealed is a time of illumination, spiritual illumination.

Last week I read of a bus driver being called a hero because she saw a 2-year-old in a diaper and onesie walking into the street, she stopped her bus, got out, picked up the child and carried it to safety. This is a moment as full of grace as Jesus’ transformation of water to wine, it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, it is a spiritual illumination, revealing the presence of God. I believe such moments are present to us all the time; we just don’t see them as such, because we have limited our understanding of ‘the ever-present’ to time excluding geography; yes, grace is present all the time, and ~ grace is also anywhere and everywhere.

May this season of Epiphany, this season of light, this season of illumination, reveal the opportunities for it to be your concern, to draw on the power of grace, meeting a common need, revealing the glory and presence of God, in a sacramental illumination moment.


References

Easton, Matthew George. Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp., 2008.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 1 2019. <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 John 2:1-11. 20 1 2019.

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

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Richter, Amy. “The Frist Sign Epiphany 2.” 20 1 2019. Sermons that Work.

Ruby, Matt and Claire O’Neil. “Glaciers Are Retreating. Millions Rely on Their Water.” New York Times (2019). <https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/15/climate/melting-glaciers-globally.html&gt;.

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

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

The Living Church. “Many Gifts and the One Gift of Joy.” 20 1 2019. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Trozzo, Lindsey. Commentary on John 2:1-11. 20 1 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

Transformation – Listen to Him

A Sermon for Last after Epiphany Transfiguration; 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

You know the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. You know the mountaintop, that boundary place between heaven and earth, is similar to one of Moses’ cloud covered mountain top excursions. You know how visually stunning Jesus’ clothes are; glowing so bright they outshine even White Brite® Laundry Whitener.

They glow so brightly it is easy to forget the visual reference to heavenly beings (Perkins). You know the word ‘transfiguration’ means change and its root is the same as the word ‘repentance’ to change one’s behavior. You know Moses and Elijah represent the twin pillars of Jewish life the law and the prophets (Sakenfeld). You heard this morning that Elijah is taken into heaven and did not die, and you may remember Moses’ burial place is a secret and that he did not really die but lives in heaven with God (Perkins). You remember that Peter answers Jesus’ question “Who do you think that I am?” “You are the Messiah.” just a before Jesus take him, James, and John up the mountain. You all have heard that Peter’s 3 booths is an effort to capture the moment or contain it, by making a reference to the Festival of Booths (Harrelson) or maybe to Moses’ Tent of meeting (Perkins). You connect that God’s announcement This is my Son, the Beloved (Mark 9:7 with You are my Son, the Beloved (Mark 1:11) at Jesus’ baptism. We might be so caught up with this connection that we miss the complete surprise that in the middle of a Super-Bowl size visual extravaganza (Hoezee; Butler) the most significant moment, literally the final act, is spoken as God says …listen to him! Jesus’ transfiguration has been so central to study and preaching of this story that we focus only on Jesus’ transfiguration and not the broader transformation swirling around Peter, James, and John.

There is no question of the significance of this story in Jesus’ ministry. One indication of that is that it is also in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel accounts. And though it is not directly evident, there is also a lot going on in the discipleships of Peter, James, and John. I mentioned Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. But, it is also important to mention that just after this Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for predicting his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, only to be rebuked by Jesus himself (Mark 8:31-33). It doesn’t take James and John long to make their request for positions in Jesus’, soon to be established, royal court (Mark 10:35-40). These, and the other similar signs, that the disciples do not truly understand Jesus’ calling, are steps in the wrong direction. However, they are also signs of their transformation, which by the way shares the same root as repent, and transfiguration.

That the disciples have trouble following Jesus should not surprise us. We heard the story of Elijah’s being taken up into heaven. It includes a story of Elisha’s dedication, and his request for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. The Living Church’s reflection notes that Elisha is formed under the direction of a human master, which is a slow learning process, it takes time (The Living Church). To get caught up in Jesus humanity versus his divinity is to miss the point that Peter, James, and John, indeed, all the disciples, including us, are all human. Their learning, our learning is a slow timely process.

Having witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration Peter, James, and John can never be same. The heavenly living presence of Moses and Elijah, the cloud, the brilliant light, associated with heavenly beings, the commanding voice of God, telling them, directing them to listen to him, is enough to change anyone’s life. True, it takes some time, and it takes some miss steps, nonetheless their presence at Jesus’ transfiguration is part of their transformation to the fullness of discipleship (Lewis).

By way of sacred story our witnessing the disciples witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration is a part of our story. This is not just another miracle story. This is not just another affirmation of baptism. This story intrudes into our lives. Though we may put into action our own version of three booths, we can no longer stay where we are. The transfiguration experience propels [us] to make manifest the Kingdom of God (Lewis). Inspired imagination redirects our attention from a glowing Jesus, up-there somewhere, to sharing the Kingdom that is right here, right here in River City, right now. Are we ready? Of course, not but, that is okay; we will go anyway, the disciples did, and Jesus will lead us just as he led them.

Today we stand at the very edge of Epiphany For the past 7 or 8 weeks we have been in the light of Jesus’ birth – the incarnation God coming among us, as one of us; we stand in the visionary light of the Wise men who follow the strange star and listen to urgent dreams to find the Christ child and to not unwittingly lead Herod’s fear-driven murderous action. Jesus was majestically transfigured revealing the light of his divine being. We have been mystically immersed in transforming light of divine presence. We stand at the boundary of that light and retrospection. The fruit of our next journey is born of the commitment ~ to listen.


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Butterworth, Susan. “Behind the Veil, Last Sunday after Epiphany (B).” 11 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 2 2018. <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 Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018.

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

Lewis, Karoline. It Is Good To Be Here. 11 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

The Living Church. Ascending Flame and Descending Love. 5 2 20108. <livingchurch.org>.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

 

 

 

Advent Sacrament

A sermon for Advent 2: Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12, Psalm 72:17, 18-19

I grew up in metro Atlanta GA which, a score and more years ago, as I started seminary, was some 200 times the size of Blytheville. I have served churches in communities of 28,000, 15,000, 7,100, 2,400 and 743. In all these communities, people would ask the same question: “Where are you from?” What they really wanted to know is “Who are your people?” If anyone actually asks you who your people are, you are either in a lot of trouble or standing on the verge of being accepted wholeheartedly into their community family.

In this week’s commentary Karoline Lewis suggest that we are way too quick to skip past the opening phrase of the Gospel, especially the last half “appeared in the wilderness.” Her point is well made. To do so is to skip knowing where a prophet is from; and who a prophet’s people are (Lewis). Prophets are not soothsayers who by various means can see into the future. No ~ prophets are relentless truth tellers; pulling back the carefully woven curtain of our view of the present exposing deliberate ignorance and willful blindness to the sufferings of others; exposing the clever forms of evasion we use to deny pollution, climate change, food insecurity, the lack of clean water, burgeoning prisons, a failing cultural understanding of marriage, the plethora of single parent homes, that a quarter of our kids are living in poverty, acts of violence, our fragile access to healthcare, and exposing the illusions, we use to hide injustice and just plain ole meanness (Lewis; Lose). It is their clear vision of the truth of today that allows prophets to see the ill fortunes of the future that we do not want to hear. Prophets know where they are, they know the people they speak to. Prophets know where we are from; they know our people.

We all know that Advent is a season to cast aside the distractions of this world to make room for divinely inspired imagination. It is a season to imagine a Festival of the Incarnation. Not just the birth of Jesus, but a mystical divine fusion of God with all humanity. It is a season also to imagine Christ’s arrival – 2 (Lose). Only we allow ourselves to be distracted by illusions of a Christmas that are as false as the illusions of grandeur of the Kings of Israel. And we know this because John the Baptist is nowhere to be found in Advent unless you happen to be in a church that reads one the gospel stories like we heard this morning. I have never heard a Christmas Carol that features John the Baptist (Allen). It is a small wonder; can you begin to imagine caroling “You brood of vipers!”

Lewis’ insight leads us to examine John’s use of Isaiah’s prophecy:

 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: [pause] ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’

Only in the original books there is no punctuation so it can also read

The voice of one crying: [pause] ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Allen).

The first way tells of someone crying in the wilderness and it is certainly John the Baptist. The second way tells of someone crying “go into the wilderness;” and this, I believe, is the subtle call to a fruitful Advent imagination. And it is all comes from our understanding of wilderness.

When we hear wilderness, I expect we see a wild, unsettled, inhospitable place. If it is in a bible setting it is vast dry landscape, with barren hills, some with scrub brushes and the occasional lost sheep. It is a dangerous, chaotic place to be. The wilderness is likely inhabited by equally inhospitable, dangerous people. But, when we think carefully about the story the bible tells us we may remember that the wilderness is a thin place; a place where we discover the edges of space and time. It is in the wilderness that God forms Abraham’s people. It is in the wilderness where the Hebrew people are tested and further formed. The wilderness is a place of chaos, but it is also a place of formation, a place of testing, and a place of purification (Sakenfeld). It is only in the heartfelt wilderness of our existence or our imagination that we experience the sacrament of Advent.

And yes, I know there is no such sacrament in the Book of Common Prayer. But, as you know, a sacrament is a visible and outward sign of an invisible and inward grace. And here both the visible and the invisible are repentance, which you remember, is about changing the orientation of your life.

Your Advent sacrament is invisible because you recognize and accept that you have a problem that is bigger you are (Benoit). It is invisible as you daydream about God’s vision for you as you face your problem, or your life, as a whole. It is invisible as you commit to start making one change. It is invisible as you commit to how that change is becoming a part of your relationships in your community (Lose).

Your Advent sacrament is visible as your commitments are witnessed in how you live life (Benoit). It is visible as people witness your continual discernment gradually transforming your spirit, your emotional well-being, your physical wellbeing, and your social wellbeing. It is visible as others witness you turn from “I” toward “us” and towards God. It is visible as your transformation mystically inspires all of us to turn towards each other and towards God.

It is Advent. It is the season for us, individually and as a community, to confront our inner viper, the quiet hissing voice that whispers “You too can be like God.” It is the season for us, individually and as a community, to see and be the prophet. It is the season for us, individually and as a community, to speak and hear the truth that pulls back our carefully woven curtain exposing the reality we would just as soon ignore. It is the season for us, individually and as a community, to trust the God, who came to us, lo those centuries ago as a mother’s child, will walk with us through this transforming wilderness, and will come again welcoming all into God’s eternal grace.


 

References

Allen, Ron. Commentary on Matthew 3:112. 4 12 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Beck, Norman. Lectionary Scriture Notes. 4 12 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Benoit, Arlette. “Bear Fruit Worthy of the Gift of Repentance Advent 2(A).” 4 12 2016. Sermons that Work.

Boring, M. Eugene. The Gospel of Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 4 12 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Advent 1 A | Matthew. 4 12 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 4 12 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. In the Wilderness. 4 12 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 2 A: Reclaiming Repentance. 4 12 2016.

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

 

 

 

Confusion abounds

Last February was the Creationism Vs. Evolution Debate featuring Ken Ham and Bill Nye. Not long after that I hear our bishop say the most notable thing of the debate was each proponent inarticulately trying to use the other’s language to prove his point. Last week we read as Nicodemus misinterprets Jesus because he hears mystical language literally. This week we read the same confusion only more so. The woman at the well misunderstands Jesus’ ‘living water’ twice. The disciples misunderstand Jesus’ reference to food they “do not know about.” Last night I watched Bill Maher’s brutal review of Noah which is actually a brutish critique of Christian belief. (You can watch it on U-Tube, be forewarned).

The gleaning I am drawing from his rant is that when mystical language of faith is taken as literal language huge confusion occurs. As people of faith we must know our language, including its faith and mystical elements. If we do not, and if we attempt to defend Christian faith against such critiques, we will come off like Ham and Nye, inarticulate.

The reading from John also reveals a faithful approach to such criticism. The woman at the well returns to town, and shares with everyone her experience with Jesus at the well, and wonders, out loud, if he is the messiah. In short she simply invites them to come and see. They did, and they came to believe. Rather than argue, perhaps we should simply invite those who do not see to come and see, and leave the rest to the transforming power of the Spirit.

Transfigured and transformed

A colleague of a colleague asked Why the Transfiguration? Colleague #2 does a wonderful etymological exploration of ‘transfigure’. But he brings to point home by concluding

Something deeply profound happened on top of that mountain, something that didn’t need Peter, James, John, Elijah, Moses, or the cloud to happen.  Jesus was transfigured, changed, shown to be the Son of God. [i]

There is no doubt he is correct. Nonetheless, and it may be my contrarian nature sticking its head out, but I’ve begun to wonder if in focusing so closely on Jesus we are missing something else. Six day ago, maybe more it’s hard to tell, Peter confesses Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of the living God. It is a linchpin moment for Jesus’ ministry, the disciples, at least Peter, understands. On top of the mountain, Peter’s impulse to build three σκηνή, or skēnē [ii] tabernacles (KJV), dwellings (NSRV) or memorials (MSG) reveals that he doesn’t get it yet, he just beginning to understand.

A brief aside, all three translations are nouns. I found it interesting the roots of Vine’s Words: Habitation, and Tabernacle [iii] are verbs implying to stay. Staying put, maintaining the status quo is about as far from Jesus’ intentions as one can get. Peter really is just beginning his journey to understanding.

The second event on the mountain top is the theophany in a cloud, and God’s voice naming Jesus, and instructing the three disciples to listen to him. Jesus’ instructions to them to say nothing is another revelation they don’t yet fully understand, and that their arduous journey to understanding has just begun. Peter, James and John are beginning their own transfiguration, a transformation to being disciples.

A couple of weeks ago David Lose [iv] of Workingpreacher.org invited us to invite our congregations to share with each other when they had seen God in the last week. So I’m wondering when was our first moment of transfiguration, when was our last moment of transfiguration, how far along our journey to understanding, to true discipleship, we might be. On this last Sunday of light, it’s worth pondering.

 


[i] http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/27985378/4318/
[ii] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary
[iii] ibid
[iv] David Lose, Workingpreacher.org, ttp://www.workingpreacher.org/profile/default.aspx?uid=b7cc0fec827096b2504c5164ecc9831028ee1cfc87caab27e817dcd7c6ba6255

What’s going on?

A sermon for Advent 3

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________________

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

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

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

Who shapes whom

The reading from Jeremiah this week is the source of a favorite church camp song about God being the potter and us being the clay. It’s not quite so comfortable in context. However, it is not the threat from Jeremiah that I see as significant today as it is the nature of the relationship the metaphor sets up. God is the potter, we are the clay. Too often we get it the other way round.  In “The River of God” Gregory of Riley describes the many and varied sources of our image of God. Early on he make sit clear he is describing the process of the development of our image, which says nothing about the person of God. Part of our journey to spiritual maturity is to move away from efforts to manipulate God, through prayer and good works, to discerning God’s call.

In Philemon we have an example of such a change. Paul is encouraging Philemon to  change his relationship with Onesimus from master – slave to brother in Christ. To undertake such a change is to allow ones self (including secular values and world views) to be reshaped by divine values, to be reshaped by the loving hands of the divine potter. There is nothing to imply such changes are easy, nor safe. Which I rather suspect is what Jesus is on about in this week’s ‘hard sayings.’