Life and Life

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Aimlessly Watch The Clouds, Wiggling Our Toes In The Ground

A sermon for Pentecost; Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Pentecost is as big a preaching challenge as Christmas and Easter. The readings are the same every year. There is a similar focus every year, the arrival of the Spirt. So this year, I propose that we, regardless of the angelic question, from last week, about staring into the sky. aimlessly watch the clouds. I also propose that we do so after we take our shoes off and wiggle our toes into the ground.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney is the publisher of literature for loafers. The goal is to sustain the value of aimlessness. It turns out this is really hard; it is very focused work; it is a burden. So, Gavin took a sabbatical and moved from London to Rome. There he spent his time aimlessly looking at paintings. He noticed that there were always lots of clouds. This caught his attention because there are no clouds in Rome’s skies. This peaked his curiosity, and he just went with it. He started the Cloud Appreciation Society; it has a website, I googled it, it is there and has an intriguing look. You can join its current 40,000 members for $15. The Society’s goal is to get us to look aimlessly skyward.

In June 2006, a member saw an impenetrable shroud of dark clouds looming over town. It was so enormous, so terrible and so strange; that she took a picture of it and posted it on the website. The initial thought was “this is unique.” It turns out it wasn’t really unusual. People posted pictures of similar clouds from Norway, Ontario, Scotland, France and Massachusetts. It also turns out the cloud does not fit into any official cloud formation. The esoteric system for describing unusual clouds is to fit the clouds into the existing map of the sky or set them aside as irrelevant. Gavin named it himself; ‘asperatus’ which he got from Virgil’s description of a rough sea.

asperatus

Gavin pitched the newly named cloud formation to the Royal Meteorological Society. They referred him to World Meteorological Organization. The WMO provided a lengthy description of their archaic system of establishing new cloud types. Nothing has been added since 1953. When Gavin asked “Why?” he was told, “Because 50 or 60 years ago, we got it right.” (Mooallen)

Nothing new in 60 years? Well aimlessly looking into the sky will still provide you with awesome visions and from my practice I expect you will experience something different.

Now to our toes Maria Evans wants us to take our shoes off and feel the ground. Maria’s inspiration come from Exodus (3) when God tells Moses “Remove your shoes, this is holy ground.” In ancient societies and some modern societies, this is a sign of respect. In some ways, when barefooted you are more naked, therefore, humbler before God. Maria got to wondering

what if God’s intent with Moses was not to prove that one has to ingratiate or depersonalize oneself in the presence of the Divine, but [is] a desire on the part of God for us to feel with our own two feet what it feels like to be a little closer to God in a tactile way?

She posits that our tendency is to focus on the distance between God and Moses. It is a false distance. Moses is told to “come no closer” but he cannot get any closer his feet are already intimately touching the holy mountain. He is already as close to God as one can possibly get; the soles of his feet press against the holiness of God’s personal space. Maria ponders when do we stand back from a genuine chance

  • to press against the holiness of God?
  • to intimately encounter the holy?

Where do we hesitate to take our shoes off and feel the presence of the holy (Evans)?

To allow our minds to wander aimlessly, dropping all pretenses and wiggle toes against God’s holiness, is to risk an encounter with the Spirit. Some of those pretenses we think are scriptural. We heard the story of the Tower of Babel when God infuses many languages into human society this morning. God is not out to limit human accomplishments; God is not afraid for the divine self or heaven. God’s concern is what we, in our efforts to be like God, and unbridled by restraints on our inclinations and power, will do to one another (Gaventa and Petersen). On Pentecost, God is not undoing what was done at Babel. Everyone spoke Greek. The gift of the Spirit for native languages is to undermine Rome’s interests in creating a single people through suppression of native languages (Gaventa and Petersen).

Peter’s speech quotes from Joel’s exhortation that in the last days the Spirit will be poured out on all people and that they will prophesy. We tend to believe prophecy is about seeing into the future. And prophecy does use stories of our past to reveal the presence of the Kingdom in the here and now or the future. But what prophecy really does is to tell the truth (Skinner). To speak the truth into an oppressive empire of any form is unsettling. Any encounter with the Spirit will nudge us into the world to speak the truth of God’s Kingdom, and that leaves us uneasy. So yes, we leave our shoes on, and we stay hyperactively engaged with mundane futile activities empire proclaims as necessary.

The wonder of today is that Jesus continues to keep God’s word. He said he would return from the dead after three days, and it was so. He said he would send us another advocate to walk beside us forever, and it is so.

To begin again, I propose we aimlessly watch the clouds. I also propose that we do so after we take our shoes off we wiggle our toes against the holiness of God’s personal space. I further propose we trust the advocate to walk beside us as we speak the truth in proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is here and now. I don’t think it will take long to experience a new manifestation of God’s eternal loving presence.

 


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Lectionary Acts 2:1-21. 8 5 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Evans, Maria. Speaking to the Soul: Kick off your shoes. 10 5 2016. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com&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. Lectionary Gospel John 14:8-17 (25-27). 8 5 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Spirit Focus. 8 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lundblad, Barbara. Commentary on John 14:817, 8 5 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Mooallen, Jon. “An improbable tale of how a British maverick harnessed.” New York Times (2016). <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/the-amateur-cloud-society-that-sort-of-rattled-the-scientific-community.html?_r=0&gt;.

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

Skinner, Matt. Commentary on Acts 2:121. 8 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

 

A prophetic voice in an active Advent

A sermon for Advent 2

Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

Today we are surrounded by prophets. We hear Isaiah the prophet proclaiming freedom is coming. We hear John the Baptist, proclaiming redemption in baptism, and also the coming of the long awaited Messiah. Psalm 85 has a prophetic ring to it. And when we remember prophets explain the future based on current behaviors (Lewis) even 2nd Peter has a prophetic ring to it.

So, I’m in a bit of a pickle, because I’ve always held that I’m not a prophet, and cannot be prophet because I am of the institution. And prophets always come from the outside, and have to, because they have to see the present differently in order to see and proclaim the future God is offering, the future we are all ignoring. However, Karoline Lewis offers a different vision of prophets. She says they are truth tellers. By implication brutal truth tellers. She quotes Gloria Steinem: “The truth will set you free, but first it will really [tick] you off” She continues that when the truth gets suppressed crucifixion happens. She includes Ferguson as a manifestation of suppressed truth; (Lewis) I’d include New York and Ohio both in the news this week for revelation of questionable police actions. And nothing suppresses the truth more than fear.

In his column last week Thomas Friedman wrote about the continuing effects of September 11. He writes from David Rothkopf’s National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear in which Rothkopf names this as the age of fear. In response to Friedman’s inquiry he wrote:

Largely, this is because 9/11 was such an emotional blow to the U.S. that it, in an instant, changed our worldview, creating a heightened sense of vulnerability.” In response, “not only did we overstate the threat, we reordered our thinking to make it the central organizing principle in shaping our foreign policy.

Friedman writes: “the focus on terrorism, combined with our gotcha politics, has ‘killed creative thinking’” (Friedman)

In his column in the Gazette this week John Brummett notes how remarkably effective the political use of fear is.  (Brummett) I believe they both correct, in fact I believe the gotcha politics itself is a response to fear. The scriptural use of wilderness is a good metaphor for us as we find the way to face our fear, and our fear driven destructive behaviors.

There’s another emotion / belief that contributes to destructive behavior, and that is that there is no second coming. That is a concern addressed in 2nd Peter. Folks are of tired of waiting, (Hogan) and they have crafted some bizarre beliefs allowing them to get on with life in some rather risqué ways. If 100 years is a long time to wait 20 time 100 is really a long time. The loss of belief in Jesus’ return and fear are combining to create the deeply troubled times in which we live. And that brings us back to the prophetic voice.

Isaiah’s prophetic voice we heard this morning always rings with today’s opening hymn, and I always want to wrap up in a warm blanket, or go get some warm blankets for others to wrap up in. Not bad, but just perhaps, it’s a bit shallow. Scott Hoezee notes ‘comfort’ comes from the Latin cum and fortis or with strength. (Hoezee) The people don’t need warm blankets, they need strength. They need strength to follow the prophet’s map to Jerusalem, because it is not the water laden normal route; nope, it’s straight through the desert wilderness. Harsh? Perhaps, but it’s so very similar their origins in the wilderness journey through Saini on their Exodus journey to freedom. (Wendland) Mark’s Gospel has John quote Isaiah, and Malachi and Exodus. But the point we often miss is that neither the prophet nor the people are on their own. God’s servant is preparing the way. (Powell) The word here is singular, and it’s clearly a reference to John. However, in the broader context of scripture and of our times, it’s God many servants who will make the preparations who will give strength to the people. ~ Just who are these servants?

Karoline Lewis, David Lose and Lucy Hogan all have the same observation … us. Lewis suggest that we join the prophetic ranks by radical truth telling. (Lewis) Lose suggest that we quit waiting for Christmas and get in the game, (Lose) that we join the prophetic ranks. Hogan suggests we hear 2nd Peter as if it were written to us and live into the new creation, the new heaven and earth [we] find right here and right now. (Hogan) But what about all that I can’t be a prophet stuff because I’m part of the institution.

I’m beginning to believe all bets are off, because the church institutional and Church – body of Christ is outside our political and secular institutions. And in so much as the shepherds, as Isaiah referred to in the latter verses of today’s reading, is always a political metaphor everything we’ve heard is a call to us to be a part of the prophetic voice that challenges all our political and power brokering intuitions by speaking the hard truth.

And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about policy truth, thought there is room for that, I referring to the truth Advent lays before us. We believe in the incarnate presence of God, that’s looking back. We believe in the resurrected presence of Jesus, that’s looking to the future. We believe in the continuing presence of the Spirit, that’s looking at the here and now. Therefore we are not afraid not even of death! And as we come to believe and as we come to trust we will lose our fear, and we can make faith based loving good news bearing decisions about everything. They will be seen as counter cultural, because they will be; they will be seen as courageous because they will be; they will be seen as a manifestation of the Kingdom of God right here, right now because they will be.

Afraid? I am. And every prophet in scripture was afraid, and tried to wiggle out. But every time God’s presence prevailed. God always has been God is and will be with us as we begin to see and speak the truth. Join in an active advent, (Lose) and a fearless future.

Amen


References

Brummett, John. “Down Texarkana way.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 3 12 2014. web.

Friedman, Thomas L. “The Gift That Keeps Giving.” New York Times 3 12 2014. web.

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Isaiah 40:1-11. 7 12 2014.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on 2 Peter 3:815a. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher – A Truth Telling. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 2 B: Active Waiting. 7 12 2014. <davidlose.net>.

METZ, THE REV. DR. SUSANNA. Sermons that Work – Finding comfort vs. being comfortable. 7 12 2014. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/&gt;.

Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Mark, Mark 1:18. 7 12 2014.

Wendland, Kristin J. Commentary on Isaiah 40:111. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Shadows of truth

While running on the tread mill yesterday, yes a real tread mill not the metaphor, I was listening to NPR’s “Fresh Air.” The interview was with Robert Caro who has been writing Lyndon Johnson’s biography for the past 30 years. Near the end of the interview the host (not Terry Gross) asked Caro if he thought power was different or used differently today than in Johnson’s day. Caro noted he couldn’t say. He believes we can only see shadows of what’s actually happening. It’s only when confidential notes and records etc. are released that we can see reality. I immediately thought of Plato’s (Socrates’) shadows on a cave wall, in which he postulates all we can see is a shadow of reality.  We are still looking at shadows believing them to be the truth.

Of course we could teach ourselves to turn around and seek out reality as it is. Difficult at best, more so when what we seek is actively hidden.

Probably because I am still messing around with photographs of recent ice storms, and exploring the light effects, I wondered what we could learn by from the light which casts the shadows and which also plays on the wall of the cave? I have no idea what the implications are. Nonetheless I find it intriguing, especially as we prepare for the last Sunday of Epiphany, the season of light. How can the awareness of divine light enable our journey through eh shadow time of Lent?