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February 21, 2021
The wilderness of Lent
Mark's Gospel, our focus this year, begins in the wilderness. "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness; Prepare the way of the Lord." (Mark 1:2). So much of this is a wilderness gospel that its opening image is the spectacle of the country of Judea and all Jerusalem going to the wilderness to find God. Mark reports, "That all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem," went out to John in the wilderness and were baptized," including Jesus.
Upon his baptism by John in the Jordan, Jesus begins his ministry in the wilderness. In the language of Mark, the Spirit immediately drives him out into the wilderness. He is in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels wait on him.
For us too, baptized and ministers of God's word, we must accept the wilderness as a place of opportunity and to see it is a potential place of God's grace, even when our wildernesses can be scary and uncertain. In the words of Celtic writers, the wilderness is a "thin" place where we most closely and fully meet God. Thus we pray for help and strength when the wilderness comes to us.
May you know and keep a holy Lent - in the wilderness, for it is there we meet God most directly and most profoundly.
February 14, 2021
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
On this Last Sunday after the Epiphany we always look at the story of the Transfiguration, when Jesus upon a mountain is transfigured, changed, before Peter and James and John. Elijah, the great prophet appears, along with Moses. Peter has an immediate comment on the situation, but it is the voice of God that speaks through the clouds giving authority to Jesus. These are powerful stories of how authority is given not only to Elijah, Elisha and Jesus, but also to all of us, if we are ready to hear that voice.
With the gifts I have been given to me by many people in their final days of life, I am reminded of the towering presence in my life of people who have both, as we say, "Gone onto the greater life," as well as those who continue to
show me what lives well lived are all about. I often wonder whether I could ever follow in my parents' footsteps. I wonder if I would be able to live up to the standard of perseverance, love and care that both my parents embodied. Throughout my life, their support was a lifeline.
Elijah was such a lifeline for Elisha just as Jesus was such a lifeline to his disciples, giving them courage and faith to follow him in their life work, even if they could not truly follow in Jesus' footsteps. After all, Peter and James and John and the others were not transfigured, but they saw the cloud and they heard the voice. They went back to their life work on earth. And so do we.
February 7, 2021
Places of Healing
As we come near the end of the first chapter of Mark's Gospel we find Simon Peter's mother-in-law sick with a fever. Something more than healing occurs when Jesus "grasps" her. The word used is the same as the word for Jesus' resurrection - he "raises her up". She embodies the Easter mystery of resurrection and the Pentecost mystery of apostleship - of service.
"Jesus takes her hand" in order to heal her. I love that image of taking her hand. It reminds me of the hymn, "Precious Lord, "Lord my hand, lead me on..." symbolizing for me the perpetual presence of God through Christ in our lives. And she begins to serve - just as the apostles are sent out, as we celebrate in Pentecost.
Simon's unnamed mother in law becomes the church's first deacon. She announces the Gospel by her action. Healed, transformed, and readily at service, she slips into her role as easily as if her life had prepared her for it. It all occurs in one sentence, as Mark likes to give the minimum words for the maximum effect. And then, say witnesses, the place designated as her home in Capernaum is to this day the site of many healings. How might we, like this unnamed mother-in-law, be lifted up for service and make our own homes places of healing?
January 31, 2021
There's a Wideness in God's Mercy
Throughout Sunday's lessons there is a note of sternness. God makes stern demands on those who would claim to be faithful. In the first reading, the people's request for a prophet is shown to have very real and positive consequences. In the epistle, Paul draws a clear line between other religious systems in the culture and the new faith in Christ. In the gospel from the beginning of Mark, Jesus' strong response to the challenge from the crowd about the man with the unclean spirit is given without any compromise.
This is no meek and mild Jesus. But in all of these passages, the theme is not the sternness of God and Jesus, but actually their LOVE, or in the words of Sunday's sequence hymn, the "wideness of God's love."
January 24, 2021
"Follow me," demands Jesus of Andrew and his brother Simon Peter in Sunday's Gospel. Did it really happen this quickly? Were the fishermen that taken with Jesus, or were they so dissatisfied with fishing that they left in a rush to follow? Did neither father nor mother make a fuss about their departure?
Perhaps these questions come from our own experiences of discipleship. We often drag our feet, weigh pros and cons and consider the implications for family and other commitments. Then there are our nets. They're so full of things we find difficult to leave behind that we attempt to take them along, sure that we'll need some of that old baggage on our new journey with Jesus.
But we're told that Simon and Andrew immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. If only we could respond so quickly! It takes me at least 10 minutes to get my things packed to get out the door - and that's with warning. What can we learn from these fisherman about traveling light for our journey of discipleship? How can we be agile for God's service, wherever Jesus calls us?
January 17, 2021
The "fierce urgency of now"
This weekend we especially remember and celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, 1929-1968, an African American Baptist minister and the main leader of the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1950's and 1960's. King had a magnificent speaking ability, which enabled him to effectively express justice. King's eloquent pleas won the support of millions of people and made him internationally famous. He won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for leading nonviolent civil rights demonstrations. Martin Luther King heard the voice of God and responded to serve those most in need - those who lived at the fringes of society, those identified in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, as closest to the kingdom of God. Martin Luther King heard the voice of God and responded in the affirmative, in his words, in the "fierce urgency of now."
In Sunday's Gospel from John, Philip and Nathanael respond to God's voice as heard in Jesus' call and readily follow God's call to service in the world. We pray in the collect for the Second Sunday after Epiphany that we too may readily follow God's call to "shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth." And we hear that wonderful story from the third chapter of the first Book of Samuel where God calls Samuel to follow God.
In the time of a worldwide pandemic, civil unrest and racial injustice in our own land that have caused us to critically examine our own practices, beliefs and prejudices, where and how do you hear the fierce and urgent call of God in your life? What is your next step in working toward justice in our own land and time?