Advent 2: Keeping Watch
December 8, 2019
This Second Sunday of Advent we hear again from the first section of the great prophet Isaiah with images of shoots, a peaceable kingdom of predatory animals lying down together with a child, and a watchman. Today's reading from Isaiah reminds us of at least 3 vital things to our life as people of faith.
We need to know our history, our story. We need to recall not only our stories as Christians (strong recommendation for Bible Study, to be sure) but also our own family trees - to
savor the history, the beautiful and less than beautiful, to learn from our ancestors, to see where they have succeeded and learn from their mistakes and our own.
It is our responsibility as people who know our stories - and the visions of peace and justice described so eloquently by Isaiah, so that we see the vision of peace and justice and work for it valiantly every day. Then we must stand up to injustice, just as Isaiah, John the Baptist and Jesus did.
We are also called to be watchmen! Like Isaiah and John the Baptist, we must respond to the voice of God as we hear it in Scripture, worship, refection and prayer, and proclaim to others that this life's journey is not merely a process of fearful wandering in the dark. Instead, we are following the footsteps of the Prince of Peace toward the dawning day. Indeed, we are not at that day, but be on the path we must be.
Advent 1: "Come let us walk in the light of the Lord."
December 1, 2019
This first Sunday of our new year, I am thinking specifically of two people -the great prophet Isaiah and Jesus. We will hear from the Isaiah every Sunday now, through Christmas Day. Advent is about preparing for Jesus' birth by hearing the prophecies of old, and most of the time that means Isaiah. I will be exploring with you each week of Advent the visions of the great prophet Isaiah, who Jesus quoted the most of all the prophets.
Isaiah's words for this First Sunday of Advent "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks national shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord" are Scriptures' first words to the church Advent, our new year. Picture the prophet speaking as in a dramatic scene of a play.
As the curtain rises a prophet walks onto the darkened stage in a circle of light and begins to sing of a mountain, and of nations streaming to it willing to hear holy instruction and be judged by it, willing also to make peace with each other. As the song is ending, another sound rises, the ringing of hammers striking metal - swords into plowshares, so vivid and appealing is the image of swords ands spears beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks that we may be inclined to just stop there. But lest we get too dreamy about such an idyllic future, the reading hands us a present tense invitation. "Come let us walk in the light." Whatever peaceable future there is to be - and this is what scholars have called "the peaceable kingdom - we who hear this promise are called to go walking toward it "in the light of God."
Let us walk in the light of God with Isaiah and one another this beautiful preparatory season of Advent.
Christ the King Sunday:
“What Kind of a King is Jesus?”
November 24, 2019
This Sunday, on this final Sunday of Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, I want to look at kingship - Jesus' - and power - God's. It's difficult not to talk about both kingship and power without getting them mixed up with our own desires to be in charge. Writers throughout the centuries have struggled with how to show God's view of kingship and power and not our own short sighted one.
I believe that writer C.S. Lewis got it when he chose Aslan the lion to represent Jesus in his immortal story - The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Aslan, the King of the Forest, must save Lucy, Peter, Susan and the bratty Edmund, who has been tempted by Turkish Delight and the opportunity to be prince and eventually King, from the clutches of the wicked White Witch. Aslan will die so that Edmund can live. Aslan makes the ultimate sacrifice of his life.
But as the musical and film version of this story demonstrate, Aslan's power is deeper than the wicked White Witch's. There is only one leader whom we can always safely trust: Christ our King. He is a strange kind of king; a king who was powerless politically, an itinerant preacher and healer who was crowned with thorns and put to death as a criminal. Because his reign is based on love, he in fact, has more power - and that, uncorrupted - than any earthly leader has ever known. In him, we dare to put our trust, and to sing, without any qualifying adverbs, this Christ the King Sunday and always.
Pentecost 22: An Opportunity to Testify
November 17, 2019
This will give you an opportunity to testify...for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict (Luke 21:13, 15)
As we come down the home stretch of Year C today's collect (a personal favorite, just saying) about our hearing, marking, learning and inwardly digesting Scripture is good advice when the readings are as challenging as today's doom and gloom ones appear to be. I have also learned the good coaching advice, "The best defense is a good offense."
In the Epistle, Paul gets right to the point: "Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right - the end is near."
The Gospel is Luke's version of Jesus' (apocalyptic) end of times discourse concerning the end of Jerusalem and the temple, the coming of the Son of man, and the end of the world. Jesus tells us the truth because he wants us to understand the foolishness of placing stock in anything other than God - including all our worldly structures. Even the Temple, he says, in all its glory, will one day crumble and will be gone. Now is your time to bear testimony.
What are these tough readings, along with the beautiful Peaceable Kingdom passage form Isaiah and Canticle 9's Song of Praise of God's salvation saying to me that I need to hear in 2019? Come explore these passages in Bible Study and hear them preached upon in our Sunday worship.
Pentecost 14: Lost and Found
September 15, 2019
In today's Gospel from the middle of Luke, we are given two brief parables of lost-ness: one of a lost sheep and a loving shepherd; another of woman and a missing coin. In both cases the lost is found, and there is rejoicing at the recovery. Both stories tell us that every person is precious to God, of infinite worth - and that the Kingdom will be incomplete if the lost were not found.
I would venture to guess that all of us have been lost at one time or another in our lives. I regularly get lost! The joy is not only in finding our way out of our lostness but knowing that there are people, God and Jesus Christ who are always right there to find us.
Pentecost 13: The Cost of Discipleship
September 8, 2019
In today's Gospel Jesus presents the choices necessary if one is to become his disciple, as he has been doing all summer for us. As he continues on his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus challenges the large crowd that is traveling with him by offering three teachings on the "cost of discipleship" and two short parables on making decisions. The point here is that becoming a follower of Jesus is hard work. But what joy, light, life and love await us in saying yes to such a call.
Episcopal priest and writer Suzanne Guthrie tells the story on her online blog, Edge of Enclosure, about a nun friend of hers, who having put off the decision to make her final vows for as long as she could, made her choice based on this old thought/imaging exercise:
"Imagine you are on your death-bed.
What do you regret not having done?"
When put this way, her decision was obvious. She would regret not having chosen a vocation as a nun. She's still faithful nearly fifty years later. (Not always happy, but profoundly grateful.)
Take up your cross and choose life seem opposed to one another. But when are you most fully alive? Probably when you are taking up your cross, that is, putting your life toward something larger, more meaningful than your own comfort...
What am I going to regret on my death bed? What cross will I mourn not having taken up for the sake of life?" What is the cost of discipleship for you?
Pentecost 12: Jesus' Table Manners
September 1, 2019
In today's Gospel, Jesus is saying, "Don't invite your friends, family or the economic elite to your next supper. Leave out those how make you feel comfortable, who help you fulfill obligations or advance your status. Invite only the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind - guests who all have additional requirements and needs without the likelihood of ever being able to pay you back." In Jesus' view, there is no lower level.
We live in a society of vast abundance that runs on the perception of scarcity. There are only so many spots on the school team, on the admissions lists of elite schools, in the
club and in the boardrooms. It seems we are always competing against the other. The greater our status, the more we are driven to compete." In today's Gospel and epistle, we are seriously challenged with this whole dynamic of being first and best at the table.
The table of Christ goes far beyond warm memories and the family ties. At this table we encounter Christ - and eat and drink in tension with our culture in objection to all that keeps others from the table and prevents us from welcoming strangers into our midst. Today's Gospel is not ultimately about where to sit and how to act in a social setting. It is really about our heart's response to others, about love of neighbor which is a way of tangibly acting out our love for God. We really need not worry about "status," if our eyes are fixed on Christ. God's new order of things, in which the first may be last, and the last may be first, renders our own social scales irrelevant anyway.
We cannot even dictate the parameters of our own humble service. We can only give ourselves to Jesus and trust to him the particulars. This is truly to gain one's life, and to be told by God, "friend, move up higher."
Pentecost 11: Healing on the Sabbath
August 25, 2019
Suzanne Guthrie writes in her weekly lectionary blog, At the Edge of Enclosure, about today's Gospel story from Luke. I quote at length: "A woman afflicted with a bent back, who, for 18 years looked only at the ground, is healed by Jesus on the Sabbath Day. On this day of days, the holy of holies, she experiences a foretaste of resurrection. And she didn't even ask - she just happened to be near Jesus at the right time. Jesus faced the sacred moment: so did the woman.
This causes controversy of course. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, 'There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.'
But the Lord answered him and said, 'You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?' Luke 13:14-16
If it were me, I'd accept healing any day - but healing on the Sabbath day brings home even more profoundly the hope of resurrection, transformation, peace, fulfillment."
Indeed, let's accept healing any and every day, and so today our Presiding Bishop has called Episcopalians to work for racial reconciliation in our own communities by remembering and honoring the first enslaved Africans on our own soil. By our never forgetting this subjugation we can become part of the world's healing this day.