waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 14, Saturday, December 16, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Weakness; You Who demonstrated Your power through Your broken Body on the cross of Your dying,(1) You Who responded to Your Apostle’s cry of anguish, comforting him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” cheering him to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me!”(2) Why, O why, O Lord Jesus, with the wondrous witness of Your power in Your long-suffering and hard-dying, does this world, Your World continue to follow not You, but its own will and way, thus, suffering long and dying hard in the belief that power is only demonstrated through bellicose words and weapons of bullets and bombs? O Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit, I pray You, in the words of the hymn:

Heal Thy children’s warring madness
Bend our pride to Thy control
Shame our wanton, selfish gladness
Rich in things and poor in soul
Grant us wisdom, Grant us courage
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.(3)

Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) 1 Corinthians 1.18-25
(2) 2 Corinthians 12.9
(3) Words by Harry Emerson Fosdick (1930)

 

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who are we?

a homily, based on John 1.6-8, 19-28 and Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11, preached with the people of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Clinton, SC, and Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, at the joint Advent service on Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“Who are you?”

Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Saint Jean-Baptiste et les pharisiens), 1886-1894, James Tissot (1836-1902)

The priests and Levites from Jerusalem, intrigued by this strange man who stepped out of the wilderness proclaiming a prophetic message of One who was coming, asked, “Who are you?” John answered, equally intriguingly, not by saying, “I am…”, but rather confessing, declaring, “I am not the Messiah or Elijah, whom Malachi, 400 years earlier, had prophesied would return(1) or the prophet whom Moses once promised would come who, as he, would be a lawgiver.(2)

John’s testimony, thereby, bore witness to this reality: A statement of one’s authentic, God-borne, Spirit-breathed identity is as true in declaring what…who one is not as it is to proclaim who one is. Verily, saying who one is not may be more true, for, in the words of the Apostle, we see in a mirror, dimly,(3) unable to know ourselves fully. (Thus, truth be told, whenever we say, “I am…”, perhaps, at best, it’s an educated guess!)

This issue of our identity is echoed in Isaiah, who, 2500 years ago, on behalf of the people Israel, freed from their Babylonian captivity to journey for a second time to the Promised Land, declared “the Spirit of the Lord…has anointed me…to bring good news to the oppressed…to proclaim liberty to the captives…release to the prisoners.” So momentous was this God-borne, Spirit-breathed vocation that surely you and I, if asked, “Is this you?” might be quick to say, “I am not!”

Ah, but we need to reconsider. For it is no surprise that Jesus, the One John proclaimed was coming, used these very words on that sabbath day in the synagogue in Nazareth to inaugurate his ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”(4)

Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Thus, it cannot, must not be a surprise to us – as Jesus, who already hath been born, who hath performed his earthly ministry, who hath been arrested and tried, crucified and raised from the dead, who hath ascended on high to sit down at the right hand of God to come again to judge the living and dead, and who hath sent his Spirit to abide within us with divine presence and power that we might proclaim liberty to the oppressed, brokenhearted, and captive – that we, yea, even we are those who, to the question, “Who are you?” dare can answer, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us!”

 

Illustrations:
Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Saint Jean-Baptiste et les pharisiens) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902)
Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre), James Tissot

Footnotes:
(1) Malachi 4.5-6
(2) Deuteronomy 18.15-18
(3) 1 Corinthians 13.12
(4) Luke 4.14-21

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 11, Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Weal. As Your Apostle, in his suffering service in Your Name, exclaimed, “I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body,”(1) and as Francis,(2) beholding a vision of an angel crucified, was marked with Your stigmata, so, this day, O Lord Jesus, I will to bear on my mind and heart, soul and spirit the signs of Your suffering. By Your Spirit make me more deeply aware of the pain of life of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, the least of Your sisters and brothers for whom Your Love is greatest.(3) By Your same Spirit, move me, in my suffering for them as You suffer for them, to crucify my selfish want and need. Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) Galatians 6.17
(2) St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
(3) See Matthew 25.34-40

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 10, Tuesday, December

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Wrath. Yea, O Lord Jesus, I laud Your Welcome, yet I dare not forget Your Wrath; You Who, angered by the desecrating exploitation of Your Father’s House, cleansed the Temple.(1) As Your Apostle identified the body of the Christian community, verily, the bodies of Christians as temples of the Holy Spirit,(2) by Your same Spirit, consume with cleansing fire all dross within me that dishonors my creation in the imago Dei that I may glorify Your Father, my God in my living. Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) Matthew 21.12-17; Mark 11.15-19; Luke 19.45-48; John 2.13-16
(2) 1 Corinthians 6.12-20

thanksgiving forgiving redux

What happens – and, I am bold to say, I believe this to be a common (universal!) human experience – when one you have forgiven for past indiscretions continues to behave indiscreetly?

I asked myself this question when, during our Thanksgiving Day gathering, I took rueful note that one I had forgiven,(1) continued to act, in my view, in ways that immediately refreshed my memory of prior indiscretions.

Before retiring, as Pontheolla and I recounted the wondrously pleasant day, I relayed my observations, saying, “It almost makes me want to rescind my forgiveness.”

As I seek always (well, chiefly) to be honest with myself and with others, I hasten to add, no, not “almost”. For, given how I felt, I did desire to retract my forgiveness. And, no, not “makes me”, for I don’t believe anyone can compel me to do anything against my will (barring, I think, confronting me with a credible threat to my existence). Rather I would withdraw my forgiveness as a matter of self-righteous choice (which, I confess, is not beyond me) and, thus, at minimal best, not hold the other person responsible for my act of conscious volition.

However, I cannot, did not, and will not revoke my forgiveness…for a host of reasons.

I cannot – I am unable to – withdraw what is not mine, though, paradoxically, yes, I did possess it to give. Jesus teaches, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”(2) Yet the truth, his truth is that God always acts first to forgive us, thus, empowering us to do the same, therefore, in the words of the Apostle, we are to “forgiv(e) one another, as God in Christ has forgiven (us).”(3)

I did not withdraw my God-given forgiveness because of what I believe to be an existential truth of all human living: No one arrives at any place of good or ill without, in the former case, the helpful hearts and hands of countless folk, known and unknown, seen and unseen and, in the latter case, without the labors of hurtful hearts and hands. Believing, knowing this to be true, only God knows (surely not, never I) and, thus, can judge the measure and consequences of the influences of good and ill on another.

I will not withdraw my God-given forgiveness because I look “in a mirror, dimly,”(4) unable to see and know myself fully.(5) Thus, the plea of the psalmist resonates within me: “O God, who can detect their sins; cleanse me from my secret faults.”(6) As only God can know and, thus, judge the measure and consequences of my self-awareness and self-ignorance, as I pray the blessing of divine mercy, withholding the just punishment I deserve, so I ought and do pray the same for others.

 

Footnotes:

(1) See my previous post, thanksgiving forgiving, November 25, 2017
(2) Matthew 6.14
(3) Ephesians 4.32b
(4) 1 Corinthians 13.12
(5) Indeed, as I live and breathe, I ever am in the process of being and becoming. All I am is greater (at least, different) than what, who I was. And all I will be is greater (again, at least different) from what, who I am.
(6) Psalm 19.12. On immediate reflection, I have enough difficulty dealing with my sins and faults of which I am aware, let alone the ones of which I am not conscious, that is, that are “secret” to me.

freed from fear…imagine

preaching, 1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 25.14-30, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, November 19, 2017

Jesus tells a parable about talents. In his day, monetary units of precious metal equal to fifteen years’ wages of a day laborer. For our day, the root of our notion of our capabilities, our talents that enable us to do something.

Viewed through the worldly lens of economics, this story is about our stewardship of our abilities and our money; using them fully, investing them wisely for which we, at life’s end, will give a reckoning through our legacies and bequests.

Hmmm, maybe.

From a heavenly perspective, this story is about our faithful use of divine gifts, as Paul delineates in First Corinthians,(1) among them, faith and discernment, knowledge and wisdom, bestowed by the Spirit, which we are to use for the sake of others and for which we must give an account at the end of time, the Day of the Lord, the second coming of Jesus of which Paul speaks.(2)

Hmmm, maybe.

Today, focusing on two of the four characters, I suggest that this parable is about an elemental aspect of our relationships, all of our relationships, with God and with all others. Not the first two servants, who invest and double their money, make the same speech to their master, who, with the same words, praises and rewards them. They function as literary foils like Romeo and Juliet’s Friar whose patience magnifies Romeo’s impatience or Mr. Hyde whose evil illumines the goodness of Dr. Jekyll or the malevolent Draco Malfoy to the benevolent Harry Potter. The first two servants, in their exacting similarity, highlight the utterly different relationship of the master and the third servant; who, suffering from a case of fiscal paralysis, buries and returns the money.

Parable of the Talents, Eugène Burnand (1850-1921)

There is the point of the parable, which, though it may seem, is not a judgment against laziness, but rather is about fear.

FEAR - Scrabble tiles

The third servant imagined that his master was unkind. “I knew you were harsh, so I was afraid.” And acting on his fear, “I hid your talent and here it is.” The master replies, “You knew, did you, that I am as you imagine? If so, then you should have done otherwise.”

The point. Whatever we imagine about God and anyone else will influence our behavior. Speaking for myself, if I imagine God or you to be judgmental, I will be afraid and, in my fear, remain guarded, reveal little, risk even less lest I fail and fall under your judgment. If I imagine God or you to be benevolent and fair, then I am free to take the risk of being open and vulnerable, indeed, to be as loving and just as I perceive God and you to be.

What we imagine, we reflect. What we reflect, we will be and do, think and feel, intend and act.

If this is true – and I believe it is! – then the moral of this parable is this: Resist and reject fear. Risk faith and trust in our interactions with God and others, for there is truest freedom.

 

Illustration: The Parable of the Talents, Eugène Burnand (1850-1921)

Footnotes:

(1) 1 Corinthians 12

(2) 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11 is the day’s appointed epistle reading.

rebirth

Subtitle: on the Tuesday morning following a prayer for a breezy, chilly, bluesy Wednesday*

Some mornings…this morning, I feel…I am born again;
not merely by awaking –
tho’ believing that is not promised, not daring idyllic indifference for this grace –
but rather via sensing, believing, trusting in a renewal,
as Jesus saith, “from above”** and
as Paul saith, “inwardly day by day.”***

I sense, believe, trust
for this morning – when the crow cawed, indeed, when the crows cawed,
welcoming the day (as they do every dawn) with their cacophonous chorus –
I heard not (as I usually do!) discordant noise,
but rather a cry, a call to rise, rejoicing in the gift of sound.

And then, grateful for the gift of sight, I looked, watching
the murderous swarm (this day, numbering four)
take flight to alight (as they do every dawn) on the limbs of the black walnut tree –

Black Walnut tree, Clevedale, 11-12-17at this time of year wholly barren of leaf,
appearing as fleshless, arthritic bones
against the grey autumnal sky –

where they, staggered from branch to branch,
stood on stage, a black-robed quartet to continue their cantata,
the whistling breeze their musical accompaniment…

and I inhaled their melody as Spirit-breath.

 

Footnotes:

*A previous blog post, November 8, 2017

** John 3.3.

***2 Corinthians 4.16