waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 7, Saturday, December 9, 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 Wind. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, yes, righteous in the manner of the knowledge of God’s Law, yet aware of his lack of understanding of You and of God, came to You under the cover of night. So, I, by earthly standards, learned and practiced in the fields of theology and ministry, oft lie awake in the small hours of the morning seeking You, awaiting Your coming to comfort me in my waging, warring struggle against the principal question that rages within me: Why, in a world wrought from nothing(1) by Your benevolent-almighty-all-gracious-giving Father’s will, does evil dwell? As You spoke to Nicodemus, so You speak to me: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above…The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(2) Yea, O Lord Jesus, as I believe, so I know that only inspired by the Wind, inspirited with the breath of Your Spirit can I be…am I reborn so to behold, to know the mind of God and, thus, to know this truth: I, even I am to stand for the light of right in the shadow of wrong. I, even I am to be an active agent for good, lest evil prosper. Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) The idea of creatio ex nihilo (Latin, literally, creation out of nothing; as opposed to creatio ex materia, literally, creation out of material, that is, pre-existing elements) postulates that God formed the universe from nothingness.
(2) John 3.3, 8

 

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waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 2, Monday, December 4, 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 Word. By Your Spirit, teach me anew the meaning of “striv(ing) first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to (me) as well”(1) that I may…no, will love more Your gifts and lust less after the world’s treasures. By Your Spirit, teach me anew the meaning of “unless (I) change and become like (a child), (I) will never enter the kingdom of heaven”(2) that I, with more the untarnished joyous expectation of youth and less the cautious, world-weary cynicism of age, may…no, will run to You with the open arms of a vulnerable mind and heart, soul and spirit. Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) Matthew 6.33
(2) Matthew 18.3

the separable individuality of suffering

A friend, Daniel Gutiérrez, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania – though we’ve never met in the flesh, via Facebook we have connected and, even before, I, having known of him, Episcopal Church circles trending toward small, have admired his life and ministry from afar – today, in a FB post, wrote: Monday will be two weeks since the horrific violence in Las Vegas. Have we forgotten? Have we moved to the next news cycle? Let us embrace His Kingdom.

Bishop Gutiérrez, for me, an incarnation of passion for God’s love and justice, reminds me ever to remember, to “embrace” the sorrows of my sisters and brothers, in the instant case of his post, the October 1 mass shooting. His clarion call of loving and just remembrance gives me pause to reflect on how, if not easily, inevitably I do “(move) to the next news cycle.”

Thinking about this, I turned to Pontheolla and asked, not to induce her guilt, but rather as my reality-check, “Honey, when was Hurricane Harvey?”[1] She answered, “I don’t remember exactly.” I replied, “Neither do I.”

I repeated my question concerning Hurricanes Irma[2] and Maria,[3] the Mexican earthquake,[4] and the current California wildfires.[5] Her answers, the same. My replies, the same.

I wonder. Is this not true for any (all?) of us?

Do we not move on unless and until “it” (whate’er the tragedy) is our immediate experience or that we are vitally, viscerally connected because our loved ones, those near and dear to us, have suffered?

Do we not move on given the press, the pressure of our daily inundation through the 24-hour news cycle that continues to operate under an ages-old mandate, “if it bleeds, it leads” (which is to say, suffering, more than good news, sells, therefore, dominates the headlines)?

Do we not move on, for suffering hurts and there is only so much that we, psychically, even physically, given our own trials and tribulations, worries and woes, can tolerate?

I suspect that for these reasons, perhaps primarily the separable distance of tragedy not personally experienced, the painstakingly honest answer is “yes”, we do move on.

Yet, Bishop Daniel, I want to do as you implore…

I want not to move on…

I want to stay, as damnably discomfiting as it is, in the pain of the tragedies of others.

Why?

At most, for I want my mind and heart, soul and spirit never to be inured, desensitized to the hurts of others, so to be able and willing to act where I can, when I can, how I can for their good, and

At least, for I believe that the sufferings of my sisters and brothers, whate’er the tragedy, as easily, perhaps as inevitably could well have been mine and could well one day be mine.

 

Footnotes:

[1] mid-late August

[2] August 30-mid September

[3] mid-September-early October

[4] September 19

[5] early October-ongoing

which one?

Epiphany 1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 21.23-32, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, October 1, 2017

Never answer a question with a question, so the olden adage advises, lest one be accused of refusing to engage in honest dialogue or, as bad, seeking to conceal one’s ignorance. Clearly, Jesus was no proponent of this school of thought.

Jesus triumphally entered Jerusalem,[1] then brazenly cleansed the temple of money changers and sellers of animals,[2] thus, disrupting the sacred economy of the institution of ritual sacrifice, and now, self-authorized, has taken up residence in the temple, teaching, preaching. The chief priests and elders charged with maintaining order, demand, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

The Pharisees Question Jesus, James Tissot (1886-1894)

The accusatory tone of these religious leaders is a strong indication that it’s hardly likely they will accept anything Jesus says. Nevertheless, given, again, their role as overseers of the life of worship of their people, God’s people, theirs is a fair question. What does Jesus do? He answers their question with a question to which they plead the fifth, refusing to answer. Jesus doesn’t answer their question, but rather responds with a parable about two sons whose father asks to labor in the vineyard. One says, “No”, but then goes. The other says, “Yes,” but then doesn’t go.

Parable of the Two Sons, James Tissot (1836-1902)

“Which of the two,” Jesus pointedly asks not only those chief priests and elders, but also us, “did the will of his father?”

The one who appears to be, who presents herself, himself to be a follower of Jesus who outwardly does the right things, but whose mind and heart, soul and spirit are far from doing, being the love and justice of the kingdom of God or the one who by all appearances fails, falls from grace time and time again, but finally responds favorably to the call of Jesus, “Follow me”, acting fairly, living faithfully; even if it comes at the proverbial “eleventh hour” of the last breath of life in this world!

Which one are you? Which one am I? Jesus calls you and me to answer and not with a question.

On another, deeper level, I believe the answer to Jesus’ question is neither the one who said, “No”, but did go nor the one who said, “Yes”, but didn’t go, but rather Jesus himself. He was…is the son who when sent to proclaim in word and deed God’s will of self-sacrificial, unconditional love, came among us teaching and preaching, holding out his hands especially to the least, last, and lost, then stretching out his arms, loving us all, from the least to the greatest, to death, his own, that we might be redeemed from sin and death. Jesus is the son we are to imitate.

When Jesus asks us, as he does today and every day, “Which son did the will of his father?”, by the grace of God, let us answer, “You, Jesus, are the one and you, Jesus, are the one we follow that we, your sisters and brothers, God’s daughters and sons, might do, be fulfillments of God’s will.

 

Illustrations:

The Pharisees Question Jesus (Les pharisiens questionnent Jésus) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Parable of the Two Sons, James Tissot

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 21.1-11

[2] Matthew 21.12-13

Jesus, the subversive

Note: At yesterday morning’s service, as I ended my sermon, an additional word about the appointed gospel (Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52) occurred to me, which I shared during announcements. It rarely surprises me when things other than what I intended to say come to mind, for I am a person of constant second (third, fourth, fifth, sixth…on and on) thoughts. I cannot recreate precisely what I said, but it was something like this…

Jesus launched a movement, going out into his first century world to share in word and deed the near presence of the kingdom of heaven, indeed, of God. The church, founded on Jesus’ life and labor, is an institution. Throughout human history, whatever the endeavor, in the transition from precipitating origin to permanent organization, something can be lost. At times, I wonder whether we, two millennia later, run the risk of domesticating Jesus, thus, losing any sense of his radical, revolutionary nature. Looking again at this morning’s series of five parables, I focus on the first three, for they reveal, expose Jesus’ subversive edginess.

Jesus, as a storyteller, as all good storytellers, employed familiar images and ideas, which his listeners readily recognized. Yet he frequently, outrageously turned those images and ideas on their proverbial heads, catching people unawares, arresting their attention. I picture Jesus leading us to a comfortable chair in which a long, sharp tack is embedded, inviting us to sit, all the while hoping we have not lost our sensitivity to new ways of thinking, of seeing our lives and world.

So, today…

The Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jan Luyken (1649-1712)

The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a great tree where birds make their nests. No, it doesn’t! The mustard seed is small, but the mustard plant is no tree, but a weed (a shocking comparison when the fabled cedars of Lebanon would be a far better image!) that, spreading quickly, is difficult, impossible to uproot. Ah, this is the nature of God’s kingdom!

The Parable of the Leaven, John Everett Millais (1829-1896)

The kingdom of heaven is like a woman (a shocking comparison in a first century patriarchal society!) mixing yeast (another shocking comparison, for yeast was an ancient symbol of unrighteousness!) in three measures of flour, which was a vast amount, yielding bread able to feed multitudes. Ah, this is the nature of God’s kingdom!

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (c. 1630), Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)

The kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure in a field (so far, so good!) that a man finds, then hides (uh oh!), then sells all of his possessions and buys the field; all of which amounts to thievery! In Jesus day, a similar parable was in circulation. A man had a field with a buried treasure, but he did not know it. He died, bequeathing the field to his son, who later sold it. The buyer, plowing the field, discovered the treasure.[1] This version of the tale eliminates the immorality. Jesus, in his telling, retains it. Ah, this is the nature of God’s kingdom! It is treasure, yet one, once found, that always calls, challenges, confronts us with choices between righteousness and unrighteousness.

Ah, Jesus, a storyteller with the soul of a subversive!

 

Illustrations:

The Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jan Luyken (1649-1712)

The Parable of the Leaven, John Everett Millais (1829-1896)

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (c. 1630), Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)

Footnote:

[1] Gospel of Thomas 109

the Sower sends sowers to sow

me preaching 1-22-17 a sermon, based on Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23 and Psalm 119.105-112, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, July 16, 2017

Jesus tells a parable, an allegorical story, about the nature of his ministry, even more, the character of the kingdom of God.

Our gospel passage skips over several verses.[1] In the missing text the disciples ask Jesus, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” Doubtless, their inquiry is spurred by their own confusion and lack of understanding about the meaning of Jesus’ story. And his answer would seem to confirm their concern. For he says, in so many words, that parables are meant to fulfill a prophecy to blind the eyes and bewilder the minds of those who, perhaps haughtily, believe they already see and know all about God.[2]

Blessedly, for Jesus’ disciples and perhaps for us who, from time to time, may find his teachings mind-numbingly mystifying, he later explains or, as my daddy would say, “makes it plain.”

Jesus is the sower. The seeds are the proclamation, his proclamation in his words, his presentation in his deeds, that God’s kingdom – God’s realm, nature and character, being and life; all this and more! – is no longer away and apart, up there, out there, but has come near.[3] And, as in all things, the results vary. Sometimes the sowing, o’er two millennia and unto this day, is fruitful. Folk hear and receive the word of God, which, after the psalmist, “is a lantern to (their) feet and a light upon (their) path”, which takes root in their minds and hearts, souls and spirits and bears the fruit of faithful, gospel-living; their lives patterned after the one they follow, Jesus Lord and Savior. And sometimes or, perhaps more often, as three of the four types of soil Jesus mentions are unfertile, the sowing is unfruitful.

Given Jesus’ intense emphasis on the soils – despite ending in a good place, speaking of a harvest of thirty-to-a-hundredfold – this parable might be categorized as a rant. A fussy Jesus, adding to his other sayings about not casting pearls before swine[4] and shaking from the feet the dust of homes and towns where the word of God is not welcomed,[5] complains about the stubbornness, the obtuseness of the people.

However this story, again, is about the ministry of Jesus and the kingdom of God. Therefore the focus is on Jesus, the sower, who, far from prudent selectivity, profligately, extravagantly tosses the seed everywhere!

The Parable of the Sower, Harold Copping (1863-1932)

What, from a human point of view, is inefficiency at its wasteful worst is divine faithfulness at its best. For this, the word showered on everyone, everywhere, and whatever the state of receptivity, is a sign God’s unconditional love for all.

Therefore today’s parable is a summons to us, who, as good soil, have received the word, to follow Jesus into the world as sowers who go out to sow, proclaiming in our words and presenting in our deeds that the kingdom of God is near.

 

Illustration: The Parable of the Sower, Harold Copping (1863-1932)

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 13.10-17

[2] The disciples asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”…The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will listen, but never understand, and you will look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes’” (Matthew 13.10, 13-15a; see Isaiah 6.9-10).

[3] According to Matthew’s gospel account, this was Jesus’ testimony at the inauguration of his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4.17b).

[4] Matthew 7.6

[5] Matthew 10.14

a call and a claim

a sermon, based on Matthew 9.35-10.23, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 18, 2017

Jesus called his disciples, before saying, “Follow me”,[1] declaring the purpose, the reason for the call, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is near.”[2]

Jesus Commissions Disciples, James Tissot (1836-1902)

This same good news he sends them out on a missionary journey to proclaim. But his accompanying instructions are hardly as appealing. A declaration dripping with danger: “I send you as sheep among wolves.” Then a mystifying, difficult (impossible?) to operationalize message: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Then a terrifying statement: “Beware…you will be beaten…and dragged before rulers.” Then a consoling, but, given what has been said, confusing word: “Don’t worry.”

Jesus, the way you treat your friends it’s a wonder you have any followers!

Now, in Jesus’ time and in the historical context of Matthew’s gospel, a half-century after Jesus when the church was under persecution, these words of warning were necessary. To go into the world with his counter-cultural, contra-status quo message of unconditional love and justice inevitably would lead to trouble with secular and religious authorities. And Christian conversion could erupt in discord within one’s family.

Moreover, Jesus’ message of hardship was part of a prophetic tradition woven into the cultural and spiritual fabric of his people’s understanding of what happens when one stands up, stands out in the name of God.

Still, what sense do we make of these biblical insights into the hard texture of discipleship?

In our day and time, Jesus’ words seem, sound alien. Mainline American Christianity, in which the Episcopal Church is firmly rooted, generally knows little about bold prophetic proclamations that provoke persecution. Verily, there have been historical moments when Christian reticence to speak in the public square from the stance of faith to the raging cultural, political, and social issues of the day justifiably has led to the charge that the church is a non-prophet organization! However, our Christian sisters and brothers in some regions of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East can testify to the truth of Jesus’ words. To be his disciple can and does put them in direct, at times, violent confrontations with governments and the followers of other faith and secular traditions.

Nevertheless, I believe that we can attest to the vivid reality of Jesus’ warning that proclamation brings trouble, particularly in the recent past and current generations when the divisions between conservative and progressive Christians have been and are so pronounced; the right denouncing the left as so inclusive and relativistic that it stands for nothing and, indeed, is no Christianity at all and the left decrying the right as narrow and doctrinaire, far from Jesus’ all-embracing love.

Today, putting all this aside, I focus solely on Jesus’ message. For if we take it and him seriously, there is, in his instructions for the missionary journey, an unmistakable and immutable call and claim on any, every disciple, of any and every age, in any and every age. A call to us, a claim upon us to go forth into the world – and, in the concrete daily circumstances of our lives, through our profession in word and deed of God’s love and justice – proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven is near.

 

Illustration: Jesus Commissions Disciples, James Tissot (1836-1902)

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 4.19

[2] Matthew 4.17a