April 07, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As in the Last Supper narrative on Maundy Thursday here, today, in our gospel reading, we have a gathering around a table for a meal. At the gathering are those who have a great devotion to Jesus as well as a soon to be betrayer of Jesus. We also have feet being attended to…not your typical dinners for 8.
Here Jesus is at the home of Lazarus…this is a familiar family to us from the previous couple of chapters in John’s gospel – siblings on quite a ride in their faith and relationship with Jesus.
Lazarus is the one for whom Jesus wept and who was raised from the dead after being dead for four days.
Martha is the one who gave a confession of faith before her brother’s resurrection: “Yes Lord,” she says, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
And Mary – whom we have seen at another gathering for dinner being affirmed for sitting at Jesus’ feet.
In our narrative, the next day – for us next Sunday – Jesus will enter Jerusalem; what’s become for us Palm Sunday.
Jesus has been talking about his death and folks are not really grasping it…in fact, the disciples do not think it is a good way to do things – remember Peter’s rebuke of Jesus – “God forbid it, Lord, this must never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).
Here we have Mary and she gets it. She’s is comprehending what others could not and is acting out of her understanding – out of love, gratitude, and sacrifice.
In this narrative, Judas criticizes her action. With a tone that almost seems casual, John asserts Judas is a thief who regularly stole from their common purse. Character is obvious and John does not minimize or apologize for his assessment of Judas.
This narrative may be read as a juxtaposition of Mary and Judas – one of following Jesus at great cost, and one of following Jesus for personal gain. It is there but let me also assert a metaphorical reading of the narrative: Theological professor George Stroup, in reflection on this passage, asserts: “Judas plays just as important a role in John’s story of Jesus’ death as does Mary…The Christian disciple [you and I] is neither Mary nor Judas but a paradoxical combination of both.”*
February 17, 2019
Our readings today swing on concepts of contrast that feel heavy and pretty black and white.
Our Jeremiah reading opens with strong language: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength...”
January 13, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we will witness infant baptism. Today, we also hear of baptism in our gospel reading – the narrative of the baptism of Christ.
Jesus, an image of the invisible God, come to us – Incarnation – taking off some of God’s self and putting on some of humanities self – fully human, fully God; has become one of us.
Jesus saves us and shows us the way – how to live.
Here. Now. In our narrative this morning Jesus is showing us the need for baptism.
Scripturally Jesus models two things for us that are what we call “sacraments” – though there may be a wider lens of considering sacrament. In the New Testament, it is Holy Communion and Baptism.
In Greek, the word for baptism has a more descriptive meaning than English conveys that helps us understand the significance of what is taking place. The verb “bapto” means to “dip in or under, to dye” – like dying a garment…when you dip in the cloth the garment changes completely into something different: it’s evident; it shows. The word “baptizmo” appears in different constructions throughout the New Testament: it may vary a bit but includes meaning “immerse, sink, drown, go under, sink into…” (Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 410).
We hear both the power and force of baptism. And perhaps the danger.
In the back of our Book of Common Prayer – which you have in your pews – there is a wonderful section called “An Outline of the Faith: commonly called the Catechism.” The word Catechism tells us the format of this outline – it is a summary in question and answer structure. How great is that?
On page 857 we have the questions: what are the sacraments? And what is baptism?
A sacrament is defined as an “outward visible sign of inward and spiritual grace.” We spoke recently of grace – grace is unmerited favor. Something we neither deserve nor earn…it just is…God’s extravagant posture toward us: full of grace.
A sacrament is something outward that is a means of grace. A vehicle of grace…of God’s extravagance…a special way God provides connection to God…revelation of God.
Bread. Wine. Water.
Normal and familiar things with cultural associations that God uses to show us God, to connect us to God.
December 02, 2018
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
Truly. Happy New Year. In our Episcopal liturgical calendar, it’s the first day of a whole new year. And in that calendar, we begin the year with Advent. Advent means “coming” and we are starting a season of preparing for the coming of Christ. That’s why we lit the candle.
What’s so fun about our liturgical calendar, is that it’s different from regular time – our contemporary Gregorian calendar. This kind of thing serves us. Helps us remember whose we are. where we are. where we are going. We can be tethered to our spirituality as we attach ourselves to our liturgical calendar…on a different trajectory than the culture around us. It may serve as a powerful reminder.
And what do calendars do? Inform us of coming events or signal us to remember past events.
Though our calendars will not hit Christmas Day for 23 more days, in our stores and neighborhoods, Christmas has come…so much for effective calendar keeping.
However, we can effectually practice the season of Advent over these next four weeks – it can both inform us and signal us to remember.
We have additional help outside of the calendar as we practice Advent. We function in the midst of much sign and symbol in our Episcopal tradition – calendars, colors, candles, hymns, and music of seasons. We tend to involve many senses as we approach God. Sight. Smell. Touch. Sound. The more senses involved, the more we are involved. One sense is sight and has to do with color.
We’ve just come off what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time,” though there is nothing ordinary about it. It’s a season of growth after Pentecost. The color that expresses it is green – which kinda makes sense as it expresses growth. To remind us, this color was on the altar and lectern and podium, and we, as clergy, wore it. But now, new year, new season, new color – blue, or purple. Again, using our senses to remind us of reality. In our liturgical practice blue signals expectation and preparation.
And speaking of senses – the Advent wreath also helps us – light and color.
The flavors of waiting are illustrated in the Advent wreath: preparation, joy, and celebration. These are shown in the candle colors: dark blue/purple, rose, and white.
In simplicity, as an additional candle is lit each week it symbolizes growing anticipation for Christ’s coming. Increasing light. Advent is a time of journey from darkness to light.
The season of Advent is, on the whole, a season of waiting with some different flavors to it – Advent is both simple and complex.
Apart from colors and calendar and symbols we see from our readings today, that this waiting is not linear – we hear about the promise to be fulfilled in Jeremiah and in Luke, Christ’s return. It’s about looking back – Christ coming to us as a baby; looking forward – Christ returning, and looking around – Christ confronting us…confront is kind of a strong word – perhaps bringing us up short is more what I mean, getting our attention in our now…our daily lives.
Advent. Looking back, looking forward, and looking around while journeying from darkness to light. In the midst of this, it is also both personal and corporate.
October 14, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Our readings today may confuse us if we’re not careful.
We hear three distinct voices in our readings. They communicate sadness, desire, need, and perhaps helplessness.
All of these may fall under the broad umbrella of suffering.
We hear Job’s and his angst about God: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him…”
In our gospel reading, we hear the question posed: “what must I do to be saved?” – Jesus walks thru some commandments in answer…the person – who’s not identified in this gospel is referred to as the ‘rich young ruler’ in the other gospel narratives – he says, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth” --- this response by him in our narrative seems to show assurance is not being experienced. No sense that this is enough or “working.”
We’re seeing individual perceptions of reality.
Perception is a funny thing. It has to do with awareness and understanding – especially through the senses. We all have perceptions of things – situations, people, ourselves, God. Our perceptions are how we interpret and orient ourselves in our daily lives. Our perceptions are our reality…what we tend to forget is that our perceptions can be on point or they can be really wrong…but they tend to feel right because they’re ours.
Perception is the reality to each of us. Though it is not always the same reality.
In Job, his perception is that God is not there.
In contrast, the gospel reading shows an angst that we all, in ways, can dial into. This person is perceiving his obedience as not paying off or doing the trick…this person is not satisfied.
We also catch a glimpse of perception in our psalm appointed for the day. This is a familiar Psalm of lament by one who feels utterly abandoned by God. The psalmist cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
September 02, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Christian life is a supernatural life. When someone is a Christian, we see an observable difference in their life. It shows up. Scripture tells us that we are miraculously, though we may not feel it, new creatures in Christ. The old has passed away and behold the new has come. Our Epistle today gives us a tangible example and exhortation of how our Christian life is different and observable…or not…
In this reading today, we hear about our actions, handling our emotions, and the importance of the state of our hearts.
“Be doers of the word, not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
And a great word picture: “For if any are hearers of the word and not doers they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away immediately forget what they were like.”
The Christian life is one of response and action to all that God has done for us. As we relate to God and one another, simply put – Love is something you do.
But this is not an expectation to live up to from God…we are not saved by any works we do and cannot make God think any more of us than God already does. Salvation, like all things from God, is a gift.
James asserts: God gave us birth by the word of truth and we are to welcome this word implanted in us with meekness.
We live in the midst of profound miracle through God’s power and provision for us, but we still – still - are plagued by limitation. We sin, we fall short…and we do this, at times with great creativity.
James also asserts: if we are mere hearers of the word we “deceive ourselves” and become like one who walks away from a mirror and forgets what they looked like. James strongly says, religion lived from a deceived heart is worthless…worthless.
The word for heart in the Greek James uses will sound familiar: Kardia. Cardia. Cardio. We think of our hearts physically. However, in the Greek this is a big word conceptually and, in our context, refers to the center of our physical and spiritual life. From the New Testament Greek, Lexicon sees that this involves the mind, the will and character, and emotions or appetites and desires. Great inclusivity in its meaning.
August 12, 2018
Not a word we hear much in our daily life these days…another related word we think about more – character. Character being in simplicity the habits of our lives.
Integrity is related. Integrity has to do with the quality of our behavior. C. S. Lewis in his essay “Men without Chests” gives a helpful glimpse as he criticizes development of people that is cerebral – the mind, and visceral – the appetites, but neglects the importance of the chest – that which links or tames our thinking and our appetites. Lewis calls the chest the seat of the sentiment or place of magnanimity in our lives. Magnanimity is the quality of our behavior – it is noble, generous. Lewis asserted boldly, “by intellect one is mere spirit and by one’s appetite mere animal.”
The biblical idea of integrity is wholeness - completeness, moral innocence. It has the idea of soundness of character and adherence to moral character. Often in scripture, it also is coupled with the idea of ‘walking’ in integrity. This implies the habitual manner of life as being bound with integrity.
Do you see David or Absalom in this? For both we’ve seen over the past few weeks lives lacking integrity. In the language of C. S. Lewis, David, and Absalom were literally “men without chests” - making choice out of appetites – lust, violence, selfish ambition, anger, greed.
Let me sum up – because we’ve missed a few headlines in our Sunday propers:
David had many children – 20 are named in scripture – and David had many partners. There was struggle relationally among the four oldest – all from different mothers – for Absalom, 2nd in line for succession, this was personal between him and Amnon, 1st in line for succession.
May 06, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Over the last several weeks we’ve been hearing of many miraculous stories from the book of Acts and through John – both his gospel and letters – we have been very repetitively hearing about love, and this last two weeks abiding and obeying commands. It’s an easy time as we’ve reached week six in celebrating Easter with all these repetitions to zone out…to miss it…but there’s some stuff going on here…
The word love is getting thrown around a lot. It’s a word we hear all the time.
We think about it a lot.
The Beatles asserted – All you need is Love
In the musing on love all is not good news – the J. Geils Band in the 80’s exclaimed – Love Stinks
Tina Turner asked, What’s love got to do with it?
The Captain & Tenille claimed (before their divorce) – Love will Keep us Together
Huey Lewis is wowed by the Power of Love
What’s funny in the English language is that we have one word for love: Love. We use the same word to say to our spouse or significant other to express ourselves that we say to express our feelings about pizza: I love you. I love pizza. Love. This concept can seem so vague while being so significant.
No wonder it's befuddling when we hear that God is love.
It helps us to consider the word love in the Greek – the language of it’s writing in the New Testament. In Greek, there are four words for love – Eros, Philos, Storge, and Agape.
In our readings today, the repetitive use of the word love is actually 2 kinds of love (Strong’s concordance helps us here) they are cognates of Philos – friend love or confidant, beloved and the other is a cognate of agape – in its meaning it is wide: a benevolence, unconditional – transcending circumstance or behavior…it just is.
March 29, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Here we are. Maundy Thursday. The tipping point as we go into the Triduum – the Great Three Days of Easter.
It’s challenging for us to do this remembering. Bunny trails of thought can distract us. Or we can get hyper-focused on one idea or concept. As we approach things in our lives often we may think – “If I just do this one thing” or “change this one thing.” We tend to make things singular.
But here, now as we enter the institution narrative – the place where Jesus is declaring the “already but not yet” through the cup of wine and loaf of bread. Jesus is at once mediator, sacrifice, servant, friend, and Lord. There is a multiplicity of things going on. These involve Jesus’ roles, but they also involve the timing and convergence of symbols and ritual.
This comes from two directions for us in this night: the institution of sacrament stated as “new covenant” and Jesus declaring himself as mediator and sacrifice.
Covenant and sacrifice.
Scripturally these two streams, though really important in the followership of God by Israel are not connected. We hear of both throughout the Old Testament with great detail but not paired. They are promise and provision but are separate practices and concepts.
But here, in this night suddenly they are connected together.
Covenant serves to provide a means of right relating.
A covenant is something that binds parties together. Historically, covenants were made between people groups and nations as a means of relating. And through redemptive history covenants with different focus took place to bind people to God:
Noah and the rainbow
Abraham – land, and descendants
Israel at Sinai – Moses and the 10 commandments
David – a generational promise of a King…lineage to the Savior.
Each of these had a flavor of a sovereign and a servant and a binding of parties together.
Looking at covenant’s in scripture we often see an animal killed and displayed…but don’t confuse this. This animal killed and dismembered in the context of a covenant was no offering. It was a gruesome symbol. A symbol saying to each party: so be this done to me if I do not keep this covenant. The dead animal displayed symbolized consequence for breaking the covenant.
March 04, 2018
May I speak to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In today’s gospel, we see Jesus’ outburst…how startling!…our God has an emotional life – and those emotions are not just warm fuzzies. There’s anger, there’s yelling.
But what is happening? In the passage, we see that the Passover is approaching and through lack of detail the passage makes it sound pretty neat and tidy, but at the time of the year of the Passover festival, there is great chaos in Jerusalem.
To understand this chaos, we need to consider both the crowd and the temple. During the time of Herod, while Jerusalem was under Roman rule, many changes took place to accommodate the festival crowds and, perhaps seek both efficiency and benefit to Rome. As we read the Old Testament our understanding of the temple may get lost in descriptions of sacrifice and instruction of how to do things, but we need to remember that after the Babylonian Exile, there was a re-start of practice and location that emerged over time. The dispersed Jews began to pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the three major festivals each year - Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. As time went on changes continued and things became modified. Not unlike today in our culture as we use Amazon to mail order our shopping needs instead of physically going to a store or read on a Kindle instead of using a bound book – culture changes, and behaviors change.
That’s where we find ourselves in today’s reading. As I said, Passover was a Pilgrimage feast where Jews, who had been dispersed would return for worship. The population of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus has many estimates, anywhere from approximately 100-200 thousand people – less than half the size of present Little Rock, but on the three major festivals per year the population would swell, some assert to close to a million – but at least double in population…you can only imagine how hard it was for the city to cope – food, accommodations, animals, offerings, ritual facilities. So, Herod began work on the temple: we hear it intimated today – “This Temple has been under construction…” Herod renovated both the city and the Temple to accommodate these times of massive influx – these changes in the Temple were not changes in what took place there, but in approach for greater ease of number of people and their needs – it had to do with bridges of connection, building a large plaza around the Temple that linked some aspects of commerce to the location of the temple for the ease of the city as pilgrims descended for the festivals. We can glimpse the chaos of this Passover festival: crowds, animals, sounds, smells, chaos…and Jesus comes into the Temple…
Jesus’ angry outburst is interesting and instructive to us. It might show us more of who God is – that God has an emotional life, but it also shows us more of who we are.