February 02, 2020
Today we continue in our Epiphany season – seeing God’s revelation and affirmation of Christ – the reality of the Messiah arriving on the scene.
What’s weird about this season of is that Jesus is a baby one week and an adult the next and then a baby again…The point is not to be linear but to show – which is really the definition of Epiphany – to show.
There are things going on in our gospel reading today that serve as example to us. We are in a strange place globally and nationally and maybe personally – and so were Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna.
We, today, have a Senate impeachment trial – only the third time in our nation’s history has a president been charged by the House of Representatives and a Senate trial taken place. Republican or Democrat – this is hard and challenges ideas for us all about faith, character, commitment, and constitution – our very democracy. Leaders in these trial presentations are not always behaving really great. It leaves us asking some questions: is this who we are? what will become of us? Where are we going?
We are at an historic moment as a nation that is challenging for each of us.
Additionally, there is this coronavirus. An outbreak internationally that began in China and has a lot of unknown with it. In the vein of movies I have seen, this illness quickly has come to the place of being spread person to person. A little scary as we consider other historic outbreaks.
Right now, watching the news is actually worse than most scary movies I have seen.
I don’t mean to be dramatic about our “now.” I realize that in every generation there are those things that take place that can shake us to our core: politically, economically, ideologically.
But our national and international news is a bit core shaking these days.
On top of that, there is the tragedy of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and ripped apart with horrifying suddenness four other families. That intersects with us – the worse can happen to any of us at any time. It does not matter of you are rich or poor famous or unheard of – none of us gets a pass on suffering and death. We are all out of control. It’s just not something we are always aware of…
January 12, 2020
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. We acknowledge, we honor, and we respond.
But what is this baptism thing? It is a sacrament and if I asked what a sacrament is, many of you, perhaps from your preparation for confirmation back in the day could spout it off. A sacrament is (and this is found in the catechism section of our Book of Common Prayer in page 857): “sacraments are outward signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” Simply put sacraments are things familiar to us that God uses to show God to us.
In our contemporary culture baptism may be thought as something we do to babies and we go Awwww. And in our building lay out, we do it often a little clandestinely in the back corner. What’s going on back there anyway?
Well, a lot.
This bowl of holy water and little babies make baptism seem tame, but there’s a wildness to baptism, a recklessness, a danger to consider.
The wildness comes as we take in all the angles of action going on.
In our narrative this morning, the Trinity is uniquely present – Jesus – incarnate God, the Holy Spirit as a dove, and God the Father expressed through voice, speech.
As we look at this, quite dramatic expression of the Trinity, let’s remember that Jesus is Savior, but also, that Jesus is also our model. He shows us how to live and informs our understanding of what is happening. So, a part of baptism for us now, today, is that the Trinity is expressing God. All of God present. All of God moving.
The wildness comes as we consider God’s voice and the water. We heard in our gospel account: “just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Just as he came up from the water.
Historically, people were baptized more regularly as adults, and it was more regularly done as a full immersion – all of a person all the way under the water. Now, that changed over time, because of need and in response to culture. That’s the beautiful thing about liturgy – it is dynamic, not static. It changes in ways that are discovered with care in response to culture and crisis. The crisis of change with baptism was infant mortality. By illness and other factors, so, the sacrament of baptism began to be done with infants – because they might die.
Sacraments are familiar things…
December 25, 2019
It’s Christmas morning. Whew. We made it! It was a late night for us potentially in a lot of ways – gathering to worship and preparing for celebrations. And a late night for those on the scene at the first Christmas: Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds.
We like them may be a bit tired and fuzzy.
It’s interesting to ponder what this morning was like for those on the scene in contrast to what it’s like for us and for the writers of the readings we have heard this morning – particularly Hebrews and John.
We hear in our epistle this morning, written likely at least 60 years after Jesus’ birth: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.”
This echoes the creation narrative of Genesis 1: God created. Over and over we hear from Genesis, “God said,” and our imagination goes to immediacy – poof - water, trees, sunlight, moon, stars, animals, people. God did not think, God did not wave a magic wand, God spoke and created.
A big deal. A powerful deal. It’s a little hard to grasp in our day. Words unfortunately do not tend to be a big deal now, but in the then and there they carried weight, had authority, conveyed truth, and communicated the power to accomplish what they said.
We’ll come back to words.
Let’s consider those on the scene -
That first Christmas morning must have been a tired one. Mary and Joseph had a newborn. Jesus is God incarnate, become one of us. Incarnation. We hear that language in our gospel reading. Jesus is God incarnate, but that does not mean some definable percentage of human and divine was mappable in his person. Jesus was both, and his humanity was not compromised at all – he had likely already been breastfeeding, filling his diaper, crying and keeping his parents awake in their makeshift “room.” They were tired on this first Christmas morning.
December 01, 2019
Advent is here. The word advent means “coming.” And we hear that in our Isaiah reading – a bidding for people to come. And we hear of Jesus’ 2nd coming in our gospel reading.
Come. Respond. Move toward something…but what? We hear at the end of our Isaiah passage: come to the light.
In this time of year, it is dark. A lot. Maybe it’s dark when we go to work, and dark when we come home. It can affect our well-being, our energy. We can easily become inert and feel like its midnight and be shocked when we look at the clock and see its only 7 p.m.
In the midst of this dark potentially inert time, Christmas is already around us. This past week – before Thanksgiving – Little Rock had the lighting of the Christmas tree downtown. This month will quickly become full – busy with food, parties, shopping, decorating.
Into the short days and busy-ness we throw church into the mix: We’ve got the Christmas pageant – which many of our children have been diligently been preparing for. We’ve got music, which in the Episcopal tradition may feels odd to some, but can be so meaningful. We do not do Christmas songs before Christmas. It’s just too soon. And we’ve got the Advent wreath, which tonight, speaking of the bidding to come – come to our Advent event. Complementary dinner, Chris will help us understand this season and the meaning of the wreath. We’ll also have opportunity for wreath making for you to take home your own wreath, as well as ideas of how to practice Advent in the home. It is our great hope that this will be parish wide – families, young adults, not so young adults…everyone included.
So, we’ve got darkness perhaps stress, and church that is a bit out of sync with culture. When we put all this together, maybe personally it just feels like, when will this be over?
Jan Richardson in her Advent Devotional, Night Visions, helps us take stock a bit. Here’s what she says:
“The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before. It is not possible to keep it from coming, because it will. That’s just how Advent works. What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes by you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed…So, stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”
Our readings today around circle around ideas of darkness, light, and time.
November 17, 2019
Today in with both our Old Testament and Gospel reading we hear prophecy. Prophecy tells us what will come and how we get there.
We can glean from these readings that we need help – we have a problem with sin that we need help outside ourselves to solve. We are not powerful enough. But God is. But what becomes fascinating is that Jesus came, lived, suffered, died, and was resurrected from the dead, and though we live in the miracle of our Christian faith, we still are fallen – we sin, we have separation through sin with God, self, and others.
We hear from Jesus in our gospel reading, referred to as apocalyptic warnings, that there will be an ushering in of God’s ultimate reign. This comes to us either when we die; Jesus said to the thief on the cross beside him, “today I will see you in paradise,” or when Christ returns.
In Isaiah we hear the need for help and looking forward to the Messiah and in the gospel, we hear of Jesus’ second coming. Through both we hear of renewal, healing, recreating.
Simply put, Jesus came and needs to come again. Even for God, it takes more than one visit to heal and deliver us from sin. Take that in for a minute. Even for God, it takes more than one visit to heal and deliver us from sin. We can glean a bit the magnitude of the problem of sin and how much help we need.
Witherington, in his commentary on Isaiah (Isaiah Old and New) articulately asserts: “a single bringing of help and healing and some resurrection back to life in this world would not solve the whole problem…There would need to be a further and final coming of the messiah, a final redemption of the earth…not back to the old mortal life, but forward to the immortal life.” (Kindle Loc 6592).
The Christian life is multidirectional: Jesus came, looking back – we have been saved. In our present we literally are a new creation in Christ, the old is gone and behold the new has come…but in our limitation we are as Paul puts it in Philippians, “working out our salvation,” looking around in our present reality - we are being saved. And as we transition into eternal glory the reality of what we already have will be fully accomplished, looking forward – we will be saved.
Looking back, looking around, looking forward.
We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved.
What in the world?
A few theological terms help us understand our present, this place where we are being saved.
August 11, 2019
We’ve had quite a week in our country. The aftermath of two mass shootings took place just last weekend. CBS news presented this definition of a mass shooting: a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms. In 2019 in America so far, we have had 219 mass shootings according to this definition. As of last Monday, this averages out to one a day – an average of one time each day this year four or more people have been murdered with a gun in one-time incidents.
Notice I used the word “we” when I described this – “we” have had this. It can feel a bit frayed in this time, but our nation is a “we.” There is a corporate identity. We mostly see this in tragedy, but also, in celebration. Last week there were tragedies - we saw two mass shootings within 13 hours. Two young men. Two cities. One: Hate. Hatred of Hispanics. Another: speculation of bitterness toward women. Does that mean the worst thing to be today is a Hispanic woman?
Ethnicity. Gender. People grocery shopping, people relaxing and having fun with friends. Places that are supposed to be safe: a Walmart and an entertainment district in the mid-west.
This “we” identity is what we have been hearing about in our Sunday readings – it’s more attention-getting through the Old Testament lately. We have been hearing of hard times in Israel. In today’s reading, we’re at a time where Israel is split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Judah. This was a time of decay in character, behavior, and religious commitment. It was a time of hardship and fear where self-preservation informed decisions. Isaiah’s audience we hear in verse one is Judah and Jerusalem – both kingdoms, but it’s not too far to stretch to see some comparisons of culture in our own nation today.
In the time of Isaiah, through the words of the prophet, God is giving some bad news. We hear of the emotional life of God in this passage and God sounds angry and hurt. God says: “I have had enough of your burnt-offerings,” “bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.” “Your appointed festivals my soul hates, they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.”
June 09, 2019
Pentecost is here. The great 50 days of Easter are completed today. Our narrative from Acts gives us plenty to chew on as we ponder the significance of this day.
There is wide revelation of God’s heart going on in the midst of much action.
The outpouring of the Spirit in this passage involves most senses for those present: sound – like a rushing wind. Touch – they seemed to be aware of this wind filling the entire place they were in. Sight – they saw divided tongues as of fire that rested on each of them.
Sound, sight, touch…did they think they were losing their minds? Or were their expectations of God’s abilities for things to happen with a power that was experiential normal?
This was a crazy and chaotic day for the church. And today we celebrate it.
But why? Why should it matter to us that the Holy Spirit was poured out this way?
Jesus had told them, before the Ascension, to “wait here for the promise of the Father…John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
As the disciples interact with Jesus in that passage over this order to stay, they clearly show that they don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. But they stay. But it may have had to do not only with Jesus’ order to them but that they were afraid. After Jesus death and resurrection, they were often gathering together to support each other while the Jews and Romans were running around trying to tame this resurrection story.
Additionally, what has become our Christian Pentecost was also the name of an Old Testament Feast that was going on at that time: Shavuot in Hebrew, Pentecost in ancient Greek or the Feast of Weeks in English – a celebration of the Harvest. In the Jewish calendar, this Feast is still celebrated and began last night at sundown.
So, they’re there. Waiting. Likely also participating in this celebration of the harvest. As are so many others – people already living in Jerusalem and immigrants. We hear today: “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” This feast was an opportunity to express gratitude to God for the harvest. How beautiful is that?
Here is where we see more of God’s extravagant power.
Everyone in this stew of people groups at the chaos of sound gathered and began to hear their native languages being spoken.
In our contemporary American culture – and really in many cultures in the world – what’s so amazing and perhaps challenging about this, is the graphic example of God’s embracing of diversity. Of otherness. Of people who are different than us.
May 26, 2019
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When you think of heaven what’s the very first thing you think of?
My guess is that we don’t often think about heaven directly – in terms of what it will be like. Or maybe when we think of it it’s a big pool of vague ideas maybe not connected to scripture at all. Or perhaps pondering heaven raises a plethora of questions that stop us in our tracks.
Our reading from the book of Revelation today helps us to understand some characteristics of heaven. This is a book Russ described last Sunday as themed on the restoration of all things.
It was written toward the end of the 1st century. Maybe 50 to 60 years after Jesus’ resurrection. The Christian church in that time was slowly finding its identity – it was not in the synagogue and not part of the Roman empire – in fact, horrifying persecution had already begun.
The gospel of John – which we also heard from today, thought of as the last of the four gospels written, was written before Revelation – maybe 10-20 years – and in our reading today we hear a bit of the development of the church – it’s literally looking for a home and existing in gatherings in homes. It was not fitting in a tidy way between the synagogue and the empire. No wonder John focused on these comments by Jesus: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Home. Words of security in the fits and starts of place while the Christian faith is developing in its self-expression.
As John writes Revelation he is addressing the Christian church then – and speaking of the way’s life will get harder before it gets easier as the Roman empire amps up on persecution. But he’s also addressing us – it’s a multifaceted book. It was written to encourage and inform its present audience, but also written to encourage and inform future generations.
In today’s reading we are hearing a description of the new Jerusalem – and within that, aspects of what heaven will be like.
We can be tempted to read it all quite literally. But it’s steeped in the limitations of words. John is likely ‘seeing’ something God has shown him – he self describes being caught up into something - and is reaching for words to describe it. In the opening chapter of the book he writes: “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a voice behind me like a loud trumpet” [even in that phrase we see him searching for ways to describe – ‘like a loud trumpet’] the voice was “saying, ‘Write in a book what you see.’” (Rev. 1:10). We may speculate that he is seeing things that are not of this world, so there is difficulty finding words to describe something no one has seen before.
April 18, 2019
Maundy Thursday. Here we are…we’ve been journeying through Holy Week these past few days, and tonight, we come to the institution of the Lord’s supper – what we practice as communion each week. We have a narrative that is packed with stuff…and informed by content from the other gospels.
As we’ve been at other times during Lent, we are again around a table. A meal is being shared…
We glean from the other gospels there’s been a bit of tension among the 12. It seems they’ve been arguing about who is the greatest among themselves. We even hear of James and John’s mother kneeling before Jesus and asking for a ‘favor’: could her sons sit at Jesus’ left and right hands in the kingdom…Jesus is about to save the world, and, as we would be in their shoes, they are completely self-absorbed…
On top of this dynamic, there’s Judas at the table…the betrayer who’s about to set the plan in motion.
And most importantly, Jesus is about to suffer and die. It’s his last time with the 12 before this happens. He knows this, we heard him say: “I am with you only a little longer…” – and it fuels his choice of words and actions. Can you imagine? Having dinner with folks and knowing it’s your last time to say what is important before you die?
I am sure the vibe around this table was very heavy.
The punch line comes at the end of our passage:
“I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you,” Jesus says. And -
“I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
An example. Love.
At this meal Jesus, through action, proclaims “This is who I am, and this is how I live.”
Hear again from our gospel reading: “And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God, and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.”
This answers central identity questions - which are:
Who am I?
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.”*