Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My invitation to you: Exploring the Gospel of Mark in the year ahead

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.”

And so the great drama begins: John the Baptizer in the desert wilderness, drenching the throngs in the River Jordan. Jesus, grown fully as an adult, comes to the river, he is baptized, and a voice from heaven declares:
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This is the Gospel of Mark, the first of the four canonical gospels to be written, the shortest of the gospels, and in many ways, the most dramatic.

This coming year we will be exploring the Gospel of Mark in our Sunday Lectionary Cycle Year B. We will hear of the dramatic events in the River this coming Sunday with these opening stanzas of Mark 1:1-8 above, and from here we will go deeper into the Gospel of Mark in successive Sundays.

At the end of this post, I will give you some suggestions for further opportunities to explore Mark that I hope will enrich your experience in reading and hearing this gospel.

I am sometimes asked how to read the Bible, and by that, people often mean they are struggling to get started and they’ve gotten lost before getting very far into Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Here is my advice: Start with the Gospel of Mark. You will find in nestled between Matthew and Luke, symbolically appropriate because the two later gospels draw heavily from Mark.

The Gospel of Mark will take you other places into the Bible, drawing on the images of the Garden of Eden, the wilderness of Sinai and Moses, the prophets of the Jewish tradition and their predictions of the hope to come. If you immerse yourself in the Gospel of Mark you will also be immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures, or as Christians call it, the Old Testament.

Try reading Mark in one sitting – it has plot and pacing, and it is not that long. Read it as a stage play. Mark is meant to be heard as story and drama.

We will hear the key passages from Mark this coming year in church, and if you study these passages ahead of time, you will get more out of the sermons each Sunday. You might even find yourself with a different take on the interpretation than the preacher and that is always fun!

Let me give you a little background about the Gospel of Mark:

Mark is the first gospel written, probably authored by an urban Christian in about 60 to 70 A.D., written during the persecutions of Nero. Mark is the gospel upon which two other gospels – Matthew and Luke – draw most heavily.

If you can mine Mark you will be well on the path to understanding Matthew and Luke, which borrow wholesale about two-thirds of Mark. Scholars call these three gospels the “Synoptic Gospels,” a Greek word meaning “together,” because the three books should be considered together. The Gospel of John is so different from the other three in style and structure (the events of the life of Jesus are in a different order) that it needs to be considered separately.

There is a tendency in our age of movies and television to blend the gospels together into a single harmonious biographical life of Jesus. But let me urge you to not do that when reading the gospels. Each stands on its own, each author has a unique theological perspective, and each is underlining particular viewpoints they have about the meaning of Jesus. The adventure in reading the gospels is finding the viewpoints of each author and drinking deeply of them.

The first thing to notice about Mark is that there is no birth story. Jesus arrives on the scene a fully-grown adult, ready to begin his ministry. There is no manger, no Virgin Mary, no wise men or shepherds in the field, no swaddling clothes or Star of Bethlehem, no Christmas story. Instead it begins at the baptism of Jesus, and this declaration from God (Mark 1:9-11):
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
If anything, Jesus is portrayed in Mark as having a tense relationship with his mother and siblings who think he has gone off the deep end (and, yes, Jesus has siblings). If we only had Mark to go on, we would not even be sure of his mother’s name (Mark 3:31-35):
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
For centuries, the Church was not quite sure what to make of Mark. The book felt too barebones, and it seemed to support a heretical Christology known as Adoptionism, the idea that Jesus was not born as the Son of God but was “adopted” at his baptism as the Son of God. The Christmas stories of Matthew and Luke may have been written to correct this perceived deficiency in Mark.

Some thought Mark was a crude summary of Matthew and Luke. Mark is written in a common Greek, kind of a “street Greek.” The Church was prone to dismissing Mark because it did not seem to have the theological content of John, or the erudite literary quality of Luke, or the loud prophetic Jewish declarations of Matthew.

Scholars now agree that Mark was anything but Cliff Notes. The Gospel of Mark likely reflects the earliest (and perhaps most accurate) recorded memories of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. One theory holds that Mark is based on the preaching of the disciple Peter, or more likely, the recollection of someone who heard Peter preach and wrote it down. The gospel is named in honor of Mark, an early follower of Paul, and many legends abound about its authorship. Truthfully, we know almost nothing about the author of the gospel.

There is a curious line in the gospel that might be a clue about the author of Mark; it comes toward the end of the gospel after Jesus is arrested and led away by soldiers (Mark 14:51-52):
“A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”
Was the “certain young man” the author of Mark? Possibly. Pre-eminent biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown dismisses the theory as conjecture, but I rather like it.

Mark has many other intriguing puzzles for the listener: Whenever someone says Jesus is "the Messiah, Son of God," Jesus tells them to be quiet, to tell no one, to hush up. Of course, they tell everyone. This has become known as “the messianic secret” and many have speculated why Mark emphasized this so strongly. I have my theory, but I leave it to you to figure it out for yourself and bring it to conversation.

Notice the ending in Mark. There are actually three endings, and not all of them appear in every Bible translation. The last is known as the “longer ending” (Mark 16:9-19) with Resurrection appearances and a strange line about how the followers of Jesus “will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands…” (Mark 16:17-18).

There is another ending, called the “shorter ending” which has the Risen Christ going forth “from east to west, the sacred and the imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation…” (Mark 16, verse following 9, before 10).


Most biblical scholars will tell you that the Early Church tacked on the longer and shorter endings because the bishops were not satisfied with the original ending of Mark. It was too open-ended (more on that in a moment). The style of Greek in the short and long endings is much different than in the rest of the text, and the parts about snakes are quintessentially weird early church stuff. The language about “imperishable proclamation” is also pure Early Church.

So where does Mark really end?

The original ending (Mark 16:1-8), found in the earliest of manuscripts, has the women coming to the empty tomb and finding a white robed man who tells them Jesus “has been raised” and to “not be alarmed.”

But the women are very afraid, and they flee “and they said nothing to anyone.”

Mark ends abruptly right there. Nothing more is said. The end.

It is dramatic, wide open, and leaves us to write our own ending. We get to fill-in what comes next, and that is the beauty of Mark. Get that, and you get Mark.

Welcome to an amazing year ahead exploring this extraordinary gospel.

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Opportunities to explore Mark

The best way to discover the wonders of Mark, besides reading it for yourself, is to read and discuss it with a group. We have several opportunities for that at St. Paul’s. Our ministry intern, Joe Lenow, is leading a lectionary discussion group on Sundays at 11:30 am in the Library. Joe is a graduate student in theological philosophy at the University of Virginia.

The Men’s Group is also reading Mark on Wednesdays at 7:30 am, led by Tim Rambo and Andy Guffey, who is finishing his PhD in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.

At Community Night on Dec. 14 at 7 pm, we will show the film Mark’s Gospel, with actor Max McLean, who performs the Gospel of Mark as a one-actor play. He uses minimal stage props, and has memorized the gospel in its entirety. This is how Mark should be heard, and it takes about two hours to view the entire film of his stage performance.

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Resources to go further

First, let me suggest you begin by reading Mark all the way through, and try to do it in one sitting.

Then, read the passage of Mark for Sunday ahead of time. You can find the readings for each Sunday on the calendar for Lectionary Year B by clicking HERE.

Sit with the passage awhile. What is puzzling to you? What is new and different that you’ve never noticed before? What are the hard parts? Read it several times. What does it mean to you? If you were going to preach a sermon on the passage, what would you say?

I strongly suggest that you read the Gospel of Mark in the translation that we use on Sundays, which is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). There are many NRSVs on the market by many publishers (just look for “NRSV” somewhere on the title page). An excellent NRSV study Bible, with good footnotes, is the HarperCollins Study Bible, and you can get a copy on-line for $26.

To go deeper, I suggest reading a short book by Bonnie Thurston, who has spoken at St. Paul’s many times. Her recent reflection on Mark is excellent: The Spiritual Landscape of Mark, published in 2008.

Another very good book is Mark As Story, by David M. Rhodes. The book has its own translation, and Rhodes approaches Mark as dramatic story.

There are many Bible commentary series on the market, and some are better than others. Among the best is the Sacra Pagina series, and the updated volume on Mark is excellent, written by John R. Donahue, who was one of my professors at the General Theological Union in Berkeley (he is a Jesuit).

Finally, I heartily recommend you get a copy of Raymond E. Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament. He gives a synopsis of each of the books of the New Testament and summarizes the interpretations and scholarship for each. It is a good book to have handy as you are reading any of the books of the New Testament.

Enjoy Mark this year, and bring your eyes to see and ears to hear its wonders and mysteries.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Monday Funnies

Once again we enter a new work week and a new liturgical year. A few laughs are in order. Pat Hill and the overpaid bloated gang in the Jokester Department here at Fiat Lux Productions have been loafing all through Thanksgiving Week, and these jokes are the best they could come up with. And we have the return of Dave Walker this season with new cartoons.

And see below for a special Monday Funnies Extra Edition, a video proving a number of things including why Handel's Messiah should not be performed in the Advent-Christmas season. Enjoy your Monday . . .

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A big, burly man visited the pastor's home and asked to see the minister's wife, a woman well known for her charitable impulses.

"Madam," he said in a broken voice, "I wish to draw your attention to the terrible plight of a poor family in this district. The father is dead, the mother is too ill to work, and the nine children are starving. They are about to be turned into the cold, empty streets unless someone pays their rent, which amounts to $400."

"How terrible!" exclaimed the preacher's wife. "May I ask who you are?"

The sympathetic visitor applied his handkerchief to his eyes. "I'm the landlord," he sobbed. 
* * * 
A pastor said to a precocious six-year-old boy, "So your mother says your prayers for you each night? Very commendable. What does she say?"

The little boy replied, "Thank God he's in bed!" 
* * * 
The rains began after a long dry spell and the farmer asked his pastor, "Looks, like God is answering your prayer. You must have an "in" with the Big Guy.

The pastor replied, "If that's so, he's got a long waiting list. This is October and my prayer was in June."

And for your added Monday Funnies enjoyment (Parental Discretion Advised):

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent: The time before the dawn

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the season of expectation, the time before the dawn of Christmas and the birth of Christ. Advent is sometimes mixed up with Lent, but that is a mistake.

Advent is a time of prayerful introspection and preparation, but it is more than that. Advent is the time of waiting and looking outward for the light on the horizon. It is a time to especially think not of ourselves but what we can do for others, especially the poor, the sick and lonely.

In the Anglican tradition, the color blue is used to mark the liturgical season: the deep Indigo blue before dawn and the traditional color of Mary.

Today is also the beginning of a new church year -- and so let me wish you a blessed and happy New Year! We are now in Lectionary Year B, the year that explores the Gospel of Mark, the first of the gospels to be written. I will have much more to say about this extraordinary and often overlooked gospel as the year progresses.

I am not preaching today. I hope you will join us to hear the Rev. Dr. Ann Willms, our associate rector, who is preaching. The lessons for today are: Isaiah 64:1-9Psalm 80:1-7, 16-181 Corinthians 1:3-9, and Mark 13:24-37.

For your pleasure, I leave you with a reflection written by Joan Chittister:

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What is Advent About?
By Joan Chittister

A friend recently gave me a textile wall-hanging from Peru that makes clear that the process of finding God in the small things of life is as profound as it is simple. A pastoral scene of palm trees and rural lean-tos has been hand-stitched by peasant women, quilt-style, across the top of a felt banner. Under it is a calendar of thirty small pockets, each of them filled with something we can’t see. Every day until Christmas, we are invited to find the part of the scene that has been pocketed for that day and attach it to the scene above, one piece of hand woven cloth adhering to the other as we go.

Some of the pieces are of benign and beautiful things; some are not. There are bumblebees and angels, wild animals and dry straw, a branch-laden peasant man and a weary-looking woman. But there at the end of the days, as common as all the rest of the items in the scene, is the manger, the sign of the One who knows what life is like for us, who has mixed His own with ours. Now, we can see, all our expectations have been worth it.

Advent is about learning to wait. It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow, only that whatever it is, it is of the essence of sanctification for us. Every piece of it, some hard, some uplifting, is sign of the work of God alive in us. We are becoming as we go. We learn in Advent to stay in the present, knowing that only the present well-lived can possibly lead us to the fullness of life.

Advent relieves us of our commitment to the frenetic in a fast-paced world. It slows us down. It makes us think. It makes us look beyond today to the “great tomorrow” of life. Without Advent, moved only by the race to nowhere that exhausts the world around us, we could be so frantic with trying to consume and control this life that we fail to develop within ourselves a taste for the spirit that does not die and will not slip through our fingers like melted snow.

It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming depends on us. What we do will either hasten or slow, sharpen or dim our own commitment to do our part to bring it.

Waiting — that cold, dry period of life when nothing seems to be enough and something else beckons within us — is the grace that Advent comes to bring. It stands before us, within us, pointing to the star for which the wise ones from the East are only icons of ourselves.

We all want something more. Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you? Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul?

–from The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Barbara Crafton and her Almost-Daily eMos

Next Saturday we will be graced with the words and presence of Barbara Crafton, who is an author of several books, workshop leader and much more. She will lead us in an Advent retreat day at St. Paul's.  For those who follow her, you know she sends an email every day or two with a reflection or two. She gets to the heart of things in a gentle way. She puts all of her writing on a website called The Geranium Farm.

Her email missives are called the "Almost-Daily eMo." She sent this the other day explaining how it got its name; those of you who write with regularity may also recognize yourself in this. Please join us with Barbara at St. Paul's on Dec. 3 from 9 am to 3 pm (lunch on your own) and she will be preaching the following day.

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By Barbara Crafton

In the new living room of a new house on a new street, some things are still the same. The dark of early morning outside the window. The crackle of burning logs. The ancient words of Morning Prayer. The steaming cup of tea. And the expectant page, waiting for words.

All day, every day, ideas appear. Ideas, or fragments of ideas. Some matriculate and some do not: I forget all about them and they never become essays. Many matriculate but never graduate -- my files are full of lonely paragraphs who have yet to become essays. But some of my ideas actually do graduate and find meaningful work -- there they are on the page, the fortunate few who realize their birthright promise.

I can write on assignment -- tell me what you need and I can probably pound out something that will suit. Writing the eMos is different: there is no assignment. I have read that yeast floats through the air, and that if you set out a paste of flour and water you can catch enough of it to leaven a loaf of bread. The eMos are like that: images and ideas float through the air, and some of them germinate.

The extent to which the germination of an essay depends on receiving is a little frightening. You can't sweat your germ of an idea into existence: you can only wait for it to appear. But you can become more skilled at recognizing the spores that will form it -- there are millions of them, and you learn to see them as they swirl toward you. Over time, it takes less and less to prime the pump. A single image, a lone word can be enough. You have grown fertile in your receptivity, easily impregnated with words that become sentences that become paragraphs that become pages. You do parent your writing, even if you do not sire it: this or that decision about this or that adjective, this or that fragment, the stretch for the very word you want -- these things you learn by doing, over and over. And by reading. And by listening to the way real people really talk.

In the early morning dark, by the fire -- this is still where it happens best for me. Music used to be part of my writing process, but I now seem unable to read or write to it. And I notice that my writing is slower-- my brain is showing its age. But that's all right. It'll have to be. We work with the instrument we have, not the one we wish we had.

Every once in a while, somebody writes and asks how the Almost-Daily eMo got its name. "Almost-Daily" speaks for itself, I guess: a hedge against the spottiness of my output. And "eMo"? Parishioners over the years have called me "Mother Crafton". I grew accustomed to it long ago. The abbreviation for "Mother" is "Mo." Kids in my parishes, and many who were not kids, took to calling me "Mo." I liked this, and still do. Anything good enough for the Three Stooges is good enough for me.

So an eMo is an electronic visit with Mo. Crafton. That's all.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Advent: Shopping binge or making a real difference?

Six years ago a group of young people got together to see if they could make Advent and Christmas become something more than a shopping binge. They wanted to see if they could make a difference, a real difference, to the millions of people around the globe who contract fatal diseases because they don't have access to clean water.

They came up with Advent Conspiracy.

I think this is amazing. From a simple idea has come an enormous global movement, and we can be apart. Some Episcopal churches have taken this and begun a fund-raising effort called Wine into Water, raising money for clean water efforts by Episcopal Relief and Development. In the new year, we will hear more about that. For now, please watch this video, and then click HERE to learn more about Advent Conspiracy:

[AC] Promo 2011 from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving prayers for your table

May you have a joyful Thanksgiving, and may all of each of us be filled with gratitude for the many blessings we enjoy. Here are a few prayers for your table today:
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Bless this food
we are about to receive.
Give bread to those who hunger,
and hunger for justice to us
who have bread. Amen

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May God bless
our meal and grant us a
compassionate and
understanding heart
toward one another. Amen.

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Beloved Lord,
we do greatly thank You
for the abundance
that is ours. Amen.

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Be present at our table, Lord.
Be here and everywhere adored.
Thy creatures bless and grant that we
may feast in Paradise with thee. Amen
John Cennick (1718-1755)

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"O God, when I have food, help me to remember the hungry; When I have work, help me to remember the jobless; When I have a home, help me to remember those who have no home at all; When I am without pain, help me to remember those who suffer, And remembering, help me to destroy my complacency; bestir my compassion, that I be concerned enough to help By word and deed, those who cry out for what we take for granted. Amen."
-- Samuel Pugh 
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Blessed are you, O Lord our God, creator of the fruit of the vine: Grant that we who share this wine, which gladdens our hearts, may share for ever the new life of the true Vine, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 
Blessed are you, O Lord our God; you bring forth bread from the earth and make the risen Lord to be for us the Bread of life: Grant that we who daily seek the bread which sustains our bodies may also hunger for the food of everlasting life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Giving Thanks
Based on a prayer by Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

Holy and gracious God, we give thanks for the gift of this gathering; for the food before us; the loving hands that have prepared it; and the blessings we share together. Kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you always as our companion along the way. Forgive us where we have fallen short with each other and with ourselves; heal our wounds, restore our health, strengthen our souls, and help us to be ever mindful the needs of those near us who have so little. Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Living stones: Building the Kingdom of God

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:4-5

I have long been intrigued by the letters of Peter in the New Testament. We don't often hear them in church, and truthfully, they've been eclipsed by the lengthy writings of Paul, who was at times Peter's rival.

The Peter letters feel a bit disjointed; they don't have quite the logical pacing of Paul's discourses. The Peter letters have a certain patched-together feel with sayings strung together. The Peter letters sound more like sermon notes, which is probably what they are.

The Peter letters aren't long, and scholars debate whether Peter really wrote them. But someone wrote them, and they certainly reflect the thoughts and beliefs of an early follower of Jesus. The letters may well reflect the memories of Peter himself.

I've also wondered if the Peter letters are a reflection of Peter's memory of the sayings of Jesus. Did Peter write what he heard Jesus say, or in his old age, dictate these memories to someone else? Or someone heard Peter telling all this, and wrote it down, giving credit where it was due -- to Peter. The Peter letters sound more like "wisdom sayings" than a theological tract, and they have the ring of the Jesus sayings in the gospels.

Take the passage we get in today Daily Office from 1 Peter 2:1-10. Could this be Peter's memory of what he heard Jesus saying while sitting by the Sea of Galilee? The lakeshore is covered in small pebbles, and I brought home a handful from our time there last summer.

I looked at these stones this morning in my morning reflections. Each of these stones is a different shape and texture. Some are light colored, others dark. Some are pocked lava, others sharp edged, and others rounded. I could picture Jesus picking up a small stone, holding it in his hand, and saying to Peter that he is a "living stone," unique in the eyes of God, unique in the gifts he brings to the world. His stone and all the others add up in the Kingdom of God.

Maybe Peter remembered hearing Jesus tell him that, and he repeated it over and over, and this Jesus saying ended up in this letter we read today.

As I looked at the pebbles from Galilee, I could see Jesus picking up another stone and showing it to me. And then picking up another stone  and showing it to you, and telling us we are living stones, we are unique, and that our stone counts in building "a spiritual house" in the Kingdom of God. We are the living stones in this world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Violence of Not Seeing: Guest Commentary

I am bringing you a guest commentary today from Rabbi Michael Lerner, who is the editor of Tikkun, an interfaith Jewish magazine. This was passed along to me by a member of our congregation. Rabbi Lerner is based in Berkeley and I ran into him a few times when I was there. He is always thought-provoking.

This commentary is quite timely given the economic crisis in our world, the "Occupy" movement that seems to be gaining steam, and the failure of Congress to reach a deal on debt and taxes. You are free to disagree with Rabbi Lerner, and you free to leave your remarks in the comments section below. But please consider.

The Violence of Not Seeing
By Rabbi Michael Lerner

We need to ask ourselves, "What is it in the way that we are living, organizing our societies, and treating each other that makes violence seem plausible to so many people?" It's true, but not enough, to say that the current violence is a reflection of our estrangement from God. More precisely, it is the way we fail to respond to each other as embodiments of the sacred. 
We may tell ourselves that the current violence has "nothing to do" with the way that we've learned to close our ears when told that one out of every three people on this planet does not have enough food, and that one billion are literally starving. We may reassure ourselves that the hoarding of the world's resources by the richest society in world history, and our frantic attempts to accelerate globalization with its attendant inequalities of wealth, has nothing to do with the resentment that others feel toward us. 
We may tell ourselves that the suffering of refugees and the oppressed has nothing to do with us -- that it's a different story that is going on somewhere else. But we live in one world, increasingly interconnected with everyone, and the forces that lead people to feel outrage, anger and desperation eventually impact on our own daily lives.... 
Most people don't act out in violent ways--they tend to act out more against themselves, drowning themselves in alcohol or drugs or personal despair. Others turn toward fundamentalist religions or ultra-nationalist extremism. Still others find themselves acting out against people that they love, acting angry or hurtful toward children or relationship partners. 
It seems baffling to imagine that somehow we are part of a world system which is slowly destroying the life support system of the planet, and quickly transferring the wealth of the world into our own pockets. We don't feel personally responsible when an American corporation runs a sweat shop in the Philippines or crushes efforts of workers to organize in Singapore. We don't see ourselves implicated when the U.S. refuses to consider the plight of Palestinian refugees or uses the excuse of fighting drugs to support repression in Colombia or other parts of Central America.... 
I categorically reject any notion that violence is ever justified. It is always an act of de-sanctification, of not being able to see the divine in the other.... We need a return to the most basic Biblical ideal: that every human life is sacred, that the 'bottom line' should be the creation of a world of love and caring, and that the best way to prevent violent acts...is to turn ourselves into a society in which social justice, love and compassion are so prevalent that violence becomes unnecessary. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Monday Funnies: Thanksgiving Edition

It is Thanksgiving week, and Pat Hill and the Fiat Lux Jokester Department has been working overtime to bring you these turkeys.

Enjoy your gobbler week and welcome to the Monday Funnies . . .

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One fellow was violently tearing through his Bible in a desperate search. A friend came up and asked, "Is something wrong?" 
"Yes," he said, "I can't remember if the Thanksgiving story is in the Old Testament or New Testament." 
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November is nature's way of giving you time to eat up the leftover Halloween candy before you have to start eating up the leftover turkey. 

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As someone has said, "If God had meant for us to fast on Thanksgiving, he would never have created 30-pound turkeys."

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The preacher's wife admonished him before his Thanksgiving Service: 
"Remember when you go on and on about all our Pilgrim Fathers had to endure that our Pilgrim Mothers had to endure all that and the Pilgrim Fathers as well. 

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Our slogan this Thanksgiving: "Eat until you're thankful; not until you are sorry." 
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(Tune O Come All Ye Faithful) 
O come all ye turkeys,
Fully dressed or boneless;
Come all ye Armor Stars,
This Thanksgiving day.
Come and be basted,
You will not be wasted;
Oh be our guest for dinner,
Oh be our guest for dinner,
Oh be our guest for dinner,
Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Consider the lilies of the field: Okay, what about them?

I am not in the pulpit Sunday. We have a guest preacher, none other than David Poist, our Rector Emeritus.

This is the first time he's preached since my "institution" in 2008. I hope you will come. He will be preaching at 8 am and 10 am.

Our friend Karen from Tennessee sent this along, a beautiful poem that riffs off the familiar saying of Jesus "Consider the lilies of the field" in Matthew 6:25-33. Well, OK, what if we consider the lilies of the field?

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Camas Lilies
By Lynn Ungar

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas
opening into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?

And you — what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down —
papers, plans, appointments, everything —
leaving only a note: "Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming."

Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.

Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
Photo: Camas Lilies in a field, by Bill Stevenson.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Barbara Crafton coming to St. Paul's!

Koinonia of Charlottesville presents

Prayer in the hard times

an Advent retreat led by Barbara Crafton

Saturday, December 3, 2011 from 9 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

at St. Paul’s Memorial Church
1700 University Avenue, Charlottesville, VA
(across from the UVa Rotunda)

When you're too scared to speak - or too sad...
When a situation is so complex that you honestly don't know what to hope for...
When you're not even sure what you want, or what's best...
At such times, words fail us. Yet there are ways through these times of difficulty.

We'll look at some concrete ideas about the kinds of prayer that might fit. One thing is certain: God does not leave us without a way to get in touch.

This retreat is free and open to the public; however, to reserve a place we do ask that you either return the form below or call the church office at (434)295-2156. Lunch is on your own from noon until 1 p.m., but feel free to brown bag.

About Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

Barbara Cawthorne Crafton is an Episcopal priest and author. She heads The Geranium Farm, an institute for the promotion of spiritual growth. The Farm publishes her "Almost-Daily eMo," a meditation read online by tens of thousands of people worldwide via email and at her website. She has served many churches, including historic Trinity Church, Wall Street, St. John's-in-the-Village in Greenwich Village, and St. Clement's in Manhattan's theater district. She was a maritime chaplain on theNew York waterfront, and served as a chaplain at Ground Zero after the attack on the World Trade Center. Most recently she served St. James, the American church inFlorence, Italy. A spiritual director, Crafton leads retreats and teaches throughout the United States and abroad.

Her many books include books of essays (The Sewing Room, Yes! We'll Gather at the River, Some Things You Just have to Live With), books of daily meditations (Let Us Bless the Lord - in 4 volumes), Meditations on the PsalmsFinding Time for Serenity, and several others; a book of poetry (Blessed Paradoxes), a book about the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing (Mass in Time of War) and, most recently, a book about how people of faith experience depression (Jesus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

All Saints Season: the cloud with us

We have official church seasons like Lent and Advent. We also have unofficial seasons, like the one we are in -- I call it  "All Saints Season."

It began on All Saints Sunday a couple of weeks ago when we remembered the saints and the departed. At St. Paul's we also follow the Latin American tradition of la ofrenda, bringing mementos of those who have died and set them up on tables in the church.

The church calendar this month is full of saint days, and we have five this week. Here are my notes about the cloud of saints we commemorate this week:

Samuel Seabury 1729-1784 – the founder saint

He was the first to seek ordination as an American Episcopal bishop. When the English bishops refused to consecrate him, he went to Scotland where he was made a bishop by the "non-juring" Scottish bishops. He is one of the founders of the The Episcopal Church and helped shape the worship as we practice it today.

Margaret of Scotland 1045-1093 – the peacemaker saint

English but born in exile in Hungry. Her family returned to English court but was exiled again, landing in Scotland. She was the mother of eight children, including three kings of Scotland.

Married to Malcolm, immortalized by Shakespeare. Known for her piety, she founded a monastery where she was buried. Her remains were removed by the Puritans and never found again.

She tried unsuccessfully to end the Highland clan warfare.

Hugh of Lincoln 1135-1200 – the protector saint

Monastic from Burgundy, would become most famous English saint after Thomas a' Beckett.

King Henry II begged him to come to England to revitalize a Carthusian monastery, part of the king's penance for Beckett’s death.

Hugh reluctantly accepted, and revitalized the monastic order, but quickly ran afoul of the king.

Hugh admonished the king about leaving dioceses open without bishop (the king was collecting the rents instead of the church).

The king gave in, and Hugh was appointed by the king as Bishop to Lincoln, and Hugh accepted reluctantly.

Hugh is best remembered as the protector of Jews who were persecuted, and for championing the poor, the sick, the outcasts. Bishop Hugh of Lincoln refused to raise money for the king's wars.

The swan is his symbol.

Hilda of Whitby 614-680 – the wise saint

Lived chaste and was respected in king’s court for 20 years, then entered monastic life in East Anglia.

She was appointed Abbes of Hartpoole; she was renowned for her wisdom, eagerness and devotion to learning. Kings and others sought her advice; she was the "Dear Abbess" of her age.

Founded abbey at Whitby, on the road to Norwich, where both nuns and monks lived in obedience to her rule.

She hosted the synod at Whitby to work out whether to use the Celtic or Roman rites, settling the most divisive issue of the 7th century in the British isles. She favored the Celtic ways of worship, but when the Roman rite prevailed, she submitted to it and urged others to go along.

She died in 680, surrounded by her monks and nuns, and urging them to keep the peace.

Elizabeth of Hungry 1207-1231 – the healer saint

Daughter of King Andrew of Hungry. She was drawn to helping the sick. During a famine, while her husband was away, she sold her jewels and built a hospital. She got the king to open royal granaries and distribute it.

When her husband died, she was exiled to Germany for her extragant spending on the poor.

She took on the habit of a Franciscan, though it is not certain that she took Franciscan vows, and worked with the sick and dying, and she died of exhaustion. She was the Mother Teresa of her age. Many hospitals bear her name.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Proclaiming our faith: Earth, land, sacred meals, Resurrection

This religion we practice, this faith we profess, has many angles, many elements, many ways of experiencing it. We tell the biblical story of God’s creation and salvation, and our role in it. We write creeds, prayers and songs. But sometimes there is something so obvious that we might overlook it.

Our religion is also about the land.

The Daily Office readings this week, though somewhat difficult, drive home the point. We hear about the wars of the Maccabees, the visions of John in Revelation, Jesus healing an epileptic, and paying taxes in Capernaum.

The readings have this in common: all are about concrete places with names and descriptions. Heaven is not imagined existing out there, but as becoming a concrete place here, on the Earth's land.

The Bible makes a great deal of fuss about the land: The Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark; the Promised Land and the Valley of the Dry Bones; the Red Sea and the Sea of Galilee; Mount Tabor and Mount Zion; Solomon's Temple and the pools of Bethesda. We hear of real places, like Jerusalem, and places imagined, like the New Jerusalem.

Depiction of Solomon's Temple
People fight over the land, they dream about the land, they lament over lost land, and they celebrate when they win back the land of their ancestors. They build, destroy, and rebuild. They proclaim their faith as they flourish or endure on the land in the real world.

This religion we practice is grounded in the ground itself. It is about concrete things – land, buildings, food on the table and bodies that win battles, or bodies that hurt and die. We talk of religious things that are real and physical.

The biblical faith is many things, but one thing it is not is dualistic. It is not about a second universe existing side by side with ours, or some kind of amorphous spiritual ether. God creates this universe and it cannot exist apart from God.

The religion we practice proclaims the presence of God not as metaphor, but as reality. We may understand that reality through the imagery of metaphor, but that underlines how our understanding is always physical.

The religion we practice proclaims that God exists in every dimension and in every place and time. This tradition we follow always connects itself to real places, whether inside the walls of Jerusalem, or to a monastery in Iona, or the “thin” place of a mountaintop, or in a small country church in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. God exists everywhere, but we feel God’s presence keenly in physical spaces we discover are sacred.

The biblical readings assigned in the Daily Office this week especially underline the physicality of faith.

In the Revelation of John this week, the author is not talking about people being whisked off to a misty heaven in some kind of spiritual rapture. Rather, the author is talking about heaven physically coming to earth (Revelation 21:1-8). God remakes earth, and the new earth – the New Jerusalem – is a place of physical healing and wholeness:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
The biblical faith is the promise of physical divine presence.

Our experience of religion is grounded in the physical. We remember the events of Jesus not just through words, but also through the physicality of a meal: the bread and wine at our Holy Eucharist. Even the words of our remembering have a physicality. The words ring in our ears, jump from the page, fill our minds. We cannot experience or understand this apart from our bodies. We touch the religious experience.

We remember the death of Jesus on the Cross as the real death of a real human being. We remember that his disciples experienced his resurrection not as an idea or a dream, but as physical.

They could touch him, eat meals with him, yet he was completely changed in ways they could not easily describe. Christ was the same, but different, but the same.

Our religion is fully human, and our human way of remembering involves all of our human senses. Our own human physicality – our bodies – become part of our spiritual imagining and awakening.

Medaba mosiac map of
Israel, 6th century
In today’s reading from Revelation 21:9-21, the writer describes the physical presence of angels showing him Jerusalem made new. He describes this vision physically. Holiness is connected to the land and to a real city, Jerusalem. Notice how John describes the renewal of the Holy City in precise gleaming detail:
The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred and forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass.
The ultimate mystery of our physical bodies is what happens to us after we die. I’ve been much thinking about this lately having lost several dear friends, one after the other. What happened to them? Where are they? Are they still present with us? Can we still touch them?

I have been around death many times, and there is nothing romantic about it. Death is physical, and so is its aftermath.

Our memories of the departed are physical memories even after the image of their face fades. It is not unusual to have a physical reaction when we remember someone we love, or even feel them physically again in odd moments. Our bodies remember the departed, and that is a clue about how we really experience the divine.

Yet our culture has given into an idea that our bodies don’t count when we die. They are “empty vessels” and the real us is now unencumbered by the constraints of a corrupted body. We use the euphemism “passed away,” as if the dead have flown away to somewhere else.

But that is not the faith proclaimed by the ancient Jews, or Jesus, or Paul and the early Christians, or the cloud saints who came after.

Seder plate
The ancients proclaimed their outrageous belief in the Resurrection as a physical reality. Our bodies die, become dust of the earth, and we are dead. But God makes us new – resurrected – living in God’s eternal time with bodies that are made whole and healed. We don't fade away.

The ancients proclaimed we are embodied as who we are, yet as Paul says, “changed in the twinkling of an eye.” We are still us, yet resurrected, made new. We have not “passed away,” but we have “passed on” to eternity.

That is why Jews say the Kaddish for a year after someone has died. The Kaddish it is a prayer praising God’s glory – not a lament. And for the same reason, we proclaim these joyful words at the end of an Episcopalian funeral:
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Farewell to an old dear friend

SACRAMENTO -- I was back in California's capital city Monday to say farewell to an old, dear friend, Tim Hodson, who died recently of brain cancer.

This was the right place to be today.

His funeral was held at the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, and the pews were packed in the huge cathedral.

We heard about Tim's character, his impact on public policy as a senior staff consultant in the State Senate, and his mentoring and educating students at Sacramento State where he headed the California Studies Program. We also heard about his love story with Ruth, his wife. I've known both of them before they got together.

We also heard about his faith, his hope for a better world in this world, and his faith that we will see him again, made new, healed of his disease.

Earlier in the day, I got to spend a little time with Ruth. We took her dog for a long walk in Land Park where we've been neighbors for years. This was the right place for me to be.

I am on my way back Monday night. It was good to be here, and it will be good to be back in Charlottesville.

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California State University Sacramento created a special page about Tim. It is entitled "Remembering a Campus Visionary." You can read it HERE.

The Monday Funnies

It's tough being in the pulpit week after week. Just ask our bloated over-paid Joke Department here at Fiat Lux Productions. They get a lot of material. Welcome to the Monday Funnies . . .

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A young clergyman, fresh out of seminary, thought it would help him better understand the fears and temptations his future congregations faced if he first took a job as a policeman for several months.

He passed the physical examination; then came the oral exam to test his ability to act quickly and wisely in an emergency.

Among other questions he was asked, "What would you do to disperse a frenzied crowd?"

He thought for a moment and then said, "I would pass a collection plate."

He got the job.

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Having been bored witless by the world's most boring preacher, Sam came out of church before the preacher had finished his sermon.

Outside he met his friend John, who asked, "Has he finished, then?"

Sam replied, "Well, yeah, he's finished, but the preacher won't stop!"

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The pastor's sermon focused on how God know's which of us grows best in the sunlight and which of us needs shade.

"For example," he said, "roses must be planted in the sun, but fuchsias thrive in the shade."

After the service, a woman, her face beaming, approached him.

"Your sermon did me so much good," she said.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Parables and the Kingdom of God are tricky things

My sermon today is based on Matthew 25:14-30.

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Parables are tricky things, and as Pastor Nik reminded us a few Sundays ago at a 5:30 pm service, the kingdom of God is a tricky thing.

Parables and the Kingdom of God are not always as they first appear.

Today we encounter a very thorny parable in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25. Jesus tells a story about three slaves, each given an enormous amount of money, or “talents,” by their slave master.

The word “talent” in the common meaning we use it, as in gifts from God-the-master, comes from this parable,.

As it used here, “talent” is a denomination of money equal to 15 years of wages – so the first slave gets five talents, or 75 years of wages, an amount of money equal to an entire lifetime of wages and then some.

The next slave receives 30 years wages, and the last gets 15 year’s worth of wages. Each gets an enormous amount of money.

The first two slaves take a risk and invest their master’s money. When the master shows up to collect his earnings, the first two slaves are praised for their industriousness.

But the third slave buries the money.

When the master comes, the third slave gives it back to the master, and is punished for not investing it. The third slave is cast into the outer darkness.

The moral of the story appears to be: invest the master’s money, don’t be afraid to take a risk – and be generous with the money that the master – God – has loaned you.

Every biblical commentator I have read interprets this story exactly this way: We should not hide our light under a bushel basket, we should step out boldly, invest extravagantly.

It is probably no accident the church puts this lesson in the season of harvest and stewardship, and that doubly reinforces this interpretation.

And, yes indeed, I hope you will step out boldly in your generosity, and I hope you will not hide your God-given talents under a bushel basket. That is how I used to read this parable, and you will hear that sermon in a lot of places today.

But what if that is not what this parable is about at all? The truth of those moral lessons about giving and boldness can be found in many places in the New Testament.

What if that isn’t the point of this parable?

What if the slave master in the parable is not God at all? What if the slave master is, in fact, a slave master?

We must also wonder – what if the first two slaves had lost all the money they invested? What would the master have done to them then?

And what if the third slave, the one who buried the master’s money and is punished – what if he is saying to the slave master:

“I am not going to play your greedy game. I didn’t steal your money, but, here, you can have it back.”

“Yes, I am very afraid of you because you can punish me. But I am not going to play your greedy game.”

And go another step with me.

What if this parable is really about Jesus telling us about himself?

What if Jesus is the third slave, and Jesus is saying to the slave masters that he will not play the their game of greed?

And what if it Jesus himself who is being cast into the outer darkness by the slave masters of this world?

Parables and the Kingdom of God are tricky things.

There is a huge clue to this in what comes next in Chapter 25 of Matthew. In the very next verses (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus says you will finds him with the people who are ignored, cast into the outer darkness, into prison, and dwelling in those places of hurt and suffering.

“For I was hungry,” Jesus says, “and you gave me no food, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” [Matthew 25:42]

Maybe this parable is not about investment advice at all.

Parables are tricky things.

Maybe this parable is another way of Jesus telling us he will walk into our darkest night with us, and walk into the night with the outcasts, the sick, the hungry, the prisoners, the slaves.

We get more clues a few verses later: The gospel of Matthew goes on to describe Jesus going to Jerusalem – the very center of greed and power – to confront the masters, and overturn their money changer tables, and to be crucified and cast into the outer darkness.

Parables and the Kingdom of God are tricky things, and parables, if we let them, can trick us into opening our eyes into seeing the world, and our role in it, in new and different ways.

This parable, if we let it, could challenge us in ways we might rather avoid.

What if this parable is about people sitting next to us, here in these pews, who are hurting, or lonely, or in pain because they are facing an uncertain future because a relationship has ended, or they are sick, or someone they love has died?

If we proclaim and believe that Christ dwells with us, and in us, and works through us, how are we showing Christ to each other?

How are we Christ to those who are living their own outer darkness? Or just having a tough time? Do we say “the peace of the Lord always be with you” and go on our way?

Or are we willing to travel down their road with them, and shed a tear with them? Or maybe just share a smile and a laugh?

Maybe this is a parable about people who can’t find a job, people left by the side of the road of our fractured human economy, or people who are struggling just to get by on minimum wage, or single mothers on food stamps, or people living in a tent or in their car.

Maybe this parable is about people who live on the street, or sleep on our doorstep, or under a railroad trestle, and don’t smell good, and are hard to deal with.

Or maybe we are challenged to be Christ to wounded soldiers returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – or to families left behind when they don’t come back.

Maybe it is about people with mental illness or addictions, and nowhere to turn. What if this parable is about people in prison – real convicts who have done terrible things and who will never get out?

How can we be as Christ even to them? Where do we stand? With the greed of the world, or with Jesus and the wounded?

Parables and the Kingdom of God are tricky, tricky things.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Seventh Day: God rested (how about you?)

Today is the Seventh Day of the week, the day God rested in Genesis 2:1-3. Today is the Sabbath in Judaism.  Sabbath is a word that means "the seventh day, a day for rest," and it is a word that comes directly to us from Hebrew (Genesis 2:3):

"So God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation."

Yet in our culture, we've made Saturday into a day of intense activity, or a day to sneak into the office. Sabbaths are what college professors get to take every few years.

We call Saturday-Sunday the "weekend," but that is our own recent cultural creation.  We've all but lost the idea of sabbath as a weekly gift from God. Sunday becomes for many a day of collapse at the end of their week before the grind begins again on Monday. Can we find a way to think of Sunday as the first day of the week, a day of worship and celebrating the Resurrection? And Saturday as the last day of the week, a day of rest?

How about you? How about easing up on Saturdays? God rested on Saturday, can you?

Here is the Collect for Saturday, on page 99 of the Book of Common Prayer (and how good is that? The prayerbook has a prayer for Saturdays!). Do enjoy your Saturday:

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested
from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your
creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties,
may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and
that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the
eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Who do you say that I am?

Jesus puts it square to his friends and followers: “Who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter, the dominant Alpha Male of the crowd, says squarely back: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

In this passage we get today, Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus tells Peter that he is the “rock” upon which he will build his church, but to keep it to himself, to say nothing to no one about Jesus being the “Messiah.”

Why would Jesus ask and then tell Peter to hush?

Maybe it is because Peter has no idea what he means by those words: “Messiah” and “Son of the Living God.”

Do we?

The readings today also tell of a vision of a powerful swordsman riding in on a horse to slay the nations in Revelation 19:11-16, but the swordsman has no name.

Is he the Messiah, Son of the Living God?

Maybe in the dreams of some.

Masada, Israel
told in Maccabees
We also hear of the Jews being slaughtered for honoring to the Covenant of their ancestors and circumcising their sons. The scenes in 1 Maccabees 1:41-63 are gory beyond imagining. No Messiah comes on a horse to rescue them.

Where then is this messiah?

Perhaps we might see him in the bleakness of Psalm 88, also appointed for this morning:

“O LORD my God, my Savior, by day and night I cry to you.”
“You have laid me in the Pit, in dark places, and in the abyss.”
That is a hard place to go, but it is exactly there that the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, goes, and his going defines everything about what he means by the Messiah, Son of the Living God.

Christ, the anointed One, goes to the Cross, to share with us in our dark night of soul, to walk with us into the Pit, into the difficult painful places where we hurt the most, and lead us beyond to new life. He goes there to end the way of the Cross.

But Peter cannot know that yet. More is to come.

The Collect for Friday points to the path:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

O tarry and await the Lord's pleasure

Some mornings it is a reading in which I linger. Now and then the psalm holds my attention, and a particular line fills me in that moment, and then I carry that line with me for the rest of the day.

The last line from Psalm 27 rang a chord within me this morning:
O tarry and await the LORD'S pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; *
wait patiently for the LORD.
May you linger today and notice God's creation all around you and everywhere you go.

May you see God's wonder in the trees, and the fields, on city streets, in the clouds and the stars.

May your eyes notice the colors, and may you be filled with gratitude.

May you notice the small things you might have taken for granted: a smile from a friend, an unexpected laugh, a door that is opened, the roof over your head, and the food on your table.

May your senses perceive not just the beauty around you, but may you see and smell the griminess and the ugliness, for in those places people are in pain and need strength, and in those places our wounded earth needs healing, and in those places God is there.

May you find comfort and healing in your own heart for whatever wounds you, and may you wait patiently for the presence of God to fill you with courage, love, strength and wisdom all the days of your life.

O tarry and await the Lord's pleasure, be strong, and he shall comfort your heart, wait patiently for the Lord.