Tag Archives: Jesus

Tempted but the truth is discovered

Your hand will lay hold upon all your enemies; *
your right hand will seize all those who hate you.
You will make them like a fiery furnace *
at the time of your appearing, O LORD;
You will swallow them up in your wrath, *
and fire shall consume them. (Psalm 21:8-10)

It’s so tempting, isn’t it? To want victory in the same terms as our “enemies” enjoy it. To believe that victory means power and control over others.

Immediately after we read Psalms 20 and 21, we finally reach the climax of the opening chapters of the Book of Daniel that we’ve been reading all week. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel’s Hebrew companions at the court of the king of Babylon, refuse to worship the great gold statue that Nebuchadnezzar has erected, so they are thrown into a fiery furnace.

The Book of Daniel probably came later in the compilation of the Hebrew Bible — it seems to reflect a post-Exile sensibility — but I’m tempted to believe that the Psalmist is wishing to have victory like the Babylonian king, victory that everyone can see, victory that burns up his enemies.

After our reading from the Book of Daniel, we respond with Canticle 12, appointed for Saturday mornings (BCP 144). Canticle 12 is known by three names: “A Song of Creation,” the Latin first line Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, and the descriptive title Song of the Three Young Men.

Yes, those three young men. What were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego doing in the fiery furnace? They were praising the God of creation.

Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord, *
O heavens and all waters above the heavens.
Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, *
all winds and fire and heat.
Winter and Summer, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever. (BCP 88)

The mighty king of Babylon is astonished. His power has no effect on these young men. It even looks like they are walking around in the furnace with a fourth figure. An angel?

He yells at them, “Come out, come here!”

And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. (Daniel 3:27-30)

What is victory?

Is it burning your enemies up in a fiery furnace? Is it winning control? Is it having power and prestige?

Or is it praising God in all circumstances? Is it yielding up your body rather than serve any power but God?

The three young men seem to know the answer. Jesus, meeting the devil in the wilderness after his baptism, seems to answer temptation in the same way.

Truth is, for us whose faith is formed by the Hebrew Bible and given flesh in Jesus and powered by the Spirit, victory means yielding ourselves, not lording over others.

Truth is, victory is “to worship the Lord [our] God, and serve only him” (Luke 4:8).

Putting away all earthly anxieties

As the body of Jesus lies wrapped in grave clothes in the tomb on this Saturday, we “praise and highly exalt” God for the earth and its creatures:

Let the earth glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills,
and all that grows upon the earth, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas, and streams, *
O whales and all that move in the waters.
All birds of the air, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild, *
and all you flocks and herds.
O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever. (BCP 89)

As God incarnate, made man in the person of Jesus, occupies the last part of creation — death itself — we pray on this Holy Saturday that we, “putting away all earthly anxieties” (BCP 99), may be prepared for the service of God’s sanctuary.

From “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home” (BCP 370) to the microorganisms in the soil of the tomb, from the largest blue whale (“that Leviathan”) to the smallest child newly born, all creation is God’s sanctuary.

Every part of it has been made holy, not only by God’s creating it, but by God’s inhabiting it.

Paul writes that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).

Even the darkest night, even the fear of death, even the silent cry of loneliness, all of the creation’s “bondage to decay” and all of our earthly anxieties have been redeemed, made holy by God’s inhabiting them.

The Song of the Redeemed  Magna et mirabilia
Revelation 15:3-4

O ruler of the universe, Lord God,
great deeds are they that you have done, *
surpassing human understanding.
Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth, *
O King of all the ages.

Who can fail to do you homage, Lord,
and sing the praises of your Name? *
for you only are the Holy One.
All nations will draw near and fall down before you, *
because your just and holy works have been revealed.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

On them he has set the world

He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts up the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
The pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world. (1 Samuel 2:8)

In Rembrandt’s depiction of the Presentation, the aged Simeon is worshiping God in the Temple as the child Jesus is placed into his praying hands.

Simeon is one of the “pillars of the earth,” a devout person who can say with the Psalmist that:

The Lord grants his loving-kindness in the daytime;
in the night season his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:10)

Into his outstretched arms, onto this pillar of the earth, Mary and Joseph set the world.

Just as Simeon is no mere old man, the child Jesus is no mere boy. The Word made flesh, without whom nothing was made that was made, rests in the praying arms of a strong tower, if we but had the eyes to see it.

What child do you know who is more than just a child, who represents the hopes and fears of a family?

What older person have you met whose strength, whose faithful wisdom, is hidden from view?

The Psalmist asks the question we might ask in our blindness, and then answers the way Simeon, a pillar of the earth, might answer.

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul,
and why are you so disquieted within me?
Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God. (Psalm 43:5-6)

Those who bring good news

There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:12-15)

Beautiful Feet

We Christians know that our feet were made beautiful by Jesus himself, who on the
night before he died …

“took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the
towel that was tied around him …. After he had washed their feet, had put on
his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I
have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is
what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also
ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also
should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater
than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them”
(John 13).

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord

Peter certainly isn’t “greater than the one who sends him”; in fact, Peter is the
patron saint of leaping before you look.

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the
water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the
water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became
frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus
immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little
faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28-31).

Joseph, on the other hand, doesn’t doubt. He has always known he was his father
Israel’s favorite – he has the “coat with long sleeves,” the coat of many colors to
remind him. It’s left out of our reading this morning, but Joseph wasn’t the easiest to get along with – he kept dreaming that his brothers, and even his father and mother, were bowing down to him. Even so, when his jealous older brothers saw their chance and sold him into slavery, his faith in God remained strong.

Joseph’s faith is remembered and his story retold in this morning’s psalm:

He sent a man before them, *
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
They bruised his feet in fetters; *
his neck they put in an iron collar.
Until his prediction came to pass, *
the word of the LORD tested him.
The king sent and released him; *
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He set him as a master over his household,*
as a ruler over all his possessions,
To instruct his princes according to his will*
and to teach his elders wisdom. (Psalm 105:17-22)

Joseph is an example of endurance, of embracing his new role as servant to Potiphar,
of integrity when falsely accused and sent to prison, and of reliance on God to
interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh recognizes Joseph’s exemplary character and
puts him in charge of his house and the whole land of Egypt.

Much later, when Joseph is about 45 years old, when the famine he predicted has
struck the land and his older brothers come to Egypt in search of food, Joseph’s faith leads him to bless them instead of cursing them – to be a messenger of good news.

Messengers of good news

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

There’s a wonderful backwards series of sentences in Paul’s letter this morning:
“How are they to call on – to believe in – to hear – to proclaim – unless they are
sent?”

We have been sent – by our baptism into Christ’s body, by the washing of our feet
that Thursday night on Jerusalem, by our participation in his death and resurrection,
by the empowering of his Holy Spirit – we have been sent to proclaim good news.

We proclaim the simple message of the Gospel: that Jesus is Lord, and that
“everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

There’s nothing more to it than that. The good news is simple.

And we are simple, like Peter, mindful of our own doubt and sin, but grateful for
God’s power to save us and for the gift of a new spirit.

Like Peter said “not my feet only, but wash my hands and my head,” we proclaim the
good news “not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to [God’s] service” (BCP 101).

The good news is not just what we say, but how we live.

We are like Joseph, mindful that we are beloved, but resolved to live with integrity.
When others are in trouble, even if what they do hurts us, we have it in our power to
bless and not curse. When others are hurting, most of us have plenty to spare, and
our generosity speaks volumes about God’s grace.

The good news is simple: Jesus is Lord, and “everyone who calls upon the name of
the Lord shall be saved.”

We are sent to proclaim the good news by word and deed.

The rest is not up to us

We cannot control what other people hear.

I’ve just spent weeks learning how to teach a course for physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators on “Leading Change” – a course that underscores that very point. People receive what we say to them filtered through many layers of perception. We can tailor our message to reach people better, but we cannot control what they hear.

We cannot convince people to believe.

Any of you who have tried to have a political “discussion” on Facebook know how well that works. We’re called to witness to new life and transformation, more than we are called to deploy proofs of logic. We cannot reason people into risking the leap of faith.

And, we cannot make people call upon the name of the Lord.

The ISIS fighters in Iraq are trying to do that at gunpoint and at the tip of the sword. They are preaching hate, not love. Our own Christian history is also full of too many examples of forced conversions and coercive use of power. We cannot make people into Christians; we
must invite them to join us.

Beloved, we are sent to proclaim a much simpler good news, free from force or
distinction or coercion – “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him” – and to proclaim it by word and deed.

So, this week …

Like Peter, let Jesus draw you outside of your comfort zone into something that feels
a little risky.

Like Joseph, proclaim good news in a way that goes beyond righteousness and into
material help.

I am taking my own advice here – like Peter, I feel that I need to step “outside the
boat” in my prayer life, to risk leaving some of the familiarity and comfort of the
Daily Office and to spend more time silently resting in Jesus’ presence. I have to trust that his hand will be there to catch me, and I do trust him.

Like Joseph, I am also feeling that I need to go beyond praying for Christians who are being persecuted in Iraq and do something more direct to help them. So I have given a donation to Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad,” and his work at St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad through his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.

How is God sending you this week? How will you risk stepping outside the boat?
How will you go beyond prayer and into action to help those who suffer?

Trust that Jesus’ strong hand will catch you if you falter, trust that you have enough to share with others in need, trust that your feet, your hands and your head have been washed by our humble Lord. Trust that the rest is in his hands.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Amen.

My beloved: Where does the story begin?

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, 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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

My beloved, with whom I am well pleased

The day before Matt Gunter’s ordination as the Bishop of Fond du Lac, he and the clergy of the diocese met with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

She began our time together by inviting us to reflect on this passage and on our own identity as God’s beloved.

I’ve written before about my own experience serving at the altar with my father, who called me his beloved and told me he was well pleased with me.

My own father said it plainly to me: I am his beloved. Still, I wonder why it seems so hard to believe I am God’s beloved.

Where do we begin the story?

As clergy, we had just gone through Holy Week and celebrated Easter with our parishes. We had just recounted Jesus’ crucifixion and were still pondering his resurrection.

Bishop Katharine asked the question of us: Where do we begin the story?

Do we begin with our sinfulness, for which Jesus paid the price? Do we begin with our identity as God’s beloved, for whom God would do anything, even die on a cross?

Sin is a crucial — crux is the Latin word for cross — part of the story. But is it the beginning of the story?

We reflected on the question, each of us answering it in our own heart.

But I still wonder, why is it easier to think the story starts with our sin than to think it starts with our being beloved?

You, my child

On Wednesday mornings we sing Canticle 16, the song of another father to his beloved child, John.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (BCP 93)

May you know God’s tender compassion today and always, know yourself to be God’s beloved.

That’s where the story begins, and that’s where God wants it to end.

Following the way of the cross

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- www.ssje.org

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist — http://www.ssje.org

A Facebook friend whose opinion I respect, William Henry Benefield BSG, posted yesterday about reading the Passion Gospel during Holy Week:

“Perhaps one day, parishes throughout the world on Palm Sunday and Good Friday will have all of us present — the baptized Eucharistic assembly — saying or chanting the part of Christ during the Passion and not playing the ‘crowd’ as our liturgical tradition so often dictates. Our theology teaches us we are the Body of Christ … so it looks and sounds rather strange, not to mention theologically questionable, for us to be shouting ‘Crucify, Crucify’ and ‘Give us Jesus Barabbas.’ Maybe one day we the Church will finally realize who we actually are, break with the previous liturgical tradition when chanting the Passion on these two sacred days, and claim our true identity in the world.”

I’ll admit I had never heard of that being done before, as William said he had experienced at an Episcopal church in New York City.

His thoughtful post got me thinking, and I enjoyed figuring out why I disagree with him.

+ + + + +

It seems to me that while we are the Body of Christ, we are not Jesus. The tension in our lives of faith is between living “in Christ” or “following the crowd.”

I think playing the part of the crowd in the Passion is entirely appropriate as a way of realizing that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 4:8). It also helps us accomplish the movement Paul describes to the Colossians: “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9b-10).

Our creator, “being found in human form … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

In our old self, I think we are the crowd, preferring spectacle, resistant to change, and easily led. By the grace of God and through the self-offering of Jesus, we are given a new way.

Being the Body of Christ means stripping off the old self and following the way of the cross instead of following the crowd.

+ + + + +

While I completely agree with the ancient homily for Holy Saturday that William shared — “together [with Christ] we are now one undivided person” — I’m also conscious at this time in my life that I am not always the “one person” I want to be. Like Paul, I “find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21).

Like AA members do when they share their stories of encouragement, hope, and strength, perhaps we in the Church use the Passion Gospel during Holy Week to remind ourselves “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”

+ + + + +

The collect for today, Monday in Holy Week, is very familiar to us as the Collect for Fridays at Morning Prayer.

I hope it will remind you as you journey with Jesus during this Holy Week what you used to be like, what happened as a result of his obedience and death, and what you are like now.

May this Holy Week open the way to life and peace for you.

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 our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99).

Peace a pathway for his feet

Detail from Salvador Dali, Crucifixion ('Corpus Hypercubus'), 1954.

Detail from Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (‘Corpus Hypercubus’), 1954.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness shall go before him,
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
(Psalm 85:10-13)

On this feast of the Annunciation I can’t help seeing in Mary the “peace” that the Psalmist sings about: kissed by God’s righteousness and making a pathway for the Messiah’s feet.

God’s righteousness did indeed go before Jesus, who spent his earthly ministry walking from place to place announcing that the Kingdom of God had come near.

His mother Mary’s firm assent to God’s purposes and her role in them, her pondering them in her heart, the “sword that pierced her heart also,” these all became part of the pathway for Jesus’ feet, helping not only to set but also to confirm the direction his life would take.

And when his path led him to Jerusalem, to conflict with religious leaders and imperial authorities, to betrayal and scourging and crucifixion, peace came again and stood at his feet.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger
who
announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
(Isaiah 52:7)

 As we say the Benedictus at Morning Prayer today, may we also take to heart our role as members of Christ’s Body to follow Christ in the way of the cross, to proclaim God’s kingdom, and to participate like Mary in the unfolding of God’s righteous purpose for creation:

In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. 
(Canticle 16, BCP 93)

By the oaks of Mamre

Icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev

Icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev

Today’s readings provide an object lesson in the power of the Daily Office to trigger associations in the Christian imagination.

We begin with the Old Testament reading from Genesis in which Abraham is buying some property from the Hittites in order to bury his wife Sarah in a cave in a particular field facing Mamre.

So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, passed to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, in the presence of all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 23:17-19)

The canticle which follows, the Song of Moses, is one of the songs we sing at the Easter Vigil, when we recount Christ’s resurrection from the tomb and his victory over death.

So we have this association between the Genesis story and the resurrected Christ. Sarah is laid to rest in a cave; the cave where Christ was buried is empty when the disciples arrive there on Sunday morning. Every cave reminds us Christians of the cave which could not contain Jesus.

But the association goes deeper.

Just as Sarah’s tomb faced the oaks of Mamre, where she and Abraham laughed with the three travelers who were really God (Genesis 18), so we rejoice in the garden outside of Christ’s empty tomb and worship him as our risen Lord.

The chain of associations triggered by today’s readings — and by every day’s readings — helps us see Jesus throughout Scripture, from creation through the appearance to Abraham and Sarah, to his incarnation and passion.

We come to see and name him as one of the persons of the Trinity, as “Christ, the king of glory, the eternal Son of the Father” (BCP 96).

 

 

Temple and Empire: Sermon for 3 Advent

Christ and John the Baptist from www.richard-seaman.com

Christ and John the Baptist from http://www.richard-seaman.com

Temple and Empire

 “From the days of John the Baptist until now
the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,
and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12)

 Advent is not about waiting for Christmas; it’s about waiting for the kingdom of heaven to come. Advent is the season when we join the fight and look forward to the kingdom come.

It’s no coincidence that we read from the Book of Revelation at the Daily Office during Advent. It’s about longing for the Temple to fall and anticipating the day when the Empire will collapse.

In the biblical story the Temple, according to John Dally, professor of theology and culture at Bexley Seabury, stands for religion and purity over against the relationship that God desires with his creatures – symbolized by the Garden of Eden and by the table fellowship between Jesus and his disciples.

Empire is every impulse of violence that crushes human beings for monetary gain or personal pride. In the biblical story, the people of Israel contend against both the Babylonian and the Roman empires, and they are consistently urged to remember the poor and the needy.

Today we have made religion into a violent battle about belief, with the same rigid purity codes, exclusionary rhetoric, and shame-based culture that Jesus fought against. We keep trying to rebuild the Temple. And the constant splintering of denominations – Orthodox against Roman, Protestant against Catholic, some 24,000 Christian denominations in America today — betrays the violence at the heart of our dealings with each other.

Today we can live heedless of the suffering of billions of people around the world because we belong to the only remaining superpower – we are the only Empire left in the globalized First World. We play with electronic toys or watch flat-screen TVs or buy Christian consumer goods made overseas in sweatshop conditions, we send unmanned drones around the world to kill people (guilty, innocent, who cares?) just like in a video game, and we put children into jail on minor charges for profit.

Both Jesus and John the Baptist fought against Temple and Empire throughout their short lives. Advent is the season when we join the fight and look forward to the kingdom come.

John the Baptist

John is near the end of his life.

He has been taken by force, bound, and imprisoned in Herod’s jail. His judgment against King Herod (and more importantly, Herod’s adultery with his brother’s wife Herodias) has put him in the prison of the Roman Empire’s puppet state.

He sends a question to Jesus by his disciples: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus replies: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

That’s not much help.

John has been preaching the message his father sang at his birth:

This was the oath [God] swore to our father Abraham,
to set us free from the hands of our enemies
Free to worship him without fear
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our lives

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins. (Luke 1:68-79)

Though his ministry has focused on preaching repentance and baptizing people for the forgiveness of their sins, surely in the back of John’s mind is also the promise of freedom in Zechariah’s song, that God’s people would be “free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear all the days of our life.”

From the perspective of his jail cell, as he lies there in the hands of the Empire, John must not get much comfort from Jesus’ healing ministry or his preaching against the Temple religion.

Jesus

Jesus is near the beginning of his ministry.

He answers John’s question by pointing to the breaking in of the kingdom of God:  “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus’ life and ministry are focused on subverting the Temple and its righteousness codes – depending on which Gospel you read, in fact, he has already overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple (or he will before long).

Dally suggests that Jesus takes the architecture of the Temple as the map of the people he will minister to – to those excluded at every stage. In the Holy of Holies, it’s only the High Priest and only once a year; in the Court of the Priests, it’s only the Levitical priests; in the Court of the Israelites, it’s only men; in the Court of the Women, it’s everybody but Gentiles, lepers and Nazirites.

The Ethiopian eunuch from the Book of Acts, baptized by the Apostle Philip as one of the first Gentile converts to the Way, wouldn’t even have been able to get into the Court of the Gentiles – the bazaar where the souvenir shops and the moneychangers were.

The healing Jesus points to in his answer to John is possible only because he goes out of his way to associate with the blind, the lame, the deaf – and especially ritually impure women and unclean lepers, Samaritan women and the undeserving poor.

In his focus on overturning the Temple religion, Jesus has not yet begun to fulfill his mother’s song, the Magnificat we just said together:

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:46-55)

 Mary’s vision has to do with the overturning of the powerful – the proud, the mighty, the rich – but it won’t be long before the religious leaders use the power of the Empire to have Jesus put to death on the cross like a common criminal.

Without Fear

Today in Herod’s jail, the criminal John the Baptist is one of those people Isaiah describes “who are of a fearful heart.”

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

The prophet Isaiah reassures the people of Israel:

Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you. (Isaiah 35:4)

But Jesus doesn’t seem to be taking charge here. He doesn’t seem to be overthrowing anybody. In fact, John is still in jail and will be beheaded before much longer.

Jesus’ answer is not a direct response to the power of Empire, but it points at the hope of God’s kingdom, which is already coming into the world.

It’s not here yet – Empire and Temple still hold their power over people’s lives – but it’s coming and nothing will stop it.

How will you join the fight?

Advent is not about waiting for Christmas;
it’s about waiting for the kingdom of heaven to come. 

Advent is the season when we join the fight
and look forward to the kingdom come.

 How will you fight against Empire in this relentlessly commercial season? How will you fight against our culture, which engages in a war on the poor rather than on the businesses and policies that keep them in poverty? How will you work to keep people out of the literal prisons we build with private corporations – and with occupancy quotas that local governments have to meet?

How will you fight against the building of the Temple in this religious season? How will you fight against the judgmental attitude that sneers at “Christmas and Easter” worshippers or takes offense when someone wishes you “Happy Holidays”? How will you work to respect the dignity of every human being – Christian or not? How will you demonstrate that you are “so clothed in Christ’s spirit that you reach out your arms of love to bring everyone into his saving embrace”?

How will you practice repentance and forgiveness at holiday gatherings and with difficult family members? How will you, like John, preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to a world – and people like you and me – so desperately in need of them?

How will you practice self-giving in a season of consumer frenzy and self-centeredness? How will you, like Jesus, give your comfortable life away in order to heal people and bring them into fellowship – even if it means giving up your own power, your own privilege?

Advent is not about waiting for Christmas;
it’s about waiting for the kingdom of heaven to come.

Advent is the season when we join the fight
and look forward to the kingdom come.

The roads to Zion mourn

Twin Towers 9-11 by William Wray -- http://williamwray.blogspot.com

Twin Towers 9-11 by William Wray — http://williamwray.blogspot.com

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. (Lamentations 1:1-5)

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In his course this fall at Seabury titled “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible,” John Dally suggests that the Bible is organized around two 9-11’s.

The Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, was compiled into its final form after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the exile of the Jews into Babylon.

The New Testament is the record of the Church’s attempt to understand the disaster of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Notes from the first session of John Dally's "This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible" at Seabury.

Notes from the first session of John Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible.”

The passage this morning from the Book of Lamentations captures the despair of the people of Judah over the destruction of the Temple. In the juxtaposition of this lesson and the canticle appointed for today (Canticle 13), we can see the seeds of Israel’s judgment on itself — “God is worthy of praise; this disaster must be our fault.” An empire has crushed the hope of God’s people.

The story that becomes clear throughout the Hebrew scriptures is the story of God seeking the people of Israel and their turning away from him again and again. In the New Testament, we see the same story written in small letters, but on a cosmic scale.

The New Testament story concerns Jesus of Nazareth — “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

Not only did God come into the world he had created, but once again we turned away from him. Even when some came to accept him and place their hope in him, they had their hopes terribly dashed when he was killed by the Romans. Yet again, an empire crushed the hopes of God’s people.

In both cases, however, as John Dally observes, the people of God had their belief shattered and kept on believing.

Paul sums up the Christian understanding beautifully: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so will we bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

Though the Bible is organized around two disasters, they are not the point of the story. The point of the Biblical story is the unswerving love of God for the people he made. Just as the Jews in exile came to understand that God was with them in Torah rather than Temple, the early Church came to realize that not even death could separate them from the love of God or stop the plan of salvation that Jesus had set into motion.