Tag Archives: Jesus

Saving health among all nations | Holy Cross Day

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. (Numbers 21:7-9)

Keep this nation under your care

When Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16), it’s easy for us to forget that he isn’t wearing a rainbow wig and holding up a poster in a football stadium.

Jesus Saves 39014501

Jesus is not addressing American Christians and football fans. He is not suggesting we wear black “John 3:16” eye paint to Lambeau Field.

Instead, Jesus is deep in a private, nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, a “leader of the Jews” who is trying to understand what Jesus is doing and teaching in Jerusalem at the Passover.

Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is from God, though the “cleansing of the Temple” — knocking over the tables of the moneychangers and driving them and the sacrificial animals out with a whip of cords — probably upset Nicodemus’ sense of order and respect.

In their quiet, late night conversation, he struggles with Jesus’ words about seeing and entering the kingdom of God — he is confused by the idea of being “born again” and “born from above” and “born of water and the Spirit.”

Jesus asks, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and you do not understand these things?”

Then he continues to teach Nicodemus about the kingdom of God and about salvation.

Let your way be known upon earth

Jesus builds on what he has just said about who can see and who can enter the kingdom of God.

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:13-17).

He uses a strange image for the kingdom, reminding scholarly Nicodemus of a passage from the Book of Numbers about a mysterious cure. The people of Israel in the wilderness were sick, dying from venomous snake bites, but they were cured when they looked at a bronze serpent held up on a pole.

It would have been a particularly odd image, since the bronze serpent had later been destroyed by King Hezekiah (reigned 715-687 BC) during his reforms of the nation and its worship (2 Kings 18:4).

According to the Wikipedia article on him,

Hezekiah purified and repaired the Temple, purged its idols, and reformed the priesthood. In an effort to abolish what he considered idolatry from his kingdom, he destroyed the high places (or bamot) and “bronze serpent” (or “Nehushtan“), recorded as being made by Moses, which became an objects of idolatrous worship. In place of this, he centralized the worship of God at the Jerusalem Temple.

Several hundred years later, having just upset the business of the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the kingdom of heaven is like the bronze serpent people used to look to instead of going to the Temple as their leaders said they should.

Your saving health among all nations

In John’s Gospel, Jesus does signs — like the miracle at Cana and the cleansing of the Temple — and teaches about the kingdom of God. “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen,” he says.

When he refers to the bronze serpent, he makes a point to describe it being lifted up, just as the Son of Man will be lifted up.

Jesus is describing another sign — the ultimate sign — that will testify to his identity and open the kingdom of God to those who believe.

Like the bronze serpent brought healing (salvation) to those poisoned by snakebites, the sign of the Cross will bring eternal life and saving health to all who suffer.

No longer is the healing work of God limited to the people of Israel, no longer is salvation contained in the Temple at Jerusalem, but rather saving health is available to all who look on the Son of Man lifted up.

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Constantly, boldly, patiently | Eve of St. John the Baptist

You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:14-17)

Constantly speak the truth

How does one “make ready a people prepared for the Lord”?

Much of my own ministry has to do with teaching the basis, what the Church calls “catechesis.”

From my “Episcopal 101” class for adults on Sunday mornings, to the Education for Ministry group I mentor on Sunday afternoons, to this blog and the teaching I do about the Daily Office, I spend a lot of time helping people use the resources of the Christian tradition.

Many members of my parish are devoted to small group ministry and the ongoing relationships of accountability that help nurture disciples.

How do you help prepare people for the Lord? What does that mean to you?

Boldly rebuke vice

John has some very sharp words for those who come to see him preaching and baptizing at the River Jordan:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance …. And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ (Luke 3:7-8, 10-14)

Share your coat — I must have at least six coats that I no longer wear. Why are they still hanging in my closet? Who else needs a coat?

Share your food — While my wife and I regularly host parties and invite people into our home, I don’t make a habit of helping at the meal program hosted by my parish each week. Who else needs a meal?

Live within your means — I’m finally doing better at this, partly out of necessity but also partly because of my own recovery. Buying things fulfills the same kind of craving that other substances do, so I’m working daily to watch my spending. Who else could I help if I stop helping myself?

Don’t rob anyone — This one is harder, because it’s not as simple as saying “don’t steal.” I’m beginning to read Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, which starts with the reminder that we all belong to each other and to the one creation. Nothing is in fact ours alone. Who else could use a drink of water or clean air to breathe?

Patiently suffer

John spent some time in prison before he died, and he wasn’t entirely sure if it was worth it.

John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ (Luke 7:18-23)

Whether he was “offended” by Jesus or not, John was patient in his imprisonment, even to the point of speaking with his captor on several occasions before his beheading.

“Herod feared John, knowing he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him [from Herodias]. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20-21)

What frustrating situation in your life are you struggling with right now? Who might you speak kindly to, even when things aren’t going your way?

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Trinity Sunday | Eve of the Visitation

Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high, *
but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?
He takes up the weak out of the dust *
and lifts up the poor from the ashes.
He sets them with the princes, *
with the princes of his people.
He makes the woman of a childless house *
to be a joyful mother of children. (Psalm 113:5-8)

This evening one of the Episcopal Church’s seven Principal Feasts (Trinity Sunday) overlaps one of our many Holy Days (the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

In this happy juxtaposition, we ponder this evening the universal mystery of the triune God, “who sits enthroned on high,” and who is made known to us in a specific man, Jesus, born to a specific woman, Mary, whose visit to her relative Elizabeth we honor tomorrow.

“No one has ever seen God,” John reminds us in the prologue to his gospel. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).

The Trinity whom we adore

John’s gospel opens with a hymn of creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5).

John purposely reminds us of the opening of the Hebrew Bible, when in the beginning the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:1-2). He goes on to equate the Word — who was with God in the beginning — with Jesus, “a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

In the mystery that Christians call the Incarnation, we see “the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high, but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth.”

Who is like our God, indeed?

Born of the Virgin Mary

“Hail, Mary, full of grace,” many Christians pray as they say the prayers of the rosary. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” Mary herself cries out in the prayer we call the Magnificat, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (BCP 119).

Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth - Tapesetry

In this morning’s Gospel for Trinity Sunday, Nicodemus puzzles over Jesus’ words about being born again. “Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus responds with a wry twist. “Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).

Mary herself had asked the angel, “How can this be, since I am still a virgin?” to which she got the equally unsettling reply that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35-36).

The Spirit of Love

That same Spirit, Luke goes on to recount in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, fell on the early church and inspired them to go out into the world proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord.”

In Jesus, the apostles saw God, “the Lord who sits enthroned on high,” stooping down and joining his creatures. Before he left his disciples, Jesus promised that they would share in his spirit, the spirit of love.

At evening prayer tonight, we prayed for that same Spirit of love.

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 125)

O God, send us your Spirit through Jesus our Lord.

In companionship with one another …

Abounding grace …

“Hail Mary, full of grace …”

… full of grace and truth.

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.