gospel, John, Sermon Notes, Suffering, Sunday

Sunday Sermon: 1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13 “Getting in the Way of Love”

I had the opportunity to preach this past Sunday at St. Hilda’s Episcopal Church and New Hope Community Church. They are ministry partners in Catonsville, and I was honored to be invited to preach in both of their services. The podcast should be available in the coming days here, but in the meantime, here is my manuscript for the sermon, which I titled “Getting in the Way of Love”. As you think of it, pray for these two congregations, and my friends, Jason Poling and Joe Miller as they serve there.

“Getting in the Way of Love”
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Love. Never has a word been used more to mean less in recent memory. And never has a word brought more confusion rather than clarity to discussions around faith. When we say we are called to love others, when we say God is love, we feel and see the limits of our language. As Bishop Tom Wright once said, “The English word “love” is trying to do so many different jobs at the same time that someone really ought to sit down and teach it how to delegate.” Where there is confusion or a lack of clarity about what love is and what it can look like, we tend to fall victim to different ways of living. We can follow the ways of power, coercion, apathy, or justification of wrong-doing. It can bring about fear and anxiety. It does subtle work in our midst, moving us off the way of following Jesus.

So, the question arises: what do we mean when we say “love”, and more importantly, how do we align with this “most excellent way”? As a community of people who are meant to be defined as loving, there often seem to be things which get in the way of the proper expression of love: disunity in local congregations and the wider Church, theological squabbles and disagreements, issues of conscience, cultural arguments, and even the abuse or misuse of spiritual and positional authority by leaders in the church. No longer is it “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Nevertheless, I (and others) would argue that the very essence of Christianity is love, not knowledge, gifts, or power.

Today, my concern is to get us to identify the things that often get in the way of love and to invite us to get ourselves into the way of love. The good news for us today is that we have access to this way of love and, together, we can participate and grow in this eternal and powerful way of love right now, right where we are. And Paul’s words here bring us great hope in the midst of this great challenge we see both around us and within us.

The key words which frame our understanding of this passage are how Paul ends chapter 12, “But I will show you a more excellent way.” Paul has been covering a lot of ground in this letter, and I understand that you have been on quite a journey together through it. Discussions about divisions and idols and sexuality…certainly not simple topics to grapple with then or now. I believe this chapter serves as a pause and a bridge, perhaps even a climax of an argument situated between two related discussions in the letter: playing your part in the body by utilizing the gifts given by the Spirit in Ch 12 and proper order of worship in Ch 14.

While we are often used to hearing this passage read in wedding ceremonies, I imagine that Paul would find that a little confusing. As a matter of fact, if Paul wanted to use this passage to talk specifically about marital love, he likely would have put this part of his letter in Ch 7. It is there where he gets “super romantic” about marriage and basically tells people, eh, yeah I guess you should get married if you can’t contain yourselves…but it’s not really ideal. So…sure…go ahead. Or be like me and don’t.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Paul is very much interested in the way of love—but he is most concerned with how it plays out in the life of the church. I believe this is the primary context. What we get is not a sentimental picture of love to be embroidered and hung on a wall, but rather a beautiful account of a rigorous, self-giving, long-suffering, rejoicing way of being. This most excellent way of love.

Rather than begin with that happens we don’t have love (in the beginning of this chapter), let me first call attention to how Paul describes love. Starting in v. 4, he describes it both positively and negatively. Love is patient and kind. These connote both its passive and active qualities: it puts up with a lot (endures) and it also moves toward others with generosity, without thought of repayment. Love then jumps into action: rejoicing in the truth, bearing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. (which doesn’t mean that is just sits idly by with “all things”, the phrase speaks more to the capacity of love to bear, hope, and endure regardless of amount or scope of adversity). This is robust and hopeful language. This helps us better define this agape love as Paul sees it: the identification of ourselves with God’s interests in others. A genuine and selfless concern for the well-being of others.

This contrasts with the more negative descriptions Paul uses to describe what love is not. And Paul is less than subtle here, saying that love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful. Love does not insist on its own way or rejoice in wrongdoing. Since you all have been sitting in this letter for awhile now, these words should sound incredibly familiar: they are basically everything that Paul accuses the Corinthian church of being.

  • The jealousy which was feeding the quarrels surrounding factionalism (I’m of Paul, I’m of Apollos.
  • The proud and boastful statement of one part of a body saying to another “I don’t need you!”
  • The approval and rejoicing over sins that aren’t even tolerated amongst the pagans

Paul is laying out love both positively and negatively: here is what love is and here is what it is not and begging the question: which sounds more like you?

So, after describing this love, I want us to begin to see what can get in the way of this love. This is where we can relate back to the gifts which Paul was describing in the beginning of this passage. He says that, if you speak in tongues but don’t have love, you are a clanging cymbal or a sounding gong. This, for sure, makes us think of something loud and annoying, but Paul may be hinting at something else. In Psalm 150, there are injunctions for praising:

1 Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

praise him in his mighty firmament![a]

2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;

praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

3 Praise him with trumpet sound;

praise him with lute and harp!

4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe!

5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;

praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Imagine, if in the worship band, there was only a drummer hitting his crash cymbal the whole time while the voices try to jump in. It’s not just annoying…it is comically incomplete and not really helpful. Similarly, when it comes to prophesying, knowledge, or sacrifice, if it does not connect to the needs of others and come from a place of deep love for the interests of others, it is worthless. No, everyone needs to use their gifts in proper proportions and a proper times. And this is love.

The Amish and Old Order Mennonites have a word for a guiding ethic in their communities. It is the German word Gelassenheit (Ge-las-sen-heit). As with many words, they can be hard to translate directly and have a lot of uses and connotations, but one Mennonite describes it this way: a “yielding of self-will and autonomy to the community, believing that true redemption and love is created through the selflessness of yielding my rights to the wisdom of the gathered.” The concept plays itself out in a variety of practices (surrendering of property, submission to the church community in decision-making, rejection of taking pride in one’s own individual work, etc.) But this concept is embodied most clearly and beautifully in the practice of singing, often called Sacred Harp singing. This is a style of a cappella singing in four part harmony. In order for the chords to be complete, everyone must show up and sing their part in the right way at the right time. If they don’t, the worship of God is incomplete and deficient and their communal life is literally and figuratively off key and discordant. This is a picture of a community of love, a community which yields and submits to one another out of reverence for Christ.

To put it most plainly: the gifts you are able to use, those that have been given you by God, are not ultimately for you, they are for others; for building up and equipping the church. When gifts are not used for their intended purposes, when they are used as ends in and of themselves, they can actually work against the way of love. I don’t think I need to prove this point to you. Rarely does a week go by without us hearing of continues schism in the church, of misuse of spiritual authority, of the fall of incredibly gifted and talented leaders in the church, or of hearing the stories of our brothers and sister who have been yet again abused and wounded by those in the church—often done in the name of “holding to the Truth”, or “defending the gospel” or “keeping the faith”. We have lost sight of our prime directive of deep, sacrificial, gritty, and resilient love.

Now, when it comes to a passage like this, and in numerous other places in Scripture, there is an attractive impulse that is often at work in us that I want to name: it is easy for us to hear that we are doing the wrong thing, agree that it is the wrong thing, and then try harder to to the right thing. Paul could have just said to the Corinthians, listen…your speaking in tongues is getting out of hand, or you are way to concerned with prophesying, or you are obsessed with the miraculous…so (in the words of the famous Bob Newhart psychologist sketch) I have two words for you: “Stop it!”. Stop all the tongues nonsense. Stop the signs stuff…you’re abusing it. Stop prophesying…no, Paul doesn’t say this. He actually admonishes the Corinthians to pursue these gifts.

Instead, or perhaps in addition to this command, he invites the Corinthians, and us, to pursue the most excellent way of using these gifts. This is not about simply doing different works or even believing different words. The Words are good (prophecy). The Works are good (giving all we have, giving up our bodies). But these amount to nothing without the way of love, which requires us to also be aware of our desires, our Wants.

Some people say love is a verb, meaning that love means nothing without action (this should make us think of 1 John 3:18, right….Dear children let us not simply love in word but in deed and in truth). Yes, and amen: love must lead to action, or it is not love. But what Paul is telling us is that not every “right” action is necessarily love. In fact, we can say the right thing, and we can do the right thing, and be wrong…if we are not acting from a place of love, a disposition of grace and truth toward others. I have had to face this reality in my own life in preparing to preach today. I could be the best studier of Scripture and the best preacher (of which I’m certainly not), I could give a great sermon, but what is my underlying motivation? Is it to serve you all today? Is it to encourage or admonish you and build you up in the faith? Or could it be to further my own ego, to help me feel adequate, or to simply please other people? I’m trusting that the very act of wrestling with these thoughts and questions is itself loving, and I am entrusting myself to the Lord, knowing that he knows my heart better than I do and that God’s Spirit is at work in my deepest place of need and struggle.

This, then, leads us to the core part of the way of love: We can know how to love because we are known by love. And this is how Paul understands his identity as an apostle of Christ. And he is not subtle here: the words he uses to define love are the same words he uses to describe his own ministry as an apostle: bearing suffering in hope, enduring for the sake of those whom he loves. This is why he can say, in 11:1 “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Paul was, quite literally, showing them a more excellent way in his own life. We see this love at work in Paul, who points us most ultimately to see it in Jesus. Jesus, who emptied himself of all privilege and power to become like us, to lay his life down for us, to submit himself to the will of the Father on our behalf. Jesus knew how to act in love. Take notice of the times where it was appropriate to use the power and influence gifted to him through the Holy Spirit and when it was not. Stones into bread or feeding five thousand. Similar power, only one was done in love, while the other was a temptation to sin. Healing some and not others, waiting to heal others. Knowing when to stay an extra day in one place and when to leave, even while he was popular. Knowing when to speak and when to stay silent. Jesus knew he was sowing into what would endure until the end: love.

Are we giving our time and attention to what will last forever? Knowledge will fade away. Even faith and hope are transitory, as one day what we trust and hope for will arrive. Love is what endures. Love will define our life together. Our calling is to witness to and embody that reality now as the body of Christ.

To get in (or rather into) the way of love is to walk the way together. This is Paul’s climactic point: the way of walking together as a church is to walk in unity, and the way of unity is the way of self-sacrificial love. So, I invite you to consider as St. Hilda’s/New Hope Church, what might it look like for you to walk in this way together? Where can we pause and ask, “Why am I doing this? Is it for love and in love, or does it get in the way of love?” What desires are at work in you? What work do those desires seek to do for you? Allow me to share one possibility for you to consider this week: fear often operates within us at a very deep level. We have heard the verse “There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear.” I think we can suspect that if fear is at work in us, it is likely doing work in place of love. A question to consider as you seek to evaluate your motives this week: what am I afraid might happen if I don’t _______ ? And what does God want me know about him or me in light of that fear.

Love invites us to consider the words we speak, the works we do, and the “wants” we have, calibrating and considering them together so that we may be about the way of loving. This is the difficult, beautiful call of following Jesus. And, if we are to take Paul seriously, it is the only work which lasts and endures.

Love is not just all we need, it is our beginning, it is our means, it is our end, and in the end, it will be all we have. May God give us the strength, courage, and opportunity to join him in this way of loving the world as God loves us.

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gospel, John, Sermon Notes, Suffering, Sunday

Sunday Sermon: Lent IV- John 9:1-41

I had the opportunity to preach this past Sunday at Breath of God Lutheran Church in our neighborhood. While I forgot to record it, I am posting my manuscript here. The name of the sermon was “Blind Witness News”. A big thanks to Mark Parker for the invite and grateful to have such an engaged church in our neighborhood.

“Blind Witness News ”
Text: John 9:1-41

I don’t know about you, but I’ve probably spent more time in the last six months absorbing news content than I have in the last 6 years. The political climate in which we live, regardless of your political persuasion, is unprecedented and unpredictable. And with newsworthy happenings in the world come the inevitable spin and questions. It is so easy to get sucked in to the news reports and the arguing and the punditry and the analysis.

As such, perhaps this what has caused me to think of today’s Gospel reading in much the same way: as a news story. Could you imagine if it were recounted by a popular 24 hour news network today? Perhaps it isn’t too difficult to imagine. We have a significant event happening and a lot of people questioning and disagreeing about it. So today, I do want us to follow this story a bit like we would a news story, and try to offer some self-reflection along the way.

The word “blind” is used by John 17 times in his Gospel. 15 of those times are in this passage. This should bring to our mind not simply the topic of this passage, but a theme of sight. John wants us to see something here (pun intended).  We will come back to the disciples question in a bit, but I wanted to focus on the rest of the narrative, as if it were picked up by the news.

Imagine what the local news coverage would have been like for this story. “Breaking: we have some odd reports of a man, apparently born blind, who has been healed with mud, and you won’t guess what it’s made out of. Tonight at 11.” Or further still: “It is unclear as to the true identity of this man who was allegedly healed by a traveling Rabbi. We have someone who claims it was him who was healed, others claim it was just someone who looked like him: you be the judge.”

There are a lot of fun details in this story, and we can’t address everything, but I just had to pull out this amazing question by the neighbors as they begin by questioning the blind man after he received his sight. They ask him, in v. 12 “Where is he?” and he said “I don’t know.” Come on now…that is funny! This man has literally never seen anything in his life, he is sent by Jesus to go wash in a pool, where he then receives his sight and begins to be questioned, and one of the questions is, “Where is this man whom you’ve never seen?”

Next, the story gets picked up from the local news by the big news channel. Let’s call them PNN (Pharisee News Network). Their headline would look something like this: “So-called Prophet Breaks Sabbath by Performing Alleged Miracle…Sinner performing signs?” On their show, they would invite the blind man and his parents on, along with some expert analysts (pharisees, of course), to talk about this situation.

At the end of their newscast, the blind man turns the tables, even asking the pharisees if they want to follow Jesus because of all their questions. And like good pundits, they stick to the talking points and seek to discredit the man in order show they are the ones who are right, saying “You were born entirely in sins, and how are you trying to teach us?” And they cut the interview off and send him away, feeling satisfied that they got another news story, and maybe boosted their ratings.

Notice, that Jesus is not invited into the Pharisee’s discussion. Instead, Jesus goes to find the man after he hears about how he has been treated. He hears his confession of faith and says to him: you are the one who really sees. You get it, while those who think they have insight into the ways of this world are showing that they are blind. This is the work of Jesus which elicits an important question, not just for the pharisees, but for all of us: “surely we are not blind, are we?” We see things the way they are, don’t we Jesus?

It is here where I want to finally come back to the beginning of the story. When Jesus and his disciples come across this man who has been born blind, the disciples’ first impulse is to ask a question which I would paraphrase like this: “Whose fault is it?” This man is suffering, is it his own fault or the fault of someone else? Or, put even more succinctly: who can we blame for this?

I feel this question on a regular basis when I encounter human suffering, illness, and injustice in our world. My first impulse is to ask: “Whose fault is it?” so I can quickly post something calling them out on Facebook or something (I am only speaking for myself…I’m sure you don’t do this!) Or, it allows me to make a judgment call. “Well, they obviously brought this on themselves.” This helps me deal with the suffering as I see it. It helps me explain it away. It helps me keep things at a distance.

But, Jesus invites us into another way of seeing, altogether. To simply see a blind man as a problem to be analyzed, diagnosed, reported, or blamed is the way of the world. It is the way of the 24 hour news media. It is the way of blindness. Furthermore, to dismiss the work of God in the world when it doesn’t look like we think it should is the way of the religious elite, it is the way of power…basically, it is not the way of Jesus. And it is damaging.

Let me just say, that people have been horribly stigmatized by those who claim Christianity. I work part-time with HopeSprings, an organization which seeks to awaken, equip, and engage the church to bring hope and healing to those with HIV. We are having some focused conversations with other health and faith-based organizations right now to better address how faith informs our engagement with the people most at risk for HIV. This includes people in the LGBTQ community, particularly black gay men, transgender individuals, and IV drug users. Some of the people we have the opportunity to serve amaze me, because they still love Jesus after being treated as subhuman by those who claim to follow him. Many struggle to even think of darkening the door of a church again, though their faith is incredibly important to them. So many have been over-analyzed and scrutinized because of these factors, but people often fail to see God at work in their lives (and oftentimes, God is working in them to work through them to bless others…like us!) Certainly these would be like those whom we would categorize as “blind” today and seek to blame them or others for whatever may ail them. I wonder who else may be treated like they are “blind” today. And I further wonder whether we aren’t, in fact, the blind ones.

When Jesus sees this man, born blind, he sees it as an opportunity for the kingdom of God to break into the world. He sees it as a chance for him to get to work. To literally get his hands dirty, making mud out of spit and dirt. The work which began in Jesus continues on in his body, the Church, by the power of the Spirit. He is the light of the world, and now, so are we.

So, as we move forward today, back into our neighborhood this week, we are invited by Jesus to see what he sees. When we see our immigrant neighbors, will we simply analyze our assumptions concerning their lives, or will we wonder where God might be at work and inviting us to join? When we hear or read of another carjacking, mugging, or break-in, will we seek to blame police, victims, or perpetrators…or will we wonder “How might the light of Christ shine in this situation?” Where is God inviting you to see the world around you differently, as pregnant with possibility?

Jesus’ words in response to his disciples are an apt challenge for us today: We must work the works of him who sent us while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. So, as long as you are in the world, shine in the world by working in the world, perhaps in the most unlikely places, in order to bring glory to God. May we move forth as people who see. May we look for opportunities for God’s kingdom to come in the situations and people we encounter. May we get our hand dirty in the work of loving and healing others. And may we have our own eyes opened to the reality of Christ.
Amen.

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Daily Office, Jesus, John, Musings, Prayer

“He withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” – Daily Office Reflection

Lent IV

(Psalm 89; Jeremiah 16:10-21; Romans 7:1-12; John 6:1-15)

So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

In this part of John’s Gospel, Jesus had a pretty good moment. He performed a miracle, feeding tons of people. And he taught his disciples something about God’s provision. And people are starting to see him for who he is…or at least, part of who he is. They say, “This is the prophet we’ve been waiting for!” which was a part of their hope for the coming Messiah. A Messiah that they were ready to take and make king.

I had to stop here and think about how I would feel were I in Jesus’ shoes. I would probably be thinking something like, “They like me, they really like me!” I would be basking in the glow of the success of feeding all of these people. I would be feeling pretty good abut myself. Oh, and they want to make me king? Well…I guess that is what I’m here to be. It feels good to be wanted. Father, who would’ve guessed that the people would embrace me like this. What a blessing!

But Jesus’ response is not my response (thanks be to God!). When he realized that he was getting super popular, when he realized that some other were trying to co-opt God’s plan (though they likely didn’t think of it that way…they probably had some good desires for freedom and God’s kingdom to come) Jesus make the decision to get away by himself. At first, this seems so counterintuitive. Was Jesus against being popular? Was he that weird guy at a party that just leaves awkwardly to go be by himself? Is he really just an introvert at heart?

I think something more important is going on here. Perhaps Jesus saw this as a temptation. After all, he had been tempted with popularity before by the Enemy in the desert when he was tempted to throw himself off the Temple for all to see God’s angels come to save him. If Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, as a real human with real feelings, is it too difficult to imagine that Jesus was feeling the pull of popularity, the allure of acclaim, and knew he needed to change things quickly?

I have been challenged with this temptation of popularity recently. I want to be liked. I want to be noticed. I want to be appreciated. (and these are not bad desires in and of themselves, necessarily). But, they often can be desires which push me to act in certain ways. I will take this role because people really want me to do so. I’ll post this on social media in hopes that it gets a lot of likes/retweets/shares.

For Jesus, and for us, the way we can fight against the real pull of popularity is to intentionally choose solitude. It is to say, in effect, I am not what people think of me. I am not my successes (or my failures). I am simply loved by the God who always sees me. The regular practice of solitude–shutting out the noise of the world–allows us to tune into the Voice that speaks perfect love and acceptance to us.

Some of the most profound things have been revealed to me when I take the time to be alone with God, and away from the voices all around me. Do you practice solitude? If so, what has that been like for you?

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Daily Office, Jesus, John, Musings, Prayer

“Does not meet expectations…” -Daily Office Reflection

March 21st, 2017: Week 3 of Lent

(Psalm 78; Jeremiah 7:21-34; Romans 4:13-25; John 7:37-52)

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

John 7:37-52

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law-they are accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.’

We carry certain expectations with us about people. Some might actually call these expectations prejudice–and they would be right. We all do it. We bring our own ideas of who someone should or should not be, how they should or should not act, and, more generally, how the world works.

In this passage, the Pharisees have a strong prejudice against Jesus. Well, they actually have several! But, the one that comes the fore in their view of who the Messiah is supposed to be. “No prophet is to arise from Galilee,” they say. Nathan says something similar when he first hears of Jesus from Philip: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip (John 1:46). Later on, people will say use more coded language about Peter and John, calling them unlearned, ordinary men.

But here’s the thing: what they are experiencing does meet their expectations. In fact, they both exceed and disrupt them. Jesus is obviously a prophet. He is healing and growing in favor with the people. He is speaking profound truth about God. But it is upsetting the stats quo, threatening the political, social, and religious influence of the Pharisees, temple police, and others. So the response? Disparage the leader and his followers as ignorant, backwoods, and even accursed. Because this doesn’t fit our framework (the framework we happen to benefit from, by the way!)

In your life today, are there places where you would be quick to say, “God couldn’t have anything to do with that or them!” or “Can something good ever come from (insert backwoods/disparaged place here)?” Or could we even disparage entire groups of people for “going along with it” like the Pharisees did–calling them accursed and ignorant. Do you derive power or significance from being able to hold yourself over and against others; obviously knowing better than them? Could it be that God’s work around you actually makes you very uncomfortable by breaking apart your own categories and ways of thinking about God?

God’s invitation for us today is to “Come and see,” when our expectations are not being met or followed. The question is not “Is God at work here?” but rather “How is God at work here?” And the answer may have more to with God’s work in our own prejudiced hearts than anything else. Will we respond? Or will we hold fast to our “principles”, rules, or guidelines and miss the movement of God right in front of us, disparaging people along the way?

 

 

 

 

 

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Daily Office, Jesus, John, Musings, Prayer

“…and the darkness did not overcome it.” -Daily Office Reflection

February 27th 2017

Epiphany VIII (Psalm 25; Deuteronomy 6:10-15; Hebrews 1; John 1:1-18)

John 1:1-18

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a fathers only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me. ) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.

Today, I am really appreciating the overlap of the Gospel and Epistle readings today. They both are paradigmatic for why I am specifically a Christian–a follower of Jesus, and simply generally spiritual or theistic. Taking these two passages together, Jesus is not simply a great teacher, prophet, or social revolutionary (though he is all of those things). Jesus most clearly reveals God by being God with us. When we want to know what God is like, we look to Jesus as “the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

But there is something more specific about this Jesus and how he reveals God: he is light shining in the darkness. A light which, itself, enlightens. A light which engenders change, the ability to become daughters and sons of God, and to actually become light to this world.

The fact that darkness has not overcome light is very good news for us: this is the story of Jesus at work. Many of us have become more and more aware of the darkness in our world, and even in ourselves. There are days for me where it feels like the darkness is crowding out the light; that darkness is winning. There are days that feel more like Good Friday or Holy Saturday, than Easter Sunday–where the reality of death and loss and the powerful winning still seem to hang in the air. But light has overcome darkness, particularly in the work of Jesus.

As people of the light, our hope is not that, hopefully….someday….light will overcome darkness. This is not Christian hope. The light shines (as in…right now) in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Our God, as seen in Jesus, is the light which still shines in the world. Darkness cannot overcome light because it tried and failed at the death and resurrection of Jesus. So today, when we feel like darkness is winning, we can remember that we are Easter people. We are people of the light. We are free to shine with confidence and hope, knowing that darkness has been defeated. And, perhaps, this is how the world will continue to see God in the world. When we, nevertheless, shine…we reveal who God is in Jesus: a light which has not and cannot be overcome.

 

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Daily Office, John, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Sunday

Daily Office Reflection: Psalm 41 & 52

Today continues this practice of praying and reflecting on the Daily Office readings.

January 23rd, 2017
Epiphany III

(Ps. 41, 52; Isaiah 48:1-11; Galatians 1:1-17;  Mark 5:21-23)

Psalm 41 &52

Psalm 41
Happy are those who consider the poor;
the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.
The Lord protects them and keeps them alive;
they are called happy in the land.
You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;
in their illness you heal all their infirmities.

As for me, I said, ‘O Lord, be gracious to me;
heal me, for I have sinned against you.’
My enemies wonder in malice
when I will die, and my name perish.
And when they come to see me, they utter empty words,
while their hearts gather mischief;
when they go out, they tell it abroad.
All who hate me whisper together about me;
they imagine the worst for me.

They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me,
that I will not rise again from where I lie.
Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
But you, O Lord, be gracious to me,
and raise me up, that I may repay them.

By this I know that you are pleased with me;
because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence for ever.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.Amen and Amen.

Psalm 52

Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly?
All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking the truth.
Selah
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down for ever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
Selah
The righteous will see, and fear,
and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
‘See the one who would not take
refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches,
and sought refuge in wealth!’

But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
for ever and ever.
I will thank you for ever,
because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will proclaim your name, for it is good.

The parallels to currents events are too large to ignore. Before offering a few thoughts, I believe that these two Psalms speak to something of fundamental importance: the formational power of consistent liturgical prayer. What do you think the impact could be upon the Church (and the world!), were she to mindfully pray the words we read above:
“Happy are those who consider the poor;
the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.”
and
“Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly?
All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking the truth.”

In a world which values the rich, the powerful, the boastful, and the extravagant, these words speak prophetically to the Church and to the world. In a time where we have phrases like “fake news” and “alternative facts”, how can we continue to turn to those who do not have the power of political voice, news spin, or material wealth and consider their health and well-being, even more than our own?

Could it be that we have come to believe a different gospel, particularly in North America/United States? Does this relate at all to St. Paul’s words in Galatians about gospel? What would the truly “good news” be based on these readings?

Speak, Lord…your servants are listening…

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Daily Office, John, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Sunday

Daily Office Reflection: An Intro and John 5:2-18

For a couple years now, I have been engaging in the practice of praying the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer. This last year, I journaled through the an entire year of the Daily Office lectionary, taking time to read the prayers, the appointed Psalms, the assigned lessons for the day (One Old Testament, One New Testament, One Gospel), confess the truth of the Church through the creeds, and pray the same prayers for the world along with many in the Church.
Along the way, there have been some profound moments, to be sure. I have seen things I had not seen before. I have felt the presence of God, at times, in new ways. But to be honest, most of the time it was quite ordinary and uneventful. It simply became a quiet habit. But I do believe it was a good habit which has and continues to do good work in me; albeit slow, steady, and ordinary work. I read a quote this morning from Brené Brown, who says:

Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.

 

So, this is an endeavor in the ordinary and an invitation for you to, perhaps, join me. Someone recently encouraged me to continue sharing some of the things I am learning, so I will be sharing some reflections on at least one of the texts from the Daily Office lectionary on a regular basis. It probably won’t be every day. But, I hope at the very least, it encourages you to take some steps of ordinary, regular engagement with God each day, trusting that God will meet you there with joy in surprising and common ways.
There are a few different ways you can access these readings online. If you want to have access to many of the prayers, hymns, and canticles which go with the readings, Mission St. Clare is a great resource I often use when I don’t have my BCP around. (¡Disponible en español, también!) If you just want the Scripture readings for each day, you can go here.
One last note: I would love to hear from you if you are praying this with me, or if you have thoughts from the readings/time of prayer. Feel free to comment or contact me directly.

January 22nd, 2017: Third Sunday after Epiphany

(Ps. 63:1–8 (9–11) Ps. 98; Ps. 103; Isa. 47:1–15; Heb. 10:19–31; John 5:2–18)

John 5:2-18

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

 

There were just a few thoughts to offer:

First, Jesus takes the time to go be amongst the hurting, sick, and hopeful. These people are here at Beth-zatha because they believed that these pools were sacred places where healing could take place. And such beliefs were not in line with the First-Century Jewish Temple system. These were people who needed healing and were on the fringes of social and religious life.

Second, the man that Jesus interacts with and heals is VERY old by standards of that day. And has obviously had failed attempt after failed attempt to be healed. He is even marginalized by the marginalized. But Jesus asks him an important question: Do you want to be well? If so, show me by taking up your mat and walking! And he does. This shows the cooperation of our faith-full response and the mighty work of God..

Third, the religious elite will try to find anyway to disparage the work of God, as they call out a man who was miraculously healed for breaking the technicality of the the sabbath law!

And finally, the huge statement that stuck out to me wasJesus’ discussing the work of his Father. “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” I imagined that God said the following to me (and it was very timely): I am not done working in my world, so neither am I done working in and through you. Will you decide to join me today, my son?”

If this story exemplifies the work of God in the world (to the marginalized, sick, and oppressed), will we be like Jesus and work with our Father? How can you join God’s work around you today?

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