Sunday, December 29, 2019

First Sunday After Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 61:10—62:3              Ps 147    Galatians 3:23—25; 4:4—7               John 1:1—18

The Gospel of John begins with a sublime hymn about Jesus. It seems to be inspired by the first chapter of Genesis and echoes many of its themes—creation, light, darkness, light. Obviously, it begins with the same words, in the beginning, but John shifts from the act of God speaking to the Word.

Unlike the ancient philosophers, who also pondered the divine logos (Reason/plan which governs universe and gives meaning),  John provides no in depth speculation about the Word. Rather, he simply states what the Word is and does.

Before time, the Word is with God and the Word is God. The Word creates everything, so everything depends on Him for existence. While the mystery of the Divine Word can never be comprehended, it is still helpful to ponder. God existed before time and space, whatever that means, I cannot imagine it. However, with the act of speaking, God reveals Himself (the Word) and in the revelation is also the beginning of creation. The co-existence of God and the Word seems connected to creation. The Word is God, Himself,  creating, and then interacting with creation. There is great cost in this, for in time and space the eternity of God must be compressed and incomplete. God empties Himself and limits His power. In the Jewish Bible, we will read over and over that “the Word of the Lord came to” someone. The word of the Lord came to Abraham, Samuel, Solomon, Nathan, Elijah and other prophets. The later prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai and Zechariah use this phrase over and over. The verb becomes a noun: it doesn’t say (verb) that God said something, it says the Word (noun) came to them. I think this is what John seeks to impart to us today.

The Word is God’s Self communication. I think that the expression, “the word of the Lord came to me” is really speaking about the Word who was with God and Who is God. I think that Word is creator of all that is. I think that Word is the communicator of all God says to us--it is the Son, who is the fullness of the Father.

Now let’s be clear about the limits of the Word in time and space. Human languages are too small to capture the fullness of God. So the messages from God are limited by the human language which conveys them. Likewise, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us as the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, the limitations of human flesh are also real. God enters time and space, and it costs God dearly. The Eternal Word, Who is light and life, will come to His own, but they will not receive Him. The Glory of God in Him will be revealed on the cross. It is veiled from those who do not believe in every age. The Word of the Lord comes to those to Whom the Father sends Him. This is the foundation and the font of our faith.

In a time of growing darkness, I declare to you that Jesus is the light.

In an age which increasingly embraces death, I declare to you that Jesus is life.

In an age of agnostics and atheists, I declare to you that Jesus is God.

In an age which would silence Him, I declare to you that Jesus is the Eternal Word.

In an age where the church is more and more marginalized, I declare to you that all who believe in Him will be made the children of God.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Lessons and Carols (9:00)

genesis 3:8--19
genesis 22:15--18
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7; 11:1
Micah 5:2-4
Luke 2:1-20

Obviously, we have heard many words tonight, but I would like to briefly look at the five texts and their connection to Christmas.

We believe that God created humans to love and be loved by them. Love, to be love, must be freely given, so God gave humans freedom. He gave up His power and control and in a real sense handed power and control to humanity. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve exercised their freedom by rejecting God--Genesis 3 illustrates this as eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The sin is compounded by a lack of remorse, as Adam and Eve hide in fear. When God finds them, rather than  apologize, they blame others, including Adam blaming God. This rupture in the relationship creates a cursed world in need of redemption. Sin becomes worse and worse, leading to the Flood, when the world returns to the same watery chaos that existed in Genesis 1. God chooses a descendant of Noah, Abraham, as a vehicle of salvation for the world. We read tonight that Abraham's faith was tested, but he obeyed God. He loves God more than his son or himself, and God consecrates his obedience. "By your offspring shall all the nations gain blessings," and Jesus, a Son of Abraham, is that blessing.

Sinful humanity lives in the shadows, our minds and hearts darkened. We are so used to it, we fail to recognize it. God gives Israel the light of Torah and covenant, and our reading from Isaiah declares that the ultimate goal of redemption is all humanity. Jews and Gentiles are all to be God's people. Isaiah promises the Gentiles in Galilee will see a great light. Jesus' ministry many years later in Galilee is that light--He is the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the prince of peace. Jesus is the stump of Jesse--the true Davidic King of Judah. Micah, another prophet, declares that the one to rule Israel will be born in Bethlehem, the very place where Jesus is born. Micah promises that He will feed the flock. This promise is fulfilled in Jesus. But first, a bit of background. In Ezekiel 34 God declares judgement on the shepherds of Israel--the leaders who feed off the people but do not feed them. God declares that He will come down to shepherd the flock of Israel. The shepherds in the Gospel are a visual reminder of that promise, which is symbolized by Jesus being placed in a manger--a feeding trough. Later in the Gospel Jesus will take bread and wine and say, "Take, eat, This is my body. Drink, this is my blood." God's promise to feed His people is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus will be tempted in a garden like Adam and Eve but will be faithful. Unlike Isaac, Jesus will not escape His sacrificial death. Jesus will die in the dark for a sinful world, but with resurrection will come the light of life.

Tonight we declare that a savior is born who is Christ the Lord. It is easy to forget how sublime these words really are. Mary invites us to ponder in our heart the sacred mystery. The angels would have us join them in singing "Glory to God!" The shepherds are a model for the simple evangelism which shares with others this story of divine love in the incarnation.

God says, "I myself will come down and feed them." Tonight we are fed with the word of God and now we prepare to be fed by eucharist. God is faithful in loving us, we can choose to be faithful in loving Him.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Advent 3

ADVENT 3     Isaiah 35:1-10   James 5:7-10   Matthew 11:2-11

Salvation is a personal experience which unites us with God. While salvation is certainly personal, it is also communal because we are saved into the Body of Christ—the church. No one can be saved outside of the church because there is no parallel to membership in the People of God. Each of us is being saved from "the flesh," (The Holy Spirit uses our disciplines to delivers us from our dark side with its sinful desires), but God must also free us from the demonic and redeem us from the world.  

In Genesis 1, chaos pre-exists creation, and in the Noah story human sin results in a return to chaos. Humans are commanded to watch over the world and subdue it, but after the sin the world is cursed and nature is a source of blessings and adversity. The New Testaments introduces spiritual warfare with the demonic and Jesus calls Satan (John 14:33) the prince of this world. We inhabit the world and the environment is a key contributor to our wellbeing.

Isaiah 35 is a song about that worldly dimension of redemption. Human beings are impacted by politics and weather, diseases and relationships. Isaiah declares that God saves people by making a parched wilderness to teem with life. The Lord exhorts His people: "Be strong, do not fear." God will save His friends, and overthrow His enemies. The Lord will establish a highway for His people—but it will be holy, so the people cannot be unclean. His people will sing with joy as their maladies are healed.

God gives promises of salvation, but He rarely explain the step-by-step process. Jews had many different beliefs about salvation, and those who believed in a Messiah disagreed on who it would be and what he would do. In Matthew 3, John the Baptist had proclaimed that there was “one coming” after him who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. John expected him to come in judgement, to separate the wheat and burn the chaff. In chapter 11, John sits in prison and he apparently wondered if he had been right. John asks Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come?" Jesus' answer is not a straight yes or no. Rather, with a reference to Isaiah, Jesus emphasizes His healing ministry. Jesus concludes, “Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by Me." We do not know what John the Baptist thought, but what about us?

We may be scandalized by the healing ministry, or troubled that there are not more healings. Maybe we are scandalized that His kingdom has not come and that the world is not a better place. Maybe we are offended by the constraints of Christian morality or the expectation to help the poor. Maybe we like a Savior but not a Lord? Or maybe we are scandalized by the long wait for His return?

It’s been over 1900 years since James said, “be patient until the coming of the Lord.” James used the Greek word macrothymia three times. It means “to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes, troubles and offenses and not lose heart.” James also adds that the prophets are our model for suffering. The promise of suffering is one of Christianity’s least desirable qualities. Few churches in our culture advertise suffering as a benefit of membership…  

Many people have decided that Jesus is not the One, and they are looking elsewhere. It is our own state, however, for which we are responsible. As we wait for Jesus, we must be aware that in subtle ways we also might be paying Him lip service, while in reality our hearts serve other masters. That is part of our battle with the flesh.

God will deliver us from Satan and the World—and the suffering in the meantime will be real. In Advent we wait for Jesus, even as He tarries. The most important gift you will give this holiday season is your heart to Him. While we wait, we give ourselves to Him, who has given Himself to us (in word, sacrament and Spirit). The gift of theosis—saving union with God—is a process which we receive together, as a church.

maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

advent Sunday School

 Sunday School: Advent and Coming

Our adventure in life is the long, slow, difficult process of discovering and becoming our True Self in communion with Jesus Christ. We are made in the Image of God, but that image is distorted by a False Self. Our union with God makes us adopted children of God as He “becomes” human in us and we “share” in His life. If the Divine Son emptied Himself and took on our nature by becoming human, so we must also empty ourselves of the false self and fallen nature to receive the life of God. The Greek word for self-emptying is ‘kenosis.’ It is manifest in obedience and praise. It ultimately encompasses dying, which is at the heart of true love.

In the West, Christians often prefer juridical concepts—Jesus dies in our place so God imputes His righteousness onto us—or accounting images—Jesus pays our unpayable debt for sin. That achieved, we can go to heaven, which is understood as a good place, rather than the more biblical idea of the wedding union we find in both Testaments. This subtly makes our happiness the focus, which ironically reinforces “the passions.” Fulfilling my desires does make me happy, temporarily, and the passions center on my desires, not God. In spiritual marriage, the unitive process finds happiness in pleasing God (“not my will, but They will be done”). Through kenosis and theosis the passions are transformed and our will is conformed.

The Church Seasons bring us to focus upon our salvation. Advent, which means “coming,” is a translation of Parousia, a Greek word meaning coming or presence, and was a technical term for the appearance of an Imperial figure amidst the people to distribute justice. The center of Advent is Jesus.

Three Streams of Advent 

First, it begins with themes centered on the second coming of Christ and the consummation of all things, often in apocalyptic writings. We must maintain an awareness of the incompleteness of salvation. The final victory is not in question,  but the powers of this age are not completely vanquished. “Why do bad things happen?” is both a philosophical and an existential question. Darkness still prevails and the perfection/completeness of Kingdom mercy, healing and sanctification still awaits.

Second, we remember the reality of the incarnation. The birth of Jesus initiated the End Times. He has changed world history and revealed salvation history. The incarnation is vital for understanding theosis, and the historical ministry of Jesus is the model for church ministry.

Advent also reminds us that Christ is come among us (through the Spirit) in the church, in the Word and in the sacraments. He has come and gone, and He will come again, but He is present among us in a very real, though incomplete way. The Church is the Body of Christ, but faith must “activate” the potential power of God in our midst.

 Apocalyptic Writings

The written prophets, like Isaiah or Jeremiah, spoke God’s message to Israel. Let’s take a brief look at Isaiah 1:1-3 to discern the symbolic nature of language.

1.     Isaiah anthropomorphizes heaven and earth, asking them to“hear/listen.” It is an obvious metaphor to declare the import of the message, but it also reveals the binary cosmology, which invites all manner of reflection.

2.     Ox and ass—this negative comparison, a metaphor for rebellious Israel, has long been a staple of Christmas mangers, demonstrating how symbolic interpretations can unveil (or impose) a deeper meaning on a text.

3.     Isaiah continues using evocative language to describe Israel’s unbelief/infidelity and the consequences which produce hardships.

In the post exilic period we see a shift


While much of his prophecy is similarly “straightforward” as the prophets of old, there are increasing elements of a more radically symbolic nature at the beginning of the book. Four creatures in a storm wind. Figures like humans with four wings and four faces (human, lion, ox, eagle). There are multiple similes, trying to ground the incomprehensible in terrestrial reality. A symbol of Genesis 2? Ox+lion=earth, eagle=heaven, human=the bridge (Son saves by becoming human)


Chapter 7 (written in Aramaic, not Hebrew) has a great sea with beasts emerging, once again composite creatures and once more burning wheels. In chapter 8 there are rams with horns.

Revelation of John

This apocalyptic works borrows very heavily from the Jewish Bible, including the latter two prophets. Images of Heaven reflect the earthly temple in Kings. References are colorful and oftentimes baffling. The number seven figures very heavily in the text (as do 12’s and 10’s and their multiples), each having its symbolic meaning.

Revelation—"God’s Word came to me”—the unveiling of the mystery

God comes to us in time and space. The Eternal is poured into the temporal—human experience can never capture God, human language can never exhaust God’s Word—so there are hidden depths which become clear later. In the early church, historical events were called “partial” or “incomplete” fulfillment. The Greek word  πληρόω plēróō  (To make full, to fill up, to fill to the full; to complete; to consummate; to bring into effect; to accomplish, to bring into effect, to realize) is often used of events in reference to Scriptures. However, the Bible is more than mere predictions, rather it is a revelation of the Divine pattern of salvation and is applicable in different times and places. 
In Isaiah 7, the exasperated prophet tells the king “the young woman (Hebrew almah) is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings [Resin of Aram and Pekah of Israel who were threatening to invade Judah] you are in dread will be deserted.” Isaiah says to Ahaz—God is faithful, the threats of your enemy “will not stand” and “shall not come to pass.” Mt 2, quoting the Septuagint, connects this event to the Virgin Mary “Look the virgin (Parthenos) shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means God is with us. Matthew makes no reference to the rest of the Isaiah account, but He say that this fills up the word spoken by the Lord through the prophet. The birth of Jesus is to be seen in light of a prophecy to “the House of David” and Jesus’ status as a Son of David (Mt 1:1, 20) In addition, Isaiah announces salvation, a repeated pattern in the Bible: Israel sins, Israel is threatened, God saves. Jesus (Mt 1:21 “you shall name him Jesus for he will save his people from their sin) is the perfection and fullness of this salvation pattern present not just in Isaiah 7, but in all the Jewish Bible. Jesus “fully fills-up” the whole of Scripture, a message of God’s promise to save His people.

Symbolism and patterns

The “Salvation Narrative” is writ large in the history of the nations and small in the lives of individuals. For example, death and resurrection—see the man Joseph in Genesis, or the Hebrew nation in Exodus, or Israel in the exile—of which Jesus is the Grand Archetype. Biblical patterns are found in human literature and history. Jesus tells us that we must carry our cross, because that is reality—death before resurrection. It is true of the grain of wheat, and it is true for each of us. Salvation is a process of suffering, dying and rising. The Advent readings are not simply about past history or a yet to be realized apocalypse—it is also a model to understand our daily lives, here and now, under the authority of God’s word. It is not a code book to figure out the end of the world, it is actually the code for understanding the “end of [every] the age.”

Advent is incarnational. It is a time to hone the skills of watching and waiting and learn to “suffer in hope.” “How long, Oh Lord?" the Scriptures repeat over and over. In our age, Advent has been obliterated by Christmas, which now begins in late October. What was once a penitential season of conversion has devolved into endless weeks of “Christmas parties” and unfettered consumption. We cannot feel the emptiness because we are satiated, which dulls the mind. We cannot contemplate in the darkness because we inundated with the twinkling lights.

On Sunday our lectionary is Year A and sections of Isaiah and Matthew will be read each week. The Daily Office, Year 2 (even), offer Amos, Haggai and Zechariah for three weeks. The second reading will be Peter, Jude and then the Apocalypse. The Gospel will be Matthew. In the Fourth Week, as the focus shifts to the birth of the Messiah, we read Luke’s account and Paul’s letter to Titus. There are different Old Testament readings chosen for their connection to the Gospel. The purpose of the readings is to connect us to the three streams: the end of things and the birth of the Messiah, and the mystery of the presence of Jesus with us in the in-between time.

During the holidays we are warned of the physical cost of too much festive food and drink, but there is a spiritual threat as well. Both prophetic and apocalyptic unmask the human institutions which set themselves up as sufficient without God. They reveal a pattern which is manifest not only in our church and society, not only in the nations of the world, but also in the depth of each heart. The world provides its own value system and social forces are in place to ensure compliance. The demons whisper their temptations and blasphemies. Our human bodies demand that we provide for their desires. Our unhealed wounds provoke us to anger, despair and unfaithfulness. Jesus warns that a “DESOLATING SACRILEGE” will be set up in the Temple. Since we are the temple of God, then our personal desolating sacrilege is the False Self which supplants Jesus as the Image of God within us.

Advent is a time to do the work of faithful preparation for the Lord who has come and will come again, by engaging Him who is already among us. Enjoy the holiday season, yes, but not at the cost of all that Advent can offer.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Light, Advent 1

Isaiah 2:1-5
Ps 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

This is what Isaiah saw from God: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains.” This symbolic language points both to future times and the end of time. If we read these words in Christ, we can see why church Fathers claim the mountain is our Lord Jesus Himself, while the Lord’s house is the church. Clearly, Isaiah is referring to Mount Zion and the Temple, but the deeper meaning in Jesus is equally clear. Since 9/8/70, the earthly Temple is no more. God’s temple is in heaven, and it is manifest spiritually in the Body of Christ which is the church. In His earthly ministry, Jesus (Mt 12:6) had already said that there is something greater than the Temple here, in reference to the kingdom at work among His disciples. In Matthew 26:61 & 27:40, during the crucifixion the crowds mock Jesus and Jesus that He had said that He would destroy the temple and build it in three days. When Jesus dies, Matthew tells us an earth quake tears the temple veil in two—a literal apocalypse—unveiling the presence of God to humanity. The purpose of the temple is now completed by Jesus Christ and, by extension, His church. This is why Paul tells the Corinthians “you are the Temple of God and the Holy Spirit.”++ God is present in each of us and all of us.

The church is a sacrament of the New Jerusalem. We must hear Isaiah’s exhortation “Oh, House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” as the church’s vocation—to walk in light on His path.

There are two actions: “cast off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The deeds of darkness flow from the unholy desires of our false self. Our healing is incomplete—our wounds fester, doubt and fear weaken our love of God and others. The story of Eve, who gazes at the fruit of the tree and feels a strong craving, is our story as well. The forbidden still appeals. She forgets God and focuses on the hunger within and in the process (with Adam) ruins herself and her family. Eve is a model of the sinning church, even as Mary is the holy church. If the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, time and again she erects the Abomination of Desolation in the holy space.

What is the answer to the question, “Why did you sin?” Is it not always, “because I wanted to?” I desired, craved and lusted after the forbidden. This is the darkness of “the passions” which we must cast off in order to embrace the Light. Advent says “Christ has come, Christ is coming, Christ will come.” Our faith is that together we are Christ in the world, we are children of light. Let us cast off the deeds of darkness and live as light.


+In Mark 14:58 the accusation includes the claim “I will destroy this temple made with hands and in three days I will build another, not made with hands. It is John 2:19-21 which clarifies the mystery—Jesus said, “Destroy this temple [i.e., His body], and in three days I will raise it up.
++1 Corinthians 3:16 “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” and 6:19 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, which is from God within you?” 
+++in Genesis 3. Eve stops thinking of God and gazes at the fruit. The eye of her soul darkens as she craves what is forbidden. She loses trust in God and listens instead to a serpent and her own hunger for self-rule. Humans cast God out and the darkness results from the absence of God’s presence. Our epithymia (cravings/desires) become a root cause of social and personal problems.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

thanksgiving 2019

The Feast of Thanksgiving is literally a holiday of gratitude. It is a time dedicated to looking to the heavens and giving thanks and praise to the God who mysteriously provides. 

It is, I believe, a proof of creation that gratitude is actually something which benefits a human. Being thankful makes us physically and emotionally healthier. Gratitude is the acknowledgement that we are not the recipients of a blind process or accident. One cannot be grateful for something which was not given; we might be happy about it, or able to see we benefited from it---but good luck is not a gift. Good Luck is just an accident that worked out for our benefit.

If there is a Gift Giver, if life is somehow more than a series of blind, mechanistic events which are uncaring and unintentional, then gratitude does make sense. Thanks for what you have given me makes sense if it is actually addressed to a Someone.  

How then to nurture a gratitude attitude? If you are like me, you were taught to be thankful in a legalistic way. By this I mean there is a rule, often expressed in terms similar to these. Upon receipt of something my mom would say, "What do you say?" The prompt was a reminder that the expectation was to say "thank you." While this is a good thing and no doubt part of the learning process, I wonder if it was actually helpful. You see, comliance with an outward expectation is not always the best way to shape the heart. 

Perhaps we would do better to reflect upon the reaction to a gift. How does it feel to be cared about or singled out for a blessing? Do you recognize a grace? Do you experience the joy of an undeserved kindness? Do you understand that you are not entitled to everything you might want?

Perhaps inviting children to reflect on what is happening within them would be more to the point? Perhaps looking heavenward and reflecting upon the Invisible Giver would make saying thank you more natural. 

Fear and Doubt are constantly reminding us that bad things happen as well, and that todays good fortune will be overturned by less agreeable times. Gratitude and Trust, however, also have a voice. They say, even in the worst times, there is much to be thankful for. They say, even in the worst times, there is a gracious love which awaits us all. They say, I believe, so I thank.

Happy Thanksgiving   

Sunday, November 17, 2019

This is How it Goes...

Malachi 4:1-2a

Psalm 98

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Luke 21:5-19

Today’s Gospel is set in holy week. In chapter 19, Jesus prophetically enters the city on a donkey. He weeps because the people have failed to recognize Him, and He speaks of the coming doom. When Jesus cleanses the Temple—it is prophetic symbolism overturning the sacrificial system. He has multiple conflicts, culminating with the charge that the religious professionals are bilking the widows and pray for the sake of appearance. When Jesus sees a widow giving into the temple treasury, He announces that she has given more than the rich. I believe, He is also condemning the corruption of the religious institution.

When the people speak of the beauty of the Temple, Jesus counters that the Temple will be destroyed. In Christ, God has offered the way of salvation. In rejecting the Lord Jesus, they have embraced death. Jesus is God's Messiah sent to save Israel, and He will be crucified a few days later. Like the Temple, He will also be destroyed. He warns His disciples that they will suffer as well.

In April of 70 AD, as Jesus warned, the Roman army laid a siege around Jerusalem. (Ironically, within the city, warring factions of Jews actually fought and killed one another.) After four months, the walls were breached, and for eight days the Roman fought inside the city, slaughtering man, woman and child. The Temple was set on fire.  On September 8, the city was in ruins. The NT writes of the fall of Jerusalem in both prophetic and apocalyptic terms. Apocalyptic is a symbolic template unveiling human sin and God's justice. It is true in every age—not so much a prediction, but more a description of how the creation operates.  

This timeless message is found in the writings of the prophet Malachi. Today we hear God's response to those who complain that it is futile to serve God, and ask, “What’s the point?” Unexpectedly, it is an offer of Good News, “I will be a tender Father toward those who revere Me,” says the Lord. However, for those who reject His offer of salvation, “that day will be like an oven.” The image is important. The Hebrew word, tannur, is translated as fire pot, oven or furnace. This will be the last time it appears in the Old Testament. The first appearance provides insight. In Genesis 15, God plan for the salvation of the world begins with cutting a covenant with Abraham. The Scriptures speak of deep darkness and terror. Surprisingly, however, it is YHWH who passing through the divided parts of the sacrificed animal. In verse 17 tannur appears: “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts.” (Later, God will be revealed in a flaming bush.) Psalm 21 celebrates God's faithfulness to King David. In verse 9, we hear what this means for David’s enemies: “You burn them up like a fiery furnace when you appear, the Lord angrily devours them; the fire consumes them.” As Hebrews 12:29 says “our God is a consuming fire."  Malachi goes on to say that the unrighteousness shall be consumed as straw in a fire, but for the righteous it is a sun of victory which brings healing.

The sun is both a source of life and death—not enough or too much are equally deadly. This metaphor for the holy fire of God reminds us that when God comes it is both good news for His people and bad news for those who choose other gods. Each of us has been warned, and all of us have been offered the way of life. Choose well.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

end of the ages, end of an age

Job 19:23-27a

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Psalm 17:1-9

Luke 20:27-38

Sadducees did not believe in resurrection of the dead. Jesus does, but He says in “the age to come” that things will be very different, in this example there is no more marriage, because we will be the children of God. This life is only a preparation for something which is more angelic. Yet, is it not true even of this life, that there are stages and “ages” of development? In each new age, the world is turned upside down through a process of dying and rising.

“The age to come” is an apocalyptic term. It is a symbol which ‘unveils’ or ‘reveals’ reality. Apocalyptic reveals the “Grand Finale” of creation, but it also reminds us how each act will close out as well. Think of time as a cyclical wagon wheel. Like the seasons of the year—Spring-Summer-Fall-Winter. Each time it rolls around there is birth-life-death, and a new cycle emerges to continue the repeated pattern. Yet time is also linear, moving from the big bang of creation to the end of all things. That is because the wagon wheel only goes around and round, but as it does so it also carries us forward to the finish. Another apocalyptic term is the Greek word Parousia—presence, or coming, which was a technical term for the arrival of a Ruler or Judge. He came to execute justice, and his presence initiated a new age. Christians applied this secular political term to Jesus. They said Jesus is Lord (not Caesar) and the “Parousia/Coming & Presence” of Jesus begins the New Age.

This tension—Jesus has already come, Jesus is ruling among us but yet He is not here and is not ruling—can be confusing. Apparently, the Thessalonians were concerned that Jesus had returned but they were left out. Paul tells them that Jesus will not return until the Lawless One appears and sets himself up as God. At the end of time there will be a great apostacy led by antichrist, but on the wagon wheel of cyclical time the Lawless One takes many shapes and forms.

In 1 John 2:18-23 we read, “Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come.” He goes on to say, “The one who denies the Son is the liar; antichrist denies both Father and Son,” and that “sin is lawlessness.” 1 John 4:2-3 concludes that “the spirit of the antichrist…is already in the world.”

Every cycle of history is an age. In each there is a battle between the rule of the Christ and the apostacy of the antichrist. The lawless one stands ready to mislead people, or to persecute them. The most important revelation of apocalyptic literature is the call to be holy, to be brave and faithful. It is a reminder of what we hope and an exhortation to stand firm.

The Anticrhrist comes in many forms, more famously as Stalin, Hitler, or Mao—but equally so in our own political, educational and entertainment institutions, and most importantly within the church. The Lawless Ones, who reject Christ for some other good. The Lawless One is at work with our own minds and hearts. Apocalyptic is as big as the whole universe and as small as each one’s soul. Within each of us, Jesus battles with Satan for our heart.

Jesus has come, Jesus comes among us in the church, world and sacraments. In each case Satan and his worldly minions battle against Him. They are defeated, and that will be clear on the Last Day, in the beginning of the Ultimate New Age. Until then, be faithful. Be very brave. And pray with the early church: Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus

Sunday, October 20, 2019


Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
2 timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

The interactions of God with humans as recorded in the Jewish Scriptures is frequently expressed through sparse, though deeply symbolic narratives. The story of Jacob today is really more like an outline, and the depth of the symbolism packs these few words with a breadth of meaning to encompass human history. Of course, it  is set by a river, because rivers are fringes dividing one side from another. Crossing the river is dangerous and if its waters bring life they also bring death. Bodies of water are at the brink of chaos and are a simile for the (hostile) nations of the world. we are told that Jacob he divided his family into two troops in the hope come might survive if his brother is hostile. It is dark because it has to be dark. Being alone in the dark is required in such a story. Jacob encounters a man with whom he wrestles. we have no other information about the man, until we learn that Jacob says it is God. This brings Jesus into the story and hints of incarnation. The man is also a symbol of all the conflicts Jacob has had, not least with himself. 

Jacob was born clinging to his brother's heal--he was always a grasper. He manipulates the robust, though simpler Essau and later stole his brother’s blessing. Now he demands a blessing from the wrestler. He, like us, is hungry for blessing. He receives the blessing with a new name, Israel, "the one who struggles with God and man and prevails," but it comes at a cost. His hip is damaged and he leaves with a limp.

Jacob's story is also an outline of Israel's story. The nation, called the chosen people, receive the blessing, but their history is littered has been crippling pain. In our own day there are peoples which do not have Israel on their maps, and many of her neighbors would like to repeat what the Nazis did in the middle of the last century. If the brief story of Jacob and the wrestler are somewhat baffling, it also rings true.

The biographies of the saints report similar experiences. Those who love God most seem also to struggle and suffer greatly for it. Jesus does not make their lives easier or "better" as we would understand the word, yet He makes even the suffering worth it.

Jesus' life is helpful in reading of Jacob’s encounter with God. Jesus, the man who is also God, also stood beside a river. He was baptized by John and heard the Father say, “This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Next, alone in the desert, Jesus wrestles with demons and hunger, for six weeks. The Beloved Son will also wrestle with God and man upon the cross, suffering graver wounds than a dislocated hip. The Father loves the Son, yet there He hangs, crucified.

Jacob is refined son, preferring the life among tents. His brother vowed to kill him for what he had done. Forced to flee for his life, Jacob repeatedly experiences deception and abuse of others, culminating  in the  last great deception, the loss of Joseph. Salvation can be a long, painful process.

Modern conversion stories too often proclaim a prosperity Gospel message. They have no dark encounter with God, no wrestling for the blessing, and certainly no life altering wound. Yet Jesus makes it clear that faith is not for the faint of heart. Jesus says that we must pray day and night. The Father will hear us, but God is not at our beck and call. The Father’s love is a burning fire shaping us into our true self. He is not a soft God, nor can He be—our hard hearts require a hammer at times. Salvation is cruciform, like Jacob we must prepare to struggle and suffer for the blessing. Jesus says that a cross awaits us all. First the cross, then the tomb, and only at the breaking light of the new day comes life. We will receive our new name, but until then we must wrestle in the dark, we must pray, day and night, and we must never, ever, lose heart.


Sunday, October 6, 2019

More Faith

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Ps 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1'14
Luke 17:5-10

The most important thing in the world is that we are in union with God. Loving God and loving each other is the meaning of salvation and the purpose of life. Each week the Sacred Scriptures provide us insights into this salvation-union.

The Bible is absolutely honest about the human condition on a fallen earth. God is sometimes inscrutable, the heroes have flaws, and the people of God are frequently unfaithful. The Bible has no lack of books which ask hard questions and wrestle with God.

Habakkuk is a perfect example of this. The prophetic book begins with these words:  "How long must I call for help and you do not listen? Or cry out to you 'violence' and you do not save?" The prophet is disgusted by the corruption and disappointed with God.  God speaks to the prophet, declaring that judgement is coming in the form of the Babylonian invasion which will topple the holy city and all its institutions. Afterwards, Habakkuk again complains, declaring that things are actually worse under the Babylonians.  God exhorts Him to trust and endurance. Believe in My promise the Lord declares. Hope sustains us when our lives are unbearable. 

The spiritual practice of praying psalms provides us daily meditations on this difficult life of faith. Psalm 37, part of which we prayed today, is a particularly deep meditation on a world where all is not right, and the light of God is hidden in dark shadows. The underlying Hebrew can be paraphrased in our vernacular: "Chill out" says the Lord, life is a journey, and shalom, a peaceful heart, is the fruit of the spiritual practices: hope in God, do good, make Him your heart's center. It is an apt reminder that we spend too much time "worried about others and what they are getting away with." A huge part of saving faith is really believing-- God knows. God cares. I can trust God will make it all well.

Trusting anyone, even God, is hard. Our hearts are sick with doubt and fear. Like the disciples we say, "Lord increase our faith!" Like them we are confused by His words "if you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could uproot a tree." Based on that criteria, it seems I do not even have faith the size of a mustard seed, and I don't know anyone who does.....

But perhaps we are misunderstanding Him. Notice how He suddenly starts talking about how slaves should do their jobs and see themselves as slaves doing their job--not expecting the Master to gird Himself and serve them? Maybe real faith means loving Jesus, serving Jesus and focusing on Him not me. It means living a life of loving faith, not talking about trust and love.

One more thing, there are many subtle connections between the Gospels of John and Luke and here is another. In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus did in fact gird Himself and wash the disciples' feet. Jesus said you call me Master, because I am, but I serve you. Jesus says that the powerful of this world demand that slaves serve them, but I think that the rest of the story is if we understand our place then Jesus will do the same for us.

The Bible is clear
*the world is a tough place to live, for some it is very hard.
*God is faithful and He is saving the world, even  if you don't see it.
*we are not the first to ponder hard questions of faith, the Bible is full of them.
*we must forgive others, trust God and do good to receive salvation.
* we are servants of God, be humble and thankful.
* Jesus loves you more than you love Him.
*Chill in the Holy Spirit!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Helping the Poor (and the complexities of economic justice)

[9/29/19]  Amos 6:1, 4-7    Ps 146   1 Tim 6:6-19   Lk 16:19-31

Once again I recommend reading the book of Amos. Listen to God pour out His heart. Amos says God will judge the powerful because they are not grieved over the ruin of [Joseph] God’s People. The life styles of the rich and famous offends YHWH. Amos promises they will lose everything.

The Jewish prophets proclaim His word—trust God, love God, obey God and act justly. Prophets remind His people of the Torah and the offer of blessing and curse. The Jews believed that there will be a Judgement Day when God and His Messiah will rule the earth, but the prophets make clear that God acts already and the unjust societies will not stand. Amos declares doom for Israel, but also for the neighboring nations. God declares that they will fall for the evil they have done. Moral corruption produces a bitter fruit which poisons a nation. Nature and other people are potent weapons to lay low even the greatest nation. What was true then is still true today. We will reap what we sow.

This is why Amos is frightening. Trampling the poor is just an accepted part of the global economy. God despises injustice, and we live in a time where the gap between rich and poor has never been greater. It is not enough to virtue signal, as if talking about the sins of others somehow makes us good. We must repent, but economics is complex. Poor people aren’t always victims and the well-off are not always villains. Not so long ago a cobbler could sell shoes to his village and make a living. In our own time, Nike sells shoes to the world and makes $39 billion. Almost half the world’s nations have a lower GNP than NIKE. The scope of the problem takes away one's breath. 

Fortunately, Jesus makes the problem concrete and more manageable. The rich man is held responsible for ignoring Lazarus, who lay at his gate. He is not accused of ignoring the world, the nation, or even the city—just ignoring the one guy he sees each day. Jesus says, look around you and touch those who are in reach of your hand.

St. Andrew's outreach is simply that, reaching those whom we can touch. We support an orphanage in Haiti because otherwise those children would literally die in the streets, like Lazarus. We provide medical care for the working poor, support to the homeless, old and financially disabled. We help heal veterans of their war wounds and provide respite for families suffering with the effects of dementia. The bulk of our support is to agencies and ministries which daily face more need than they can supply, but have the expertise to make a difference.

We also experience that hands on ministry. Our phones ring every day. People who are hungry, under threat of eviction or having their utilities cut off turn to us, some of them regularly. It is sad because many of them work, and usually they are mothers with children but no other support. We know them. We pray with them. Lately we have had not funds, so we can only listen to them. We also grieve over the ruin of God’s people.

Sixteen hundred years ago St. Augustine preached a sermon on this topic: "We can understand that we have to give alms and that we must not really pick and choose to whom we give them, because we are unable to sift through people's hearts. When you give alms to all different types of people, then you will reach a few who deserve them. you are hospitable and you keep your house ready for strangers. Let in the unworthy, in case the worthy might be excluded. You cannot be a judge and sifter of hearts." (Ancient Church Commentary, Luke, p255)  

Jesus did not say whether Lazarus was deserving. 
Jesus didn’t explain why Lazarus ended up in that gutter.
Jesus did say that Lazarus laid in the street, dogs licked his wounds, and the rich man went to hell for ignoring him....

The Word of God we heard today:

Amos tells us to care about society and repent of materialism and indifference to the poor.
Jesus said to stop ignoring the needy within your reach.

We have been offered a share in the Kingdom of God, eternal peace, but the Kingdom is justice for all. The kingdom is in our midst. Those who love the Lord will serve the poor..

As I worked and reworked the homily for the last three weeks, the image of the village cobbler came to mind. It is easier to speak of fair wages and justice on the level of one man and one village. Thinking of shoe sales today, I ended up looking at NIKE which led me to further reflection on justice. A few days later down I pondered the social justice marketing around Colin Kaepernick. That gets really complex. The cobbler charging fair prices and providing a good product is fairly manageable. The multi-national shoe company which involves thousands of people and billions of dollars is not so easy. 
This timeline depicts Nike's revenue worldwide from 2005 to 2019. In 2019, Nike's global revenue amounted to about 39.1 billion U.S. dollars.

The issue of low wages and poor working conditions turned up in many articles, but there was also a question about whose standards apply? The moral ambiguities continue. Most of the Nike shoes which came up on the computer cost $150--$200, yet the workers reportedly make less than a living wage, only dollars a day. On the other hand, if the workers are poor, we hear from some, they were poorer before and now they have jobs. The clothing industry has generated a huge influx of jobs into the region which has created an economic boom. To further complicate it, Colin Kaepernick, with a net worth of $22 million in 2016, received a large cash settlement from the NFL and then signed a lucrative contract with Nike as a spokesman (both are in the $ millions). Some say he is an icon of a courageous man who lost everything speaking out for justice. Others think that he made out fine. Some ask “justice” for whom? What of the workers making dollars a day so that others make millions? How do you determine what each person should make? If spokesmen generate millions more in sales are they are worth millions more than the exchangeable humans who put the shoes together? However, divine economics declare that each human, exchangeable or not, deserves dignity. How does one construct a world economy where billions of people in very diverse situations are all treated fairly, when "what is enough" is not clear at all?

Jesus provides one option, until we can answer these big questions. Love the ones around you, the ones who you see and hear. Do something…  

Monday, September 23, 2019

loving the poor like you are one

Amos 8:4-7   +Psalm 113   +1 Tim 2:1-7   +Luke 16:1-13

Psalm 113 is a song of praise and revelation. We who pray it are identified as servants, which should govern our relationship with God.  Praise is “now and always” from “east to west”—always and everywhere—and God is transcendent. High above the nations! High above the heavens and earth. So we pray each Sunday: “Glory to God in the highest!” 

The transcendent God “stoops to behold” what is below. The Hebrew word, ‘shaphel’ [to humble, abase, or make oneself small] reminds us that God must “empty Himself” anytime He reaches out to us. Salvation is very concrete, He raises the "weak" out of the dust and lifts up the "poor" from the ashes*. The relationship of salvation and creation centers on the word ‘aphar/dust’ which is used in Genesis 2. God forms the 'adam from the 'aphar' so we can say He literally 'raised a man out of the dust.' As God makes us from inert particles, so will He also raise us from the ash heap of death. We are all included in the poor and needy because of our absolute dependence. 

God loves the poor, and this is echoed in Amos' preaching. The powerless are easily abused. Amos shares their fringe status because he is an unwelcome outsider from the Southern Kingdom of Judah who preaches his visions of doom to the powerful in the Northern Kingdom called Israel. Amos declares that “Divine Economics” centers on the value of every human life. When the rich get richer++ while the poor get poorer the Lord brings judgment. As the Virgin Mary** said, “[the Lord] has mercy…He has cast down the mighty…and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry…and the rich He has sent away empty.”

Jesus teaches us how to make money holy. His parable illustrates a devious and self centered man. Jesus wants us to be as clever serving God as he was serving himself. Jesus says, “Don’t only use money to makes friends for earthly needs, but use your wealth to make friends who will welcome us into a (skene) “tent” that lasts forever.

Back to Psalm 113.

Praise the Lord! Our Lord humbles Himself to see the needy and raise them up and make them His royal children (theosis!!).

Blessed is he who raises the poor out of the dust…
Blessed is she who befriends the needy…
Blessed are they who glorify God by blessing the weak…

For they shall dwell in the tents of the Lord forever.
You can never be too generous serving the Lord.

some references and things to ponder 

*[This same sentence (including sitting with princes) appears verbatum in the Canticle of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:8, which shares many features in common with the canticle of Mary (He has looked with favor on His lowly servant). God’s salvation is expressed in her miraculous pregnancy. Her son, Samuel, will be one of Israel’s greatest figures. Both women are poor and lowly, and each is a ‘barren’ women who becomes the happy mother of a son Ps 113:9. Their sons will be God’s act of lifting the poor out of the dust and ash heap!] 

++The issue of what to do about poverty, beyond personal generosity, is very challenging. In an earlier version of this sermon I actually looked at current income distribution in the USA. If you rank by income and divide the nation into five equal sized groups, currently the bottom 20% make 3.1% of the total wealth while the next makes 8.2%, and the next makes 14.3%. All three groups have a seen a significantly lower share compared to 1970, which is a very troubling trend. ++When the top twenty percent makes more than double what the bottom sixty percent does, one should listen to the words of Amos.
I do not know what the just answer is, though I do know that whatever we do, it will not solve the problems to everyone's satisfcation and it will generate new problems in the days ahead. 

Concerning reparations and income redistribution. If it were possible would it help change things longs term? We must remember that wealth is fluid and  can quickly be transfered through spending and saving practices. If we could redistribute all the wealth equally among our citizens, is there any doubt that in ten years we would see a similar pattern repeat itself? For example Sports Illustrated did a study which found that 80% of Football and 60% of basketball players are in some type of financial distress within a decade of leaving professional sports. In other words, it is possible to quickly spend hundreds of thousands, millions, even tens of millions of dollars--with nothing to show for it.
Even so, God's word will not allow us to do nothing. Therein lies the challenge. 


Income levels demonstrate the concentration of wealth. The obligation of the rich to the poor is made very clear in Scipture.

The top .1% ($2.7mill) 1% ($700,000) 5% ($300,000) 
10% ($118,000)

However, the reality is the cost of child care and their education, or medical care, or support of adult family members especially parents, can quickly consume even extremely high income. In addition, saving for retirement requires very large sums of money each year.