The Devil’s Test — Luke 4:1-13

The Devil’s Test — Mt 4:1-11// Lk 4:1-13 – Sunday February 14 2016

“Lead me not into temptation… I can find it myself” says one bumper sticker, pointing up temptation in the Lord’s prayer. Indeed, the three temptations of Jesus link closely with the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer we are called to pray and live by every day.

In the first temptation, (changing stones into bread) the Devil challenged the hungry Jesus to use his power and ability for Jesus’ own benefit.  Jesus refused this and the other temptations with quotations from Deuteronomy. One implication is that where ancient Israel had failed, Jesus here succeeded.  Jesus would only use his power and ability towards the goal that God had given to him – to devour God’s word, and benefit the people of God.

We face and fail such a test every day when we are tempted towards short term gains while ignoring the greater costs – to ourselves, or to others.  In using fossil fuels, it benefits us immediately and yet it is driving our descendants and the whole creation to destruction.

As a positive example, this week we remember Frederick Douglass (d. 1895).  He risked returning from sanctuary in England, risked being re-enslaved or being killed, to effectively urge Abraham Lincoln towards the emancipation of slaves.  Frederick Douglass cared more about serving God and others, than about personal survival and well-being.

We follow Jesus when we pray wholeheartedly the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”.   It is not a request for a free lunch; rather, it is a request to “Give us what we need to serve you, God, every day, and serve other people in your name.”

So the first temptation is about selfishness, about using our abilities solely for self interest.

In the second temptation, (that Jesus could have all the glory and power in the world if he worshiped the devil) Jesus is challenged to gain celebrity and influence through accepting authority or dominion from someone other than God.

Examples of this are the false prophets in ancient Israel, ready to sell themselves for material gain. This week (Feb 11, 2016) we had the trial of Reinhold Hanning, another Auschwitz death camp guard whose defense was that he was only following orders.  To save his own skin, he delivered 170,000 people to perish in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany.  For ourselves, in order to gain promotion, we may be tempted to find the way of least resistance, and agree to things we believe to be wrong.

We follow Jesus, however, when we pray wholeheartedly the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “May your kingdom come” – not someone else’s kingdom!

So the second temptation is about accepting authority or dominion from something or someone other than God.

In the third temptation (Jesus to throw himself down because he could make God’s angels save him):

(1)   Jesus was perhaps challenged to (ignore what is right and what is wrong and) conform to what was popular or to popular ideas of the kind of leader that people wanted.  The crowd would surely have loved it if Jesus forced angels to provide entertaining spectacles, such as surviving a fall from a high place!

As an illustration of this same principle, there is the phrase, that, “You are not your children’s friend; you are your children’s parent.”  Surely a true friend will speak the truth to a friend.  Doing what is right is not always popular.  We want to avoid conflict.  We want to avoid mentioning what is wrong in our context.  Look at the global financial disaster that has come from one bank after the next lending money to people who can never repay.  In a comparable way, for far too long, the church tolerated slavery or discrimination. We condone what is wrong for the sake of acceptance.

(2)  Furthermore, in this third temptation, the insistence that God can be implored to give us every success and made to preserve us from any ill comes close to a religion of positive thinking or the erroneous thinking of Christian Science. When we follow God’s will, things may not always be to our taste.  If our only intent is to follow God’s will, our path may be more like that of Jesus in Gethsemane (‘take this cup from me – yet thy will not my will be done’); or like the martyrs St Paul, St Peter, and St Stephen.  There may be hard parts, and they may endure to the end of our earthly lives.

We follow Jesus when we pray wholeheartedly the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “May your name be sanctified” – God’s name above all others.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is tempted specifically as ‘the son of God’.  In the Gospel of Luke (and Acts) generally, Luke describes the disciples as like Jesus, as like Mary, and as like us.  Luke describes Jesus as an example to us, an example which we are quite seriously meant to emulate.  So it is that Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to offer the petitions that God help us through the same temptations that Jesus faced:  “May your name be hallowed; may your kingdom come; give us each day our bread for subsistence.”

 

In doing these things, we will surely have to deal with a devilish level of unbelief and hostility, just as Jesus did.  But the Holy Spirit of God will be with us, to give us the words, to strengthen us and encourage us, until our job is done.  

When we stumble or fail, as we all do, we seek God’s forgiveness in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  We are required there to simultaneously forgive others also.

 

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Coming through suffering and shining — Luke 9 — Feb 7 2016

Lk 9:28-36

The transfigurations of Moses and Jesus point to the possibility of transcendence in our own lives and context, the other side of suffering within God’s grace. For Paul, this transcendence appears in our transformation into loving beings–within our human existence.

Our gospel reading (Lk 9:28-36) speaks of the transfiguration of Jesus.  I can think of other persons transformed:

> The first Sunday of February is the time of the Superbowl.  I think of Drew Brees, an accomplished quarterback. In his personal life, Brees was raised a Christian but stated that he only became committed at age 17 when he was at church with a torn ACL and was wondering who he was and what was his purpose in life. Brees was later faced other defeats such as being unwanted by the entire NFL in the 2001 Draft and later tearing his shoulder in 2005; however, Brees admits that these setbacks only strengthened his relationship with God. Brees spoke about his faith saying, “I live for God, for the faith that I have in Him. Knowing the sacrifices that Jesus Christ made on the cross for me and feeling like it’s in God’s hands, all I have to do is just give my best, commit the rest to Him. Everything else is taken care of. That takes the weight off anybody’s shoulders. It’s to give you confidence to know that you’ve got somebody looking out for you.”

On July 6, 2010, Brees released his first book, entitled Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity, co-authored by Chris Fabry and published by Tyndale.  Coming Back Stronger opened at number 3 on the nonfiction bestseller list of The New York Times.

Nevertheless, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, and after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, contributed significantly to building up educational opportunities for children in that city.  He has many more personal giving accolades, which are visible (as above) through Google or Wikipedia.

Drew rebuilt his physical health, and his football career; and went on to the Super Bowl in 2010, the quarterback for the winning team of The Saints of New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday 7 Feb 2010.

>I think of other people who have depended upon God’s grace as they journey through suffering.  We remember this week Absalom Jones, who was born a slave in 1746, learned to read by means of the New Testament, and through his very effective evangelism came to be known as the ‘Bishop’ of Afro American Episcopalians.  This week we also remember Fanny Crosby, a Methodist, blind at 8 years old, who became a prolific hymn writer including the renowned hymn Blessed Asssurance.  Desmond Tutu, Beyers Naude, Dorothy Day of the Catholic Workers movement; and of Florence Nightingale of nursing fame.

> Think of Martin Luther, almost 500 years ago now. He felt tormented within himself, yet he is taken to be the originator of the Reformation; or of Therese of Avila and Therese of Lisieux.  They are people who have depended upon God’s grace as they journey through suffering

>Think of St Augustine, further back in time – almost 1700 years ago now. In his book, “Confessions…” we read of his wayward early life, and then, as a bishop, of his continuing inner sense of ambiguity about himself. Yet he became one of the foremost exponents of the Christian faith in the history of the western Church.

>Think of St. Paul, who was probably responsible for the death of the first Christian martyr, St Stephen.  Despite self recrimination, many persecutions and a possible period of depression, yet he became one of the greatest Christian missionaries of all time.

> There are many such people of all kinds who have been through a process of transfiguration!  And to meet them, such people who have depended upon God’s grace as they journey through suffering, you find that they do glow with a kind of aura.

Luke’s gospel chapter 9 –and today’s reading of the Transfiguration–can be understood in the following ways:

First, by the words that Luke alone records of the dialogue between Moses the symbol of the law and Elijah that of the prophets.  Jesus discussed the greater purpose of his life (that is his crucifixion) with Moses and Elijah; and the significance of his coming death for the entire corpus of the law (Torah) and the prophets (Neviim).

Secondly, consider Acts which is the story of the church parallel to the life of Jesus.  It included the conversion of Paul.  By this book of Acts, Luke is saying we are all to live a life parallel to the life of Jesus as we are filled and guided by the Holy Spirit.

So (in Acts) Paul found the greater purpose of Paul’s own life — namely to serve Jesus the Christ rather than persecute him and his people. Paul was transformed from a cruel religious killer into the person that wrote the renowned 1st Corinthians chapter 13 — the more excellent way of love.

How much have we have allowed ourselves to be transformed?

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous have overcome alcoholism.

We have also a transfiguration right before our eyes in each baptism when the candidates receive citizenship under that only reign which has no end.

So let us focus in a new way this morning on Jesus Christ, God’s chosen; in the face of our sufferings, let us listen to him and be guided and transformed by God’s grace. This is the true Christian joy: that in a moment, we can start again. We can take that power and move into our week filled with the transfiguration of Gods power and guided by God’s spirit.

Amen

 

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Healing in Luke 4: Individual and Social

When we follow God’s call to cross boundaries carrying the healing grace of God, building bridges, we should not be surprised by rejection or suffering.  We are all made by God living in a world made by God.  God will see to the success of the divine Word.

Mahatma Gandhi has parallels to today’s Gospel account in one or more ways.  As a teenager in the 1960’s, I read Gandhi’s volume Satyagraha .  The book was slim and yet very deep. “[Satyagraha] translates roughly as ‘Truth-force.’ — or — ‘the force that is generated through adherence to Truth.’  Nowadays, it’s usually called non-violence. But for Gandhi, non-violence was the word for a different, broader concept-namely, ‘a way of life based on love and compassion.’  In Gandhi’s terminology, Satyagraha-Truth-force-was an outgrowth of nonviolence.”

At the time of his assassination, Gandhi was engaged in building bridges between Hindu India and Moslem Pakistan. “Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated in New Delhi on 30 January 1948. Nathuram Godse, a militant Hindu nationalist approached and [shot Gandhi] to death.  Prior to this, there had been five unsuccessful attempts to kill Gandhi, the first occurring in 1934”.

The statement “Physician, heal yourself” (Lk 4:23) would be a negative statement about Jesus’ work of healing.  The healing that Luke’s Jesus really wished to focus on in this Gospel reading is that healing which is reflected within two strands as follows:

(a) Firstly, the healing of those that suffer stanza from Isaiah 61.1f., quoted here in Lk 4:18-19, namely: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised;

(b) Secondly, the reference to the healing work of the Hebrew prophets’ (Elijah  and Elisha) among foreign nations (Lk 4:25-27).

By virtue of the reference to Elijah, Luke stated that Jesus’ healing work was to be transnational and in the tradition of the renowned prophets Elijah and Elisha.  That is, the vision of freed and healed individuals and society was not a limited to any one nation (like the ancient nation of Israel, or any modern country).  Rather, the vision of freed and healed individuals and societies included other nations  than Isreal.  Well any healing would have to be every healing.  Of course it would have to be, would it not?

This is further underscored by the following reconstruction of the dialogue between Luke’s characterization of the Jews and of Jesus.  Could Jesus be a recognized and acknowledged person locally in his immediate context?

  • Did they query whether Jesus was a loyal member of the local community? Jesus’ home was Nazareth; he was a Jewish figure, that followed Jewish customs (verse 16); and he was the son of and ordinary villager Joseph (verse 22).
  • Did they query whether Jesus abode by the law? Jesus had an encyclopedic knowledge of the scriptures, and quoted them (verse 17-19, 25-27). Once more caveat is that in Luke’s perspective, ‘the scriptures’ meant something different to Jesus than what they meant to the Jews.
  • The Jews of that time and place (verse 22) did not recognize in the arrival of Jesus the Messianic epoch of God (verse 23-24). Moreover, they railed against him (The Messiah) (verse 28-30).

Despite that, let us suppose for a moment that Jesus personally could be recognized and accepted in his local context. Even so, yet internationalism was opposed there and then.  Such opposition is not so far removed from us today. Internationalism is also opposed at our moment here and now, and truly at most times of human history.

There is an ambiguity in the initial acceptance of Jesus there in the synagogue of Nazareth; followed by the sudden rejection of Jesus by the congregation there. The turning point was the matter of God’s grace, divine approval, crossing out of their local boundaries: in a prophetic manner, going to people of other ethnic groups, of other socio-economic groups, to the disabled: crossing every boundary.

Like Jesus’ audience that day, we have the same problem.  All too often, we understand God’s ‘justice’ to mean, “Just Us.”  We want to be paid in large amounts, but we pay our workers in small amounts, and we give to God in small coins.  We definitely do not want to socialize with them.

We have to be careful lest in our own lives, it happens as it has world over for all time: We become embroiled in injustice. We act in accord with what God is against. To the contrary, as God was incarnate in Jesus, so God can be incarnate in us, in our own life with the Spirit.

There is suffering to be expected in building bridges and crossing boundaries carrying the love of God. 

Think of the Martyrs of Japan, remembered on February 5th in the Church Calendar.  I have read Shusaku Endo‘s acclaimed book Silence.  Here is the background to that novel. 

“The Japanese Shogunate and imperial government at first supported the [Roman] Catholic mission and the missionaries, thinking that they would reduce the power of the Buddhist monks, and help trade with Spain and Portugal. However, the Shogunate was also wary of colonialism, seeing that in the Philippines the Spanish had taken power after converting the population. [As from the time of St. Paul, over 1600 years before the Japanese] government increasingly saw Christians and missionaries as a threat, and started persecuting Christians. Christianity was banned and those Japanese who refused to abandon their Catholic faith were killed.

“On February 5, 1597, twenty-six Christians—six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese  Jesuits  and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys—were executed by  crucifixion  in  Nagasaki. These individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears.

“Persecution continued sporadically, breaking out again in 1613 and 1630. On September 10, 1622, 55 Christians were martyred in Nagasaki in what became known as the Great Genna Martyrdom. At this time Roman Catholicism was officially outlawed. The Church remained without clergy and theological teaching disintegrated until the arrival of missionaries in the nineteenth century.

“While there were many more martyrs, the first martyrs came to be especially revered, the most celebrated of whom was Paulo Miki. The Martyrs of Japan were canonized by the Catholic Church on June 8, 1862 by Blessed Pius IX and are listed on the calendar as Sts. Paul Miki and his Companions, commemorated on February 6. Originally this feast day was listed as Sts. Peter Baptist and Twenty-Five Companions, Martyrs, and commemorated on February 5.[1]

“Drawn from the oral histories of Japanese Catholic communities, Shusaku Endo‘s acclaimed novel Silence provides detailed accounts of the persecution of Christian communities and the suppression of the Church.”

When we follow God’s call to build bridges and cross boundaries with the healing grace of God, we should not be surprised by rejection or suffering.  It has always been costly and it always will be.  Yet we are God’s people, and God will see to the success of the divine Word. God will be our joy, our strength, and our ultimate celebration as we journey in faith.

(See Wikipedia on Mahatma Gandhi and the Martyrs of Japan)

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Fill My Cup — John 2:1-11 — January 17 2016

Is 62:1-5 (v. 4b) “Your (Jerusalem’s) land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her …”

Jn 2:1-11 (v. 11) “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Ps 36:5-10 (v. 7) “How precious is your steadfast love, O God!  All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”)

I Cor 12:1-11 (v. 4-6) “Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”  (v. 11) “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

When people are visited by some notable person it means a lot to them.  Examples may be the visit of a religious leader, a president, royalty, or a celebrity. When so visited, we may feel joyful, recognized, known, or significant.  This is especially true if we are suffering in some way.  

Comparably, during this time of the year we think of God visiting us in the incarnation of Jesus.  We recall his birth, his being a refugee in Egypt, boyhood, baptism, and here, we read of Jesus visiting a wedding.  He is amongst us in our ordinary life, as a friend of us sinners. It is a way we can see that God recognizes us, knows us, loves us, cares for us, and calls us by name.

EMPTY STONE JARS

Our New Year may contain some hard realities, similar to the stone jars which appear in our Gospel reading this morning.

–A scenario of possible war, worsening environmental issues, like earthquakes, drought, or floods.

School year:  Perhaps challenges may fill us with apprehension and dismay.

–Working year: whether we will have a job; wonder about how to deal with finance and other matters connected with retirement; wonder about the significance of our work; wonder about how happy we are in our work; wonder about whether this work is really what we should be doing; or wonder about relationships in our place of work. 

            –Relational issues, including marriage, children, parents or bereavement.  Will the correct decisions be made?  How will they be paid for? 

            –Finances:  Over-commitments from before, compounded by the high expenses ahead 

These hard issues could all be personal or organizational.

 

RESURRECTION AND PREMIER QUALITY WINE

In our gospel reading, there is the replacement of the water in the stone jars by the wine of Jesus. 

The gospel reading’s allusion to our lives is this:  That in our human life we have reached the point that we have nothing which satisfies us.  With the arrival of the messianic wedding feast, that is, the arrival of Jesus time in our lives, all becomes the choicest of wines and that in overwhelming abundance.  

Like the disciples, we were called individually and we followed: now we see ever greater signs (1:50-51) of his messianic power in our lives.

In this gospel, through Jesus, we become clear about the purpose of our own creation (1:1f). Following 1 Cor 12:1-11, through Jesus, we become clear about the individual gifts and contribution of each person.

How do these things emerge and take place?  They emerge and occur through doing whatever he tells us to do (2:5), just as Jesus does what God tells him to do, and says what God tells him to say.   Martin Luther King is a great modern example of someone doing what Jesus told him to do and say.

In the Gospel of John, a few of the things that Jesus tells us to do are these:  Believe in me; receive Holy Communion (John 6); take care of one another (in the last supper).

We do whatever he tells us to amidst the realities of our own failures, be they small or great.  In and for this, we (like the woman/ Mary/ Eve) receive (ch. 19) the broken body of Jesus himself.

We have resources for the uncertainties and stone jar realities of year ahead.  These resources are like rich, high quality wine.  These resources include the following:

–The person of Jesus–his glory—and our belief in him.  As an individual, we can and do rest in him, and have confidence in him.

–knowing what he wants through regular prayer and meditation on the word of God.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together p. 71) said “The prayer of the morning will determine the day.”

— our community of faith, as beloved of Jesus Christ and resource for the God’s mission to the world through Jesus.

–the specific relationships in our lives.  Even Abraham Lincoln and Frederic Douglass “understood that former enemies may become future friends and vice versa…. In order to achieve transformation, they needed to forgive their former enemies of wrongdoing and credit them with the potential for change” (John Stauffer Giants p. 292).

–the resource of forward orientation: believing, knowing, and expecting that ‘the best is yet to come.’  God is busy in our lives and in history with things beyond comprehension.  Isa 62:11 See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him and his recompense before him.

Like M. L. King, moving forward, instead of being gripped by sadness or anxiety, we can dream and work and “sing a new song” (Ps 96:1).  We rejoice because we “shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of God” (Isa 62:1-5).

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God’s dream for you — Mt 2 — Jan 3 2016

GOD’S DREAM FOR YOU

THE LONELINESS OF EXILE

The 2nd chapter of Matthew’s gospel contains a short account of high drama.  We read of the visit of a number of wise notables (magi) from the East (Iraq, probably).  They visited Bethlehem to welcome the astronomically marked advent of the infant Jesus (Mt 2:1-12).

In today’s reading (Mt 2:13-15, 19-23), Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus flee to Egypt to escape from the murderous ferocity of Herod.  We have the picture of Jesus as an exile and as a refugee – perhaps for about 11 years.  Through the news today, we are again acquainted with the painful picture of refugees, for example, from the civil wars of Syria and Southern Sudan.

In our gospel and Jeremiah 31:7-14 there are matters which are independently affirmed in history, including Herod, Archelaus, and at that time the astronomical phenomena e.g. of two planets coinciding.

Also, many Israelites or Jews went into exile (e.g. to Egypt) and returned, at times, for different reasons.  History shows that exactly the same thing then occurred with another religious group — the Qumran (religious) community.  Just like the Holy Family, the Qumran community also fled to the safety of Egypt to escape Herod’s efforts to stamp out any talk of a Jewish messiah.  When Herod died in 4 BC, the Qumran community returned, just as this Gospel reading today says that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned at that same time.

We read here of Joseph’s dreams.  There are songs (like that of Frank Sinatra) exalting ‘doing it my way’, or ‘my dream’.  In January 2016 we have about a dozen people who dream of becoming something great, the president of the United States.  They have put everything on the line for achieving their dream.  Yet only one will achieve that goal.  And even the chosen among people may end up experiencing suffering more than exulting.

From the greatest to the least of people, surely all experience some level of disillusion.  Perhaps you also at some time have experienced loss, alienation, loneliness, or mourning.

To flee to Egypt was not Joseph’s dream future.  To be an exile wasn’t Joseph’s preferred way.  But Joseph, the husband of Mary, responded to God’s dream… and took Jesus and Mary (and the donkey?) to hide in Egypt.

CALLED OUT OF EXILE

As Matthew regularly did, we have here his quotation of the Hebrew Scriptures.  It refers to Hosea 11:1, which reads, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”

Of course, an essential part — the most critical part — of the history of Israel was its captivity in Egypt, God’s call through Moses, and the Exodus from Egypt.  So then, we see here Jesus as repeating and epitomizing Israel and its history.  Not only does the history of Israel lead up to Jesus, but Jesus sums up the history of Israel, or is a lens through which all that history can be viewed or understood.

We can also see the history of Israel as preparing our minds to comprehend what took place in “the Jesus event” — his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension; and in the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, Egypt can be understood as a place of slavery.  So then, in this birth story of Jesus, he becomes acquainted with the (Egyptian) exile and slavery of the people of Israel, or the experience of slavery of any person, or the slavery of all people to sin, or addiction.

So there re layers of depth to Matthew’s quote from the prophet Hosea,  “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”  As God called Israel so God calls Jesus out of exile, and towards his mission and destiny — and surely, so God calls us too.

CALLED TO MISSION AND OUR DESTINY

Such elements of exile, alienation, or God’s call are repeatedly visible in the other readings we have for today.  In Jeremiah 31:7-14, the loving call of God is predicted to draw the “remnant” of Israel from the farthest parts (where they have been in forced exile).  Then we have that lovely Psalm 84:  “One day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room.”  We are called out of isolation and into a community of worship of God.   In Eph 1:3-19a, God ‘adopts’ Gentiles and draws them together with Jews as one people.  Further on in Ephesians, the entire creation is drawn and held together as one unit through Jesus Christ – something represented in the single cup of the Eucharist.

Our collect prays to God, “who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature, in sending Jesus to share our human nature.”  On Jan 1 we have the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.  This is a good time to think about our name by which God calls us and God’s dream for us in the year ahead.

All of those people knew what it was to be exiled, to be called, to respond, be restored, and sent.  These are matters which are repeatedly visible in the history of Israel, in world history, and in our personal history also.  So surely they can be predicted to be true in our present and future experience. Thinking of the American philosopher John Dewey, that is akin to the scientific method, isn’t it?

God’s love calls us out of a nightmare (so Michael Curry) of sin or out of exile.  As we respond in faith, God’s love restores us so that we can stand before God with dignity and joy.  God’s love unites us in harmony with others and the whole creation.

As with all those people, God’s love sets us too on the road towards the divine dream for us, towards our true mission and destiny.  Towards that divine dream and vision, we arise and shine with the glory of Epiphany.

In prayer seek God’s dream for you this week and year.  It may not be easy (that ‘cup’ again).  Did anyone ever find it easy? But you are not alone and there could be no more glorious journey and outcome for you and others.

 

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Discovering your Destiny — Lk 1:39-55 — Dec 20, 2015

Victor Havel once said, “The real test of a [person] is not when [they] play the role that [they] want for themselves, but when [they] play the role that destiny has for [them].”

In our gospel reading, there is a double mention of the child “leaping” in the womb of Elizabeth (Lk 1:41, 44).  We can think of athletes leaping with joy in their victory.  We can think of an audience of a great piece of music leaping up to applaud.  This had occurred before in the Bible, when the twins born of Rebecca (Gen 25:22) leaped in her womb.  That leap symbolized the role each developing fetus was destined to play in the history of Israel. Each of us is also destined to play a role in God’s unfolding history of the earth.

In Luke chapter 1 we learn that Mary is to be the mother of Jesus.  This was an event eerily forecast with detailed accuracy hundreds of years before, in the prophet Micah 5:2-5a.  Mary’s song is called the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55).  Mary’s song is like the song of Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1-10.  Hannah was to be the mother of the great judge of Israel, Samuel.

In the Magnificat, Mary describes herself as ‘favored’.  She speaks of her ‘delight’.  In Luke’s Gospel we have the central role of women, of poor people, and of the role of the Holy Spirit.  We have the themes of the joy of the new era of Jesus that is dawning, and of the journey of faith.  All these are features and themes of Luke’s Gospel which we will visit in Sundays to come.

Look at the conclusion to the Magnificat (v 54-55).  Through this song, Mary recognizes that salvation is to come through the journey of Jesus through life, death and resurrection. The divine salvation (or rescue) “Is related to the covenant made by God with Abraham of old.  The nation of Israel, God’s Servant, is recalled, as are the patriarchs.  The remnant of Israel is to have a new meaning. ”  Through, Jesus, the long history of God’s rescue will take God’s promises to Abraham, and spread and extend those promises onward to others, to Gentiles like you and me (Fitzmyer, AB v. 28, p. 361).

The leaping of the child in the womb is then of two aspects of one thing: firstly, of participating in what God has destined, and secondly, of joy in doing that.

Abraham, Sara, Rebecca, Hannah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph are all offered here as examples of what it is to participate in what God has destined.

Let us think about just one of those persons, Abraham alone:  He was a refugee or migrant in the Middle East.  His journey included Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt.  It was a time which was full of many tensions.  He and his wife Sara felt at times that their lives were futile.  They sometimes followed their faith and sometimes doubted their faith.  At moments, Abraham had a failure of nerve.  And yet Abraham and Sara participated “in the role that destiny had for them”.  Through Jesus, we Gentiles are also included in the family and in the destiny of Abraham. 

I understand that Massachusetts is one of the five USA states that has so far agreed to receive Syrian refugees.   Think of Mary, Joseph and Jesus; Abraham and Sara; St Peter and Paul; and so many others in the Bible.  They were all refugees, or migrants.  Let’s welcome the stranger this Christmas.

Like Abraham of old and the Middle Eastern refugees we see today, at time we may feel futile, doubtful, and have failures of nerve. On Monday December 21st we remember “Doubting Thomas” who became the greatest worshiper of Jesus the Christ.  By tradition, he took the Gospel to India.

At the start I mentioned Havel who encouraged us to play the part destined for us, which comes from God.  Despite the limited nature of our faith and obedience, our open hearts to God will leap with joy as we trust God and walk with God.  We will be filled with joy as God accomplishes the divine destiny that is in our lives, journey, and story. 

 

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Divine Joy is Our Strength — Zeph 3:14-20 — Dec 13, 2015

 

This week (ending 13 December 2015) I watched the TV personality Steve Harvey interview a young person struggling to find a job.  She said that she had put in 800 applications:  and that for her to find a job was a job in itself!  Steve Harvey said to her that his own motto for his evident success was this:  Although he had been through many difficult times, he always made it a priority to keep a positive attitude.  (Fortunately, that young woman he was talking to did get a job, just a few minutes after the discussion between the two of them.)

Jeremiah 8:10 (and John 15:11, and Ps 5:11) says that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  In both cases (the contemporaries Jeremiah, and our prophetic reading today, Zephaniah 3:14-20) God’s strength enabled those two prophets to bear their testimony in a difficult and contrary period.  Today’s Canticle (Isaiah 12:2-6) also comes from the same period:  “Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.”

Our Zephaniah reading has a tremendously positive tone to it.  But this selection from the book of Zephaniah comes after a woeful couple of chapters before it.  The woeful part and the positive ending both fit in with a particular historical setting:  That of a declining nation of Israel just before the reforms of King Josiah.   The joy of the Lord was the strength of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Amos, Isaiah, and also (later on) John the Baptist (Luke 3:18).

Joy is the theme of the third Sunday of Advent: particularly, the joy of the Shepherds.

This echo of the joy of the Lord being our strength in times of difficulty appears again in Church History: for we remember St Ambrose about this time (Dec 7th).  Ambrose gave his wealth to the poor and wrote a number of (perhaps 20) hymns that are still in our hymnal (after 1600 years), particularly the world famous canticle, Te Deum, which we read weekly at Morning Prayer.  

Ambrose became the Bishop of Milan by acclamation; he converted the great Augustine; he was very influential in community affairs; and he died in 397 AD/ CE. He is called one of the great four Latin doctors of the church.

As it was for all of those people – Steve Harvey, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Amos, Jeremiah, John the Baptist and St Ambrose – so too the joy of the Lord can be your strength and my strength.  This is very relevant in this time when there are so many fears and anxieties that swirl around us in violence and in the decline of the atmosphere (climate change).  The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Just as we may borrow from God’s faith when our faith is too small, borrow from God’s forgiveness when our forgiveness is too little, so we may borrow from God’s joy when our joy is lacking.  Approaching the crucifixion, the ‘Suffering Servant’ Jesus himself was strengthened by the joy or satisfaction that lay before him (Isa 53:11).

As we journey through Lent, we journey through life strengthened by the joy of the Lord, and it enables us to continue to act in faith and in joy.

Let’s read Ambrose’s hymn, the Te Deum together.  Let’s appreciate again the great wonder that resonates in these words which are so fitting for the season of Advent:

Canticle 21    You are God   Te Deum laudamus (Book of Common Prayer page 95)

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord; we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you;
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not shun the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting

 

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Prepare the Way — Luke 3:1-6 — Dec 6, 2015 — Julie Butcher

Prepare the Way

Luke 3:1-6

by Julie Butcher

December 6, 2015

 

Are you prepared for Christmas? There’s the hustle and bustle of lugging the boxes of decorations out of the attic, putting up the tree, hanging the garland, the lights, the wreaths, the Elf on the shelf, the shopping – what to get for everyone on your list. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? “Mom, Dad, when is Santa coming, is it almost time? I’ve been good – I hope Santa brings me everything I asked for!” No pressure there!

Are you prepared for Christmas? – For the birth of the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ? In Luke’s Gospel, the Word of God comes to John in the wilderness and without hesitation, John “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke: 3: 3-6)

John, the son of Zechariah and Mary’s Cousin, Elizabeth; John, who leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, came to visit, now, a grown man, was hanging out in the wilderness (I’m not sure what that wilderness was, maybe the desert?). He wore clothes made of Camel’s hair (itchy) and a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts (yum) and wild honey (sounds a bit like a wild man). And, the Word of God came to John – Luke doesn’t tell us what the word of God was. But, John went right into “all the region of Jordan” crying, “Prepare the way! The Lord is coming! Get ready!”

In the next couple of verses, the people ask John, “What do we do? How do we get ready for the coming of the Lord?” And John says, “The one with two shirts must share with one who has none, and anyone who has food must do the same (3:10-12). And, the tax collectors asked, “What are we to do?” And, he tells them, “Exact no more than the assessment” – take no more than is owed. The soldiers asked, “What about us, what should we do?” And he said, “No bullying; don’t blackmail; be satisfied with your pay!”  (Luke 3: 10-14)

Are you prepared for Christmas? For the coming of the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ? When the people asked John what they should do to prepare, he speaks of justice: if you have two shirts, share one; if you have food, do likewise; take no more than what is owed; don’t bully, don’t blackmail; be happy with what you have.

Last Sunday, Father John spoke a message of personal justice. He told us that in the midst of whatever difficulty we are dealing with, Jesus said to “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28).   “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Don’t worry be happy!, as our Presiding Bishop would say.

This week, St. John proclaims a message of social justice. Justice – there is so much injustice in the world. Refugees are fleeing their homes by the millions to escape being tortured and slaughtered, people are hungry, homeless, and addicted to drugs and alcohol. We live in a world wracked by religious intolerance, discrimination, and the slow destruction of our planet. In October, there was the shooting in Roseburg, Oregon that left 10 people dead and seven wounded. Last week, 3 people were killed and 9 others wounded, 5 of which were police officers, in Colorado Springs. This week, in San Bernardino 14 people were killed and more than a dozen were wounded by a husband and wife team of home-grown, radicalized terrorists. A few weeks ago, in Paris, terrorists killed 130 people and wounded 368. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of what is happening in the Middle East and Africa, and around the world.

It’s overwhelming. How do we heed John’s proclamation to prepare the way, to make our hearts and minds ready for the coming of Christ? Jesus said, “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!” In today’s reading from Baruch, we are told to let go of our “sorrow and distress – to put on the beauty and glory from God.” How is that possible? What do we do?

Pray. Take time to pray. Pray alone in your room, pray together with someone else or in a group, take time for personal reflection – of what do you need to repent, what needs to change in your life? Use a daily meditation, like Forward Day by Day or the Advent meditation booklets that are at the back of the church. Coming from a place of prayer and reflection, we can discern what injustice troubles us the most and choose one. Because if you try to do more than that, you can become paralyzed with sadness and an inability to do anything. From a place of prayer and centeredness, you can tell others what you believe about whatever injustice it is that weighs heavy on your heart. It may be that your words, spoken from the heart, will touch another person’s heart, and they will be inspired to join with you in prayer and action.

In an article “5 Ways to Fight Injustice,” Jen Avellaneda (Aveshaneda) lists 5 reasons why speaking out against injustice is Biblical missional living:

  1. Jesus came to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering sight to the blind and giving liberty to those oppressed. (Luke 4:18-19)
  2. Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. (Psalm 83:20)
  3. Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)
  4. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. (Jer 22:3)
  5. We are called in love to…Open our mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open our mouth, judge righteously; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9)

Then she lists 5 ways to use your voice to advocate for others:

  1. Take the time to vote. We are blessed with the right to have a say in our community on political, legal, and social issues.
  2. Be a volunteer Guardian Ad Litem, advocating in the court for foster children, the abused, or the oppressed.
  3. Write letters to congressmen and women and/or senators helping them be aware of injustices taking place.
  4. Go to city council or neighborhood meetings; offering support, advocacy, and encouragement to officials and community leaders.
  5. Start a prayer group, petitioning the God of justice for healing in homes, hearts, and communities.

After all, if we were imprisoned for our faith, suffering abuse, bound by the oppression of a dictating government, [or fleeing for our lives]….wouldn’t we want someone to do something?

Are you prepared for Christmas? – For the birth of the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ? For John “went into all the region around the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke: 3: 3-6)

The Lord is coming! Get ready! Straighten up! Prepare the way! We will see the salvation God!

In the name of God, Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.

Peace and Blessings,

Julie

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The Fertile Wilderness — Lk 3:1-6 — 6 December 2015

Discovering our call in the fertile wilderness

In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord (Lk 3:1-6)

THE WILDERNESS AS A PLACE OF PREPARATION

The Second Sunday of the season of Advent (or, of Coming) is devoted to those prophesying and announcing the coming (reign of) God.  Leading examples are the prophets like Isa 40 and Malachi 3:1-5; and particularly John the Baptist.

In the Gospel of St Luke, John the Baptist is one of the exemplars of the life of faith. We are urged to be like them.  Like them, our journey of faith is a difficult journey through a ‘wilderness’.  However tough our life journey may be, it is one which is guided and accompanied by God, and which eventually ends with fulfillment and joy.

The Hebrew of the text in Isaiah 40:3 says (not a futile voice crying in the wilderness, but rather this:) “A voice crying: In the wilderness PREPARE the way of the Lord…”  When and where God calls or sends us, we are not alone.  Neither is our work or waiting futile.  Rather, God guides us, accompanies us, and provides for us on that journey.  That journey may take time – even generations; yet we will see its fruit and we will be glad.

A HIGHWAY IN THE WILDERNESS — HANDEL

Handel knew how God could produce triumph through a wilderness journey.  Handel’s popularity collapsed in 1728, when he was forty-three years old.  For nine years, he struggled to regain his public, in vain; and then suffered a stroke.

At 52 years of age, the doctors told him he would live out his life as an invalid.  So Handel’s life was in chaos, and he was deeply in debt.

At this very despairing moment in the summer of 1741 at a convent, he mysteriously recovered his ability to play; and then received an invitation to write an oratorio for a charity concert in Dublin.

On one evening, those near him saw tears streaming down the composer’s cheeks.  The music on the table before him was the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  He completed the entire “Messiah” on September 14, only 23 days after he began.  “I think,” he said, “that God has visited me.”

In the succeeding 200 years “Messiah” has been sung everywhere.  The Messiah, the music born in Handel’s time in a wilderness, and which Handel gave away, became a household word.  God can produce triumph through a wilderness journey.

A HIGHWAY IN THE WILDERNESS

Like Handel or John the Baptist, any of us may feel that we have failed in our work, that our health has failed, that we are in debt, or don’t know where to go next. We may feel in a certain kind of desert.

Yet the “wilderness” in our reading (as with the “chaos” in Gen 1:2) refers to the creation.  It does not signify destruction or desolation, but rather, something creative, or full of energy.

In Isaiah 40:3, “highway” means the good highway system in Babylon, which the Jews knew when they were in exile there and then.  The return of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem would involve a trip across the desert.  So through Isaiah, God calls to the people of God to prepare for the journey over a divine highway, through a creative wilderness, to return home.

A VOICE CRYING

So in Isaiah 40:3, we can see that When and where God calls or sends us, we are not alone.  Neither is our work or waiting futile.  Rather, God guides us, accompanies us, and provides for us on that journey.  That journey may take time – perhaps immediate or very short as for John the Baptist; perhaps generations as for Isaiah and Malachi.  Yet we will see the fruit of that journey with God and we will be glad. 

By means of God’s highway, our personal wilderness is drawn into God’s sovereign purpose.  Let us not reject the confusion and chaos of our individual wilderness, which is not destructive, but rather, a creative source of energy.  Let us accept that wilderness as a gift, and explore that gift.  As we pray for God’s guidance, so, through the wilderness a highway emerges, which takes us to our destiny. Amen.

 

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Surviving Disaster and Triumphing — Lk 21:28-36 — 29 Nov 2015

“Look Up”: When our world ends … a new world of light begins

 

THE MOMENT OF FEAR AND DESPERATION

Imagine that you are on a ship travelling through the Pacific Ocean, sleeping in your cabin at 4:30 a.m. – then there is a loud blast as a boiler explodes in the engine room below.   Six hours later you, with three or four other living beings are on a lifeboat.  You are the only survivors of that ship, now sunken. This is the harrowing description at the center of over seven months as a castaway on the high seas in Yann Martel’s book, The Life of Pi.

Similarly, the story of an ocean journey through danger towards rescue is also the subject of Noah’s Ark; also, an ark or ship is a symbol of the church; and again, a ship is also linked to the architectural design of the church, in which the main seating area is called the “Nave” which means boat.

At some moments, like that castaway Pi, we may feel like we too are survivors in a lifeboat with little or nothing left.   We don’t know when the whole world will end, but we do all know of times when our personal world ended.  We might have lost a child, lost a partner, lost our health, or lost our job.  We were scared to death.  Indeed, doesn’t fear threaten the whole world at this time?

The month ahead is December, of course.  In the northern hemisphere it is the darkest month, and the beginning of winter.  At times we may wonder: Are we fading to loneliness, to cold, and to darkness?  Often we bring the disaster on ourselves; we are our own greatest enemy: it is as if we are trapped with a tiger, and the tiger is us!

 

THE STRUGGLE

The motif of life as a difficult journey or struggle stretches from the beginning to the end of the scriptures.  With the Psalmist, and most people of faith in their grueling journey, we too can cry out, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul: my God, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 25:1-2).

We don’t have complete choice or control when or how our health, life, or world will unfold or end.  Yet can choose our response to situations.  In each hour, we can at least turn our attention away from despair and towards hope.

This fits with the ‘struggle’, or ‘journey’ towards hope not only of the castaway Pi, but also of people we remember in the history and Calendar of the Church.  You can ‘Google’ them!

Think of St. Paul who came through two stonings, shipwrecks, floggings, imprisonments, and even depression to continue to set forth the Gospel.

Around this time of year, we also remember Clement of Alexandria (210 AD) who struggled to establish in Christian thought and ethics the right use of material goods (rather than their renunciation).

Nicholas of Damascus (760 AD) struggled towards the hope of embracing the positive use of the human form in the art and icons in the Christian church.  This had a tremendous impact upon art throughout the world.

Francis Xavier (d. 1552 AD) struggled towards the hope of an effective mission to the Far East.

Similarly, each of us in our lives and journey, at home, in our personal life, in minimizing our use of fossil fuels, and in our work or calling all engage with a struggle to set forth the Good News.

 

THE ABIDING HOPE AND EXPECTATION

Everyone struggles in this life.  During this Advent we may be dealing with some very difficult realities.  Like the castaway Pi, we may have to release some things–or all things.

Yet every ending gives way to a new beginning.  We may actively expect the Advent (coming) of a new beginning. We have to learn new things, not simply cling to the past. We can look up, and lift up our heads.  We never give up on the hope and expectation of God’s rule.  In a bolt of lightning, in the unfurling of a flower, in the unfolding of history, we can sense, see, and perceive the coming of God’s rule.  We will see it certainly, at the end of our personal lives, in the Christian hope of the resurrection.  Then again, we will see the consummation of God’s rule at the conclusion of human history on earth.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said that due to surrounding disaster, “People will faint from fear… but look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28).   Then he told them “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”

As in The Life of Pi, perhaps for all people there is a struggle, a journey, and a deep profound search.  The word of Jesus to all of us, on our journey is this:  Don’t give in to desperate fear or paralyzed boredom!  Look up!  Lift up your head!  Look and work towards your redemption which is drawing close! Or, as Nike says, “Just do it!”

 

THE SEASON OF ADVENT

God describes the approaching redemption in Jeremiah 33:14-16: “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

In the history of the Exodus and on many other occasions, we have seen God fulfill the divine promises.  We can trust in God to fulfill this promise too: to bring the final redemption, with justice and righteousness everywhere.

The Life of Pi concludes with a triumphant scene, the very mirror of the result of what Jesus calls us to do, to Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Stand up, look up, trust in God, and work forward.   We focus on the light.  That attitude will bring us through disaster to triumph, and it will lead to our rescue.  It is what the season of Advent is all about.

 

Concluding prayer (The Collect 🙂

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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