Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Advent 4A

Isaiah 7:10-16

10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted."

Let's talk about signs, symbols, and situations. A sign points or directs us to something other than itself. Street sign. Product packaging. Warning labels in many places. A symbol is somewhat related. The scriptures and the sacraments are the symbols of the Church: although they carry and convey profound realities in themselves, they also point beyond themselves to God's gracious redemptive actions in Jesus Christ. In churches of Reformation heritage, we sometimes include the Confessions (Creeds, Catechisms) as symbols. For all varieties of Lutheran that would be the Book of Concord; for the Presbyterian Church (USA), their Book of Confessions. Other Reformed church bodies affirm the Canons of Dordt as reliable expositions of scripture. God often communicates with us via life situations we're in. Examples?

This week for Advent 4 we have another text from the first part of the book of Isaiah, probably from Isaiah of Jerusalem. Similar to Martin Luther, Matthew's community that produced the featured gospel readings for RCL year A had a habit of discovering and uncovering Jesus Christ in every passage of the Old Testament. No, I have that backwards: similar to Matthew's community, the Reformer Martin Luther loved to discern and explain the presence of Jesus in almost every phrase of the OT. This passage has become one of the most famous predictions of Jesus of Nazareth's birth, yet its origins are anything but. In these very very political verses, King Ahaz of the southern kingdom Judah is very very concerned about the military and political threats from Samaria [Ephraim] in the northern kingdom of Israel, from Damascus in Syria.

Discussion: in the world of Jesus' day, it was commonplace for you to be conversing with or find yourself in the marketplace beside someone who was the offspring of a god and of a mortal, thus half human and half divine. In Jesus the Christ we have a savior, a redeemer, a messiah who is fully human and fully divine. Writing to mostly Jews, Matthew drew upon this passage from 1st Isaiah in his gospel-long affirmation of Jesus as the New Moses, the Son of David, the New King David, the Messiah of Israel. Mary named her son Jesus / Joshua / Savior, yet his presence in first century Palestine and 21st century Christianity everywhere is Immanuel, God-With-Us.

I reminded the group the Hebrew scriptures distinguish between the prophet or nabi, one who speaks truth to power, lines out if-then alternatives regarding the future (as in this situation with Isaiah and King Ahaz), and the roeh or seer, someone who predicts future events and happenings.

We'll have a 2-week break from Sunday School, and that back to Matthew. I plan to discuss Bap-J and also at least mention the Magi and the Flight into Egypt, both unique to Matthew's gospel.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 3A

Isaiah 35:1-10

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

• Third Sunday of Advent! Two Sundays ago linear time and scripture opened a new year of grace to the church; we are the church, so that's a brand-new year for all of us. Gospel readings in this 12-month stretch mostly will be from Matthew. The liturgical year in general, Advent in particular are seasons of mercy and grace; Advent also brings a hint of judgment and self-examination.

• Remember for the Apostle Paul, the gospel, the good news is death and resurrection! A couple months ago we discussed how Christianity is not about immortality, about never ever dying. Scripture and our lives witness to death, destruction, desolation, loss, and then being resurrected to brand new life.

• Similar to last week, today's first reading, chapter 35 of 1st Isaiah, follows chapter 34 about horrendous environmental devastation.

• Throughout scripture – and all three sections of the Hebrew Bible book of Isaiah make it super-clear – the natural creation is not an incidental backdrop to the action, is not simply a stage, but lives and breathes as an integral part of God's story on earth. Scripture as a whole witnesses to the redemption, ransom, integrity, wholeness, restoration and resurrection of the natural world—not only human creatures. However, but the emphasis we often make on humanity may be valid, since for the most part creation needs redemption because of human sin, greed, and guilt.

• This whole passage is Messianic and eschatological! Check out Isaiah 35:5-6 – blind will see, deaf will hear, lame will walk, the dumb won't only speak, they will sing! Luke 7:18-23 and Matthew bring us:

Matthew 11

2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

• Two weeks ago on Advent 1, our Isaiah reading refers to God's people as "Jacob," a common scriptural convention. Do you remember Jacob's dream and God's promises to Jacob?
• Fertility of both land and descendants
• Homecoming on this earth
• God's constant, unmediated presence with Jacob wherever he traveled
• We discussed our call to be God's hands, feet, voice, and simply to be God's presence in the Spirit to everyone we meet, everywhere we go.

• Last week I asked about fave Advent and Christmas Songs. Julie mentioned White Christmas; Pastor Peg loves a certain musical setting of O Little Town of Bethlehem; Do you Hear What I Hear? is one of my special faves. All of those, along with songs people mentioned today – Good King Wenceslaus and We Three Kings, The First Noel, Angels we Have Hear on High – reveal Jesus' birth in history, in quantifiable time and space, in geographical longitude and latitude.

• In Isaiah 35 the desert itself rejoices with joy and singing! Psalms 96, 98, and 148 appointed for Christmas also are about trees and plants and oceans and rivers participating in the general all around joy and excitement of Jesus' Nativity!

• The water we import from out of state and from northern California makes it easy for us to forget we live in a coastal desert. Have you ever visited the desert (Anza-Borrego, maybe?) in spring bloom? Water makes the difference; water restores life! Water is life!

• Most likely all of us in the room and in the church make a point regularly to Save The Drop LA.

• Due to our lively discussion of Christmas music and Lessons & Carols that would be our main worship service this week, we didn't get to my notes about the desert throughout scripture (esp the exodus desert) or to further consideration of water as the womb of creation and re-creation.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Advent 2A

Isaiah 11:1-10

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, linear time and the scriptures opened to the world a new Year of Grace.

Chapter 11 of Isaiah comes right after… chapter 10, that tells about a clearcut forest, so we start out today with a tree stump (branch, scepter, rod). Jesse was the father of King David. The carol anthem "Lo, How a Rose" sings about Jesus' descent "Of Jesse's lineage." For this year's lectionary year A, Matthew's gospel emphasizes Jesus as the new King David. A lot!

[11:2] Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

[11:3-4] This offspring of Jesses does not go by hear say or hear see, but assesses people and situations objectively. Later on in Isaiah 28:17 we read, "I will make justice the measuring line, righteousness the plumb line." [11:5] Clothed, dressed, arrayed in righteousness. In baptism the righteousness of Jesus Christ clothes us, helps us stand upright! [11:4] Also includes the creative, redemptive, Word that re-orders and reconciles.

For today's first reading, 1st Isaiah brings us an amazing vision sometimes called the Peaceable Kingdom [11:6-7]. American artist Edward Hicks painted at least 50 different versions of wild and tame animal – lion, leopard, bear, wolf, sheep, cow, goat; many of his Peaceable Kingdom paintings include a toddler-age child. if you've sung in choirs or listened to much choral music, you may know the Peaceable Kingdom American composer Randall Thompson wrote for double mixed choir. [11:8] Part of the reign, that kingdom, is the end of human/serpent enmity we know from Genesis 3:15.

The end of today's passage tells us [11:10a] "On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples…" A sign, standard, signal, icon, ensign: the cross of Jesus Christ.

The reality of new life coming our of the death, the end of the old. For the Apostle Paul, the gospel, the good news is death and resurrection. God redeems and recreates our failures, our disappointments, losses, illnesses, etc. Particularly here in southern California, the reality of new verdant growth from the ashes of a wildfire amazes me every time—but probably shouldn't, since death is God's best and most fave way of brining resurrection.

I mentioned the new creation is not pristine, but builds on the ruins of the old. Los Angeles River, Clark Fork in Idaho. Both inspired human projects to restore riparian habitat that had been devastated unto death.

We've all experienced death by drowning in baptism. We all live daily in our second birth.