Zechariah 9:9-12Today we get selections from Handel's Messiah! Second Zechariah brings us the florid soprano "Rejoice, greatly, O Daughter of Zion" that announces messianic redemption over all the world; a soprano sings Jesus' "Come Unto me" after the alto/mezzo promises "He shall feed his flock." All four canonical gospels identify Zechariah 9:9 with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the start of Holy Week:
9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
16"But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17"We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.' 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, "He has a demon'; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
25At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
• Mark 11:1-11
• Luke 19:28-38
• Matthew 21:1-11
• John 12:12-19
For Pentecost 5 Matthew's gospel continues Jesus instructions for mission that we started considering on Trinity Sunday, the octave of Pentecost. Jesus has more directions and cautions for the church in motion, because to be church means to be "sent people" or apostles sent into all the world, starting right where we are here and now, sent in the power and presence and discernment of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost.
Matthew is the only gospel that uses the word ecclesia / church, and outlines some structural and organizational ecclesiology or ways to be church.
Today's gospel reading gives us that famous contrast between wild and crazy and ascetic John the Baptist down by the riverside and his cousin Jesus (though quite counter-cultural by religious and societal norms), known to love parties, conversation, clearly a lover of questioning and debunking political and religious establishments. It's become commonplace to say Jesus shows the lifestyle God's people are supposed to have, John's style doesn't make it. Even "people like us," tend to think we know how Jesus' followers are supposed to be, to appear, to act, yet we've been seeing the same God acing in different ways in wildly different people and circumstances.
We looked around the room and noted among the class regulars many of us have served as readers, ushers, counters, musicians, donated flowers, hosted Sunday brunch. Steve noticed the sign in front needed major help, so responded to God's call to use his gifts and time by upgrading the sign so it looks new.
In the power of the Spirit of Pentecost, individuals move from being atomized, isolated, and widely scattered into the gathered-in, interconnected Body of Christ, where each person brings particular gifts, has different functions and callings. The same God acts in different ways through different people!
I mentioned monastic communities with very ascetic lifestyles compared to our urban ones. Some wear very simple clothing, farm the surrounding land to help feed themselves and the surrounding community, spend a lot of time in prayer. Some monasteries have guest houses and sponsor retreats.
Scripture shows us many instances of finding God's presence particularly on the margins in those "other than, different from us." Maybe most stereotypically and characteristically in little kids, strangers, poets, artists, homeless, anyone person or situation vulnerable and marginalized—rather than centralized.
Matthew 11Just before today's text Jesus admiringly tells us about J the B: "No one born of a woman [no human] is greater than John" – yes despite that, the least of the ones in the kingdom, empire, sovereignty of God still are greater than his cousin John. Even though for Jesus, John is so great he is the prophet Elijah who had to come again before the Messianic age could happen.
7What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8A man in soft raiment? 10A prophet? Yes, and much more than a prophet. Behold, I send my messenger before thy face to prepare the way for thee. 11No one greater born of a woman than John, but the least of these in my kingdom still is greater. 14And if ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, that is to come. 15He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Different styles of church buildings. Especially because we're in movie land Los Angeles, several people told us about movie theaters re-purposed into churches. I mentioned new churches often begin by gathering for Sunday worship in a living room, school, or hotel function room. No one in our group was there at the time, but this church first gathered in a dance studio. Given that God apparently favors the unpretentious, what do we make of Center of the World Riverside Church in NYC? Can God be there as much as God is in a back alley outcast on the edges of existence in Chicago?
Riverside Church NYC and St. Patrick's Cathedral, too. Steve and Richard both mentioned the sense of awe and heaven as soon as you enter St. Patricks, the wide diversity of people who spend time there. I mentioned the relatively new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in LA that's my idea of the ultimate church building. All of these cost a lot to build and to maintain. Barbara reminded us it's all for the glory of God. Barbara and Sara both mentioned some very large donations that included an individual who paid for about one-third of the cost of the current pipe organ.
Me: in Salt Lake City during the long time it took to renovate Cathedral of the Madeleine, worship at the Lowell School got dubbed "St. Lowell's." Another cultural piece: when I lived in the very diverse but historically ethnically Italian-American North End of Boston, they renovated St. Stephen's Roman Catholic church on the corner of my street to light, bright, austere, northern European standards. In plain language, the updated style was very Protestant and easily could have passed for Scandinavian Lutheran! Because she was accustomed to and preferred florid southern Italian excesses that to me bordered on tacky and vulgar, my landlady told me she "felt like lighting up a cigarette" when she entered St. Stephens. Not her cultural idea of a sacred space, but it definitely was mine!
Further discussion: what people in different professions tend to wear to work. Legal and financial services still usually rock more formal, sober, attire.
Matthew 11:28-29, rest – Exodus 33:14, "I will give you rest." Sabbath rest in Genesis 2:1-3
Matthew 11:29-30, yoke – yoke of oxen to share the burden (Filipino guest preacher told us a well-constructed yoke rests lightly on the beasts' shoulders). The negative yoke and burden of imperial oppression and demands. The light-weight yoke of Torah obedience, of wisdom.