Saturday, December 26, 2020

Christmas 1B

Nativity 2020 Wisdom 18:14-15

The First Sunday of Christmas 2020 
 
When all things were
wrapped in deep silence, and
night in her swift course
was half spent,
your almighty Word,
O Lord, leapt down from
your throne in heaven.

Wisdom 18:14-15

Presentation • Luke 2:22-32; 39-40

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord", 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God, saying,
29"Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
39When Mary and Joseph had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

O God, Our Help in Ages Past / Psalm 90

1 O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home;

2 under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure.
Sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

3 Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.


2020: God With Us

We've been there, already done that whole entire year 2020; we have experiences, memories, and hopes to prove it. We started this study with Isaac Watts' "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" that paraphrases Psalm 90. New Year's Eve/Watch Night Services that say a formal farewell to the outgoing year, a formal welcome to the incoming one often include this hymn.

Before the first Sunday of Advent that initiated a new year of grace when we'll be hearing mostly from Mark's gospel, it was Matthew's lectionary year. How incredibly appropriate for the year everything that could go wrong apparently did?! You may recall Matthew begins with Jesus' genealogy as the story of a new creation. Matthew's Jesus is God-with-us—from the angel instructing Joseph to name the baby Emmanuel (God with us), to the end of Matthew's narrative when Jesus promises to be with us always, and then sends his followers out as his presence in the world.


Presentation / Canticles

"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as children of God." Galatians 4:4-5

We're still in the season of Christmas, but now time condenses to 40 days after Jesus' birth, when Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple to consecrate him to God. We've observed how most times the apostle Paul uses the word law he refers to sacrificial, ceremonial law—including circumcision. Here in Paul's only birth account, he tells us Jesus was born under the law. He'd been circumcised at eight days of age, and to further meet the demands of ceremonial law, Joseph and Mary dedicate him to God. Presenting infants or young children for baptism somewhat echoes this practice; in traditions that don't baptize until later, parents dedicating their babies or young children also is a parallel. Luke 2:39 says Jesus' parents finished everything the law required before returning home to Nazareth.

Luke is the only gospel that records three canticles that essentially are psalms or songs. "Canticle" comes from the Latin root for song or sing.

• Jesus' mother Mary sings the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55], "My soul magnifies the Lord."
• John the Baptist's father Zechariah sings the Benedictus [Luke 1:68–79], "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel."
• Temple priest Simeon sings the Nunc Dimittis [Luke 2:29-32], "Now I can leave/be dismissed."

The liturgy of the canonical hours includes all three: Benedictus at Matins/Morning Prayer; Magnificat at Vespers/Evening Prayer; Nunc Dimittis at Compline/Night Prayer.


God With Us

During Advent we waited and prepared for Jesus' birth as God with us – "Emmanuel" – the name the angel told Joseph to name the baby. Simeon had waited in the temple a very long time because God had promised he would experience God's Anointed One, the Messiah. Martin Luther in his Wittenberg Reform and John Calvin in his Geneva Reform both included the Nunc Dimittis in their Holy Communion liturgies. Like Simeon, after we receive the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation we are ready for anything because we know the fullness of God's promised salvation. We know it because we've seen it, tasted it, touched it, smelled it, heard it – "splash the water, break the bread, pour the wine."

When the disciples asked the risen Christ if now he finally would "restore the reign of King David," Jesus replied, "The question is wrong. You need to wait here. You will be baptized with the promised gift of the Holy Spirit that will give you power to be my presence everywhere, and you will be the ones to restore the reign of heaven on earth." Acts 1:4-8


O God, Our Help in Ages Past / Psalm 90

4 A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

5 Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away.
We fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

6 O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.


2021…

As we finally say farewell to 2020 and welcome 2021 with excited anticipation, in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, may we continue to be Jesus' presence everywhere we go. Amen? Amen!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Advent 4B

Advent 4 Isaiah 61:1-2

The Fourth Sunday of Advent 2020 
 
The Mighty One
has scattered the proud
in the imaginations of their hearts
and filled the hungry
with good things!

Luke 1:51-53
Intro

The Fourth Sunday of Advent! Four days to Christmas Eve, five until Christmas Day. We've been waiting to celebrate Jesus' birth; most of all we've been intensely waiting for an end to calendar year 2020 with its unstoppable pandemic, environmental devastation, ethnic brutality, political crazinesses, economic woes. You've seen the memes and you've said many hope-filled prayers.

• The church's central proclamation is God's incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen.

• God calls us to live as Jesus' (incarnate, embodied) presence.

• Last March the church left the building. But after gathering around word and sacrament, the church always leaves the building to be God's presence in the world during the week. BUT! Last March the church left the building and has had to stay away since then.

2 Samuel 7:2, 4-7, 11

2King David said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent."

4But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" 11bMoreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.

A Dwelling for God

David's idea to construct a quality home (okay, we purchase or rent a house or apartment, then living there makes it a home) where God could take up residence was more than reasonable because other divinities of the Ancient Near East (ANE) demanded tribute, sacrifice, beseeching—goods and services. Despite his knowledge of the history of God's people with the God of the covenants, David went along with what he'd seen, as humans tend to do. As the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reminds David's resident prophet Nathan, God has a long history of accompanying the people everywhere they went. God never has lived in a house because God fills heaven and earth, cannot be contained, cannot be located at specific longitude and latitude. Being on the move is God's nature.


Annunciation / Announcement: another Call Story

From the start, scripture reveals God's initiative and grace as God chooses, calls, sends, and equips people to live as God's presence.

Remember God's call to…
• Abraham?
• Noah?
• Isaiah?
• Jeremiah?
• This is Mary's call story
• Jesus' disciples?
• Us through baptism and then through where we find ourselves?

The Annunciation – Luke 1:26, 31, 34-38

26The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."

31"And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus."

34Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God." 38Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." …

Mary/Miriam

The Eastern church calls Mary Theotokos or God-bearer. Miriam is Mary's Hebrew name, the same name as Moses' sister. Coming out of the theological traditions of the Reformation, I need to remember Martin Luther had a great devotion to Mary; devotion and reverence toward a person or place is very possible without making it more central than Jesus Christ. Mary shows us how to trust and embody God's word. Mary carried Jesus, God's Word of promise, in her body (the literally em-bodied Word) with her wherever she went.

The Magnificat – Luke 1:39, 46-55

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted her cousin Elizabeth.

46And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Speech, Song, Magnificat

Mary doesn't tell Elizabeth about her encounter with the angel Gabriel; she sings about how the unjust, impoverished, society ordinary people inhabit will be changed into a just and righteous place with enough for everyone, not too much for anyone. But notice she doesn't say she's pregnant or mention her baby's name? Like anyone telling a story, Luke didn't write down everything that happened, though Mary probably had told Elizabeth as soon as she got there. How different is song from speech? Simply saying "And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor Mighty God Everlasting Father Prince of Peace" is complexly inadequate once you've known the glorious musical setting in the Messiah. Singing magnifies and enhances speech.

Magnificat is Latin for making larger, magnifying, making greater, the way a magnifying glass enlarges. It has the same root as "magnificent."

We've discussed how everyone knew and memorized scripture two millennia ago. Mary's words reflect Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Mary and her contemporaries would have been so familiar with large passages of scripture they'd have been able to recite and paraphrase them, making those texts their own. How about us? If we ever get back (when we get back) onto campus, it might be interesting for people to take turns preparing, reading, or singing a paraphrase of the responsive psalm to open our study time.


Word in the World, COVID-19

The church's central proclamation is God's incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen. Advent waits for, hopes for, and expects Jesus! Martin Luther reminds us to know the fullness of God's power and reign, look to the Bethlehem manger, look to the Calvary cross.

Mary asks' "How can this be, considering everything?" Angel (Messenger) Gabriel explains it will happen because the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High overshadow you.

When the disciples asked the risen Christ if now he finally would "restore the [Davidic] reign," Jesus replied, "The question is wrong. You need to wait here. You will be baptized with the promised gift of the Holy Spirit that will give you power to be my presence everywhere, and you will be the ones to restore the reign of heaven on earth." Acts 1:4-8

For nine months, pregnant Mary carried God's Word of promise (literally Jesus the Word) in her body everywhere she went. We have been baptized into Jesus the Christ, the one whose body he promised his followers would become. But we are not the word. Jesus is the Word. How can we be, speak, act and reveal Jesus? As God reminded David and Nathan, God always has traveled alongside the people. God calls us to be wherever the people are, in the 'hood, in the corporate boardroom, in the COVID ward, embedded in the world's hopes and plans for a future.

As always, the church has left the building. But the church has stayed out of the building most of 2020. Since the day we had to close the building how have we been out there alongside the people?

Like Mary, as the church we carry God's Word of Promise (Jesus!) with us wherever we go. Jesus of Nazareth, born in the Bethlehem manger, walked among doubters and outcasts, fed the hungry. Jesus of Nazareth, the one whose body his followers would become. The one whose body we, his followers have become among pandemic doubters and climate change deniers, as we feed hungry people in a dozen direct and indirect ways, as we stay safer at home when we can, as we mask up and keep our distance for love of our neighbors. Maybe paradoxically we know that probably at least through early January, staying put and going outside only for essentials is the best way we can testify to God's loving, merciful, care-filled reign on earth amidst this pandemic.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Advent 3B

Advent 3 Isaiah 61:1-2

The Third Sunday of Advent 2020 
 
To bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the year of the Lord's favour!

Isaiah 61:1-2
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

8For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
Gaudete! Rejoice! Invitation!

The third Sunday of Advent sometimes is called Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday from the opening of the entrance prayer in the Latin rite. Taking a joy-filled break originated when Advent was mostly penitential rather than our contemporary season of hope.

Assuming we'll be meeting together on campus by Advent 2021, would anyone like to research and present a history of Advent? Maybe we'll even meet in person for Lent. In that case, any offers to assemble a history of Lent in Western and Eastern hemispheres? Whenever we begin a new liturgical season I always provide a quick overview, but It's always about current Western churches—Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and other traditions that follow the ecumenical calendar. I know that information well, but I know close to zero about non-Western churches and about the overall timeline of how the church year evolved.


Prayer

God of grace, God of unmediated presence, you don't need another news bulletin. You already know what's been happening on earth—you've been in the midst of it. Blue is advent's color for the hope of newness and rebirth; blue sometimes is advent's color because of sorrow. Grief. Loss. Hopelessness.

As we wait for daylight to increase and to celebrate Jesus' birth, we've considered scriptures that promise everything that hinders life will be turned around, upside down, redeemed, and restored. A planet beginning to heal? Ethnic and economic justice? The end of COVID-19? Food and shelter for everyone? The eventual death of death? All that and more!

God of the covenants, God of love, God of resurrection hope, please help us shine as your light your love and your hope for our neighbors who long for morning, our friends who yearn for resurrection.

In the name of Jesus, Light of the World, amen.


Isaiah, Prophets, Jesus

Again this week God speaks through Third Isaiah, offering challenge, comfort, and hope to the southern kingdom Judah after some exiles returned from Babylon to rebuild infrastructure, community, and traditions. He (it probably was a guy) also spoke to people who'd stayed behind and never left Jerusalem.

Prophets speak against the political, economic, social, and religious status quo. Prophets call people to repent, to turn around, to re-direct their lives. But more than anything, prophecy announces God doing a new thing, the inbreaking of the reign of heaven on earth, resurrection from the dead! This week's particular proclamation is exactly that: urban rebirth; rebuilding from ruins, blight and devastation; turning upside down the community's sorrow, grief, lack of initiative.

Does that sound like what we need right now?

in Luke's gospel, reading and affirming these promises initiated Jesus' public ministry.
16…Jesus went to [his hometown Nazareth] synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." … 21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Luke 4

Does that sound like something we need right now? Does it sound like the ministry God has called us to?

Fun feature: Isaiah 61:11 uses the word sprout three times: earth sprouts; garden sprouts; righteousness and praise sprouts.


Questions for Advent 3

In any other year, either Advent 2 or Advent 3 would be Lessons & Carols. On Advent 3 or Advent 4 during more normal years we've discussed favorite Advent and Christmas memories, music, and practices.

• Are you ready for Christmas music? Have you been listening to carols or singing them? I haven't yet.
• Have you "attended" any virtual holiday concerts, either mostly religious or mostly secular events? Or maybe you're waiting for closer to December 24th? I've enjoyed several semi-holiday themed TV specials.
• Are you ready with a list of favorite winter (since we reside in the northern hemisphere) holiday songs and traditions? On Advent 1 I listed some of my brightest and best songs and will add more next week.
• Has the release and approval of two COVID-19 vaccines given you hope? Or are you still mostly in the depressive blues aspect of Advent? I'm feeling both/and.
• Do you truly dwell in hope the new year 2021 will be different, better, and life-giving rather than life-negating? Or are you in wait-and-see mode?

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Advent 2B

Advent 2 Isaiah 40:4-5

The Second Sunday of Advent 2020

Every valley shall be lifted up,
every mountain and hill made low,
then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together!

Isaiah 40:4-5

Psalm 85:8-11

Let us hear what God the Lord will speak,
for God will speak peace to the people,
to the faithful who turn to him in their hearts.

Surely salvation is at hand for those who trust God,
that God's glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
and make a path for God's steps.

Isaiah 40:1-5; 9

1Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins.

3A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

9Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
"Here is your God!"

Isaiah / Advent

At some juncture the three sections of the book we call Isaiah got assembled into a single volume. A single individual probably wrote each section; each also contains verses that don't match the rest, so most likely those were written by famous, prolific anonymous.

• First Isaiah, chapters 1 – 39: before the Babylonian exile. This writer sometimes gets called Isaiah of Jerusalem or the historical Isaiah.
• Second Isaiah, chapters 40 – 55: during the Babylonian exile. Chapter 40 opens with today's First Reading, "Comfort ye… every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann observes, "Second Isaiah funded Handel's Messiah."
• Third Isaiah, chapters 56 - 56: back in Jerusalem and Judah after the exile, trying to rebuild physical, community, and religious structures.

Because YouTube videos never are there forever, I've stopped linking to them, but for several years I've loved MIchael Spyres' Comfort Ye-Every Valley. It will be at the top of a search for Michael Spyres Messiah Comfort Ye Every Valley. This performance may be so wonderful because although audio is good, the video gives the impression they'd decided to record spur of the moment. Everything comes across as natural and close to spontaneous—though clearly tenor and orchestra were extremely well-prepared. Preparation and spontaneity feels like a good model for our going into 2021.

Last Sunday Advent began and the church opened wide another new year of grace; I love our starting a new year a month before the official civic one on January 1st. During this Advent season we wait and hope together for God's presence with us in the infant Jesus. Isaiah announces God's arrival (or more accurately God's presence in a way people can see and appreciate because God never had left); God then calls the people (Zion) to announce God no longer being hidden. In exactly the same way, God calls us to proclaim and testify to God's presence in the world today.


The Road Home / COVID-19

Although this short Isaiah passage contains enough substance for a very long book, for starters:

The road second Isaiah sings about is not for the exiles' return home; maybe surprisingly, the highway is for God's journey. During Advent we wait and hope together, whatever unusual cyber-forms togetherness may have assumed this year. This scripture tells us we all will experience God's glory together, too.

It's a street, a path, an avenue, and not a static location with coordinates we can cite. The scripture continues with talk about earth moving and feats of civic engineering: Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Easier to walk on and drive on than we'd expected or known in the past, probably quicker, too.

Exiles in the culturally and politically strange Babylon wanted to go home, though you may remember Jeremiah telling them to settle down and contribute to Babylon's greater good—the original Bloom Where You Are Planted.

I've asked at least once if this pandemic breakaway from normal is exile (a place and way of being away from a settled place we considered home, like the Israelites'), or sabbath (a period of not working productively while trusting the sufficiency of God's supply for right now), or winter (a however long time that may look inert, but life is preparing to bloom when it's ready and the setting is right).


This Week's Questions

Short list: so far in 2020 we've had pandemic, economic recession, high unemployment, unprecedented wildfires, hurricanes, racial injustice, climate crisis, LARiots2020, disputed presidential election results, COVID-19 surge upon surge…

• Besides not another calamity before the calendar year ends, what do you hope and pray for this Advent 2020? For the entire year 2021?
• Does this seemingly endless and increasingly severe pandemic qualify as exile, sabbath, winter, or something we can't yet name?
• This week brought great news of two highly effective vaccines ready for approval and distribution with a third well on the way. Still others are at an earlier developmental stage. Are you excited about a vaccine? Or maybe not?
• Is home a perspective or a location or is home both/and? Or does it all depend (that's my answer)?
• How would you describe homecoming or home?
• As an individual or within your church, workplace, or other group have you ever gotten an "aha" moment as inspiration from God related to your next move toward a goal you might even consider a type of settled situation or "home"?
• Do you have a particular attachment to your childhood home or homes, the city or town where you grew up, a grandparent's house or a vacation spot you enjoyed as a kid?
• Do you ever go back to your place of roots, desire to go back, or do you consider that chapter thankfully closed?

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Advent 1B

Advent 1B 2020 Isaiah 64:1

Advent 2020

"We are people of hope! Why do we party on Friday evenings? Why do we go to church on Sundays?" Cornel West

Faith, Love, and Hope, these three make us faith-filled lovers and hopers.


Prayer from Psalm 80

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?
You have fed us with the bread of tears, and given us tears to drink in full measure.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.


Advent Hope

With the first Sunday of Advent, the church begins a new year of grace as it waits for Jesus' birth. Maybe you know esperar in Spanish means wait, hope, and expect? Blue is the color for Advent; blue is the color of hope, although churches that only have purple/violet paraments may use those, of course. Advent is a harbinger of Easter when we celebrate the fulfillment of hope. Advent always begins on the Sunday closest to the November 30th Feast of Saint Andrew, Andrew the son of Zebedee who introduced his brother Peter to Jesus. According to the infinitely reliable wikipedia, "Andrew [is]… patron saint of Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia in addition to Scotland."

Pictorial advent calendars are fun for all ages. Opening each window tab reveals a mini-surprise that brings us closer to the gift of Jesus' birth, brings us nearer the day we'll give gifts to each other and unwrap gifts we've received. At church and in homes, Advent wreaths are another familiar sign of the season, so popular since in the northern hemisphere we celebrate the birth of Jesus-light-of-the-world at the darkest time of year.

But calendars and candles are homespun and tame. They have become too familiar. Advent calls us to get to the root, literally to be radical.


Advent Apocalyptic

Every year's scripture readings open up Advent with a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it—the end of death, destruction, empire, violence, exploitation. The end of despair and discouragement. The dawn of hope and possibility. Apocalyptic/ apocalypse means revealing or uncovering something that's hidden. Very broadly, apocalyptic is a type of writing that uses one concept to illustrate another and that needs to be interpreted.

The word Advent means toward (ad) the coming (venire). With calls to repentance and hope, Advent is a season of waiting and watching.

Although we're looking at a snippet of the first reading from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, we're now in Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) year B with Mark as the featured gospel. Here are some notes about Mark.

Isaiah 64

1O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—

3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Memory / COVID-19

Today's first reading from Third Isaiah comes from back home in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile as they tried to rebuild community and physical structures. Along the way from Egypt through the promised land, into exile and back, the Israelites had lived some solid theology. Like us, in their heads they knew God could not be controlled by humans or confined to a small space. They already had experienced God as an extraordinary deity who heard the people, traveled alongside and entered into unbreakable covenant them them. In their heads they knew God never would leave them. However, similar to this year 2020, events had gone down in ways that made them wonder if God had disappeared.

At least since March 2020 it sometimes feels as if God may have abandoned this planet. Even people who routinely trust God, frequently sense God's presence, and pray a lot have had serious doubts. This week's second reading in 1 Corinthians 1:7 says "we wait for the revealing [literally apocalypse] of our Lord Jesus Christ." In today's first reading the people beg for God's self-revelation and intervention because they have a history with this God. They remember. And they remind God.

Calendars and candles have become too familiar. Advent calls us to the root – to ground zero – of our lives together as people of God. Just as God's people Israel did, when we worship and celebrate the sacraments we recreate our history with God where we are and with God's people in every place, every time. Worship and sacraments make those past events present to us right here and right now. As we re-member and re-enact the past, we can anticipate God's future redemption and astonishing actions yet to come because we have a history with this God. We remember and we remind God. Getting to the taproot of our lives together with God, we actually remember the future, as we wait and watch and actively look for signs of God's tomorrows breaking into our midst.

Maybe especially during this advent when we still can't physically gather in a church building or fellowship hall, we need to keep telling our God stories with scripture and with our own testimonies of God's faithfulness. We remind each other and we remind God. Did anyone mention how providential that this global pandemic has happened at a time most people have an internet connection? I believe some people have!

From Advent into Christmas, we probably sing about God's promises and God's faithfulness more than any other time. What are your favorite advent songs and Christmas Carols? Do you have any favorite winter songs that don't mention Jesus or Bethlehem but capture the Nativity mood?

Here's my short list. What's on yours? I'd love to know!

• People Look East, the Time is Near for the Crowning of the Year
• Prepare the Way, O Zion
• From Handel's Messiah, Comfort, Ye – Every Valley is probably my favorite, but then there's
• For Unto us a Child is Born, and His Name Shall be Call├Ęd
• Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates
• Lo, He Comes, with Clouds Descending
• Canticle of the Turning based on Mary's Magnificat in Luke
• Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying
• Do You Hear What I hear? –a Christian-popular crossover hit
• Where Are You, Christmas?
• Valley Winter Song by Fountains of Wayne (RIP, Adam Schlesinger who died of COVID-19)
Christmas Cantata by Daniel Pinkham

• What do you imagine your Advent 2020 will look like?
• Christmas Eve and Day?

During Advent we wait for Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, who obliterates divisions between earth and heaven, who comes to earth in a body like ours that's made out of stuff of the earth. This Jesus heals creation's brokenness and prepares our future. The Hebrew for "tear open" in our Isaiah passage implies a rip or rupture that cannot be mended, and is similar to the word used when the temple curtain tore at Jesus' death.

"We are people of hope! Why do we party on Friday evenings? Why do we go to church on Sundays?" Cornel West

Faith, Love, and Hope, these three make us faith-filled lovers and hopers. Let's sing it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mark's Gospel

Concept, Author, Date

• Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Year B belongs to Mark's gospel. Along with Luke and Matthew, Mark is a synoptic gospel that views Jesus from a similar perspective, although each has a distinctive personality. As the shortest and most immediate of the four canonical gospels, Mark is the one for texting and tweeting.

• Prior to Mark, good news or gospel was the returning Roman general's announcement of annihilating the enemy. Mark subverts that into the Good News of God's victory over sin and death, the triumph of the reign of life. All known manuscripts carry the heading The Gospel According to Mark, but this Mark probably is an unknown person or group and not Peter's ministry companion John Mark.

• Probably written from Rome to Greek speaking gentile Christians, possibly as early as 45 C.E., almost definitely no later than shortly after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E..


Sources

A variety of documents that circulated in the dynamic oral tradition before being written down. Scholars sometimes consider a possible source called Q for the first letter of the German Quelle meaning source or river. Was there a Q? Not known. Was Mark Q? Probably not. Between them, Matthew and Luke include 631 of Mark's 661 verses, with about 90% in Matthew; 50% in Luke.


World View, Content

• Proclamation / announcement rather than history
• No birth narrative
• No resurrection account
• Mark doesn't mention Jesus' earthly father Joseph
• Many miracles, healings, and exorcisms
• Mark famously features the Messianic secret: Jesus tells everyone don't tell anyone!

After his baptism followed by 40 days in the wilderness that Matthew and Luke also report (but in greater detail), Jesus calls disciples Simon, Andrew, James, and John; then his first act of public ministry is casting out a demon during a synagogue service.

Just as for Luke, in Mark's gospel the journey to Jerusalem and the cross is partciularly intentional and incessant. For Mark, Jesus' passion and death give us the fullest understanding of Jesus' purpose and identity .

Mark particularly asks, "Where do we look for God? Where do we find God?"

• Not hidden behind clouds or anywhere far from earth
• Not in the temple
• Not in established religious, economic, political institutions

But we do find God:
• Outside the city limits
• In the wilderness
• In the stranger and outcast
• In, with, and under all creation
• On the cross

Do we find God in the mainline church and in mainstream society?

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Reign of Christ 2020

Prayer

From Gian-Carlo Menotti's one-act opera, Ahmal and the Night Visitors:

The child we seek holds the seas and the winds on his palm.
The child we seek has the moon and the stars at his feet.
Before him, the eagle is gentle the lion is meek.

On love, on love alone will he build his kingdom…
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life and receive our death.
And the keys to his city belong to the poor.


Matthew's Year

This is the last Sunday in Revised Common Lectionary Year A with gospel readings mostly from Matthew. What does Matthew emphasize?

Matthew begins with Jesus' genealogy as the story of a new creation. Matthew's Jesus is God-with-us, from an angel instructing Joseph to name the baby Emmanuel (God with us), to the end of his narrative when Jesus promises to be with us always, and then sends his followers out as his presence in the world. Only Matthew brings us the flight into Egypt, where Jesus becomes a refugee. Matthew's Jesus is the new Moses and the new King David.

• This Outline and Review of Matthew's gospel is considerably longer than the above paragraph, but not full of endless details.


Reign of Christ / Christ the King

Every year the church's year of grace ends with the feast of Christ the King / Reign of Christ. Just as every Sunday is Easter, every Sunday acknowledges Jesus' reign and rule. Jesus reigns at the intersection of creation's need and human response. The world knows the fullness of the reign of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ when all creation experiences God's grace-filled abundance right here and right now.

This is Jesus' final address before his trial, conviction, passion, death, and resurrection.
Matthew 25:31-40

31"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. 32Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, 33putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:
35I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'
37-39"Then those sheep are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' 40Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'"

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Royals and Rulers

Talk about royalty–kings, queens, duchesses, dukes, princesses and princes? Kingdoms and principalities? In this digital age we still see scandal sheets at the supermarket checkout. Social media teaser links and TV magazine shows love stories about royals, especially British ones, but have Harry and Meghan and Archie faded into near-oblivion? British royals particularly are well aware of their positions of service to the people. What about others in authority? What about Jesus' rule? How about ours?

Martin Luther reminds us if we want to see God's power, sovereignty, and lordship, look to the Bethlehem manger. Look to the Calvary cross. This Jesus, this Christ, rules against all ordinary human assumptions of power, glory, fame. Unlike other gods of the ancient near east, Jesus reveals a god not of a particular people and place, but a God for all people and all places. Jesus' authority and reign is one of servanthood. Our presence in the world as Jesus' hands, voice, eyes, and ears also is the way of service, the way of being and acting we sometimes call neighborology.

The sacraments model our everydays outside of our gathering around Word and Sacrament on Sundays and other feast days. The sending charge at the end of the liturgy often is something like, "The service is ended; our service begins" – "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." What about Jesus' rule? How about ours? Jesus serves at the intersection of creation's need and our human response. Even during COVID-tide, we discover Jesus in those around us. Exactly as Jesus explains in today's gospel reading, we serve Jesus by responding to the needs of our neighbors. And it gets reversed! In our presence among them, in our service to them, our neighbors meet Jesus. In us! Talk about royalty!

Next week we start a new year of grace with the first Sunday of Advent and the gospel according to Mark, Revised Common Lectionary Year B.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Matthew Outline and Review

Matthew's Year

Revised Common Lectionary Year A has featured the Gospel According to Matthew. Along with Luke and Mark, Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels that have a similar perspective, although each has a distinctive focus and personality.

Author

• No indication of "Matthew" as author until the second century, but we can assume followers of apostle and tax collector Matthew.

Date

• Circa 80 - 90. By the time Matthew's community recorded this gospel, the second Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed, but the J-Temple still was standing during Jesus' earthly life.

Sources

• Matthew contains 90% of the verses in Mark, the earliest canonical gospel. (Luke contains about 50% of Mark.) Matthew and Luke contain parallel, sometimes identical passages not found in Mark. Matthew may have drawn upon one or two other written sources, but there's no consensus.

Language

• Semitic Greek, or possibly Aramaic, the vernacular Hebrew Jesus spoke.

Opening

• Book of Beginnings, Book of Origins = biblios geneseos. Matthew presents a new Genesis, a New Creation as he narrates Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
• Matthew's genealogy goes back to Abraham, father of the Jewish nation; Luke's genealogy goes back to Adam, father of all humanity.

Setting

• Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Antioch, Syria, where they first called Jesus' followers Christian – Acts 11:28. That particular Antioch is part of present-day Turkey. There's also an Antioch, Ohio, USA.

World View – Content

• Salvation (integrity, wholeness, redemption, shalom) for all the world, for everyone everywhere
• Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God
• Concern about fulfilling Hebrew Bible prophecies and predictions
• New David, "Son of David" not a temporary short-term monarch; this new David reigns forever.
• Jesus as God-with-us, from the time an angel instructs Joseph to name the baby Emmanuel, to Jesus' Great Commission at the end of the gospel and his promise to be with us forever.
• Matthew tells us about Jesus' earthly father Joseph; Luke tells us about Mary.
• Visit of the Magi at Epiphany: ethnic foreigners from a different religion reveal God for the world, the young Jesus as Savior of all. Tradition says three kings because of three gifts.
• Flight into Egypt: a new Exodus out of Egypt with Jesus as the new Moses/liberator; Jesus' family unwillingly uprooted as refugees parallels dislocation during the Babylonian exile.
• Five discourses parallel the five books of Torah/Pentateuch. Sermon on the Mount explains ten commandments/ten words God gave the people through Moses from Mount Sinai.
• Some parables are unique to Matthew.
• The only gospel that uses the word "ecclesia" with some guidelines for church order and structure. Ecclesia is the Roman city council, New England town meeting. Ecclesiastical and ecclesiology are words about the church.
• Before Jesus' resurrection Matthew calls God's people "Israelites"; after the resurrection he calls them Jews.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Pentecost 24A

Matthew 25:14-30

14"For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' 21His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' 23His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

Prayer from Psalm 90

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Amen!


This Week

The famous Parable of the Talents! Although parables in the gospels often begin with, "The reign of God is like, the kingdom of heaven will be like," you'll notice this story doesn't mention the Reign of Heaven/Kingdom of God. The Parable of the Talents, beloved of stewardship committees and stewardship drives. Parables are a type of story that compares – literally "casts alongside" different ideas. In Matthew chapter 25, this one comes between Wise and Foolish Virgins waiting for the bridegroom's arrival and Jesus' separating Sheep from Goats on the Last Day by assessing who had faithfully fed, clothed, welcomed, and visited people in need.
• The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. verses 16-18

A talent was approximately what a laborer would earn in twenty years. We derive our talent concept for special abilities from this word. The year 2020 has been different from any other, but during normal formal stewardship times the church asks us to pledge financial and other ways we'll contribute our particular talents to the church's ministry and the world's future.

In Jesus's time and place, people believed all resources were finite, so everyone assumed a zero-sum existence. If the rich got richer, the poor must have gotten poorer. If someone's social status increased, someone else's must have decreased. Given that embedded expectation, the third slave did the logical thing by burying the money he'd received so his assets wouldn't decrease. After all, in his lowly situation, he could not have expected better finances or a better social position, meaning any changes he experienced would be negative ones. However, a slave was bound to do the master's grunt work, in this case growing his wealth, which explains the master's anger.

The master chides, "Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest." verse 27

Despite the master telling the guy he could have invested that money, the Old Testament forbids banking and interest on loans; Jesus announces the Time of Jubilee when debts will be canceled, and all creation will thrive in shalom-filled "enough." When that time arrives, saving, investing, and stockpiling won't be considerations.

Textual note: New Testament words for slave and servant get translated into English almost randomly as either servant or slave, but the Greek in this passage actually is slave.


Stewardship

One more Sunday and the church will conclude another year of grace, while the planet will have endured a global pandemic moving up on ten months—depending on how and when you started counting.

As we've frequently observed, we first ask about scripture's original context, yet we need to contextualize scripture by placing it in our own social, cultural, and economic setting. in the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to make the gospel local! This passage from Matthew's gospel isn't about entrepreneurship, it ain't Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, it's not investment banking or municipal bonds, although we absolutely need ways to get what we need, whether that means using dollars, pesos, or euros; whether it leads to baking for baby-sitting, or another type of exchange.

In Matthew chapter 25, this parable comes between Wise and Foolish Virgins waiting for the bridegroom's arrival and Jesus' separating Sheep from Goats on the Last Day by assessing who had faithfully fed, clothed, welcomed, and visited those in need. We hear about bridesmaids waiting for the groom (interpreted in several places as the church awaiting Jesus); we hear Jesus retrospectively looking back at how his followers lived out the gospel.

Stewardship committees and stewardship endeavors love this parable because it is about using God-given resources of talent, treasure, and time in ways that multiply the presence of the reign of God in the world; as that happens, both giver and gifted enter into the joy that results from faithful use (stewardship) of monetary and other gifts God has given us. The gospel abolishes counting and calculation, but individuals, churches, and other organizations need money to survive and thrive. Keeping track of cash flow and reserves is an important aspect of trusting God in those areas of receiving and giving.


COVID-19 / Into God's Future

"Well done, good and trustworthy one, enter into the joy…" The master promises faithful servants will be in charge of (steward of) many things, "more will be given."

One more Sunday and the church will conclude another year of grace, while the planet will have endured a global pandemic for too long. During formal stewardship times the church asks for pledges of money, abilities, and linear time people will contribute to the church's ministry and the world's future. God already has been to our future and waits for us there; we've received talents/gifts to contribute to "The Exhibition of the Reign of Heaven to the World" as one of the PC(USA)'s Great Ends of the Church describes it. But unless we're an essential worker, what on earth can we do during Stay Safe Stay Home / Safer at Home / Tier Four Lockdown?

Matthew 25:19, "After a long time" impresses me as being about the gift of time. Weeks, months, and years it takes to earn enough to support yourself and your household, to have enough to donate to causes. Minimally it takes months to acquire basic skills in a craft or a trade, longer to become an expert. If you study music or accounting or history in school, four years of classes is only the beginning. You'll need more time to become close to expert. You know what else? We've had time to pray more!

• Rather than identifying with one of the three servants/slaves or imagining the master specifically as Jesus, what does this passage reveal about the gifts of God?
• Does it promise or imply anything about trusting God with our future?
• Would you call this a parable of grace or a parable of judgment?
• Jesus announces Jubilee when all debts will be canceled, and all creation will thrive in shalom-filled "enough" so saving, investing, and stockpiling won't be considerations. Amidst uncertainty during COVID-19, what do you imagine God is doing at your future, at the church's future, and for the world's future?

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Pentecost 23A

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

1Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors – Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor – lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.
• Intervening verses 3b-13 narrate from Abraham to Isaac, Jacob, and Esau; to Egypt, Moses and Aaron; then to deliverance in the Red Sea to Exodus wanderings through the desert; finally entry into Canaan with the gift of the land with its bounty along with many descendants. God's actions. God's faithfulness. This history with God's grace-filled provision forms "why" for Israel continuing to trust Yahweh as their real god.
14"Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

16Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God."

19But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good." 21And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the Lord!" 22Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses." 23He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel." 24The people said to Joshua, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey." 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

Prayer: Psalm 70

Make haste, o God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord. Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt. Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha. Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified. But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying.

King James Version


Hearing, Doing

This alternate first reading for today from the book of Joshua pairs well with the designated first reading from Amos 5:24 that concludes, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Joshua, the sixth book of the OT chronicles Israel's actual entry into the Promised Land of Canaan forty years after leaving Egypt. Canaan already was occupied with people who worshiped many other gods of various types. Joshua 24:15 includes the famous "…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." This is another covenant text; here's the covenant handout from Lent 2019 again.

Before Joshua asks the people whether or not they will serve the real God of heaven and earth, "The Lord," he gives them reasons for trusting God by retelling substantial portions of the people's centuries-long experiences with God. This God hears and heeds, acts and cares; God rescues, protects, frees, and redeems. This God of signs and wonders is powerful enough to annihilate enemies. This God reliably comes through for the people every time.

19But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. … 24The people said to Joshua, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey."

After the people affirm they will serve God, Joshua tells them they cannot serve this holy God, yet again they insist they definitely will. What does it mean to put away other, "foreign" gods (we all have them now and then—a god is anything we put before and above God at any time) and serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God of Israel, God of Jesus Christ?


Holy God, Holy People

What does it mean to put away other gods and put the real God first before anything or anyone else? What does it mean to serve a holy God? What does it mean to be holy people in the image of that Holy God?

In Leviticus 19:2 God instructs Moses, "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." The chapter then summarizes the commandments and even includes love your neighbor as yourself in verse 18b. We know the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant call us to righteous lives of justice, love, and mercy.

Most likely everyone has some acquaintance with the worldwide United Methodist Church that's probably the largest church body in the tradition of John and Charles Wesley, and you may know about holiness churches that later derived from that tradition. Historically members of those churches don't drink alcohol or smoke nicotine; recreational drugs are off limits, too. (Some don't dance socially… just like some midwestern Lutherans and Scots Presbyterians?) Those practices and prohibitions help keep head, heart, and body clear and clean for lives of service to God and neighbor, because true holiness in God's image is both inward and outward.


Witness, Testimony

22Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses."

Although the people agreed to testify to their choosing to serve God, chapter 24 continues,
26Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. 27Joshua said to all the people, "See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God." 28So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.

• Stones and other objects that serve as witnesses (seeing or hearing) in the Hebrew bible would make a interesting standalone study if someone would like to prepare and present one when we begin gathering in person again.

• You might enjoy Joshua 16-17-18-19 where Joshua portions out those inheritances of allotments (land plots and cities) to the different tribes.

• No questions this week! Please be well, stay well, and continue praying for our country and our world.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

All Saints 2020

Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Praise Prayer from Psalm 34

I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with God's praise.
I live and breathe God; if things aren't going well, hear this and be happy:
Join me in spreading the news; together let's get the word out.

God met me more than halfway, and freed me from my anxious fears.
When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot.
Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness.
Can't wait zeach day to come upon beauty?

Turn your back on sin; do something good. Embrace peace—don’t let it get away!
Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you.
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, God will help you catch your breath.

Keep blessing God every chance you get! Let your voices circle the earth!

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson


All Saints Sunday is All Saints Day this year!

Halloween is All Hallows Eve. A hallowed person, place, or event is a holy one. The traditional version of the Lord's Prayer in English asks that God's name be hallowed or made holy. All Hallows Eve anticipates the holy persons the church remembers and celebrates on the following day, All Saints.

Saints or holy ones we've known could be neighbors, parents, friends, relatives still on earth or in heaven. Saints could be people in scripture or famous saints like Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Kolkata, Francis and Claire of Assisi, Augustine, Susanna, John, and Charles Wesley. Although historically this day has focused on the church triumphant, the remembrance includes those of us still in the visible church that's sometimes called the church militant. "All of us" because in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit (Spiritus Sanctus in Latin) and become hallowed or sanctified; we become saints.

The sanc prefix to a word also means holy, just as in the Sanctus–"Holy, Holy, Holy" we sing during the liturgy. Western churches often use the term sanctification to refer to the Holy Spirit-inspired process of people more consistently acting with justice, love, mercy, and righteousness, of becoming more holy, just as God is holy. Hallowed be each of our names?

Legend says Martin Luther posted his 95 theses or ideas about needed church reform on the church door because: (1) the church building was the town's cultural center, so people got their important news from the door of the church—similar to our narthex bulletin board; and (2) All Saints Day was a holy day of obligation with people required to attend mass, so chances were high that everyone would read Luther's ideas. Therefore… the church celebrates Reformation Day on 31 October, but with All Saints coming up the following day, Reformation Sunday gets scheduled for the previous Sunday.


Matthew's Gospel and the Beatitudes

Three more Sundays, and then a new year of grace begins with the first Sunday of Advent, so this lectionary year A with gospel readings mostly from Matthew is almost over.

Matthew's gospel portrays Jesus as the New Moses, Jesus as the new King David. Matthew has a strong emphasis on God's righteousness and justice we find throughout the Hebrew Bible. You probably remember God spoke the Ten Commandments – words in the Hebrew text – through Moses on Mount Sinai or Horeb? In Matthew, Jesus' IPO – Initial Public Offering – after his baptism and call of his first disciples is the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew parallels Moses receiving the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant by having Jesus preach on a hill. We can consider Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:17-26) interpretations of the Ten Commandments. The commandments and the sermon on the mount are paths to wholeness for all creation.

As he begins his homily or talk, Jesus describes attributes or characteristics of his followers with blessings they receive as a result. In turn they (that's us) use those blessings to bless others. Beatitude comes from the Latin beatus or happy. These qualities are gifts of grace rather than "be-attitudes" as some suggest, yet having them demands our response—what we do because of who we are. In that sense, the beatitudes are about how we are supposed to be.

In real life, Jesus probably gave this or a very similar talk many times to different audiences that could have been his twelve main followers, a mixed group of a few hundred women, men, and young people, a spontaneous gathering of ten or so curious people… flash mob! We can speculate on anything scripture doesn't clearly state, and often need to be imaginative to contextualize scripture for our own place and time.


COVID-19 and the Beatitudes

The saints we've been seeing during this pandemic! Countless people worldwide have risked their lives, comfort, and safety to help others and keep the planet running. We've seen healing, protection, rescuing, praying, hoping, governing, sustaining, waiting, loss and grief. We've observed heroes on television and elsewhere; we know scientists on several continents have been developing vaccines behind the scenes (among many other less visible contributors). No one can count or celebrate sufficiently those COVID-19 saints who embody and rock the beatitudes every day. God works through everyone; God doesn't mind being anonymous. Many essential workers and other pandemic heroes intentionally follow one of the Abrahamic religions or another spiritual-ethical way of life that acknowledges the divine in creation, but many don't. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled the world…

The commandments and the sermon on the mount are paths to wholeness for all creation.

• Is there any group you especially appreciate during this time of lockdown, pandemic, uncertainty, and opportunity?
• Is there some way we can thank the first responders?
• How can we pay forward their amazing service?

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Reformation 2020

Reformation 2020 Psalm 46

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Prayer from Psalm 46

God is our safe place to hide,
    ready to help whenever we need help.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains.

River fountains splash joy, cooling God's city,
    this sacred haunt of the Most High.
God lives here, the streets are safe.

See the marvels of God!
    God plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
"Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    God remains above politics, above everything."

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson


Reformation: event – day – movement

Along with the day of Pentecost, Reformation is a major wear red festival of the Holy Spirit. The church uses red for celebrations of the Holy Spirit and to commemorate prophets, martyrs, and renewal.

Martin Luther and other reformers acted as God's agents in response to the Holy Spirit of life, restoration, and resurrection. Three years ago we celebrated Reformation 500; we continue in a church that's still reforming, a reforming church that now includes the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity. Martin Luther insisted worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular (the common, ordinary, easy to understand language regular people spoke) was a mark of the true church. As a church of the Reformation we also can be a vernacular church that speaks the common cultural language of the people; we can present Christianity with vocabulary and with symbols everyday regular people understand.

Instead of different scriptures for each lectionary year, every year Reformation features the same four readings. Today we'll look at the prophet Jeremiah's proclamation of God's new covenant with all creation.


Jeremiah – New Covenant

God's covenants or agreements are a prominent feature of the Old Testament and continue into the New Testament with Jesus Christ, God's ultimate covenant. Covenant comes from the Latin co-venire – coming together – and was a familiar concept in the Ancient Near East. Old Testament covenants include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David… creation itself was an act of covenant. On Lent 4 during spring 2019 we talked about covenants; here's the handout I prepared.

Jeremiah was very much into the ten words or commandments of the Sinai Covenant the people received as gifts of grace and that we've described as working papers for our lives together. The commandments are about creating and sustaining community as they shape God's people (that's us!) into rocking an anti-imperial lifestyle, into ruling and governing themselves by considering the needs of each other, by not making gods of money, power, fame, or material stuff. God is our ultimate ruler, yet the commandments help us live as self-governing people.

Jeremiah 31:32 – the people broke the commandments in a double sense: by shattering the stone tablets they were written on, and by not following them in their daily lives. Verse 33 – God and people literally belong to each other. Verse 34 – God for-gives (the opposite of give) so completely it's as if God totally forgets anything we've done wrong.

A new anything implies an old something, but this is much more a new location than it is a different agreement. Jeremiah says God's eternal covenanting will become natural and instinctive because it literally will be embodied in each of us and within the community itself. We've discussed how the heart in Hebrew biology isn't the location of emotions as we often consider it. In Hebrew biology and bible, heart is where a person's will or intention resides and goes beyond that to include reason, wisdom, creativity, discernment—and also emotion. During one of our discussions in a previous year, Barbara told us a healthy heart is soft and vulnerable. Great image for relating to each other!


COVID-19 – Still Reforming

Although most churches own, rent, or borrow a physical, geographical space because they need a gathering place for worship and other meetings, during non-pandemic times the church (that's us) always leaves the building after worship and brunch to continue the lives of service Word and Sacrament have modeled. However, for the past eight months we've stayed outside the building most of the time, so we've been experimenting with new ways of being church. Fortunately(?) this pandemic has happened during a time digital connections are easy to come by, when almost everyone has at least a minimal online presence beyond an email address. These factors have made Zoom and YouTube worship, committee meetings, and bible studies commonplace. Months ago people seriously started discussing the possibility – or not – of virtual sacraments; by now many churches and pastors have gone beyond asking and have started offering online communion services with participants widely scattered, yet still gathered together through the electronic amazement of the internet.

In his seven marks of the true church, Luther mentioned worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular. Especially for churches in the Reformation traditions, Word and Sacrament remain earthbound, physical evidence we can sense (smell, hear, taste, see, touch) of God with us and among us.

• In the tradition of the Reformation, how can we interpret or re-interpret scripture, sacraments, and our everyday lives into a language or modality our neighbors from different cultures and countries easily understand?

• How do we separate appreciation for other languages and cultures from what people sometimes view as mis-appropriation of cultural styles and artifacts? (Cue endless discussion…)

• Are we spiritually and emotionally mature enough to direct newcomers to a church with a different overall style if our fairly formal, traditional worship doesn't attract them?

Reformation Sunday is an especially good time to reconsider dreams for this congregation, this neighborhood, and this city.

• When we return to more frequent in-person yet masked and distanced worship and other meetings, do you think our sense of mission to the surrounding neighborhood will have changed or been revised?

• If so, how?

• If not substantially, why not?

As people in mission, we live with and work through those concerns all the time, but this pandemic may make the questions clearer, finding answers more urgent.

• Or does it?

All Saints' Sunday next week!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Jubilee Weekend 2020

This week we take a short excursion away from the lectionary to celebrate an interfaith Jubilee Weekend: Curing Poverty, Inequality and the Coronavirus – October 16-18, 2020.


Prayer

God of hope, we lament the suffering and isolation, and sometimes death, that the pandemic is causing our world, our communities, our families. Give us protection, especially all those on the front line of medicine and research, and those whose work makes them in contact with many people. Give us our daily bread, as so many are hurting economically now. Give us hope to see beyond this turmoil and teach us lessons of endurance, faith, and love, as we pray constantly for an end to the virus.

God of creation, quiet the earth where it trembles and shakes. Help us to protect vulnerable ecosystems, threatened habitats, and endangered species. Prosper the work of scientists, engineers, and researchers to find ways to restore creation to health and wholeness.

May your Spirit strengthen each of us with words of hope and love, that we might be the church for this time, and share that same hope and love with our neighbors. With your steadfast love, dear God, hear these and all our prayers as we speak them to you, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Adapted from Prayers of Intercession for Jubilee Weekend by Pastor Steve Herder, Ascension ELCA, Thousand Oaks, California.


Jubilee

Instructions in the book of Leviticus for observing a jubilee year inspired this Jubilee Weekend. As scripture explains, seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years – and then the fiftieth year, a year-long Sabbath grants freedom and new beginnings to all the people, all the animals, and to the land—although apparently God's people Israel never celebrated a jubilee year to the fullest. Before looking at today's passage from the poet synagogue and church sometimes call Third Isaiah, here's part of the jubilee year description from Leviticus. By the way, does "seven times seven" sound familiar? Seven times seven also measures the fifty-day long week of weeks celebration of Easter, and isn't the end of death and dying the ultimate freedom?


Leviticus 25:1-17

1The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. 3Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land …7for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

8You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

13In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. … 17… for I am the Lord your God.


Isaiah Outline

• 1st Isaiah, mostly writings from Isaiah of Jerusalem, prior to Babylon exile: 1-39
• 2nd Isaiah, during exile in Babylon, 40-55. Includes "Comfort ye… every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah and other memorable passages
• 3rd Isaiah, after the exile, back in town trying to rebuild lives, physical and community and religious structures


Isaiah 58:6-12

6"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.
7What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.
8Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage.
9Then when you pray, God will answer. You'll call out for help and I’ll say, 'Here I am.'

"If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins,
10If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
11I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
12You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Background

Everyone didn't leave Jerusalem and Judah for Babylon; some who left settled in Babylon permanently and helped create good living conditions there. The prophet and poet called 3rd isaiah wrote to the few who'd remained in Jerusalem and to exiles who returned. The temple was gone, the city in disrepair, no one trusted much of anyone. They needed to rebuild infrastructure that would include streets, roads, meeting places, markets for sales and exchange; they needed to rebuild reliable human community that would help with physical, material needs. They wanted to rebuild the temple.

Leading up to the Isaiah passage for today, people had been performing empty rituals and not backing up their claims to love God and neighbor with actually loving, life-affirming, situation-transforming actions. One of the revolutionary things about Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is that unlike other gods of the Ancient Near East, Yahweh didn't require appeasement, tribute, protection, or beseeching. Through Isaiah and other prophets, God tells us holy righteous living means to share your food, invite the homeless / poor into your spaces, put warm clothes on people who need them, be available to your own families. [Isaiah 58:7]

In an echo of the year-long Jubilee Sabbath, this passage connects being good neighbors with proper religious observance. It lines out a series of "if – then" conditions regarding human behaviors, God's response, and effective outcomes. This is a word about the neighbor, about the other; it's neighborology that offers guidelines for creating covenantal community where people trust God and one another. It's a word about a Holy God and a holy people of God.

You may remember Luke 4:16-19 records Jesus of Nazareth's first act of public ministry when he reads from Isaiah 61 and announces good news to the poor and release to the captives? That proclamation ties in closely with this week's passage and to the ministry God calls us to wherever and whenever we are.


COVID-19

Although when we read scripture we first ask about the historical setting that inspired it, most times we want to know "what's in it for us right here and right now." Cities and communities that need rebuilding have become familiar to us. A couple of times I've asked if our current unsettled situation with a global pandemic that seemingly won't quit, worldwide environmental devastation, ongoing social unrest, qualifies as exile, sabbath, winter, or something else. Whatever anyone names it, instructions for the Jubilee Year and from Third Isaiah give us workable ideas for rebuilding our own surroundings. Let's remember the God of liberation and homecoming also is God of resurrection!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Pentecost 19A

Philippians 4:1-9

1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and petitions with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will protect your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, ponder these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Intro

When we gather in person I usually do a quick overview of where we are in the church's year of grace. After today we have 6 (six, a half-dozen) more Sundays and then it will be the First Sunday of Advent and another new year. The current Revised Common Lectionary Year A emphasizes the gospel we received from the community gathered around Matthew. At the start of Matthew an angel instructs Joseph to name the baby "Emmanuel," God-with-us; at the end of Matthew, Jesus promises to be with us forever, "Lo, I am with you always." We know Jesus' promise through Luke of the Holy Spirit of life, of resurrection, of presence the world received in a spectacular manner on the day of Pentecost. John's gospel also brings us God's abiding presence in the Spirit. Today's second reading from the apostle Paul's letter to the church at Philippi assures us of God with us, God among us, God for us.


Philippians

Philippians is one of the seven genuine or undisputed letters written by the apostle Paul. Although as circular, round-robin documents they probably received some editing by others along the way, writing style, vocabulary, syntax, and theology substantially reflect Paul/Saul of Tarsus. Philippians is the "epistle of Joy," with joy or its cognates occurring at least 16 times. As last week's notes observed, we refer to Philippians as a captivity letter because Paul wrote it while he was incarcerated—possibly in house arrest or in a dungeon. Despite circumstances, he maintains confidence in God's presence along with assurance of his essential identity in Jesus Christ.

4:2 "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord…" often gets misinterpreted by assuming the two women had been in the midst of a serious disagreement, but instead it's almost definitely a style of writing and discourse called paranaesis (roughly encouragement or exhortation) that was common in that era and that we find elsewhere in writings from Paul, in epistles attributed to him, and in 1 Peter and 2 Peter. In addition, unlike in the Corinthian Church, there's no evidence of any particular conflict at First Church Philippi. 4:9 confirms this when Paul advises them to keep on doing the things they've learned from him, their pastor and teacher.

4:8 is one of Paul's famous lists: true; honorable; just; pure; pleasing; commendable; excellent; praise-worthy…


Scripture

As a People of the Book – along with Jews and Muslims – Christians accord a high level of authority to the bible and its words inform every aspect of our lives. However, there's something so compelling, inspired, and universally applicable about our scriptures that many people who don't claim any spiritual way use some of its passages to guide them; there's also a Bible as Literature approach you may know about. In addition, even those of us who hear and heed God's call to love and justice, obedience and righteous living to heal creation and transform society, focus on different aspects of The Word at different times.

It's not humanly possibly to spend 365/24/7 responding to God's unmistakable summons to care for the sick, cast out demons, challenge Big Oil, grow and distribute food, worship in gathered assembly. Often we go to the bible for comfort and reassurance.


COVID-19

With southern California counties in different stages of remaining closed and partially reopening, as the USA prepares for a critical presidential election, most of us reasonably thoughtful people have been doing everything possible to care for our neighbors and maintain a semblance of mental and emotional health. But by now, even people who aren't essential or frontline workers need comfort far more than they need another call to action. For sure this passage commands us to rejoice, to be gentle, to let God know our "prayer requests" (not simply praises and thanksgivings!) and not to worry. But most importantly for now, this scripture assures us:
5bThe Lord is near. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will protect your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. … 9bthe God of peace will be with you.


Considerations

• This passage promises us God is with us; it also commands us "Rejoice in the Lord always."
• If you've sung in choirs, you may know Henry Purcell's extremely famous "Rejoice in the Lord Alway" based on Philippians 4:4-5.
• How can we have joy in spite of everything?
• Philippians, the Letter of Joy commands us to rejoice and it promises God's presence and peace and protection. In addition, it more than suggests:
8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable [famous or renowned – Greek is euphemism], if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, ponder these things.
• At this mid-October point when we realize if only we'd started distancing and masking back in January or even February. When we wonder if civil rights legislation, better relating and greater awareness hadn't changed a whole lot of human behaviors and even structures, after all? When we ask if only more individuals and corporations and industries had been more careful with the gifts of creation (David Attenborough says the planet can recover a lot during the next ten years). Amidst all the ugly, disappointing, unsavory, and degraded, how does thinking about good and pleasing things feel?
• In any case, this passage commands us to rejoice and enjoy. A sunrise, a savory salad, a purring cat, a surprise flower finding a way through concrete, a properly distanced conversation, an archived recording of our choir singing a favorite anthem. Have you ever been told or told yourself to "Lighten up?" (As if I need to ask.) What are some of your best and favorite Little Things in life?

Philippians 4:5b The Lord is near. How?

• Short list: In the prayers and presence of people of faith, in the presence of those who care for creation, who advocate for justice. The Lord is near in the words of scripture. As we literally re-member and retell stories of God's faithfulness throughout history and in our own individual lives. The Lord is near as God self-reveals in holy ordinary stuff of creation—water, grain, fruit of the vine.
• What evidence of God's presence do you especially rely on and return to?
• Do you have a favorite scripture for comfort or reassurance? A particular book of the bible?
• Is there a special place or activity that almost always helps you feel better and/or closer to God?