Saturday, August 26, 2023

Pentecost 13A

For the Lord will comfort Zion
He will comfort all her waste places
And will make her wilderness like Eden
Her desert like the
Garden of the Lord
Isaiah 51:3
Isaiah 51:1-5

1 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.

3 For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4 Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. 5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.

Listen! Look! Remember!

This week's first reading comes from chapters 40 through 55, or 2nd Isaiah, who spoke God's hope to many of God's people who had been exiled to Babylon.

Prior to this, they'd crossed the Jordan into the promised land after a 40-years long trek through the exodus desert after being liberated from Egypt. They'd made Canaan home by sinking deep agricultural, familial, religious, occupational, and commercial roots. Please note: the events in these verses cover a very long timeline, and all of it could not have been part of the living memory of any one person.

However, everyone would have resonated with Isaiah's imagery because they would have frequently remembered, retold, and relived salvation history.

Isaiah reminds the exiles of their experience with God's extraordinary faithfulness. In Hebrew, listen and hear are the same word...

Righteousness, the Exodus rock, Abraham, Sarah, mount Zion, wilderness, Eden, desert, garden, justice, deliverance, salvation, hope. Plus singing and thanksgiving! God's arm—God's power, presence, strength, deliverance from death to life. Any of these would make an illuminating word study. Also, most of this is geographical and physical.

Notice what God has done and trust that same God's promises for your future. Notice where you've been, how far you've traveled, how you got to where you are, and because of it, claim hope for God's future.

To remember means to reassemble something that has been broken apart, torn apart, dismembered, dissembled into multiple pieces. It's no longer an integral whole.

Remembering Into Hope

Listen to God, pay attention and hear what God proclaims and teaches. Look to our source and our deep roots in God's life and God's actions. Remember.

You've probably heard:

(1) If you keep looking back you won't see where you're going; and
(2) If you don't look back, you won't learn from the past and you'll make those same mistakes. Both are true.

• What family memories are especially important to you? Why?
• Any family memories you'd like to forget? Why?
• What memories of your current place of worship and service are especially important to you?
• What memories of your entire history with the church and churches you've been part of are particularly important to you?
• What story of stories from scripture have special meaning for you?

Remember where you've been in order to gain hope for your future.

• How does remembering the past give us post-911, post-January 6th, post-Covid pandemic hope? (Covid still is with us, but it's become endemic.)
• How do we best remember?! Narrating the timeline? Talking with people who've been there with us? Looking at photographs and scrapbooks? If you keep a journal, reading your past entries? Reading the bible? Some other way?

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Pentecost 12A

Los Angeles Cathedral
Los Angeles Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-8

1 Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 2 Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

Isaiah Outline

The 66 chapters long book of Isaiah comes from three different eras and three primary authors:

• 1st Isaiah – 1-39 before the Babylonian exile

• 2nd Isaiah – 40-55 during the Babylonian exile

• 3rd Isaiah – 56-66 after the exile, mostly addressed to people who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild city, temple, infrastructure, and community. Some deportees remained in Babylon; per God's instructions via Jeremiah, they continued to "seek the good" of the city where they'd landed.

Despite probably distinct authorship of each section, all three include material whose overall style doesn't accord with the rest because it's almost definitely from another writer or writers.

All of Greater Isaiah brings us inclusive universalism that's not vapid, sweet, contentless New Age, but reveals a God who reaches out with love and mercy to all people and all creation everywhere. Together with his eighth century counterpart Amos, 1st Isaiah brings us the earliest articulation of true monotheism.

Today's Reading…

…reminds us of the holy demands of a holy God to do justice, rock righteousness, and to keep Sabbath. It also reveals a God who loves, includes, and embraces everyone—including Israel's enemies!

This passage easily can be misunderstood as it begins with God telling the people to act with justice and righteousness and then redemption – "deliverance" in the NRSV – will arrive. Along with some others, this scripture reading may appear as if grace is conditional and happens as a result of our behaviors (works-righteousness), but with God that's never the case.

Related to December holidays of Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa, people sometimes talk about "exchanging gifts" or a workplace "gift exchange" but an exchange is an economic transaction, and by definition a gift cannot be earned or paid for. On those holidays we either give presents or performs transactions; it cannot be both.

From Isaiah 56:7, the cornerstone of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles announces "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." This is ecumenical cooperation between very different, quite similar, and closely related Christian denominations—it's also interfaith, just as it was during Third Isaiah's sixth century.


The official Sabbath day never changed from setting apart the hours from Friday sundown through Saturday sundown, but we often expand the word "sabbath" to describe any time of rest (shabbat means "rest") from productive activity, for any time specifically for God, for worship, for family, for not conceding to the demands of empire. Maybe ironically, when an academic goes on a sabbatical year or semester they expect to study and produce, but it still is a refreshing time away from normal expectations and involvement.

Because of Jesus' resurrection on Sunday, Christians typically worship and whenever possible refrain from paid work and unnecessary busyness on Sundays, but that's not possible for everyone. Most Sundays most pastors are on the clock! Employment slots obviously need to be filled every day by health care, police, fire, transportation, and other essential personnel. Retailers that stay open on Sundays need to stay staffed. (Is retail shopping always "unnecessary busyness?") However, human bodies and spirits require regular time away from being busy, time to simply be, and scheduling a regular time of sabbath is necessary for mental and physical wellness.

How do you typically find rest, refreshment, and renewal? Have you heard or read about recreational or restorative activities (I had to use that action word) or options that sound like a good fit for your style and that you'd like to try?

baptismal font looking toward chancel
Baptismal font looking toward chancel at LA Cathedral

Offertory Table
Offertory table at LA Cathedral

Campanile at LA cathedral
Campanile at LA Cathedral

Friday, August 11, 2023

Pentecost 11A

three boats on water by eddie fouse
Original boat photograph by eddiefouse via

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, …

24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.

27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I {I am}; do not be afraid." 28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"

31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

So Far

We come to today's nautical scene after the violent death of Jesus' cousin John the Baptist, followed by last week's account of Jesus and his disciples feeding a throng of 5,000+++ hungry, needy people late in the day in a lonely locale.

Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:15-21 describe very similar versions of Jesus walking on water, but only Matthew includes Peter's attempt to walk on water at Jesus' invitation.

Walk on Water

Walking on water is a well-known buzz phrase. What does it mean to you? I usually think of Neil Diamond's:

Walk on water, ain't it like her
She leads the children
Ain't it right
And ain't it wondrous
The way she does it
Gives love and loves it…

How do these words connect with this gospel reading?

Walking on water / Peter afraid again is another one we've heard countless times. It's good to move deeper than "you need to get out of the boat if you want to walk on water … you need to keep your eyes on Jesus all the time" interpretations to more substance, although those behaviors are essential.

From the angel instructing Joseph (1:23) to name the baby Emmanuel, "God with us," (although verse 25 says Joseph named him Jesus), to the risen Christ's promise always to be with us (28:20) at the end of his gospel, God's presence is one of Matthew's pervasive themes.

14:27 Most translations tell us Jesus said something like "it is I; this is me," yet the Greek reports he only announced "I am." Ego ami duplicates Yahweh's response when Moses asked, "Who shall I tell my people sent me? What shall I say your name is?" (Exodus 3:13-14) Moses needed to know because there apparently was a new god he didn't recognize in town. Jesus echoes and he identifies with the God of the exodus, God of freedom, of promise, God of unmediated presence.

It's fascinating that Matthew uses Mark's typical connector word "immediately" several times in this passage. We also get a qualifying "but" a few times

Where We Live

In the ancient near east, untamed water was an symbol of disarray, chaos, and absence of divine oversight. You recall Genesis 1 when God's Word and Spirit tamed chaos into an orderly, interdependent world.

A familiar metaphor views the church as a boat. Many worship areas have been constructed in the shape of an upside-down ship. We even refer to the section of the sanctuary where worshippers sit as the nave—same source as the word "navy."

Chapters earlier, in Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus is in the same boat as the disciples, stilling the waters and the storm: "Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" That incident and today's both demonstrate Jesus as Lord of creation. They reveal Jesus acting in ways God usually acts.

As people formed in God's image, what about our loving care and stewardship of water? Do you visit your nearest river, lake, or ocean? Do you know your watershed? The Environmental Protection Agency's How's My Waterway can help you locate it and connect you with water-related resources. With water covering about 70% of planet earth's surface, our everyday lives are ongoing nautical enterprises.

A few weeks ago we heard Romans 8:19, "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God." Creation yearns for humans who reflect and embody their divine image by caring for the natural world the same way God does. God calls us to cherish and protect creation, even in ways that help reverse climate change and prevent more species extinction.

"Keep your eyes on Jesus," is simple yet remains essential. Jesus gave us the church as a ship with all of us in the boat together. With its "I believe," the Apostle's Creed is the baptismal statement of faith, but then we live we, us, our, and ours as the baptismal pronouns.
wind and waves

Friday, August 04, 2023

Pentecost 10A

"This is a deserted place,
and the hour is now late."
Matthew 14:15
Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18 And he said, "Bring them here to me."

19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Feeding Five Thousand+++

Every scriptural instance of water isn't about baptism; every reference to grain or grape isn't about the Lord's Supper, but gifts of creation always remind us of God's provision and God's call to steward creation. Today's story of five loaves of bread and two fish is amazing on many counts—among them the fact all four gospels include it.

Mark 6:35-44

Luke 9:12-17

John 6:1-14

All of them end with 12 (twelve) baskets of leftovers!

• Psalm 78:19b "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?" Can we spread a table in this wilderness?

We sometimes parallel Jesus and his disciples (verse 16, "you give them something to eat") feeding hungry people in this desolate, late in the day landscape with God feeding the Exodus desert wanderers.

The Old Testament makes abundant food the icon of the fullness of the Messianic time. As creatures who bear God's image, we recognize food as the primary symbol of hospitality as it responds to our needs for physical sustenance and social connection. Whatever person or group is the apparent end giver, food is a gift from heaven.

What Is More

Gathering 5,000 people was an act of sedition punishable by crucifixion; 5,000 formed a military battalion.

This loaves and fishes event happened during the grain harvest, close to Passover. John's account says the loaves were barley, which likely was the case. Barley was the poor person's grain because the wealthy got most of the costlier wheat, but to its advantage, barley is ready for harvest earlier than wheat, and barley grows well in ground that's not as nutrient-rich as wheat requires. Barley also was one of the seven agricultural gifts of the Promised Land! Most of Jesus' disciples were fishers by trade; in that part of the world, fish was a food of the gods. In the initialism ichthys, letters of the Greek word for "fish" become the first letters of Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.

Similar to food insecurity worldwide and in our backyards, food scarcity was an indignity of imperial Roman occupation. Equally indignant is the fact most metropolitan areas in this country have food deserts, with no healthy food available within a reasonably walkable radius.

• Psalm 78:19b "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?" Can we spread a table in this wilderness?

Current scholarship questions that loaves and fishes multiplied out of nowhere. We can assume those who had food with them would have wanted to hang on tightly to it and not share. Five loaves and two fish was all the disciples could see offhand through that large crowd. Many of the 5,000+ had no food, "So Jesus, send them away to buy food elsewhere" (that might or might not have been an option).

"At the very end of that day," there really was enough food to go around, and… twelve baskets of leftovers. We frequently hear there's enough food worldwide to feed everyone, but very few behave as if they believed it.

• How about you? How about me? Do we act in ways that show trust in "enough?"

• What does grace taste like?

Living with Others

The world has seen an unending series of imperial governments. Food production has assumed an imperial force of its own. Exactly like national and colonizing political regimes, Big Ag runs on greed and exploitation. Individuals and corporations who keep the profits externalize costs. Debt on every level downstream of the very top is the foundation of any imperial economy.

We are what we eat and literally embody everything we consume. We embody labor of people who grow, produce, transport, process, prepare, and serve our food. We embody actions that contribute to ruining the land and the environment. We embody the disease and death Big Ag has caused farmers, farmlands, and farmhands. With packaging, transportation, and distribution prices not necessarily lower, organic certification doesn't negate those costs.

• We can move away from imperial forms of production and distribution to covenantal methods sourced from our kinship and our common wealth. Or can we?

• Psalm 78:19b "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?" Can we spread a table in this wilderness?

• Besides shopping at farmers markets, eating low on the food chain, and planting gardens, what can we do?

Living for Others

Matthew 14:19 Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

At many points in Jesus' ministry we recognize his "taking – thanking – breaking – giving" as a eucharistic action that like our own, participates in the redemption of all creation. In Holy Communion, food no longer is an imperial commodity to be traded or sold, but a gift to be received. Formally and theologically, the sacrament is in the remembering, the blessing, the giving, and the receiving—in the relational interconnectedness. Apart from those "together" words and actions, bread is simply bread. Fruit of the vine? Simple wine. Reflecting this, the Methodist Book of Discipline tells us the concept of transubstantiation "overthroweth the nature of a sacrament."

We often feel the best communion bread is baked locally by confirmation students in the church kitchen, a member in their own bakery, as a intergenerational family project, but can our feasting around the Lord's table transform and redeem breads and vines from Big Ag? Maybe we purchased or bartered for ingredients or an already baked loaf, but what if "the buck stopped" there and as we gathered around God's Table, receiving them became the only required payment for the bread and the fruit of the vine? What if we extended that cost-free inclusion beyond the assembly gathered around Word and Sacrament on a Sunday or feast day?

• How can we spread a table in the wilderness and provide nutritious food at the crossroads of empire and covenant? Or can we?

The sacraments form models for our interactions after "the church leaves the building." The Old Testament makes abundant food the touchstone of full redemption. Our Christian eucharistic feast is a foretaste of the New Creation … when the world won't need sacraments.

Eating together nourishes spirits and relationships.
Eating together heals individual and social bodies.
Food is essential—community equally so. An old transit poster reminded travelers, "loneliness can kill people."

• What are some of your best memories of sharing food or something else you already had and that someone else needed?

• In addition to life-giving ministries of prayer, community gardens, and food pantries, what can we do?
• What do we already have with us that we can share to help the worlds outside our doors?
• Do our votes for political leaders and ballot propositions really get counted? Do they actually help lead to change?

• Psalm 78:19b "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?" Can we spread a table in this wilderness?

Everyone reading this could write or talk paragraphs of food-related experiences of disappointment, surprise, and redemption.

• What does exclusion feel like?
• What does grace taste like?
Ban mi sandwich with fish and crusty baguette
Original Banh mi picture by Alan Levine