Archive for April, 2013

For April 28, 2013: 5 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 11:1-18

This week’s reading from the book of Acts skips past Peter’s precedent-shattering visit to the Roman centurion and his family in Joppa to show what happens on his return to Jerusalem: he is grilled by the believers there, who have been taught from birth that they must keep away from Gentiles. How do we know who belongs to God?

The Response            Psalm 148

“Kings of the earth and all peoples… old and young together… let them praise the Name of the Lord.”

The Epistle            Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation this week closes with a vision of a redeemed world in which all the pain and grief that came into the world with Adam and Eve are no more. Strikingly, the holy city Jerusalem is not found far off in heaven: it comes as all our tears are wiped away by God’s own hand, and it comes to Earth.

The Gospel            John 13:31-35

“‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

 

Further thoughts

In this weary world it is impossible to love without grieving, because it is impossible to love without loss. Because not even mothers (whatever their small children may believe) can be in more than one place at one time, we suffer separations large and small; lacking God’s-eye insight into each other, we endure misunderstanding and being misunderstood. We grieve when others don’t live up to our expectations for them or when we don’t or can’t live up to theirs; we give each other grief, in more senses than one; and of course we grieve both for those who die before we were ready for them to—which takes in practically everyone—and, as we begin to see it coming, for our own death.

On some level we all know this. It is part of what makes Jesus’ charge to love another so darned hard: Sooner or later—sooner and later—it has to hurt, and hurt deeply. The reading from Revelation paints for us a luminous picture of a world in which that pain is no more… but Lord knows we’re not there yet.

One suspects that the believers in Jerusalem all went through some of this grief on Peter’s return to Jerusalem. One imagines brash, openhearted Peter rushing back to share the exciting news about the astonishing new definition of “God’s people”, only to hit the brick wall of the Judeans’ opposition; one visualizes the Judeans, horrified by accounts of Peter’s apparent dereliction and determined to make things as right as they possibly could. This situation could easily have led straight to impasse—to the sort of schism that has recurred, regrettably, throughout the history of religions and philosophies. Instead, however, both sides contained their disappointment and grief long enough for Peter to explain well and for the Judeans to listen well. They loved each other not only that much, but that well.

And perhaps that is exactly where the new Jerusalem is: not there in heaven, but here, and here, and here, in the hearts that we care for and cherish and in the hearts we miss with tenderness, in the praises we raise together and the prayers that we pray with and for each other, and in the drying of each other’s tears.

For April 21, 2013: Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 9:36-43

The book of Acts shows us God making good on God’s promises to the early church. Jesus had assured the disciples that they would do even greater miracles than he had—and here we see it come to pass. Jesus had also told the disciples (though they did not reliably register it) that he is Messiah to more than the Jews; the fact that Tabitha seems to have gone by a Greek name suggests that she herself was living out this wider call.

The Response            Psalm 23

“You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me…”

The Second Reading            Revelation 7:9-17

Taken together with the raising of Tabitha, the vision of heaven in today’s reading from Revelation tells us many things: that in this life there is still sorrow and struggle, trial and loss, but that, if we persevere, we too may receive the bounty of life that Jesus has bought for us.

The Gospel            John 10:22-30

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

 

Further thoughts

Almost a week has elapsed since the finish line of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon was transformed in an instant from a place of celebration into a charnel house. Five people have died, including one of the suspects, a campus policeman at MIT, and an eight-year-old boy who was cheering his father on; 176 are injured; and life in the city of Boston came to a standstill and stayed that way during the manhunt for the other suspect.

In the aftermath, it can be difficult to believe in miracles, more difficult to pray for those who perpetrate such horrors, and harder still to confront the question of why a loving God would fail to step in to stop such atrocity.

Today’s readings give us very little help with the last question. In fact, the reading from Acts raises a further uncomfortable question: why choose Dorcas alone to raise from death, and not all the believers? Why spare a few but not all? This is the question that has troubled our elder brothers and sisters in God, the Jews, most painfully since the Holocaust. Some may say that the question demonstrates the Jews’ failure in faith, but I think they do well to ask it, and I think that, in this life, it has no truly satisfactory answer this side of the grave.

What I do know is that we follow Jesus, and that means, among other things, that we follow him into dying. But the promise of Revelation and of the reading from John is that dying is not the end. Whether we die peacefully at an advanced age or not, we still belong to God. And the works that we do in the name of Jesus—which include praying for and blessing even our enemies, even to the point of sharing with them the spread that Psalm 23 promises us—are the signs that we truly belong to God.

For April 14, 2013: Celebration of New Ministry

The Reading            Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25a

The book of Numbers is the account of Israel’s progress out of Egypt to the land that God had promised. Today’s reading opens shortly after God’s own redeemed people have exasperated Moses again, this time by complaining about the menu. God’s prescription also works well for a population that is not fed up with manna.

The Response            Psalm 146

“He sustains the orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.”

The Epistle            Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16m

Scholars disagree on whether the letter to the Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul or even whether it was originally addressed to the church at Ephesus. There is little dispute, however, as to the importance of the teaching in today’s passage: we are called to welcome each other’s gifts and our own as we help build the church in the love of Christ. 

The Gospel            Luke 10:1-2

“‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

 

Further thoughts

The readings for today at St Alban’s Episcopal, El Cajon, depart from the normal course of the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, to celebrate a return to normality: our church is officially inducting a new rector. The event will feature a blessing from the bishop of the diocese and an assortment of gifts to launch the new ministry. Most of the gifts are standard for an event of this type—a Bible and prayer book, vestments, oil for anointing, bread and wine and water. Some, however, are peculiar to our church; a food basket and school book, for our ministry to refugees; a shovel, for the community garden recently launched in conjunction with our near neighbors of First Presbyterian; the soup ladle, for our ministry of feeding the homeless. One final gift is specific to the new man: the Ecclesia cross, for a ministry without walls to the homeless in Boston that our transplanted-Easterner rector means to plant here. 

Today’s readings quite properly remind us that the sharing of gifts with our rector does not and must not stop today. To be sure, Fr. Dave faces rather fewer people than did Moses—it is easy to forget that the two censuses in the book of Numbers each counted over 600,000 Israelite men of fighting age, not counting the women, children, and Levites; seventy assistants to help with the Israelites’ fractiousness and grumbling doesn’t sound like much, until one realizes that Moses just acquired seventy times the help he’d had before. In any case, “seventy” tends to be Bible-ese for “a whole lot”, and perhaps this makes slightly better sense of the fact that the quantity of help that Yahweh orders in for Moses tallies with the quantity of help that Luke tells us Jesus ordered out to serve as his advance troops.

Whoever really did write the book of Ephesians sheds light on what we could call the Numbers numbers game. The larger the number of individuals who stand ready to offer their gifts, and the more willing they are to foster and recognize both their own gifts and those of others, the likelier it is that a gift that is suited to a specific need can be found. The ladle and book and basket and shovel are gifts not just from us but for us, and not just for us but through us to God’s world—and all the evidence indicates that it will take every one of us doing things we weren’t sure we could do in God’s grace to help this world live into “Thy Kingdom come.”

For April 7, 2013: 2 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 5:27-32

During and after Jesus’ execution, the disciples had cringed and cowered as the authorities took steps to ensure no further trouble from Jesus’ followers. The book of Acts, however, recounts the astonishing lengths to which, with Jesus risen, the faithful would go to proclaim the Good News.

The Response            Psalm 118:14-29

The Second Reading            Revelation 1:4-8

The book of Revelation takes its name from the first word in it—the Greek word apokalypsis, which means ‘an uncovering or revealing’. In these opening verses, John greets us in the name of Jesus Christ, witness, liberator, ruler of kings, priest of priests, beginning and end.

The Gospel            John 20:19-31

“‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”

 

Further thoughts

In the evening of the day that Jesus arose, Thomas expressed doubt. Feeling whipsawed after the exhilaration of following Jesus in the flesh followed by the fearsome and horrible events of the crucifixion, Thomas is understandably reluctant to entrust his heart again, until Jesus reveals himself, wounds and all. Notice that the believing disciples are nevertheless still hiding in the upper room in fear of the authorities: there may be less distance between them and “doubting Thomas”—and between them and us—than is apparent in our popular myths about who the disciples are that we are not.

The reading from Acts is set weeks, after Pentecost, after the coming of fire and wind and speaking in languages one had not known before. The once-timorous disciples are now publicly preaching and teaching the risen Christ and the forgiveness of sins. The authorities are distinctly unhappy with this: what is being said runs against their ideas of what is true worship, but it also puts them in a difficult position with respect to their Roman overlords, who disapprove of the sort of public unrest that the disciples’ statements are bound to foment. It seems, though, that no threat that the authorities can unleash is enough to shut these men up about Jesus and his love and forgiveness. Is there more distance between them and us than exists in our beliefs about ourselves as Christians?

The difference between us is not, I suspect, that the original disciples became sinless. That would make them other than human. But equally clearly they’re not shackled by what they do or have done wrong, and Acts is permeated with their support for and love of each other. Might this mean that forgiveness—the getting of it and the giving of it—by releasing each of us from the shackles of self, is among the most important ministries in which we can participate?