Posts Tagged 'grief'

For Sept. 22, 2013: Proper 20, Year C

The Reading                                                                 Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Jeremiah the prophet is famous for angry denunciations of wickedness. Here is a little of that—“Why have they provoked me?” says the Lord—but much more of today’s reading is grief for the misery of the people of Israel. Gilead was known for balsam from which a healing salve was made, but no such medicine seems able to help. The theme is continued in Psalm 19.

The Response                                          Psalm 79:1-9

“We have become a reproach to our neighbors, an object of scorn and derision to those around us.”

The Epistle                          Gilead,                           1 Timothy 2:1-7

The second chapter of 1 Timothy begins by nearly commanding that we pray for authority figures. In those days a Christian who refused to worship Caesar could be put to death, and many Christians must have known of people who died for that reason. This strong recommendation challenged them, and challenges us, to think about how to deal with those rulers here and abroad with whom we disagree.

The Gospel                                                                            Luke 16:1-13

“‘If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?’”

 

Further thoughts

It is not too great a stretch to say that today’s readings center on debt and responsibility. Jeremiah mourns for God’s poor people, who are afflicted because those who should have known better (which is, on some level, each of us) have lived large and idolized all manner of things—graven images like those in Exodus are named, but perhaps also the self-images that we cherish at the expense of others’ images. The psalm points fingers at the heathen for destroying the Temple and Jerusalem, the City of Peace, but time and again God’s Peace is broken through our sin, which too often includes identifying “heathen” at whom to point fingers rather than identifying wounds to which to bring balm or healing—or apology. The epistle to Timothy declines to assign blame in favor of urging prayer for everyone; not only does its “everyone” hold us to pray even for rulers whom we might consider enemies, but its “prayers” explicitly include giving God thanks for (and upholding the dignity of) those we may find most difficult. Maintaining everyone’s dignity truly is everyone’s job. Jesus’ parable is puzzling and astonishing, especially when a wage worker’s responsibility to plan alone for retirement rises while the wages to fund that retirement recede. The fact is, however, that only God truly owns anything anyway: when we die, our assets pass to others or back to God. Why not cook the books in the service of love, then? Why not freeze the interest and slash the principal on the debts we think we are owed by friends or family or the world at large? Why not be spendthrift with God’s wealth in the name of God’s love?

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For June 9, 2013: Proper 5, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 17:8-24

The first and second books of Kings tell the stories of the rulers of Israel, most of whom are not very faithful to God, and the prophets in those times, most of whom are faithful and often suffer for it. In today’s reading, the prophet Elijah goes outside of Israel and imposes on a widow who has fallen on very hard times that then get worse. Through his faithfulness and his compassion, God’s servant works a miracle.

Lection 1 pronunciation notes: “Zarephath” is ZARE-uh-fath; “Sidon” is SIGH-don

The Response            Psalm 146

“Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.”

The Epistle            Galatians 1:11-24

The church at Galatia was a mix of Gentiles and converted Jews; this could cause friction when the Jews expected the Gentiles to follow Judaic practice. In today’s reading, the apostle Paul sets out his biography for the Galatians with the goal of establishing both his background as a really good Jew and the insignificance of his background when it comes to salvation, which is strictly God’s to give.

Lection 2 pronunciation notes: “Galatia” is gah-LAY-shah; “zealous” is ZELL-us; “Cephas” is SEE-fuss; “Cilicia” is sill-ISH-uh

The Gospel            Luke 7:11-17

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”

Further thoughts

A thread that binds today’s readings together is of things not going according to plan.

The mourners in Nain know exactly where they are going and why and what will happen afterward: their friend and relative has died, so it is their duty to go get him properly buried, and then his mother is going to be destitute because that’s the way the world works. But other plans are in God’s works, and a fairly standard funeral procession turns into a unique celebration.

Saul of Tarsus knows exactly where he is going and why and what will happen afterward: he is going to save God’s people from the threat posed by people who keep preaching Jesus in spite of persecution; he will be a good guy in God’s eyes and a hero to Israel, because that’s the way the world should work. But other plans are in God’s works; the persecutor is turned around by the grace of God, and the proof that this is from God is that, though the message of grace is largely the same, Paul has absolutely not learned it from any human.

The widow of Zarephath knows exactly what she is doing and where it will end: she has no hope of protecting her son from dying of starvation, because that’s the way the world works, but she can at least feed him one last time before they starve together. But other plans are in God’s works, so the prophet from Israel says, and indeed he and they eat and live.

Elijah himself might be less certain. Zarephath, the first reading tells us, “belongs to Sidon”: it is not Israelite territory, and one senses that Elijah goes there only under orders. There, what he has heard from God comes to pass. So far, so good—but suddenly his hostess’s son sickens and dies. This is not in the script! Elijah seems in shock. He cries out at the injustice, then he does whatever comes into his head, and then he implores God… and, miraculously, the boy begins to breathe again, and grief and anger and self-blame give way to wonder.

That is precisely the message of Paul. Though my frailties and my losses bear down on me like the hand of grief on the mourners of Nain, like the hand of hunger on the widow of Zarephath, Jesus the merciful is ready to stop the bier with a touch, not because I deserve it but simply because, wherever I go and with whatever plans, I cannot help but be his.

For Feb. 5, 2012: Presentation in the Temple, Year B

The Reading            Malachi 3:1-4

The book of Malachi is addressed to Jews in post-exile Jerusalem who believe God has abandoned them. The Lord is sending his malaki—his messenger—and the judgment to follow will be like being melted in the flames of a blast furnace or like being scoured clean with strong lye soap, though at the end judgment will lead to vindication.

 

The Epistle            Hebrews 2:14-18

Where the reading from the book of Malachi depicted God’s messenger as judge and purifier, the version in the letter to the Hebrews sounds different: Jesus comes to take on our humanity so he can pay the price of our sins.

 

Further thoughts

During Advent we look forward to the Nativity: we know on some level that Jesus is God come among us, but what we see and reach out to is a sweet little baby born in difficult circumstances.

In Epiphany, the focus shifts: we begin to look into this baby’s future, and ours.

Malachi gives us part of that: the Lord who is to come will bring judgment, and it will be not be pretty. Even the people who were born to serve in the Temple—the offspring of the tribe of Levi—have fallen short of God’s standards and must be purified. The process will be searing and caustic, and we will be ashamed.

The book of Hebrews gives us another parts: the Lord who is and is to come brings judgment, but with it mercy and absolution—though at the cost of his own death by torture, and at the cost of our own recognition of our need for his death.

The Gospel gives us further pieces. Grief is one of them. The grief will be public and personal, abstract and concrete. Simeon foresees the falling of many and a sword piercing Mary’s own heart: what mother is supposed to have to witness the death of her son, and who among us would wish our inner thoughts all to be revealed?

But there is also anticipation. The helpless baby—a child presented at the Temple would be forty days old, of an age to hold his head up and possibly to begin to find his own tiny thumb with his mouth on purpose—will not remain a baby for long. The parents will teach him to walk and to function in this world, and their secret parental hope that their boy is something special will be fulfilled in spectacular fashion. And, once grown, the Man of Sorrows who dies for our sins will still and always also be the laughing Jesus who takes irrepressible delight in all the created order and in each of us, his billions of brothers and sisters, who shows us the way from judgment and grief through mercy to joy we cannot even imagine.