Posts Tagged 'Psalm 29'

For Jan. 11, 2015: 1 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading                                                                      Genesis 1:1-5

As Genesis tells it, the very first act of God in creation was to call light into existence; the second, to recognize that light (and all of creation) is good.

The Response                                                                    Psalm 29

Psalm 29 expands on the theme of the reading from Genesis. The voice of the Lord has the power to call creation into being, to break and bend mighty trees, to make the very mountains skip and buck. How remarkable that this enthroned Lord offers mere humans strength and blessing.

The Second Reading                                                         Acts 19:1-7

In the verses that precede Acts 19:1-7, Paul has arrived in Corinth and instructed Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, in the faith. Now Paul travels northward to Ephesus where he finds a group of people baptized by John, but they do not know of the Holy Spirit. Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus: this is a superior baptism.

The Gospel                                                                          Mark 1:4-11

The Year B lectionary introduces John the baptizer in Advent through the gospels of Mark and John, then repeats part of the reading from Mark in recounting the baptism of Jesus. It is Jesus who sees heaven torn open and the dove’s descent and who hears God’s “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

 

Further thoughts

The scriptures for the first Sunday after the Epiphany, also known as the Baptism of Jesus, all involve displays of power in speaking, though they play out differently. In Genesis 1:1-5, it is the power of God speaking that brings light out of darkness and launches the universe as we know it. Psalm 29 shows us God’s voice as powerful enough to make the created order behave anomalously—mountains scamper, sturdy oaks go limp, whole forests are denuded, the wilderness shakes (not so anomalous in California, perhaps). Everyone notices and is awed.

The New Testament readings are less spectacular. To be sure, in Mark’s otherwise spare account of Jesus’ baptism, heaven is not merely parted but ripped open so that the voice of God can proclaim his Son. Mark’s only other use of the root schizein ‘rend, tear’ is the moment of Jesus’ death when the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom (Mark 15:38), so this earlier moment is surely also significant. But Mark’s language suggests that the visions and voice were chiefly for Jesus’ eye and ear and heart, not to impress bystanders.

Acts 19:1-7 is even less showy: no writhing oaks, no heavenly host, just a wandering preacher who listens and teaches and a dozen people who hear with their hearts, till Paul lays hands on them. Then the power of God appears—not around or above them but in and through them, and through the love poured from a human hand.

As I write, the world still reeks of the blood of Charlie Hebdo. It is tempting to close and lock the doors, to pull into cliques, to reject that which is “other” while imagining that vengeance against those who don’t see things just my way is divine. A younger Paul succumbed to that temptation in his day. But what if being God’s child means opening doors? What if loving God really does require radically and unreservedly loving all God’s world?

For Jan. 12, 2014: First Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 42:1-9

The reading from Isaiah gives us dazzling good news: the chosen of the Lord is coming, not to strut around in pomp and power but to work tirelessly to bring justice to all us people who are out in the dark, off in dungeons, shut in blindness or marooned far from God—and to make of us people who are ourselves bringers of light.

The Response            Psalm 29

Psalm 29 is a meditation on the power of God that is filled with astonishing images: the voice of God has the power to break mighty cedars, set mountains scampering like startled cattle, make sturdy oak trees squirm—and even to make us righteous.

The Second Lesson            Acts 10:34-43

Isaiah announced great good news for Israel. In the second lesson for the first Sunday in Epiphany, blunt Peter, called out of his comfort zone to visit a Roman centurion, summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus: the astounding gift of grace is for anyone—anyone—who will accept it.

The Gospel            Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus, the Son of God, begins his ministry not by announcing how badly everyone else has been doing everything but by seeking baptism from his cousin John.

 

Ponderables

The juxtaposition of images in the readings for the first Sunday of Epiphany is startling: a God with the power to set off great earthquakes and dictate terms to the mighty, yet bringing to those whom the world sees as wearing kick-me signs the gentlest of blessing; a God for whom mountains roll over like Rover and oak trees go limp on cue, yet patiently waiting again and again for Peter to blurt out the insight that Jesus and his own brain have been trying to get him to recognize; a God who sits in judgment on the entire universe, yet taking a place in line at the Jordan like everyone else for a baptism that he alone doesn’t really need…

It sounds like I’m being hard on Peter. In fact, I have great sympathy for him. Most thoughtful writers will cheerfully admit that they often don’t truly know what they think until they say or write it. I’m not in that exalted company, but certainly formatting lections and finding translations for them isn’t nearly as effective in obliging my brain to engage with the content as is the act of composing even a few sentences about at least one of them.

But what must it be like to be John? Feet firmly braced in the Jordan’s slightly slimy bottom, you’re up to the hips in water and in lost souls seeking the light; as you’ve done hundreds of times, you release your safety grip on the previous baptizee and reach for the next—only to discover that it’s Aunt Mary’s kid who also happens to be the Son of God. How are you not going to screw this up?

Well, by God’s grace and showing up: what else could do?

For Jan. 13, 2013: 1 Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 43:1-7

Chapters 40 to 55 of the book of Isaiah most probably date from the time of exile in Babylon in the sixth century B.C. After long silence, the Holy One speaks again, calling Israel back out of exile, declaring love, and announcing willingness to redeem all God’s people, no matter how high the price and no matter where they are.

The Response            Psalm 29

The Second Reading            Acts 8:14-17

Our second reading today is from the book of Acts. Jesus’ command to go to all nations combines with rising persecution in Jerusalem to propel Philip on mission to Samaria, where joyful crowds of both men and women accept baptism. The apostles decide to investigate.

The Gospel            Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

 

Further thoughts

The constant in the readings for the first Sunday in Epiphany is change. In Isaiah, God calls Israel to transition from exile in Babylon back to freedom in Jerusalem—though, as it turned out, life in Jerusalem wasn’t what the Israelites expected it to be. The reading from Acts shows the church transitioning—whether it liked the idea or not—from a local concern for a subset of Jewish men to a movement that was intertribal, intergender, and indeed en route to being international—though the apostles seem to have experienced some cognitive dissonance over the possibility that the despised Samaritans should provide the welcome to the Word that one might have expected of God’s own Israelites. Luke shows us Jesus transitioning into his earthly ministry, with an astonishing sign following a good deal of wondering and speculation on the part of others.

Human beings tend not to find transitions easy, one way or another. As we come today to the end of the ministry of Lark Diaz among us, it occurs to me first that it is very human not to be comfortable with transition.

This discomfort may well have been shared by Jesus. For we believe that Jesus is true God—the true God of today’s psalm, whose voice makes stolid oak trees writhe like eels, whose power is limitless, who sits enthroned for ever. But this God voluntarily was born into our world of change and loss, and went through all the transitions of life: birth, then the challenges of toddlerhood, middle childhood, the considerable trials of adolescence (can anyone imagine Jesus not having a God-sized case of adolescent angst?), adulthood, and finally the loss of status and dignity in the trials and suffering followed by death. Unless Jesus retained no memory at all of being God, all of this earthly transition must have been incredibly jarring.

But, say Isaiah and the psalmist, God is the constant through all of our transitioning. Whatever the disasters, God loves us forever and is prepared to make good on that love, though in ways we often can’t imagine. Even though a transition involves grief and even humiliation, and though the final transition for us is our extinction, God is with us, and God has walked this path.

But what if the God of eternity is also the God of eternal change?


Enter your email address to subscribe to St Alban's Lections and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2 other followers