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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures:
First Sunday After Christmas: Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 148:1-14, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40
Holy Name of Jesus & other festivals: Numbers 6:22-27, Psalm 8:1-9, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 2:15-21
New Year’s Day: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, Psalm 8:1-9, Revelation 21:1-6a, Matthew 25:31-46

This week we again are offered three sets of readings. We are still in the season of Christmas—the First Sunday after Christmas. It’s also New Year’s Day has its own set of readings. Finally, on January 1 or the first Sunday in January, Catholics celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the feast of the Circumcision, a whole series of feasts related to Mary (now combined in what is called “The Solemnity of Mary”), and a World Day of Peace. I think it is good for Protestants to find ways to incorporate Mary into our worship more than usually happens, so I don’t want just to dismiss that as one possible focus for Sunday, January 1.

I again see the abundance of readings as offering a variety of possible directions for our thinking, enrichment, and growth. As I thought about the coming of the New Year, I was reminded of the practice of making a list of resolutions. Looking at all of this week’s readings, I found myself with more questions than “themes.” I remember someone who said it is not so much the answers that matter as we go through life. The questions we ask matter as much as the questions.

What if, instead of a list of resolutions, we adopted a question (or a short list of them) for the coming year? The Kairos-Milwaukie congregation has viewed portions of the video series, “Living the Questions.” Are there questions that might give shape to our lives in the coming year? This blog will look briefly at the readings and identify one or more questions that challenge me. I don’t know if that will work or not, but I invite you to join me—and perhaps form some questions of your own.

Isaiah 61:10-62:3—This expression of Messianic hope gives us images of the adornment worn by the hoped-for one who will “cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations.” (61:11) It was a hope expressed with the coming of every king, often incorporated into the coronation ceremony. In this case, we are told of “garments of salvation” and robes of “righteousness,” wedding apparel with garlands and jewels, “a crown of beauty” and “a royal diadem.” (61:10 & 62:3)

We live in a culture which often invests great hope every four years when a new President is inaugurated. We live in a culture which often judges people by the apparel they wear. Notice that while the apparel of this king is described in somewhat traditional kingly terms, the content is not in the outward adornment. This king is wearing salvation and righteousness, etc.

A question: What do we want our leaders to wear?

Numbers 6:22-27—This oft-repeated benediction depicts a “Lord” who shines the light of grace upon, looking us in the face, so to speak, and offering us peace. (vss. 25-26) Have we ever looked deep into the eyes of someone and experienced them looking back and known in that moment that we were deeply loved? If we could look God in the eye (without fear, without simply seeing the old man with a beard in the sky), what would we see, and how would that affect us? Now there’s something to ponder for the New Year.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13—The writer of Ecclesiastes brings the questions of a pessimist to the Bible. This much-loved reading about time is very fateful in its outlook. It’s appropriate as a reflection on the meaning of life on New Year’s Day, but what do those of us who are more optimistic do with it? Is it true that there is “a time for war”? (vs. 8) Certainly history is full of war, but need it be that way. Can we avoid being “victims” of time? The significance of the reading, I believe, is in verses 11 and following. We are told that everything is suitable for its time. (vs. 11—Many of us grew up with the reading which says, “Everything is beautiful in its own time.” I like the notion of seeing beauty in everything, maybe even going through the next year asking where is the beauty around me?) We are also told that, while we may sense that there is a purpose in the movement of life, we “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (vs. 11) The solution is to experience life as a gift and enjoy it in each moment. (vss. 12-13)

Psalm 148:1-14—Like many Psalms, this one overflows with praise. What is amazing is the all-inclusiveness of the “praisers”—sun, moon, and stars, sea monsters, fire and hail, snow and frost, mountains and hills, trees, wild animals, birds, kings, young and old, angels. Is the song of a whale a way of praising? I don’t know. I do know that the Bible repeatedly sees all the cosmos as an expression of God’s grace. Psalms like this remind us that we are all connected in one great eco-system, or should we say “cosmo-system”? It is a hymn to be sung by environmentalists. Perhaps we can go through the next year asking where we are hearing or seeing praise in all that is around us.

Psalm 8:1-9—If Psalm 148 puts us in our proper place among all living things, this Psalm reminds us that somehow or other there is a divinity in us (what elsewhere is called “the image of God”). We have been made “a little lower than God, . . . crowned . . . with glory and honor.” (vs. 5) Whatever we read into this Psalm’s images of dominion, I do not believe our Godlikeness as a license to use abusive authority. A question for pondering: In what ways are we like God, and what are the implications?

Galatians 4:4-7—This reading also deals with God connections. It wants us to know that Jesus was “born of a woman.” (vs. 4—There’s Mary!) It talks about adopted children and heirs, the Spirit of Jesus crying in our hearts, “Abba! Father!. (vss. 5-6) The imagery is that of family, but a new kind of family. What does it mean to live with the image of God as our parent?

Philippians 2:5-11—A grand tribute to the combination of human and divine in Jesus and a call for us to have that “same mind in” us. (vs. 5) What mind did Jesus have in him? The mind/spirit guiding Jesus was the mind of God. What does it mean to have the mind of God in us? For Jesus it meant taking on the “likeness” of humanity, “being found in human form.” (vs. 7) The key is humility, emptying oneself. Where is the mind of God calling us and taking us in 2012?

Along with the humility is an exaltation in a series of verses that, on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, speak of “the name that is above every name,” a name at which “every knee should bend . . .” What would it mean to live 2012 “in Jesus’ name.”

Revelation 21:1-16—This New Year’s reading focuses upon “a new heaven and a new earth” (vs. 1), a time when “I am making all things new.” (vs. 5) With every new year one of the most important questions is, “What’s going to be new?” Can things really be made new? Certainly there is much newness needed. How do we work with God in bringing that newness into being?

Luke 2:15-40—As we remember Mary, we might focus on verse 19 in which Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” What must it have been like for Mary (or Joseph for that matter) to have been parent to a child around which there was so much hubbub—at least according to the story? Do we ever see birth with such wonder and pondering in our hearts? What kind of world and possibility are our children being born into?

The rest of the reading is about Jesus’ circumcision and prophetic announcements associated with that occasion. Again the parents “were amazed at what was being said about him.” Simeon says to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (vs. 35) Like parents everywhere, Jesus’ parents worried about the future he faced, however much or little they understood about it. Sensitive people in every age worry about the future that will greet their children and grandchildren, praying that future generations will build up rather than tear down. What future are we going to be building in 2012?

Matthew 25:31-46—This New Year’s reading was also used on Thanksgiving Sunday. The parable is traditionally seen, of course, as identifying the ministry which has eternal value—feeding and taking care of such people. It is as if we are doing it to God himself.

Instead of interpreting further or identifying more questions, I'm going to conclude with a quote from Henri Nouwen. It ends with a question suggested by this parable, to be laid alongside the many questions put before us (and that you may add) as we look ahead to 2012.

From “Bread for the Journey,” a year’s worth of daily meditations by Henri Nouwen—a few sentences from the reading for Dec. 25th. “What is our task in this world as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus? Our task is reconciliation. Wherever we go we see divisions among people—in families, communities, cities, countries, and continents . . . So whatever we do the main question is, ‘Does it lead to reconciliation among people?’”
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures:
Proper I: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96:1-13, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
Proper II: Isaiah 62:6-12, Psalm 97:1-12, Titus:3:4-7, Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20
Proper II: Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98:1-9, Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12), John 1:1-14

We are given three different sets of reading for Christmas Eve/Christmas. Some churches celebrate, in most years, a Christmas Eve liturgy, a Christmas Day liturgy, and a Christmas Sunday liturgy. With all those liturgies bunched together this year---on Saturday night and Sunday, we are given the “proper” readings for each. I simply view it as a larger smorgasbord to choose from to feed our souls as we seek to understand and celebrate a holy birth—and perhaps the holiness in all births.

I was born early on a Sunday morning. I suppose that Sunday was a little complicated for my parents. Any birth complicates things—whether it’s Sunday or not. The birth of Jesus was no exception.

Life can never be the same after any birth. I was present at the birth of two of my children—one of them by Caesarean. There was wonder and awe in that moment. Where did this living, breathing, creature come from? What will he or she become? Can I handle what this birth means? Can I cope with the changes it will bring?

The various readings offered by the lectionary suggest several possible areas of reflection as we prepare for the official liturgical beginning of the “Christmas” season this Sunday.

1. The birth of a child is something to be celebrated. The readings are full of celebration. Isaiah 9 speaks of the coming of a great light (vs. 1) which has “increased” the “joy” of the nation. “They rejoice before you as with joy at harvest.” (vs. 2) Isaiah 52 & 62 celebrate the rebirth of Jerusalem, a rebirth Christians centuries later, connected with a Messiah (Jesus) who would usher in a New Jerusalem. “Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;” we read in Isaiah 52:9, “for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” The Psalms sing for joy and the earth rejoices. “O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” (Psalm 96:1) “Let the earth rejoice; let the coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1) “O sing the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things . . . Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous sing and sing praises.” (Psalm 98:1 & 4) In the story of the birth of Jesus as told in Luke, the angels (“a multitude of the heavenly host”) sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 1:13-14) The shepherds who come to worship returned to the fields, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen . . .” (Luke 1:20)

How do we celebrate the birth of Jesus—or any birth? What songs do we sing? Some families make much of birthday celebrations, celebrating the growth that occurs and the possibilities that still are ahead. What might it mean to think of Christmas as a big birthday party?

2. Birth involves rituals of naming. Parents have often thought about possible names long in advance. Sometimes the names represent family heritage, popular heroes, currently trendy names, names that reflect place or month of birth (Denver or May), popular values and concepts (Hope, Joy, etc.). In some cultures a name may embody some attribute or hoped-for destiny to be lived into—Running Bear, Mighty Healer, etc.

What do names mean anyway? They signify the whole bundle of life embodied in this individual. No words of description quite catch up all that I am, but when someone speaks my name, they refer to my entire being—even the parts that person doesn’t know or understand. Names have an element of aspiration and hope. Each birth represents potential to be lived into.

I was Jim (or Jimmie or James) from the day I was born. The cells of my body have been many times replaced. My understanding of the world, my beliefs, my relationships have changed and developed over time, but I am still Jim. Every experience, including those yet to come, are contained in that name we are given.

Jesus was known by many names. His being was beyond capture by one name, so followers through the ages have used many words. The list of names in Isaiah 9:6 have been applied to him: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He has been called “Light”. (See Isaiah 9:2, Psalm 97:4, John 1:4, 7-9) The Gospel According to John calls him “the Word” which was from the beginning. (John 1:1) “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (vs. 14)

His ancestry, and those who were God’s spokespersons before him, mattered His father, Joseph, was "descended from the house and family of David.” (Luke 1:4) He was somehow the “Son” of God. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2, with development and description in the verses following) Both Luke and Matthew record his genealogy.

Among the more difficult names to understand and interpret, for those in the progressive stream of Christianity, are Messiah (Christ) and Savior, yet they are central to biblical history. The letter to “Titus”, not where most would think of going for Christmas scriptures, speaks of waiting “for the blessed hope and manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”—not “Son of God” here, but “God.” (Titus 2:13) The reading from chapter three begins, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . .” It is through Jesus Christ (Messiah) our Savior that the Spirit has been “poured out on us richly.” (Titus 3:4-6) The angels, in Luke, announce to the shepherds, “ . . . to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

Most of the discussion at our weekly breakfast this morning had us trying to clarify what it means to call Jesus “Savior.” Thank God we didn’t come up with a definitive creed. Christmas is a time to continue to reflect on all the names applied to Jesus and let their meanings continue to come to fruition in him and in us.

Psalm 96:8 tells us to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” (See also Psalm 96:2—“Sing to the Lord, bless his name.”) Although not written specifically about Jesus, it speaks about the signficance of a name, and realizing the fulness of a name. The reading from Hebrews speaks of Jesus as “the reflection of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3) and John’s Gospel tells us that “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

What does it mean for someone to live up to a name, to realize his or her full glory? In the reading from Isaiah 62, we see that the people are given some names: “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord,” . . . “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.” (vs. 12) Followers of Christ in our day are sometimes named after him, i.e., “Christians.” What does it mean for us to live into that name? The gifts we open at Christmas time usually come with name tags on them. Names are important whether applied to Jesus or to us. Can Christmas be a time when we focus on the full meaning and potential of names—those applied to Jesus and our own? Who are these children born in mangers and hospitals and homes?

3. Finally, in these readings we see a number of references to justice and righteousness and peace. When the expected Messiah/King comes, “there shall be endless peace . . . He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness . . .” (Isaiah 9:7) Psalm 96 tells us “he will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” (vs. 13—See also Psalm 98:9 which has the exact same words except for “equity” in place of “truth”) “ . . . righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.” (Psalm 97:2) The reading from Hebrews describes the “Son” as loving “righteousness” and hating “wickedness.” (Hebrews 1:9)

The biblical expectations associated with the birth we celebrate at Christmas involve great upheaval, the righting of wrongs and injustice. Things are turned upside down. Light proves to be more powerful than darkness. (John 1:5) Titus doesn’t seem to speak in the same grandiose terms, but suggests a revolution brought about by the “grace of God” bringing “salvation to all.” It is to be expressed now in “lives that are self-controlled, upright, godly.” (Titus 2:11-12) The result of Jesus giving “himself for us” is “a people . . . who are zealous for good deeds.” (vs. 14) May our Christmas meditations direct us toward those places where peace and justice are shining in the darkness, that we might fan the flames of that light through good deeds large and small.

Birth—a time to celebrate and reflect and ponder. There is, indeed, much to ponder as we consider the potential of each life and name. Mary, it says, treasured this moment and pondered it in her heart. Maybe pondering is the most important thing we can do this Christmas—considering the many possibilities opened to us in this event and these scriptures which offer us interpretations and meanings.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: II Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:46b-55 OR Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

For some, the wonder of Christmas is in guessing what’s in those colorfully wrapped packages that are under the tree. We may even pick them up and shake them. What’s in them is a mystery and part of the wonder is gone when we have the unwrapped gift in our hands.

Some people have a clear image of what they want to be in that box, down to the details of shape and color and accessories. The people of Israel were a little that way in their hopes for a Messiah. Although many visions of hope were merged into the expectation of Messiah, they thought they had a pretty good idea of what they were waiting for. The “Christmas” child was to be a king. After all, that’s what Messiah meant—one who was anointed of God to reign in a kingdom of righteousness and justice and peace.

It was a hope held for every one of their kings, voiced when the king’s reign was inaugurated. David was remembered by many as the greatest of those kings—one whose idealized reign was the model for the Messiah many were breathlessly awaiting. Luke (not in this week’s reading) makes much about the fact that Joseph is from the “house of David.” (Luke 1:27 & 2:3—By the way, if the connection with the house David is so important, one wonders whether the “virgin birth” perhaps takes away from that connection.) When the angel Gabriel announces the coming birth to Mary, the angel’s words include this promise, “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” (Luke 1:33) Matthew’s Gospel begins with “the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David . . .” (Matthew 1:1) Jesus is repeatedly addressed as “Son of David.” (Matthew 9:27, 15:22, 20:30-31 are just a few instances.)

This week’s reading from II Samuel describes part of the reign of David. It ends with God saying, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” (II Samuel 7:15) Although this history (as is true of most history) was compiled after the fact, some years after David’s reign, it is clear that very early a sense of the eternity of his reign was in the air. Likewise in this week’s Psalm God says, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: ‘I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.’” (Psalm 89:3-4)

This is what many thought was in the box—a Messiah in the mold of David. They were pretty sure they even knew some of the details, reflected in Mary’s song when she sings of the baby she is carrying in her womb. This child was associated with the Mighty One’s scattering of “the proud,” who “brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly . . . filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:49-53—Note that Mary’s song was included in last week’s reading options as well as this week.)

It might be worth noting that the powerful who sit on thrones don’t come off too well in Mary’s song. Was the expectation of a king to restore the Golden Age of David misguided? Certainly David, in the story in II Samuel, finds that God doesn’t fit as neatly into a box as he thought.

David notices that he is living in a fine house but is worried that God’s still living in a tent. (II Samuel 7:2) God sends the prophet Nathan to set David straight. “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle . . . Did I ever speak a word . . . saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ . . . I have been with you wherever you want . . .” (vss. 6-7 & 9)

The implication is that God is a mystery greater than anything that can be contained in a box or a temple. Even Solomon, David’s son, who eventually built the temple, says in his dedicatory prayer, “But will God indeed reside with mortals on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!”

I see us, in this week’s readings, being presented with a great mystery. We aren’t entirely comfortable with mysteries. To reverse the metaphor of opening the box, we often try to take the mystery and define it so that it can be contained. So many of our religious constructions—ideas, buildings, practices—are an attempt to tame and contain mystery.

This week’s reading from Romans talks about Jesus as “the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.” (Romans 16:25-27) Early Christians came to believe that Jesus became a revelation of what was in that hoped-for box.

In my opinion, that didn’t put an end to all mystery. Jesus himself—who he was and is, what his mission was and is—left/leaves plenty of questions to be answered. He can no more be contained and defined than God—or, dare we say it, the existence and purpose and meaning of any human life.

Although mystery is not mentioned in the second reading from Luke, it is certainly there. It is a story growing out of the early church’s struggle with how Jesus could be both human and divine.

The angel Gabriel speaks to Mary (portrayed as a virgin) about a birth in which “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.” (Luke 1:35) Whatever the mysteries of this Jesus, Luke wants us to understand that his life and his mission have their roots in, are an expression of, the Spirit of God.

In considering the image of the box, I’ve noted that we sometimes try to contain the great mysteries of God and life in boxes of our creation. Advent and Christmas, however, are more about unwrapping and releasing the mysteries—not unwrapping them so we can now see clearly what they are, but so that they can inspire and empower our living. Jesus doesn’t do away with the mystery; his Spirit infuses that mystery into our very lives. Mary is not the only one whom the Spirit has come upon.

Just as there was wonderment in this child born of Mary, wonderment beyond his biological origins, so is there wonderment in each one of us—beyond our physical DNA. It is a mystery to be unwrapped and reunderstood each step along the road of life. It is understood in the embodiment and the living.

Margie and I have been reading daily readings from Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J.M. Nouwen. I wrote part of this blog entry yesterday (Dec. 13). When we read Nouwen’s words for Dec. 13, they struck me as another take on what I was trying to say. He speaks of the messianic vision of “the peaceable Kingdom.” “Every time we forgive our neighbor, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true. We must remind one another constantly of the vision. Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are.”
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126:1-6 OR Luke 1:46b-55, I Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28

Children often seem to have an innate sense of fairness. Who has not heard a child—or an adult—cry out, “It’s not fair!” The Smothers Brothers made an art out of the routine that had Mom always liking you best.

Now I didn’t say that children always act fairly. They can be extremely selfish, always ready to claim, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” They seem to know, though, when things are out of balance, and want to let the world know about it.

Maybe sensitivity to fairness is innate; maybe not. If it is, it seems to get drowned in the sea of greed and aggressive accumulation that characterizes the systems of this world.

Underneath I like to think that the desire for fairness is still there. I know I feel it, and I know of lot of those who seek the path of divine Love feel it too.

It’s a desire with a long history. There have been humans in most ages who have cried out at the unfairness they’ve seen and experienced. The prophets gave voice to it, this week’s reading from Isaiah 61 being one instance. The vision is of a time when there is a startling upset of the status quo and things are set right. Fairness reigns again.

“The 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; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn . . .” Thus begins Isaiah 61, in words Jesus used in his inaugural sermon in his hometown of Nazareth. (Luke 4:16-19) It was a declaration of his mission, fulfilled, he said, in the “Now” of his presence. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he said. (Luke 4:21)

The contrasts in Isaiah 61 are rich: “a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” (vs. 3) It speaks of ruined cities being repaired, “for I the Lord love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing . . . for 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.” (vss. 4, 8, 11) Notice the context is “all the nations.” Worldwide fairness! It’s enough to make the heart leap.

The Psalmist catches the mood. “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy . . . May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Psalm 126:2, 5-6)

In the first chapter of Luke, Mary, when she was carrying the baby Jesus in her womb sang out with joy, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:45) Why is she rejoicing? Because she connects this child with “the Mighty One” who “has done great things . . . he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (vss. 49, 51-53)

While the reading from the Gospel According to John does not specifically mention this upending vision of fairness, it is assumed. It is John’s version of last week’s reading from Mark—the story of John the baptizer as preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah. The hopes and fears of all the years came to focus in the expectation of this one who would come as Messiah. He was the one who would make things right, introducing a kingdom, a realm, where fairness prevailed. Those who hear John preaching want to know if he is that one. (John 1:19-20) He is not that light, looming just on the horizon, but the one who comes “to testify to the light,” i.e., the Messiah Jesus. (vss. 7-8)

Many of us who read and write about this week’s readings, or preach about them, or listen to sermons on them, have a difficult time grasping the joyful message. We are, at times, too comfortable. We don’t think of ourselves, as one of “the lowly” like Mary. Fairness may mean we have to give up some of our toys, or at least share them with all the children of the earth whom Jesus loves. I hope it means that some of those ruled by corporate greed or political ambition are put into the “playpen” of the real world as well. The people who would probably rejoice the most if true fairness came are those who can’t find a room in the inn where they can spend the night, those who’ve been kidnaped and sold for profit to serve the needs of powerful men seeking sex, those who have lost mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters in tribal warfares of revenge.

This list is long. Year after year, the cry for fairness screams from our hearts, and we find that fairness is a long time coming. How long? How long? We are still waiting—sometimes not very patiently. There are those in many nations who gather in the streets to cry out against the injustice of it all.

Waiting or not, the Spirit continues to stir up the flames of hope within. Followers of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speak of “keeping the dream alive.” Whatever the powers of this world do, we cannot succumb without continuing to give voice to the dream of an alternative. It may not come as soon as we would like it to come, but the reading from I Thessalonians offers an attitude and promise to consider in our time of waiting.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances . . . Do not quench the Spirit . . . The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, 24) We are always surrounded by realities that threaten to quench our spirits and the Spirit of Love at work in us. I have always found verse 24 to be a powerful reminder that we are not in this alone. The one who is the source of the vision “is faithful, and he will do this.” Hang in there; it’s not time to give up yet.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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