Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday in Advent 2: The sabbath pattern

Opening Sentence
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. Isaiah 40:5

How Long, Dear Savior, O How Long

Commemoration: Karl Barth and Thomas Merton
Almighty God, source of justice beyond human knowledge: We offer thanks that thou didst inspire Karl Barth to resist tyranny and exalt thy saving grace, without which we cannot apprehend thy will. Teach us, like him, to live by faith, and even in chaotic and perilous times to perceive the light of thy eternal glory, Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who livest and reignest with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, throughout all ages. Amen.

Gracious God, who didst call thy monk Thomas Merton to proclaim thy justice out of silence, and moved him in his contemplative writings to perceive and value Christ at work in the faiths of others: Keep us, like him, steadfast in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Texts: Psalm 50-52 (M); Psalm 53-55 (E); Isaiah 40:12-31, Mark 6:30-56 (M); Isaiah 41, Revelation 17 (E)

If there is a message in the structure of a text, then the message of today's Gospel reading should not be missed. It begins with Jesus and his disciples withdrawing "to a desolate place" to "rest a while." It ends with Jesus withdrawing to "the mountain to pray." Between these two periods of withdrawal, there is the feeding of the five thousand with fives loaves and two fish. Most attention, naturally, is focused on that miraculous sign as well as the many other signs Jesus performs throughout Mark's Gospel. However, there is a message to be heard in Mark's recurrent emphasis on Jesus withdrawing to desolate places and climbing mountains.

Mark, in fact, chronicles Jesus' entire earthly ministry along this work-rest-work-rest cycle. It is an intentional replication of the pattern of creation, punctuating Jesus' declaration concerning the Sabbath (Mark 2.27-28). The periodic time of withdrawal and rest is not incidental to Jesus' ministry. It is an integral part of it. His work is not complete without it.

In the same way, the Sabbath, as God established it, is not incidental to his work of creation. It is an integral part of it. The Sabbath hallows the work of the previous six days and makes creation whole. As the numerous incidents of death, disease, and suffering recounted by Mark make clear, that wholeness has been marred by the Fall. Jesus came proclaiming a Gospel of repentance, redemption, and restoration. He came to make creation whole again.


A Voice Cries Out

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday in Advent 2: A desperate hope

Opening Sentence
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. Isaiah 40:5

Revelation Canticle

Collect of the Day
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Texts: Psalm 35, 36 (M); Psalm 37 (E); Isaiah 28:1-8, Mark 5:21-43 (M); Isaiah 29:1-14, Revelation 14 (E)

Death itself must flee at Jesus's word. He raises Jairus's daughter by simply saying, "Talith cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." Words are not necessary, however, for the woman with the discharge of blood. In faith, she reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus's garment, knowing that this is sufficient for her healing. The depth of her faith is all the more astounding considering the fact that she "had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse." What reason did she have to believe Jesus would be any different? She had tried everything else.

Was it desperation or hope which caused this woman to seek out Jesus and touch the hem of his garment? Perhaps it was a little of both; a desperate hope that, at long last, she would find in Jesus the healing that had so long eluded her. What she did, however, was no mere lark. The closer she got to Jesus, the stronger her faith became. A person of lesser faith would have given up. The crowd was pressing in and Jesus himself was otherwise pre-occupied with Jairus. Still, this woman persevered. Perhaps that is what made the biggest impression on Jesus. This woman never abandoned hope. She continued to trust that God would heal her despite twelve long years of one setback after another. Now, in Jesus, God had finally rewarded her perseverance. All she had to do was touch the hem of his garment and be healed.

There remained the final comforting word from Jesus that confirms the woman's faith. Knowing "that power had gone out from him," Jesus asked who touched him. The woman "in fear and trembling," came forward and told him "the whole truth." Jesus spoke his word of comfort and healing to her, commending her faith and sending her away healed. It was the woman's faith which healed her. But it was Jesus's word of assurance that made her whole.


O Come, Divine Messiah

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tuesday in Advent 2: The pigs are gone

Opening Sentence
Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. Mark 13:35, 36

Creator of the Stars of Night

Commemoration: Nicholas of Myra
Almighty God, who in your love gave to your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Texts: Psalm 30, 31 (M); Psalm 32-34 (E); Isaiah 22:1-14, Mark 5:1-20 (M); Isaiah 24, Revelation 13 (E)

The reaction of the people to Jesus' healing of the Gerasene demoniac is all too typical. Rather than welcome Jesus with open arms, they insisted that he leave. Why? Well, the pigs were gone. When Jesus ordered the demons into the herd of pigs, the pigs then "rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.”

The town had a lot invested in those pigs. Jesus might have been bad for business if he had stayed around.

Jesus responded to the people's demand the way he always responded to faithlessness. He didn’t stay where he wasn’t wanted. He would not force a stubborn people to accept him. He came to show them that they could be set free from whatever was keeping them in bondage. But their only response was, "The pigs are gone." They were a people who could not accept the gracious offer of God in the flesh.

Although he departed from them, Jesus did not leave himself without a witness. The demoniac, now healed, wanted to go with Jesus. Jesus, however, told him, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you. Jesus would often instruct those he healed to keep quiet about it. This one, however, he sent back to his home with instructions to tell everyone about the healing and transforming power of God. So, with great enthusiasm, the man went about spreading the Good News. The town was not ready for Jesus when he came in person. But the man he healed continued to be a witness to the fact that the Son of God had paid them a visit.


Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday in Advent 2: The kingdom is for those who have ears to hear

Opening Sentence
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

On Jordan's Banks the Baptist's Cry

Commemoration: Clement of Alexandria
O Lord, who called your servant Clement of Alexandria from the errors of ancient philosophy that he might learn and teach the saving Gospel of Christ: Turn your Church from the conceits of worldly wisdom and, by the Spirit of truth, guide it into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Texts: Psalm 24-26 (M); Psalm 27-29 (E); Isaiah 19:18-26, Mark 4:21-34 (M); Isaiah 21:1-17, Revelation 12 (E)

It takes discernment to understand the parables with which Jesus describes the kingdom of God. That is why he says, "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." The parables are not secret messages with hidden meanings. Their message and meaning are obvious to those with ears to hear. That is, for those who are citizens of the true Israel, the parables make perfect sense, but to those who have been masquerading as Israel, namely the religious establishment for whom God and the covenant had become private possessions, the meaning was indiscernible due to their spiritual blindness and deafness.

Depending on one's perspective, the parables are either the beginning of something new or the end of something old. For those with ears to hear, the seed of the kingdom of God was being planted. In Jesus, the glorious reign of God was being inaugurated. It would take root and grow from humble beginnings to bring renewal and restoration to the whole created order. For those who were set in their ways and valued things as they were, however, the parables were messages of doom and destruction. The world they so valued, the world in which they were first and everyone else was last, was coming to an end. The last were about to become first, and the first were about to become last.

In utilizing parables to communicate the Gospel of the kingdom, Jesus was not so much describing what that kingdom would be like when it finally came in all its fullness. Rather, he was announcing its arrival in language that could only be understood and received by those who had truly been longing for it. To those with ears to hear, the parables were a message of hope and a promise of better things to come. For those invested in the kingdom of this world, they were a stinging rebuke which portended the ultimate dismantling of their world of privilege, power, and self-congratulation.

The kingdom of God is for those who have ears to hear the clear and life-changing message of Jesus above all the self-exalting voices of this world.


O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent 2

Advent 2: Sermon for 2nd Sunday in Advent, Church of the Holy Trinity, Grahamville. Speaker: James Gibson. Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday in Advent 1: Separating the true from the false

Opening Sentence
Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. Mark 13:35, 36

Creator of the Stars of Night

Commemoration: Francis Xavier
Loving God, you called Francis Xavier to lead many in India and Japan to know Jesus Christ as their Redeemer: Bring us to the new life of glory promised to all who follow in the Way; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Texts: Psalm 15-17 (M); Psalm 18 (E); Isaiah 18, Mark 4:1-20 (M); Isaiah 19:1-17, Revelation 11 (E)

The most enduring, and unfortunate, innovation of the Social Gospel movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the replacement of the biblical understanding of the kingdom of God with the utopian ideal of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. We see the continued influence of this ideal today in the so-called "Emergent" movement which has recycled and repackaged much of mainline Protestant liberalism, which standardized and institutionalized many Social Gospel innovations. Thus, the image of Jesus as a great teacher of peace and harmony among all persons remains a prominent feature of pop culture Christianity. Today's Gospel reading, however, challenges that image.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus is painting a picture of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God which brings not unity, but division--and a most uneven division at that. Some will want nothing to do with it. Others will fall out as quickly as they rushed in. Still others will miss out because they are too invested in the current order of things. Only those who have "ears to hear" will come into the kingdom and prosper. In other words, only one fourth of those to whom the kingdom is proclaimed will ultimately be brought into it. This is not exactly "good news" in the popular sense of the term. N.T. Wright, comparing Jesus' parables to political cartoons, explains:

Everything Jesus does creates division within the Israel of his day. The parables not only explain this, but are themselves part of the process. They work, they function, as a sharply focused version of Jesus' entire ministry. Hence the comment in the middle. Jesus is not only telling them the dream, but giving them the interpretation. He is not only sketching the cartoon, but explaining the code. But those outside, who are fascinated by the story and the picture, can't understand it.

Why not? Doesn't Jesus want everybody to get the message? Yes and no. What he is saying is such dynamite that it can't be said straightforwardly, out on the street. Any kingdom-movement was dangerous enough (if Herod, or the Roman authorities, heard about it, they'd be worried); but if word got out that Jesus' kingdom-vision was radically unlike what most people wanted and expected, the ordinary people would be furious too. It was doubly dangerous. Put the cartoon into plain prose and somebody might sue.

It's a 'mystery' (verse 11): not just a puzzle, but a divine secret which Jesus is revealing. But as with all divine revelation, you can only understand if you believe, if you trust. (Mark for Everyone, Westminster John Knox Press 2001, p. 44)

This is not the only parable of Jesus which speaks of separation and division. The trap we often fall into, trying to apply them to our own day (as opposed to understanding them, first, as they would have been understood--or misunderstood--in Jesus' day), is that we try to interpret them in terms of the kingdom's final consummation, rather than in terms of its initial inauguration. There is, of course, a deep eschatological element to the parables. Jesus' purpose, however, in telling them to a first century Jewish audience immersed in misguided expectations of the coming of the kingdom was, precisely, to separate the true Israel--those who had "ears to hear" and put their trust in him as the long-awaited Messiah--from those, like the religious establishment, who claimed a spiritual birthright on the basis of purely natural circumstances. To that audience, Jesus declared that the kingdom of God was already breaking forth in their midst and the time for decision was imminent. The parables themselves were part and parcel to the kingdom's breaking forth. By speaking in the language of mystery, Jesus was beginning the process of separating out the true children of the kingdom from the pretenders, a separation that continues to this day whenever the Word of God is preached and its hearers either receive or reject it.


Ready the Way

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday in Advent 1: When forgiveness is not desired

Opening Sentence
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

Creator of the Stars of Night

Commemoration: Channing Moore Williams
Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your Servant Channing, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the peoples of Asia. Raise up, we pray, in this and every land heralds and evangelists of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Saviour Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Texts: Psalm 9-11 (M); Psalm 12-14 (E); Isaiah 14:3-27, Mark 3:13-34 (M); Isaiah 16-17, Revelation 10 (E)

"And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, 'He is possessed by Beelzebul,' and 'by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.'"

Not only was this claim by the scribes callous, it was also perilous, placing these self-proclaimed religious know-it-alls in danger of eternal separation from God. Jesus warns them, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

What was it which the scribes said which placed them outside the forgiveness of God? What was their "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?" Was it merely an outward act, a careless word spoken out of ignorance or hard-heartedness? Did the scribes' real sin involve only the words of their mouths, or did it involve, moreso, the attitude of their hearts? Were not their careless words merely a manifestation of a callous attitude which so clouded their perception that they could not even acknowledge, much less glorify, God even when the power of his Holy Spirit was on display right before their very eyes?

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin not because of any failure on God's part to forgive "all sins" and "whatever blasphemies" committed or uttered by "the children of men." Rather, "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness" because such forgiveness is not desired. The merciful, forgiving, and healing God revealed in and through Jesus Christ is a total stranger to such a person, so much so that he is unable to give God all the glory, but instead gives the devil all the credit.


Wait for the Lord