Daring to See Visions (Easter 6, Year C)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Acts 16:9-15; Revelation
21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29

May 9, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to
come.  Amen.

Our first reading opens with these words:
During the night Paul had a vision:
    there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying,
    "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to
Macedonia,
    being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to
them.

There’s lots to chew on in these first two verses, and indeed in the
whole first reading,
    but I find three things particularly striking:
    Paul had a vision,
    and from that vision his party was convinced
        that God had called them to do something.

Vision, conviction, mission …
Vision.
I’ll admit that for us today the Biblical writings can seem a bit
fanciful,
    with all its tales of visions and dreams and prophetic utterances …
People don’t have visions like that any more, do they?

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Heaven on Earth (Easter 4, Year C)

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
April 25, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

In her 1987 hit song, Belinda Carlisle sings about Heaven being a place on earth.
It’s a quintessential 80’s power pop song:
    highly produced upbeat, exposed solo vocal on the verses,
    accompanied on the refrain by a cranking, if somewhat cheesy, electric guitar,
        an escalating drum beat, sustained synthesizer chords,
        and a tight back-up chorus;
The song culminates with the requisite key change,
    lifting us up in the emotion of her lyrics,
    which sings with excitement about
        the kind of love that is supposed to happen only in heaven.
“We’re spinning with the stars above,” she intones,
    “and you lift me up in a wave of love …”
And then comes the chorus:
“They say in heaven love comes first.
    We’ll make heaven a place on earth.
    Ooo heaven is a place on earth.”
Heaven is a place on earth.

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The Promise of Obedience (Easter 2, Year C)

The Second Sunday of Easter, Year C
Acts 5:27-32
April 11, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

In today’s first reading from the book of Acts,
    we hear a wonderfully defiant and strong Peter reject the orders of the Sanhedrin,
    a council of Jewish leaders empowered by the Roman rulers
        to govern matters of faith and day-to-day life.
Just a chapter earlier in the book of Acts,
    a history book of the early church in the days following Jesus’ ascension into heaven,
    John and Peter were arrested for preaching the Gospel,
    proclaiming Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection,
    and healing the sick.
Though the Council found no way to formally charge the increasingly popular disciples,
    they nonetheless ordered Peter, John, and their friends
    to stop preaching and teaching about Jesus,
        fearful of what the spread of this Jesus movement would mean
        religiously, politically, and socially in Roman-occupied Jerusalem.
    But Peter and John didn’t obey the order,
        and instead continued to preach, teach, and perform miracles in Jesus’ name.

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What is this Cross? (Good Friday)

Good Friday
John 18:1-19:42
April 2, 2010

What is this cross that bears the body of our Lord,
    a body bloodied, beaten, bruised, and broken?
What is this cross that carries within it such terror –
    torture, death, and destruction?
This cross is a meeting ground,
    a place of encounter,
    an intimate intersection of the human and the divine.
It is here at this cross where we see God most clearly,
    and indeed, where we see ourselves most honestly, as well.
The cross is a window to our God, and a mirror to ourselves.

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Being a son means also being a brother (Lent 4, Year C)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
March 14, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

I think it says a lot about the church and our Western culture that this magnificent parable
    of forgiveness, restoration, and celebration
    has been narrowly and unfortunately named, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” …
    as if it were only a story of a morally-lax, wayward boy.
There’s so much more to this story
    than just the wide-eyed wanderlust of a disrespectful son …
    but too often we can do little more with this story
        than wag our finger at the younger son in grand self-righteous fashion.
This story is one of three in a row found in Luke chapter 15
    that Jesus tells about finding things that were lost –
        a shepherd who lost but later found one of his sheep,
        a woman who lost but later found one of her silver coins,
        and in this parable, a father who lost but later found one of his children.
And in each story, finding the lost results in some over-the-top celebration.

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Citizens of Heaven (Lent 2, Year C)

The Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grace to you and peace from the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

Philipi was a government town, a Roman colony in the territory of Greece.
It was governed entirely by the laws and customs of Latin-speaking Rome,
even though it was surrounded by Greek territory and customs.
Lots of retired military men had settled there,
    and the imprint of Rome on this settlement was clear.
There was a grand forum that hosted Roman Games, not unlike Rome’s own forum,
    and numerous Latin-inscribed monuments lining the main road,
    testifying to the prosperity of this crossroad.
This was a city whose residents were proud of their Roman citizenship,
    who identified as members of the Roman commonwealth,
    even as they found themselves in an outpost on Greek territory.
And so, when Paul tells them that their citizenship is in heaven,
    it could have been received both as an affront –
    what do you mean our citizenship is in heaven?  We’re citizens of Rome! –
    and as a sensible analogy, for these people understood what it meant
        to live according to the laws and dictates of different place, another reality.

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Daring to Treasure Christ (Ash Wednesday, Year C)

Ash Wednesday, Year C
Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
February 17, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

What are you giving up for Lent?
Some are giving up chocolate, others give up soda, others give up snacking altogether.
One friend of mine used Facebook to announce to the world that for Lent she was giving up Facebook.
In college one year I gave up all music except for Gregorian chant,
    setting aside my collection of 80's and early 90's electronic and techno pop hits.
But surely its not all about giving up stuff …
I know of some people who are taking on new disciplines,
    including exercise, or better sleep schedules, or healthier eating.
These are all good and wonderful things, for sure.
If we were to abide by these commitments,
    we'd find ourselves healthier and stronger,
    both physically and emotionally.
But when did the Lenten fast become a tool for self-help?
These things sound more like New Years resolutions than they do acts of penitence or spiritual fasts.

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We’re just a bunch of phonies trying to throw Jesus off a cliff (Lectionary 4, Year C)

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 4:21-30
January 31, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

One you get a few paragraphs deep into The Catcher in the Rye,
    the classic 1951 novel by J.D. Salinger, who died this past week.
    it becomes painfully clear that there's something wrong with Holden Caulfield.
He's angry, depressed, scattered, desperate … yet, and perhaps not surprisingly,
    he shows glimpses of deep insight, as is often the case with those who are marginalized.
He longs for something real,     something authentic, something worth holding on to …
    but this yearning for authenticity contrasts with the phoniness that surrounds him.
You see, Holden Caulfield looks at the world and at those around him
    with a deep skepticism and cynicism,
    acutely diagnosing the phoniness of the people and places around him.
Though most of us might not share his quirks or crude language,
    and though we may not relate to his deep carelessness,
    there is something about his analysis of the phoniness of the world
    that has struck a chord for generations of Americans.

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Jesus is Lord. Disunity, Sin, and Death are Not. (Lectionary 2, Year C)

Second Sunday of Epiphany/Lectionary 2
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
January 17, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

The early Christian church at Corinth was a divided church,
    a community of faith that had a hard time getting along.
There were quarrels among the faithful,
    lawsuits between believers and accusations of false teaching.
The community was split over which preacher, which teacher to whom they pledged allegiance –
    some followed Apollus, some Cephas, some Paul …
They had a hard time agreeing about much of anything –
There were disagreements and divisions about what constituted a proper Christian morality,
    particularly in regards to sexuality.
They debated whether Christians should marry at all,
    how they should interact with the broader pagan culture,
    and the proper role and dress of women in the church.
The social and economic differences among them were on full and sad display at the Lord's Supper,
    as some gathered for the sacred meal and ate much and got drunk,
    while others went away hungry.
They debated the relative value of spiritual gifts,
    and at least on one occasion within their worship someone proclaimed, "Let Jesus be cursed!"
Some of them questioned the resurrection itself.
In short, the Christian church at Corinth –
    two letters to which are found in our Bible –
    was a complete and utter mess ….
    a fact that should give us some comfort as we evaluate the state of the church today.

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The Creator of All Things Became a Thing (Christmas 2, Year C)

Second Sunday of Christmas, Year C
Sirach 24:1-12; John 1:1-18
Sunday, January 3, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

So how about that for something different?
Today we read from a book called Sirach,
    a book written about 130 before Jesus' birth by a Jewish teacher and temple leader,
    a book which looks and feels and sounds much like the book of Proverbs,
    a book which offers brief teachings on daily living,
        and which eloquently describes God's wisdom as coming to the people Israel.
This deuterocanonical book is included in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles,
    but not in the Bibles we Lutherans and other protestants generally use.
That word, deuterocanonical, refers to books that are not in the canon,
    that is, not in the accepted collection of Biblical books,
    but which constitute a sort of "second canon,"
    nonetheless recognized for their faithfulness.
The early Church fathers read and commented on the deuterocanonical books,
    as did the Jewish rabbis of their era.
Martin Luther commended Sirach and other deuterocanonical books
    for reading and personal study,
    and we would do well to keep them in our reading from time to time.

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