Monthly Archives: October 2007

December 16

Standard

Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John the Baptist asks a haunting question: “Are you the one who is coming, or are we to wait for another?” John’s been reading Isaiah 35 (the Old Testament text for this Sunday) which promises a transformation of everything. But he looks at what’s going with Jesus and doesn’t see that happening. John’s still in jail, and Rome is still in charge, and the righteous are still suffering, etc. So is Jesus the messiah, the one who is coming, the real deal, or not? This is a haunting question for many people today as well.

Jesus’ answer is curious. He doesn’t say “yes” or anything straightforward. Instead, he says the transformation is happening—the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, etc—but it’s happening in small ways, in slow ways, in subtle ways. The messiah doesn’t come and wave his magic wand and everything is set right. It starts small. And ultimately the transformation continues through faithful communities of people who are caught up with the spirit and continue the work.

Maybe this is an important reminder as we’re so near to Christmas. We may be waiting for the divine wave of the magic wand, but that’s not how God works. God works slowly, quietly, subtlety—and through God’s faithful people, like us! (RAF)

Advertisements

December 2

Standard

Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus said: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

It’s hard for us to read a text like this and not think about the whole “Left Behind” phenomenon, but it’s not clear that’s what Jesus is talking about here. More generally, this text talks about the ever-present possibility of divine encounter, and encourages us to “keep awake” so that, when those encounters happen, we’re ready for them. There’s even the hint that they will come, not on the mountaintop, but in the ordinary stuff of life, when people are eating and drinking and marrying, etc. This text kicks off the season of Advent, a time of preparation for Christmas, so maybe it’s a reminder to “keep awake” during the Advent season, to not let the Christmas “routine” to lull us to sleep, lest we miss the divine encounter when it comes in surprising ways. (RAF)

November 18

Standard

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

This is one of my favorite texts in all of scripture. It is a beautiful promise of new creation: no more weeping or cries of distress, no more infant mortality or premature death, no more foreclosures or evictions or invasions. God is near—“before they call I will answer”—and nature itself seems to be set free from violent ways—“the wolf and the lamb shall feed together.” It’s a beautiful promise, and not just a promise. The text suggests that God is already at work; the new creation is already underway. Our job is to “be glad and rejoice” in what God is doing. But we don’t really do that. Instead of being glad and rejoicing in God’s new creation—which would mean living by faith and hope in God’s promises—we tend to live by fear or anger or guilt or regret. One line jumps out in particular: “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Could it be that what holds us back from being glad and rejoicing in what God is doing is our holding on to the “former things,” whether past transgressions (leading to guilt and regret) or past abuses (leading to anger or fear) or even just to “this is the way we always do things”? (RAF)

November 11

Standard

Psalm 145

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

This is a magnificent psalm full of praise and thanksgiving. The only problem is, it’s not entirely true. “The Lord upholds all who are falling.” “You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature.” We agreed that this psalm may not be so much a description of how things are in this moment, but instead a promise of how things could be / should be / will be. We also agreed that we live our lives holding on to promises, putting our trust in one thing or another. The temptation is to put our trust in easy promises near at hand. The challenge is to put our trust in the promises of God, which are sometimes demanding and far off. Where do we put out trust? What promises do we cling to? (RAF)