December 28th, 2010

light in the darkness

grace

My mom gave me a copy of Kathleen Norris' Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith for Christmas, and I've been underwhelmed by it thus far, but I really liked her piece on "Grace":
     Jacob's theophany, his dream of angels on a stairway to heaven, strikes me as an appealing tale of unmerited grace. Here's a man who has just deceived his father and cheated his brother out of an inheritance. But God's response to finding Jacob vulnerable, sleeping all alone in open country, is not to strike him down for his sins but to give him a blessing.
     Jacob wakes from the dream in awe, exclaiming, "Surely the Lord is in this place -- and I did not know it!" For once, his better instincts take hold, and he responds by worshiping God. He takes the stone that he'd kept close all night, perhaps to use as a weapon if a wild animal, or his furious brother Esau, were to attack him, and sets it up as a shrine, leaving it for future travelers, so that they, too, will know that this is a holy place, the dwelling place of God.
     Jacob's exclamation is one that remains with me, a reminder that God can choose to dwell everywhere and anywhere we go. One morning this past spring I noticed a young couple with an infant at an airport departure gate. The baby was staring intently at other people, and as soon as he recognized a human face, no matter whose it was, no matter if it was young or old, pretty or ugly, bored or happy or worried-looking he would respond with absolute delight.
     It was beautiful to see. Our drab departure gate had become the gate of heaven. And as I watched the baby play with any adult who would allow it, I felt as awe-struck as Jacob, because I realized that this is how God looks at us, staring into our faces in order to be delighted, to see the creature he made and called good, along with the rest of creation. And, as Psalm 139 puts it, darkness is as nothing to God, who can look right through whatever evil we've done in our lives to the creature made in the divine image.
     I suspect that only God, and well-loved infants, can see this way. But it gives me hope to think that when God gazed on the sleeping Jacob, he looked right through the tough little schemer and saw something good, if only a capacity for awe, for recognizing God and worshipping. That Jacob will worship badly, trying to bargain with God, doesn't seem to matter. God promises to be with him always.
     Peter denied Jesus, and Saul persecuted the early Christians, but God could see the apostles they would become. God does not punish Jacob as he lies sleeping because he can see in him Israel, the foundation of a people. God loves to look at us, and loves it when we will look back at him. Even when we try to run away from our troubles, as Jacob did, God will find us, and bless us, even when we feel most alone, unsure if we'll survive the night. God will find a way to let us know that he is with us in this place, wherever we are, however far we think we've run. And maybe that's one reason we worship -- to respond to grace. We praise God not to celebrate our own faith but to give thanks for the faith God has in us. To let ourselves look at God, and let God look back at us. And to laugh, and sing, and be delighted because God has called us his own.
     -pp.150-151
violin

[25] praying in tune [Rest and Bread; Wednesday, September 22, 2010]

[I gave the Reflection at Rest and Bread on September 22, 2010 -- feeling tired, hungry, and ill-prepared; I extemporized the second half of my Reflection and I think it went okay, though after the service was over I couldn't tell you what I said.]
1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, Christself human, 6who gave Christself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 7For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
(1 Timothy 2:1-7, NRSV)
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Aslan

[26] "3 thoughts, approaching Advent" [Pentecost +25(C) Wednesday, Rest and Bread]

[Preached at Rest and Bread on Wed. Nov. 17, 2010. Thanks to Scott for last-minute editing.]
Matthew 23:37-24:14

37“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God.’”

24 1As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, the disciples came to point out the buildings of the temple. 2Then Jesus asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3When Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

4Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs. 9“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
One metaphor for Advent is that of pregnancy -- we, like Mary, wait in joyful (and perhaps more than a little fearful) anticipation for the Promised One -- Emmanuel, God With Us.

In today's reading, however, we are reminded that Christ is already mothering us. Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, crying out, "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" How familiar that must sound to parents of willful children...

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abundance

[27] "Incarnation in the holiday season" [Rest and Bread; Wed. Dec. 8, 2010]

[Preached at Rest and Bread on Wednesday, December 8, 2010. Thanks to la bff for helping me select a Scripture passage.]

[Inspired by The Advent Conspiracy, Keith and I picked 4 alternative themes for Advent this year -- relationship, incarnation, sharing, and activation. Today is Incarnation.]
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, buy food and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk,
without money, without price!
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you will eat well,
you will delight in rich fare;
bend your ear and come to me,
listen, that you may have life
I will make an everlasting Covenant with you--
in fulfillment of the blessings promised to David.
-Isaiah 55:1-3, The Inclusive Bible
"You who have no money, come, buy food and eat."

What a message that is for this season, when so many are struggling with economic scarcity.

The kindom of God, for which we wait expectantly this Advent season and all days, is a place where sustenance and abundance are available for all.

This passage also speaks to the goodness of nourishing our bodies.

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