Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Epiphany 2A, January 15 2017

1 Corinthians 1: 1-9

I've been several places in the past week where security seems to be amped up.
I feel like I am holding my breath. Or perhaps it's more appropriate to say that I am holding my breath, clenching my teeth, and then remembering to take a deeper breath, shrug my shoulders, peel my tongue off the roof of my mouth.


It's in keeping with this feeling that I read the Epistle assigned for today, Paul's greeting to the church gathered in Corinth. It's a typical introduction: grace and peace to you, who have been strengthened by God and enriched and strengthened by the testimony of Jesus Christ...

Honestly? It didn't say much to me, so I clicked to the following chapter. Ahhh. I imagine the people listening to this letter heard this opening salutation holding their breath. Because - spoilers - the next paragraph is a doozy.

If Corinth were America, security would be heightened. There would be neighbors bunched together, nervous about those on the other side. Corinth was divided.

If we were in Corinth, the Corinth to whom Paul addresses his letter, we would know this. I imagine there would be some followers of Jesus who would be expecting a smack upside the head. Those new Christians would be holding their breath, waiting for their shepherd, their mentor, to rightly admonish them.

And that's where we are, current day Americans, less than a week before a Presidential Inauguration that even the most ardent supporters of our President-to-be are waiting for with bated breath.

In a 2011 essay on this reading, Daniel Clenendin, a contemporary Christian commentator, tells us this about Christian faith, "Focusing only on our faults distorts the true nature of the church." In the same essay he quotes several writers, ancient and new, who have gone to church, participated in worship, precicely because they needed the space to find faith, not because they had faith and needed to express it.

As a denominational entity, the Episcopal Church came to the conclusion some 40 years ago to celebrate Holy Communion every week. I'm not here to tell you what you should or shouldn't find in the common celebration of "our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving." But I will note it is the one time in my week that I find myself in a group of people with whom I have little else in common.

We are waiting, here, almost holding our breath.

Breathe out. Breathe back in. Slowly. Roll your shoulders back down your back. Breathe in again. Breathe out. Scrape the tongue off the roof of your mouth. Breathe.

The world is a frightening place. We all have worries about what will happen in the next few years; many of us worry about changes already enacted by our House & Senate. We are waiting to be scolded from one side or the other.

But we are HERE. NOW.

The Psalmist writes,
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my
feet upon a rock, making my feet secure.

Come and see.

2He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

Friday, January 13, 2017

NOTES: Baptism of our Lord, January 8th, 2017

Or maybe it's the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated?

I feel like I am in an old timey cartoon, watching Jesus' life speed by like a train. We got glimpses this year of his childhood: there's goes the birth and an angry Herod, sending out the troops to massacre the Holy Innocents. Maybe we can wave to Anna and Old Simeon at the presentation? Woohoo, circumcision! Somewhere we passed the Magi and their foreshadowy gifts and the flight into Egypt...

And now the train has stopped. Catch your breath, we get a panoramic view of the Baptism of our Lord.

Head's up: Jesus is now an adult.

Our readings for this week are descriptive:
Isaiah tells us what God will do.
Psalm 29 describes the actions of a mighty God - "Lebanon skips like a calf."
Acts succinctly retells the story from a distance of some years, to a new audience - and importantly, what Peter tells them (and us!) what actions we should take with that information.
And Matthew's Gospel gives us the actual interchange between John the Baptizer and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, speaking God's words. (My co-editor at Building Faith, Matthew, has a handy explainer for this occurrence.)

Unlike viewing the world through the windows of a speeding train, reading God's story in Scripture isn't linear. We loop and double back more like a roller coaster, often ending up in the same physical space as when we started. Surely, it is the journey that makes the difference. This same reading from Acts is also read at Easter in all three lectionary years. It is the story, if you read just a few more lines, of a massive baptism by the Holy Spirit to a group of non-Jews. We read it at the same time we read the story of Jesus' the start of a new year.

In another big loop, here we find Peter in Joppa, the same city where Jonah fled to avoid God calling him to preach to non-Israelites. Peter is being called into Cesearea, to share daily living with, and to preach to, non-Jews.

As Christians we are called to repeat the holy cycle year after year, sometimes, as in this reading from Acts, repeating the same scripture verses within a year. But as Sir Terry Pratchett notes, "Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving." And we can see this! We know that this January is not like any previous one. As we look with some trepidation to the big changes ahead of us a country, as communities, as congregations, we can also reflect upon the words of the Psalmist, written some 3,000 years ago, calling us to witness to God's terrifying acts, not simply to scare us, but to testify that this God is our God of strength and a blessing to us.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

DRAFT: The Feast of The Circumcision, January 1st, 2017

2016 has been an awful year. Sure, there were individual moments that shone like the magi's star. In our family, there were births of wonderful babies, Wylie got his driver's license, Beatrice survived her first year at college, and Joe made Captain. But by and large, most people - all the people? - I talk to are ready to shut the door FIRMLY on 2016.

And the Church is ready to move into 2017, as well. Christ is born! The Nativity has happened and we are in the great pivot, waiting for the magi to show their obedience to a baby king, waiting for the grown Jesus to signal he is God-with-us, waiting for the signs and symbols of Epiphany.

BUT WE ARE STILL IN THE NATIVITY. In a weird twist of God's calendar, we actually celebrate Christ-the-baby for a solid 12 days. And so, this 8th day of Christmas, the 8th day after Jesus' birth, we find ourselves in the Temple with Joseph and Mary and the squalling, squirmy Christ child. We find ourselves here because Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus were 1st century Jews. In accordance with the custom of their faith, they had come to the Temple to name their baby and, as a son, for him to be circumcised. The bris, as Jews today call this ceremony, is the enactment of a covenant between man and God that stretches back to Abraham. In Genesis 17, God changes Abrams name to Abraham...but the sign of the covenant with which he does that is in circumcision (Genesis 17: 9-14). 21st century American Christians call this the Feast of his Holy Name, but it is more properly the Feast of the Circumcision, because while the name is important, the act of blood-letting is more important.

As a culture, we've moved beyond circumcision. When Wylie, who is almost 17, was born, parents who chose not to have their boy children circumcised at birth were on the fringe. There are now more parents who choose genital integrity over circumcision.

So why does it matter? Why not simply refer to this day as the naming of Jesus? His name is pretty important: Jesus, a derivative of Joshua, means "he saves." He is also to be called Emmanuel, "God with us." Those names appear to his parents in dreams from Gabriel. Hebrew scripture tells us that God cares deeply about names and naming. But we also know that God cares deeply about covenants.

*As we pivot into Epiphany, into the miracles of Jesus that portend who is really is, it's important to remember where we came from.
*As we swing into the New Year, with so many changes on the personal, family, and societal levels, it's important to remember where we came from. We cannot simply shut the door on 2016. We cannot have made it to 2017 without 2016 and we would be wise to remember the year as we move bravely into the new one.