The Cry in the Wilderness, Right here, Right now.

A sermon for the second Sunday in Advent. Gospel of Luke, ch 3:1-18.

Grace and peace to all!

The writer of the Gospel of Luke begins his story today by saying that in a specific time and place in history, the Word of God came to John in the wilderness. John is described as the voice crying out in the desert, announcing the coming, “soon and very soon”, of the Lord.  The Old Testament reference is to Isaiah chapter 40 ,  a chapter that contains so much of Handel’s Messiah that it makes you want to start singing .  It begins, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” It was written to the people living in exile in Babylon and it says God is preparing a way in the wilderness.  For what was this highway in the desert? It was to bring the people home from exile to the promised land. The chapter ends with the famous verse, “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  They shall mount up on wings like eagles.  They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.”  The way home from exile will be made easy for those who wait upon the Lord. Continue reading

The gift of embroidery

Dear friends,

In a previous blog, I mentioned that on the bus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem I sat next to a Jordanian man in suit and tie who, on hearing that I was an American living in Bethlehem, insisted on giving me a gift of a large, beautiful, hand embroidered shawl.  He had picked this up somewhere as a gift for someone, but he pressed it on me and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  As we did not have much language in common, I never really understood his motive, which made for some extra security screening when I flew out of Tel Aviv.  I really did have something with me to take on the plane that someone had given me for no apparent reason.

Now that I think back on it, though, I suspect he gave it to me as a condolence gift. Living as I was in a news void, I did not know at the time about the massacre at Mt. Hood which was breaking news at the time on all the Arabic news stations.

Now that I am home and have read a little bit about that event, like all people of good will I am filled with sadness and anger. The Mt. Hood tragedy was senseless and agonizing, and whether it was the act of a mentally unbalanced person, a terrorist or, one might argue, both, it defies our ability to take it in.  Like 9/11, such atrocities deeply unsettle us whether we were directly involved or not, and open a wound in the collective heart.

When the terrorists cry “Allahu Akbar,” they are crying, “God is great.” It is one of the 99 Beautiful Names of God in the Islamic religion, used most sacriligiously, I might add, as a battle cry and an excuse to engage in murder, which God does not desire. Whether we name the Most High “Allah” or “Abuna” (“Father,” in Arabic) as Arab Christians do, God is God.  Arabic Muslims also say “Allah ar Rahim” and “Allah ar Rahman”, which mean “God the merciful” and “God the Compassionate.”  And they way “Allah al Malik,” God the ruler of all.  In these names they touch concepts and understandings of God which relate directly to our understanding of God the Father/Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We do know a God of compassion and mercy, One who is ruler of all and who will one day wipe all tears from our eyes and finally bring true righteousness, justice and peace to the earth.  Yet historically we, too, have at times referred to God as a warrior, and engaged in bloodshed in God’s name.

It sounds like the colleagues of the Mt. Hood shooter had had reason to suspect him of dire motives, asking themselves if he was a terrorist well before any shooting took place.  We do need to have appropriate caution when people express hateful sentiments against others as this man allegedly did, no matter what their religious affiliation.

Islamic people are not all cut from the same cloth.  We know this.  We Christians have our fundamentalists also, and our fringe sects, some of whom have also used our Scriptures to justify violence.  We must be careful to address our fears without succumbing to racial profiling.  I’ve just spent 3 weeks in Palestine among Arabic people.  I was loved and welcomed.   Of course I could have run into some fringe group that wanted to do harm in God’s name.  Instead, everywhere I met with kindness and welcome, even though our government and my taxes fund the military machine that fuels the occupation under which the Palestinian people suffer.  (And they do suffer.)  I could also run afoul of fringe people here in my own society, since heaven knows we have our own home-grown madmen and terrorists. Let’s be sure we meet the people of Arabic descent in our midst with the same kindness we would like to receive, were we in a foreign land and culture, and dependent on the hospitality of others.  Lord, make us instruments of Your Peace.

Amen.

What are you looking for? A sermon on Jesus, the Bread of Life

What are you looking for?

Blessings to you from the Holy One, a God of abundance and generosity, and from Our Lord and Savior Jesus, and from the Holy Spirit! Amen.

You know, a lot of pastors I know like to study scriptures and write sermons in coffee shops.  For me, Café Diem gives me just the right amount of distance from the rest of my life.  While I might run into someone I know and chat for a few minutes, for the most part I can leave behind the laundry, the phone, and the lists of other things that must be done.  The background hum from others gives me something to strike against, honing my attention so I can bring my mind to bear on the sacred texts.

So Tuesday I sat down to a brunch of Belgian waffle and coffee and read over the notes I had taken earlier on the texts.  I said a prayer to Holy Wisdom, referred to in our Old Testament lesson.  Wisdom, or Sophia in the Greek version of the Old Testament, is described as a Person who was with God in the beginning and through whom all was made.  Does this sound familiar?  John’s Gospel refers to the Logos, when he writes, “in the beginning was the Logos, the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and through Him all things were made.”   This is the same as the Sophia, or Wisdom person in the Old Testament; some scholars even refer to this person as Jesus-Sophia.  So I said a  prayer to Jesus-Sophia for Wisdom to share with all of you today, and now here I am.  May it be so!
The first thing that I noticed as I ate my waffle is that this story, which we read through the lens of our practice of Holy Communion, as we ought to, comes after the feeding of the hungry multitude.  Jesus is contrasting the Bread of life with the ordinary bread we eat to keep us going.  But He only does this after he feeds them.  Jesus does not belittle the physical needs of the people; He meets them where they are.  He meets them with a miraculous multiplication of food that begins with the sharing of a few loaves and fishes and ends with a demonstration of God’s abundance.  To those who have had their fill, Jesus said, “Do not work for the bread which perishes.” But He fed the poor also. Continue reading