Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Crucified One. Amen.
On Sunday, the disciples marched in a parade into the city, full of hopeful expectation: the Messiah, David’s greater Son, entering into the holy city at Passover! The Kingdom was at hand! It was all so glorious!
But over the course to the week, the disciples watched their hope wither like a cursed fig tree. It all unraveled so quickly: The confrontations in the Temple. The plot to arrest Jesus. At dinner last night, Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray him – and then Judas just got up and left.
And then Jesus told Peter that he, the Rock, would crack under the pressure. And then comes the garden, and they can’t even stay awake.
Then comes the sham trial, and only a few of the disciples follow – and Peter, standing around the fire, denies that he even knows his Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the One who redeems the House of Jacob. Amen.
It’s a long story, with many twists and turns, and started long ago. But it went off the rails so early.
The Lord called Abraham and Sarah, and God promised to bless the world through them. But they sinned, turning instead to their own schemes, abusing Hagar and banishing her with Ishmael, Abraham’s first-born son.
The Lord called to Jacob, and blessed him, but he fought with his brother, and his sons betrayed each other.
Of their descendants came twelve tribes, and the Lord called to the entire people of Israel, but they fought amongst themselves, and turned to other gods, and they split between north and south, and their kings led them astray.
And then came the cataclysm, the Assyrians, and erased Israel from the map. And then came Babylon, and destroyed the temple, and took Judah into exile.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who makes speed to save us. Amen.
It’s doom and gloom for the northern kingdom.
A quick crash course in Israelite history: the twelve tribes united under King Saul, and then there was a bit of a civil war as Saul and David fought for the throne. David became king over Judah and then over all Israel, and he was followed by his son Solomon. The united kingdom was short-lived, though, as the ten tribes in the north broke away and kingdom split between north (Israel) and south (Judah). The northern kingdom was a lot less stable than their southern neighbors: Israel had as many kings in two centuries as Judah had in three and a half. And now, tonight, it’s on the verge of collapse.
Grace and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Light of the World. Amen.
I am, generally speaking, not scared of the dark.
But there was one time.
My high school youth group went on a retreat to the mountains of southeastern Tennessee, doing all the things you normally do on such excursions: white water rafting the Ocoee River, high and low ropes courses, rappelling down the face of a 100 foot cliff…and caving. Mind you, not a leisurely stroll through a large cave with handrails and a paved path, like at Carlsbad Caverns, but a get-on-your-hands-and-knees, wade-through-waste-high-water, crawl-through-mud, filthy sort of caving. We entered the cave in grungy clothes but otherwise clean with helmet-mounted lamps and emerged an hour later, covered head to toe in miry clay.
About midway through the excursion, God only knows how far underground, the guide instructed us to do the unthinkable: turn off our lamps. Every single one. In the span of about five seconds, some fifteen lanterns clicked off and we transitioned – dropped, more like it – from an illuminated chamber to pitch black.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the seed which brings forth new life in the desolation. Amen.
Prophets have a hard job. Think about it: Moses is sent back home to tell the Egyptian royal court – people he likely knew growing up – that the Lord was about to send plagues against them. Samuel’s first task was to tell Eli, his mentor and guardian, that the Almighty had turned his back on him and his sons. Elijah and Elisha both flee for their lives. And so it goes: Isaiah, serving in the temple, is confronted with an overwhelmingly awful (that is, awe-filled) vision of the heavenly throne.
And his first reaction? “Woe is me!” He is keenly aware that he and the entire people of Judah are unworthy and that he was gazing upon the very definition of Goodness, Power, and Might.
And then it got worse. Because then the angels said,
Grace and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will lead us on the way of the Lord through the wilderness to the Kingdom of God. Amen.
As the house lights dimmed, the spot hit the back of the theater and my classmate belted out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” as he processed down the center dressed like John the Baptist – or rather, like John the Baptist as imagined by a Broadway producer in the late 60s. The tempo picked up and other cast members danced their way onto the stage. The Leavenworth Senior High fall musical for 2004 – a production of 1971’s Godspell – was, by most accounts a smashing success.
Grace and to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the coming King. Amen.
Tonight, in the early days of Advent, we also find ourselves in the early chapters of Isaiah. And like this season of anticipation, the prophet begins not in the past or the present but at some blessed time in the future: “In days to come…”
What follows is a vision of coming tranquility when the Lord shall reign from on high. As we’ll see in coming weeks, though, not every verse in Isaiah is quite so optimistic.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Son of Man who comes on clouds descending. Amen.
It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving has come and gone, neighborhoods are decorated with festive greenery (I noticed last weekend that Mercer Village and Downtown already had their lights up). Starbucks has been using their seasonal green and red cups for weeks now. And from Thanksgiving Day through Christmas Day, countless radio stations will be playing an amalgamation of actual carols, kitschy seasonal songs from the 1950s, and old wintertime standards that for some reason have come to be associated with Christmas. (Rudolph is hardly sacred music, and surely “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” is just as apt in January as it is in December, but I digress.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who prepares a feast for us. Amen.
It’s been sort of like living out Murphy’s Law this year, hasn’t it? If it can go wrong, it probably has. I won’t belabor the point because I think we’re all pretty much tired of 2020’s parade of horribles at this point, but let’s just consider the natural disasters: a string of tornadoes that destroyed one of our companion churches in Nashville, wild fires running the length of the Pacific coast that have sent smoke across the entire lower 48, a hurricane season so active that we’ve run out of names (and then some), a derecho that leveled buildings and destroyed crops across ten states, all of this in the midst of a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in over a century.
(Any one of these would make for a far-fetched action movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a body-builder-turned-scientist racing against time. All of them at once can only be described with a sigh and a bitter remark about what else 2020 might have in store.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who invites us to dine at the abundant feast. Amen.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Thus saith the Lord through the prophet Isaiah.
Some of our kindred in the Church use this verse as a proof-text to explain God’s wrath. We simply cannot understand, they say, how a loving God despises his creation because God is so much loftier than us. It doesn’t matter how good you may be, how many people you fed, how little wrong you did, God still despises your every action unless you’ve prayed a certain way and been baptized by immersion as an adult and attend a specific type of Church. Why? Because God’s ways are higher than our ways, and we simply cannot understand the righteousness of the divine temper tantrum. So stop asking questions.