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.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will not cut us off but instead delivers us from the thorns. Amen.
Imagine walking along any street in the Georgia summer. The cicadas are calling from the trees; pine towers overhead while magnolia limbs hang low, diving into the dirt and erupting out again. The humidity presses in around you, reminding you of the promised blast of air condition and tea when you get home. You pass an empty lot, erupting in deep green that covers last square inch, climbing up the trees, covering the abandoned shed, threatening to crush it under the unbearable weight.
For the farmers listening to Jesus, thorny weeds threatened to choke out their crop. For farmers living in the southeast, the threat is kudzu.
How lush the hillside covered in this once-heralded vine appears at first glance! But it has that look of uncanny uniformity, every leaf looking exactly the same, choking out any other grass, bush, shrub, or tree that ever took root in that same soil. Continue reading “Of Thorns, Kudzu, and Wealth”→
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, who stands, ax in hand, to cut down that which does not bear good fruit. Amen.
Three years ago – just days before this text was last read in the lectionary – I sat at the bar of the Holiday Inn in downtown Athens. My parents, my sister and her husband, Suzanne, and I had gathered from across the US for my grandmother’s funeral, but as we sipped our beers, our attention was trained on the TV. CNN was covering the wildfires ripping through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and devastating Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Continue reading “The Ax and the Tree: Good News”→
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who tends to us as a loving gardener, that we may bear fruit worthy of repentance. Amen.
A few weeks ago, storms ravaged several towns in Alabama and though that same system passed through Macon, our members escaped unharmed. Is it because we are somehow more highly favored than our neighbors across the state line?
Today, we gather to worship without fear of violence – a small comfort that, after repeated attacks in Egypt, the Coptic Christian community lacks, and after years of war and racist attacks, and in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in New Zealand, many Muslims are reminded that they lack. Is it because God loves us more?
As we speak, large portions of the Midwest are covered by surging flood waters. It has claimed human lives and devastated entire farming communities. And yet our weather here in Macon has been impeccable. Is it because we are blessed while those in Nebraska are cursed?
We could spend years upon years listing all of the ways in which this world is simply not fair, the resources unevenly allotted to one nation rather than others, the tragedies that have befallen one community but not the next, the violence that plagues one region while others live in peace, and still, after those innumerable decades, we would have barely scratched the surface of life’s injustices. Continue reading “The Tower of Siloam, a Fig Tree, and the Problem of Pain”→
What a scene it must have been – picture the heavens opening. What a sight it was to behold. What divine splendor was on display? What radiance poured forth? Hear that voice – loud, authoritative, rolling across the waters, and yet gentle, loving, and intimate. Do you see that dove? So ordinary and plain, like the ones for sell at the market back in town, but there’s something inherently different about it.
This is the first recorded act of Jesus’ adult life, before he begins calling disciples, teaching, or working wonders, before his confrontation with the powers and principalities. Here, at the very outset of his earthly ministry, this one thing is made clear: Jesus the Christ is the Son of God.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who comes into the midst of us as a radiant and lowborn King. Amen.
As formal as royal events are today, they have nothing on the status of kings in ages past. The further back in history you go, the more power kings and emperors claimed for themselves. We may know a little about folks like Richard the Lionheart or Charlemagne (whose Latin name, Karlus Magnus, means Charles the Great. But of course his full title for use in documents was “Charles, most serene Augustus crowned by God, the great, peaceful emperor ruling the Roman Empire.”)
And these medieval kings have nothing on their ancient counterparts.
Consider the heirs of Alexander the Great. When his empire wad divided among five ruling families, they set themselves up as kings and were constantly at war with each other. One such ruler, Antiochus IV, ruled over territory stretching from Judaea to Persia. He claimed the titles Nicator (“the Bringer of Victory”) and Epiphanes (“the Manifestation of God”). He also brought his kingdom to the brink of war, persecuted the people of Judaea, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the pagan god Zeus, ultimately setting up the successful Jewish rebellion now observed as Hanukkah – so perhaps he was not so manifestly awesome as he claimed.