Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Risen One who has set us free for the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Our Gospel reading today opens on a scene that, until last year’s pandemic Easter, was unfamiliar to most us: in the midst of our Easter joy, as we celebrate these great fifty days, we enter a room full of fear. The disciples, in the wake of the Crucifixion, are huddling in a locked apartment, hiding out of sight. They saw what happened to Jesus, and they are terrified that it might happen to them – that Jewish zealots and Roman soldiers might come after them as well, that they may be forced to bear their own crosses. They have heard Mary Magdalene’s testimony, that Christ is risen, but we can see their doubt. Picture their faces: jumping at every sound, the pit sinking in their stomach every time they hear a group of pilgrims walk by, every time a band of soldiers marches by. In the midst of Passover, the disciples are holed up in Jerusalem, afraid that the crowds outside might turn against them.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to proclaim his authority. Amen.
A prophet like Moses. It’s quite a promise for the people so recently rescued from slavery and following the law-giver through the wilderness.
Here he is: their great liberator who has worked mighty deeds in the name of the Lord. How excited the people must have been to hear that there would be more prophets like Moses. And today, we know their names: starting with Joshua, followed by the likes of Deborah, Hannah and her son Samuel, Nathan, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea, to name but a few.
These people were not mere fortune tellers, as we think of prophets in modern days, but rather these are the ones who give voice to God’s divine message of redemption and liberation. What a relief it must have been to hear that God will continue to speak to the people.
But this promise is not entirely good news. It comes with a warning: false prophets will arise and attribute to God that which the Lord has not said. These lying prophets are both a curse and accursed, speaking deception and oppressing the people. These liars will “presume to speak for the Lord” while serving only their own interests.
How do we know who’s who? When a prophet proclaims, “Thus says the Lord,” how do we know they are speaking truly? How do we discern the good from the bad?
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to follow him. Amen.
In seminary, my Old Testament professor would almost always open class with a devotional prayer, and almost always that prayer was a contemporary song based on a passage of Scripture, and almost always one of two songs in particular: “Thy Word” by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith (inspired by Psalm 119) or “Speak, O Lord” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend, which is largely inspired by today’s reading from First Samuel.
Speak, O Lord, as we come to You To receive the food of Your Holy Word Take Your truth, plant it deep in us Shape and fashion us in Your likeness That the light of Christ might be seen today In our acts of love and our deeds of faith Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us All Your purposes for Your glory
We were encouraged to sing along with this prayer, and I have to say, I did not care for it the first time. Or the second. Or the third. By the fourth time, I rolled my eyes. By the time my roommate started singing it in the living room, I would turn up the volume of the television to drown it out. But, what can I say, it did eventually start to grow on me – sappy piano melody and all – and now I can’t read the words Eli handed to Samuel without thinking of Dr. Strawn and a hundred seminarians singing along.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will reveal all things. Amen.
Our Lord descended into the waters of the Jordan where he was baptized by John, and as he came out of the water, “the heavens were torn apart.”
Saint Mark, usually so direct and terse, here is very descriptive. The heavens are not merely opened, as in Matthew or Luke’s telling, but rent asunder. In this moment, the glory of God is revealed, the barrier between the sacred and profane ruptures, the Holy Spirit descends, and the voice of the Father declares Christ’s true identity: the Son, the Beloved One, with whom his Father is well-pleased.
In his baptism at the Jordan, we see the Epiphany of our Lord, the manifestation of his glory and his divine nature as the Son of God.
And at the Font, we see a little epiphany – the line between death in the waters and new life in Christ is torn apart when our Heavenly Father claims us as adopted children, anointing us with the Holy Spirit and oil.
Oh, that all such epiphanies were so glorious. But too often, when things are torn apart, we see only the sinful and violent chaos of this world.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the King. His advent is close at hand. Amen.
After weeks of waiting, we’re almost there. The anticipation has been building for a while now. The tree is up – and depending on your family traditions, it has been for weeks. The plans have been made. Hopefully, there are only a few last-minute gifts or groceries to buy. All four candles are lit, and even those of us in the self-appointed “Advent Police” are getting antsy.
Can I listen to Christmas carols yet…maybe just one. And maybe I can just lift the box under the tree and try to guess what’s in it. Now hand me some egg nog.
Picture it: a silver coin a little smaller than a quarter with the rough image of the emperor stamped into it – and not one but several titles surrounding the rim. Throughout the empire, images of Caesar proclaimed his glory through a series of lofty names:
Princeps Civitatis – First Among the Citizens Princeps Senatus – First Among the Senators Pontifex Maximus – the Chief Priest of the Roman Imperial Religion Imperator – the Conqueror Pater Patria – Father of the Nation Divi Filius – the Divine Son Augustus – the Exalted
This is how the emperors saw themselves – and made sure their subjects saw them this way too. From temples and government buildings to the very coins in used to buy bread and wine, the empire proclaimed Caesar’s glorious lordship far and wide.
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 our Lord, who has united us into one body.
If I may summarize last week’s Gospel reading:
Congratulations, apostles! You’ve just won a no-expenses paid vacation to the small towns dotting the Judaean countryside! You’ll confront demonic powers that seek to destroy you, and while there, you’ll be handed over, beaten, flogged!
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the one who strengthens us to endure until the end. Amen.
We are justified, Paul tells us, by grace through faith in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. But to what end? In this season after Pentecost, reading the Epistle to the Romans in light of Christ’s Ascension, the Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles, and last week’s Trinity Sunday command for the Church to go forth, what does our salvation really mean?
It’s not some object to be put up on a shelf like a trophy in order that we might boast about how special we are. Rather, in Christ’s death, we are invited to live into the peace of the coming Kingdom, a restored creation. In our justification, we are given the grace to be the people God created us to be, to live the lives that our Lord always intended for us. Continue reading “Sheep Among Wolves”→