Children of Hope and Joy

St. Michael and All Angels, September 29, 2019

File:2155 - Byzantine Museum, Athens - St. Michael (14th century) - Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Nov 12 2009.jpg

This message was given on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels when my grandchild was brought for baptism.  We were worshipping at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan.  The texts for the day were Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3  (At that time, Michael will arise); Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22 (Bless the Lord all you his angels); Revelation 12:7-12 (War broke out in heaven); Luke 10:17-20  (I saw Satan falling like lightening).

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

Through the ears of this people

Finn, you don’t yet know what has happened to you this morning in the waters of this font.  You don’t yet know what it means to be gathered into a community of people to sing the praise of God.  You don’t yet know the mystery of the breaking of the bread, and the power of its sign that all creation shall be gathered to feast at one table.  You don’t yet know the testimony of the scriptures to the faithfulness of God.  You don’t yet know the hammer and the nails and the empty tomb.  And you don’t yet know the significance of this day, this feast of St. Michael and All Angels.

You can’t yet know the significance of any of these things, but I’m going to speak to you this morning through the ears of this community – and I’m going to speak to them through your ears – for this is one of the deepest mysteries: we are one in Christ.

Paul writes to us about this in First Corinthians saying: “If one member suffers, all suffer together…if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”  And what Paul said about the Christian community Jesus made sure we understood about the whole human community.

The children in the refugee camps are part of you and you are part of them.  The refugees fleeing violence, the victims of injustice at home and throughout the world, those who suffer hunger and want, those who lack shelter, they are part of you and you are part of them.

And it is not just these.  Those who dance and those who weep are part of you.  Those who work high in these glass towers, and those stand guard at the doorway, and those who work in the tunnels beneath, are part of you and you of them.  Those who plow fields and tend cattle, those who nurse children and teach in schools, those who pour steel and build homes and drive trains and crunch numbers and make books and serve congregations – they are all part of you and you of them.

And this is especially important to understand: those who plot war and spread fear and speak falsehoods are also a part of you.  Those who march with torches and those who defend them are part of you.  Those who are cruel or ignorant or cold of heart are part of you and you of them.  We are a single human family.

Our brother, Jesus, spent his life trying to help us see this truth and was killed because of it.  He used the word “neighbor” and said we are “neighbor” to all.  He welcomed those that were considered “sinners” and outcasts.  He treated all with grace and care.  He said that as we did – or did not – do it to the least of these we did – or did not – do it to him.  It is because we are one village, one people, one family that Jesus will tell us to love our enemies – to show faithfulness to those who would harm us, to see their humanity even though they themselves cannot see it in others.  Even when Jesus is impaled upon the cross, he prays for God to forgive those who torture him.

It is not because of the resurrection that Jesus forgives Peter’s betrayal.  We may disavow Jesus, but Jesus will never disavow us.

We are one village, one people, one human family.

And we who gather in this room are part of that great community to which you have been joined who are trying to breathe Jesus’ spirit, live by his words, follow his example, and bear witness in this world to what he told us.

So, Finn, let me speak to you through the ears of this assembly – and to this assembly through your ears, because we are one village, one people, one human family.

A heavenly army

This feast of St. Michael and All Angels is worthy of our celebration not because we are enamored with the idea of beautiful angels with long golden hair and flowing robes that decorate gift cards and sit atop Christmas trees.  This day is full of significance because angels are the military arm of God.  They are the chariots of fire in the Elijah story and the heavenly host that surrounds the village of Elisha to defend him against the army of Aram.  My hunch is that the angels who encounter the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth are not singing Handel’s Messiah, but shouting “hoo-ah.”  This day is about the spiritual battle taking place and the ultimate victory of God.

In a world as broken as ours, this message of the ultimate victory of God – the triumph of grace and mercy, justice and compassion, faithfulness and truth – this message is profoundly important.  It is a word of hope and comfort that summons us anew to lives of faithfulness, courage, and joy.

Daniel, the beastly kingdoms, and “one like a son of man”

The words of our first reading for this day come from the book of Daniel.  They are spoken to a people at a moment in time when the world around them has become exceptionally beastly.  The vision earlier in Daniel of the succession of beastly kingdoms rising from the sea – rising from that remnant of the primordial chaos – each beast more terrible than the next, describes the succession of empires that ruled the ancient world in which Judea struggled for its existence.

Assyrians slaughtered and scattered its conquered peoples, destroying the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Babylon overthrew Assyria, and as its armies eventually advanced upon Jerusalem.  The people watched in growing dread as the signal fires of the surrounding towns were extinguished one by one.  The famine inside the besieged city was more devastating than I dare tell.  The assault brutal when the walls fell.  The temple treasures were looted and the cedar beams set afire so that the whole building collapsed.  The king was forced to watch the execution of all his sons and then his eyes were put out.  The survivors of the city were taken into exile in chains.

It is not just these ancient empires that show themselves as beastly kingdoms.  We know of Stalin and Pol Pot and, if we have the courage, there is beastliness to see in the history of every nation, including our own.

The Persians overthrew Babylon and Alexander overthrew Persia.  The world of Alexander was divided between his generals and the successor states in Syria and Egypt fought over Jerusalem.

In the year 167 bce our author writes of a vision given to Daniel in which every beastly dominion is judged and cast down by God.  Then a figure comes, not from the chaos of the sea but with the clouds of heaven – the clouds being a sign of God’s presence – and authority is given to what the text says is “one like a son of man.”  That phrase “son of man” means a human being, a child of humanity.  This final kingdom is not beastly; it is human.  It is a dominion that, like the first humans, bears the perfect image of God.  It is a world governed by the breath and life of God.

Jesus takes up this phrase “Son of Man” to refer to himself.  In his words and deeds that final “humane” kingdom is dawning in our midst.  Jesus brings what scripture calls “the kingdom of God,” and he summons us to show allegiance to this reign of grace and life.

The final chapters of Daniel, from which our reading comes, speak of the horrors of the imperial reign of Antiochus Epiphanes – He is the beastly king who named himself the manifestation of God on earth.  Like so many tyrants he claimed that he alone could fix the world.  Enraged by a defeat in Egypt, and angered by the recalcitrance of the Judean people, Antiochus attacked Jerusalem and loosed his soldiers on the city.  Josephus reports they killed 40,000 men, women and children hiding in their homes and sold another 40,000 into slavery.  Antiochus looted the temple and tried to tear down the ancient faith of Israel – the faith born of the Exodus and Sinai and a God who commanded a community of fidelity and mercy.  Antiochus’ ordered the erection of a statue of Zeus in the temple square and commands sacrifices be offered to him as the supreme God: a god of power rather than a god of justice.  In response to Judean resistance, Antiochus sent his army and there was more slaughter.

In this brutal moment in time, the prophet who assembled this book of Daniel declares that the angel Michael, the heavenly representative of the earthly people of Judea, is warring against these beastly empires, and the ultimate victory of God is near.  The world of hate and division, sorrow and tears, shall not stand.

Revelation and the defeat of Satan

The prophet of the Book of Revelation takes up this same message.  In an age that fears the return of Nero, when hostility surrounds the faithful, the prophet sings of the war in heaven and the ultimate fall of the Devil, “the deceiver of the whole world.”  Though he is thrown down from heaven and stomps around the earth in rage, he will fall.  Hate will not endure.

Heralds of a new king

This triumph of the reign of God is also the subject of the mission of the seventy in the Gospel reading this morning.  Jesus began his ministry announcing that the reign of God was dawning.  He has sent his twelve throughout Judea, and now sends seventy others to everywhere that he himself is about to go.  He sends seventy because there are seventy nations numbered in the table of nations in Genesis.  He sends seventy because there are seventy elders filled with the Spirit on Sinai.  These seventy are heralds of the new king, the new dominion that is come.

And what is the image at work here?  In the ancient world, when a new king ascends the throne – or a rival to the throne arises – he sends emissaries to every city as he draws near.  The heralds announce the coming of this new reign and invite the city to show allegiance.  Each city must choose whether they will stand with the new king or the old king.  Those emissaries come with gifts to win the affection of the city and show the value of siding with the new king.

And what do the emissaries of Jesus do?  What gifts do they bring?  They heal.  They speak peace.  They bear witness to a world governed by the Spirit of God.

The passage we read this morning are the words of Jesus when these emissaries return.  They are full of joy because false and destructive spirits could not stand against them, and Jesus declares that as these witnesses went from town to town, he was watching Satan falling.  In our ministry, in our witness, in our daily lives of compassion and faithfulness, the realm of evil crumbles and the reign of mercy dawns.

Children of hope and joy

My dear Finn, today you have been joined to Christ Jesus and united with us in this community whose trust and allegiance is to this reign of God.  You are part of our witness to heaven’s triumph over every bitterness and division, every violence and corruption, every lie and deceit.  You are part of our witness that the consummation of all things is a world gathered to one table.  You are part of this witness that we are one people, one human community, one family, destined for perfect faithfulness to one another.  And you are part of this community seeking to live now the reign of God’s Spirit that is to come.

In these waters you have become, with us, a child of hope and joy – hope and joy founded on the open arms of Jesus and the witness of the empty tomb.

Amen

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© David K Bonde, 2019, All rights reserved.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2155_-_Byzantine_Museum,_Athens_-_St._Michael_(14th_century)_-_Photo_by_Giovanni_Dall%27Orto,_Nov_12_2009.jpg  G.dallorto [Attribution]

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To him they are alive

Luke 20

38 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

“To him all of them are alive.”  To him Anna still walks to school with flowers in her hair.  To him Rebecca coos gently in her mother’s arms. To him Kenny still picks at that scab on his cheek as he stresses over his upcoming wedding.  To him Nora still waits at the gate of her village home. To him Erik still pokes his fingers with rough love around the flowers that thrive in his garden.  To him Jimmy still laughs his deep, joyful, guffaw. To him Kris still sits in his chair with handkerchief on his head and grins with delight as he slips Else the queen of spades as they contend with each other while playing Hearts with their grandchildren.

To him they are alive. To him they sing and dance and laugh. To him they live and love.  To him, they are infused with an imperishable life.  He is God of the living.

And to him we are alive. To him we drink from the fountain of the water of life.  To him we share the water made wine at the wedding feast that has no end.  To him the veil is lifted and all tears become tears of joy.  To him we are without shadow or stain.  To him we are clothed in robes of light.

To him we are a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand.  To him we are living stones, a royal priesthood, children of the day.  To him we are born from above.

Yes, he knows our wounds and our sorrows.  Yes, he knows our fears and our failings.  But we know the truth of this seeing – when we gaze upon our newborn for the first time, when we see our beloved with us at the altar – we know this seeing that sees only perfection.  And we know that in that gaze all things are made whole and complete.

Under this gaze of perfect love the flaws and imperfections and shame we carry lose all hold over us. In this gaze we find true life.

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Photo: dkbonde
Originally posted to Watching for the Morning on November 10, 2013

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Carried into the story

My mother was an antique dealer for a while.  It is still part of her soul.  When she closed her shop, many of the nice pieces came to live with us.  I was an adolescent and the stories behind these pieces didn’t matter much to me at the time.  But I have come to understand that it is not only people that have stories.

My cookie jar has a story. It was given to my mother by my great aunt in Denmark.  It’s a cookie can, really.  Growing up all it ever meant to me was cookies.  But it has a story.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the cookie can carries a part of my mother’s story to me.

As does the drawing of the Channing Market that now hangs upon my wall.  I remember the store vaguely from when I was very young.  It is gone now.  It has been gone a long time.  But when mother was a child she lived across the street from that market.  The picture carries to me that part of her story.

My grandfather’s cane bears to me the memory of my mother’s father, sitting in his chair, taking his daily walk, smiling benevolently.  He never said much, but I enjoyed his presence.  I realize now he was losing his memory.  I’m not sure he knew who we were.  But he seemed happy we were there.  His presence is conveyed to me in his cane.

I have a small figurine of a laughing rabbit, a duplicate of one I gave to my daughters’ mother when we were in High School.  It carries to me the remembrance of that afternoon in the city when I was in love and we laughed.  I wish I knew what happened to the laughter.  But the rabbit still makes me smile, bittersweet though it might be.

Things bear a story to us, and carry us into the story.  It is the nature of remembrance.  It is the nature of tangible things.  There is a reason God uses bread and wine.  The tangible thing bears to us the story of Christ – and carries us into his story.

It, too, is a bittersweet memory: a memory of a meal, a betrayal, a grief, and an astonishing mystery. “In the night in which he was betrayed.”  There begin those key words that remember a night, a shared meal, a story of deliverance from Egypt, a dramatic act of washing feet, a dreamy drunken sleep, then suddenly a mob with torches, a kiss, fear, running.  But Jesus didn’t run.  He gave himself for us.  Grace and shame in the same moment, regret and a wondrous love.   It is all borne to us in the bread.

And the bread carries us into the story.  We are his disciples.  We are his students, his followers.  We are his witnesses.  Others need to know who he was.  Others need to know what he has done.  Inside that story is hope for our troubled world.  Inside that story is life.  An indestructible life.  And in that life we are made whole.

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Image: dkbonde

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A Restless God

St. Augustine famously said: “The heart is restless, O God, until it rests in thee.”  But perhaps we should also say “God is restless, O heart, until God rests in thee.”

The transcendent and holy power to which the scriptures bear witness is restless, moving, stirring, shaking, leading, calling, summoning, cajoling, threatening, pushing and pulling the world somewhere.  God is not a defender of the status quo; God is a defender of widows and orphans.  God is a god restless to create, restless to redeem, restless to set right our hearts and our world.

Photo: dkbonde

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The heart of the universe is calling our name

File:Sagrada Famiia, stained glass windows (8) (30468921053).jpg

“The heart of the universe is calling our name,” Reflections on John 20, Easter, and the empty tomb posted at Watching for the Morning.

Image; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sagrada_Famiia,_stained_glass_windows_(8)_(30468921053).jpg by Richard Mortel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D.

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Always in the presence

File:Église Saint-Maurice de Talloires-Détails sculpture en bois.JPG

I wrote this liturgy for the beginning of worship in 2016 when 9/11 fell on a Sunday.  As I came across it today, I was touched by how it speaks to the tragedies and shadows of our time.  

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The community prays silently.  

The large wooden cross used on Good Friday is carried in by children and laid against the altar (at an angle, with the cross beam and the foot on the floor)

We are always in the presence of the cross.

Where prejudice prevails,
….Christ is crucified.

Where violence reigns,
….Christ is crucified.

Where ignorance thrives,
….Christ is crucified.

Where children weep in hunger,
….Christ is crucified.

Where people live by fear,
….Christ is crucified.

As the large Paschal Candle that is first used on Easter is lighted and carried in:

We are always in the presence of the cross.

We are always in the presence of the crucified.

Where kindness is done,
….Christ is present.

Where wounds are bound up,
….Christ is present.

Where the neglected are tended,
….Christ is present.

Where the hungry are fed,
….Christ is present.

Where the homeless are sheltered,
….Christ is present.

As the Altar Candles are lighted:

We are always in the presence of the cross.

We are always in the presence of the crucified.

We are always in the presence of the risen one.

Where the story is told,
….Christ appears.

Where prayers are spoken,
….Christ appears.

Where peace is shared,
….Christ appears.

Where bread is broken,
….Christ appears.

Where God is praised,
….Christ appears.

As vigil candles on the altar are lighted:

We remember the buildings that have fallen.
….We remember the planes that were taken down.

We remember the people who died.
….We remember the families who survived.

We remember those who went to help.
….We remember the love that was inspired.

 

Hear our prayer, O God,
….Hear our cry,

For the healing of the world,
….For an end to hate and fear

For the dawn of peace and understanding
….For the end of war and division

For the courage to choose peace.

For open hands
….and open hearts

For the fullness of justice
….For the triumph of hope

 

We remember the child that was born.
….We remember the song of the angels.

We remember the Spirit that was poured out.
….We remember the news that was proclaimed.

We remember the sins that were forgiven.
….We remember the lives that were healed.

We remember the graves that were opened.
….We remember the feast that is come.

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© David K Bonde, 2016, 2019

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%C3%89glise_Saint-Maurice_de_Talloires-D%C3%A9tails_sculpture_en_bois.JPG B. Brassoud [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D: 

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Of rats and holiness

I saw a rat along the fence line beneath the ivy, this morning.  There was a squeak and a commotion in the ivy and all the birds fled the feeder.  As I wondered whether a rat would attack a live bird, I say one emerge from the ivy, slink a few feet along the fence and disappear back into the ivy.

I do not know what happened.  Maybe the rat simply slipped and fell.  Maybe there was a territorial dispute in the ivy.  But I was troubled by the fear that the rat had gone after one of the finches or other small birds feasting on the thistle seed.  Wikipedia tried to reassure me that though they might eat a carcass, they were unlikely to attack a bird.

The world is not kind.  We have wonderful sentiments about the beauty of nature – and there is incredible beauty – but there is also fear.  The garden has been lost to us.  The creatures fear us and we fear them.  The strong feast on the weak.  When my cat brought me a mole and dropped it on the doorstep, I should have thought more about what was happening in the yard.  When it dropped a sparrow, I was upset.  When I caught it stalking a cardinal, I never let it outside again.  My cat was well fed, but she was wired to stalk and kill.

We look out across a meadow and see a peaceful scene: meandering stream, grass waving in the breeze, a fence line of trees pointing to the heavens. Perhaps mountains line the horizon. But hidden in that grass is a struggle for survival.  What we so calmly called the food chain in 8thgrade science is a trail of death.  The fact that it is ‘natural’ doesn’t make it holy.

The jealousies, fears and ambitions that governed the playground in 6thgrade were also “natural”, but they were not holy.  The quest for power in Washington might be natural, but it is not holy.  The tribalism that courses through human veins might be natural, but it is not holy. Revenge might be natural, but it is not holy.

Curiosity, compassion, friendship, affection – these too are natural and they partake of the holy.  Communication, collaboration, compromise – these, too, are holy.  Sacrifice, courage, commitment.   Faith, hope, and love.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

“Finally, beloved,” writes Paul to the Philippians, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (4:8)

Through the author of Colossians, the one who took off his robes to wash feet urges us to put on the new self:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. (3:12-15)

Perhaps we are wired to slink along the fence line hoping for a bird, but we are invited to be born from above, to breathe the breath of Jesus, to live as children of light, to be holy as God is holy.

Photos by dkbonde

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More on Mary’s cry

File:Compianto sul Cristo morto (Niccolò dell'Arca) Particolare 02.jpgThe cry for justice, for the setting right of the world is deep in the scriptures.  Israel’s faith is born in the cry of the people in bondage and anchored again in the cry of despair at the destruction of Jerusalem. The book of Job struggles mightily with the question of suffering and finds no answer, only the inscrutability of God.  Ecclesiastes bears witness to the randomness of life:

The race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong,
nor bread to the wise,
nor riches to the intelligent,
nor favor to the skillful;
but time and chance happen to them all. (9:11)

Some of the psalms sing of the goodness of life, but many more cry for deliverance and lament injustice. No lament is more compelling than that of Lamentations.  It captures completely the grief and desolation of a city and nation destroyed by greed and violence.

Like the poet of Lamentations, the prophets point to our sins of idolatry and the betrayal of God’s command for justice and mercy as the source of our sorrows, yet even they cry out for God to set things right.  They expect this of God.  They demand it of God.  And when their warnings have come to their brutal fulfillment, the prophets point towards the promise of a world renewed.

We are supposed to learn from the devastating consequences of our turn from God’s way.  We are meant to find new spirits and new hearts and a new allegiance to love and faithfulness to all.  We are supposed to turn towards that divine reality that called forth the world and calls us still from death into life.

The painful cry of Mary, the painful cry of every grieving mother and child, the painful cry of every prisoner to injustice and sorrow, the lament of every crucified, is a demand for God to see and come and reign in us.

The prayer Jesus taught us was not a pious expression of reverence but a demand for God’s reign to come, God’s will to be done, here on earth.  It demands that God’s name – all that God stands for, all that God seeks and commands, all justice and mercy and faithfulness – be revered now.  It requires that our bread be shared and all debts lifted and insists we should receive all this today, this day, not some uncertain tomorrow.

We dare to shout to the heavens because this is the work of heaven we have seen – in the Exodus, at Sinai, in the prophets and poets or Israel, in the voice and hands of Jesus. Sinners are welcomed, outcasts are gathered, the wounded are healed, the bound set free.  And our righteous, insistent cry means that we ourselves would care for the poor and visit the prisoners and comfort those who weep.  We would live the justice we seek.  We would do the mercy we seek.  We would be the hands and heart of Jesus in the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Compianto_sul_Cristo_morto_(Niccol%C3%B2_dell%27Arca)_Particolare_02.jpg Melo rvm [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

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Why?!

File:Sculpture in navarra.jpg

To whom does Mary’s cry arise?  Is it to God she desperately pleas?  Does her grief pour out upon the soldiers who slew her son?  Is she shaming the Jerusalem leaders who rid themselves of this troublesome peasant by condemning him before Pilate, and who stood by mocking as he hung powerless and exposed?  Is it Rome she accuses, this imperium of wealth and might touting itself the bringer of all peace and blessing?  Or does Mary cry against this whole broken world that resorts so quickly and so often to brutal violence?

We are none of us innocent.

We have not pulled the trigger, but we have some hand in the neglect, the bitterness, the discrimination, the injustice, the rhetoric of hate, the abuse of power, the poverty of soul and mind that beats upon the poor and vulnerable like coastal waves whose ceaseless pounding pulls down cliffs.

We have not pulled the trigger, but we have stood by as the airwaves fill with invective, and reason flees all governance.

We have not pulled the trigger, but we have seen the broken bodies and kept our heads down.

We have not pulled the trigger.  We have not pounded the nails.  But there are innocents on those crosses, people paying for our sins with their lives.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sculpture_in_navarra.jpgProcsilas Moscas [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

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Like those who lift infants

“I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.” (Hosea 11:4)

Sunday, I just wanted to crawl back into bed.  I was haunted, Saturday, by the news of the shooting in El Paso, and woke, Sunday, to the news of the shooting in Dayton.  It still weighs heavily on my heart – for the victims, for their families, for the shooter’s family, for the spiritual poverty of the nation, for the brokenness of the world.  If I hadn’t already made a plan to attend a neighboring church, I wouldn’t have had the resolve to find a place to worship; I would have gone back to bed.

It felt good to sit down in the pew.  It was good to see the altar, the reading desk, the familiar elements of traditional churches. This is a place where grace happens. This is a place where the cries of the heart are spoken, where heaven answers through ancient words and bread broken. This is a place where spirits are revived and lives renewed.  Simply being there helped me breathe.

The scripture readings were powerful.  Hosea 11 records God’s lament for a people God had conceived and nurtured, but who turn away constantly.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
….and out of Egypt I called my son.
2The more I called them,
….the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
….and offering incense to idols.

“I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love,” says God, but the nation’s hardness of heart meant that “The sword rages in their cities.”

There it is.  There we find ourselves.  The sword is raging in the land, our long and painful litany of hate and violence.  And God cries out:

8How can I give you up, Ephraim?
….How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
….How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
….my compassion grows warm and tender.
9I will not execute my fierce anger;
….I will not again destroy Ephraim;

There is mercy for a people who do not deserve it.  God is faithful though we are not.  God will deliver.

But the preacher did not use this text speak to us.  She made no comment about El Paso or Dayton or what happened in our own neighborhood at the Garlic Festival a mere a week ago.

Any of the texts of the day could have spoken to us.  The rich man who built bigger barns failed to recognize his obligations to the community.  Psalm 107 spoke of the hungry and thirsty”whose souls “fainted within them.”  And yes, the poet spoke of physical hunger, but it is a psalm of praise for God’s deliverance.  This God of the Exodus and Sinai, this divine love that called forth a good world and opened the grave, this God “satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things,” and we were hungry.  At least I was hungry.

Colossians 3 begged us to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is,”and bid us “Put to death”what is earthly: “you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”  Surely this, too speaks to our moment.  And the declaration that “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”  How can such words not speak to our divided land?

All these things could have been said but none of them were.  It was as though nothing of consequence had happened.  The thing we were doing had no connection to the travails of the world and the despairs of our hearts.  I grew restless.  Troubled. I could feel the fire burning and thought of Jeremiah who tried to be silent.  I wanted to stand and speak to the community, to say something if only to point to the bread and wine on the altar and remind us all that this central act of the church is both sign and promise that the work of God is to gather all people to one table.

As the bread and wine were lifted up, as the words of Jesus were spoken without passion or proclamation, I grew more and more agitated.  As I knelt at the altar rail I couldn’t focus – and then the minister put a piece of bread in my hand the size of a small dinner roll.  It made me laugh.  Here was God saying, “Shut up and eat.”  Here was grace abounding, far more than I could eat in one bite.  I dipped it in the chalice, bit off the portion soaked in wine, and continued to laugh, trying to swallow the first bite so I could eat the rest before everyone left the altar rail.

I went back to my seat still laughing to myself.  God had found the way to my heart.

There are sorrows in the land.  There are terrible wounds and tears and losses that will ache forever.  The hateful voices continue.  The mockery, the name-calling, the children wrenched from parents, the pompous hypocrisy, the bloated self-righteousness, the lies and deceits, the barricades of mindless slogans, it’s all there.  It is rife in the land.  But the God who would hold us as one who lifts a child to her cheek still reaches out to us.  There is a bread of life for us all.  Grace abounds.

Now, like the rich man in the parable, we need only learn to share it.

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Photocredit: dkbonde

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