Lectionary: Proper 15C / Ordinary 20C / Pentecost +13

“Right Place, Right People, Right Time”

by CM

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-3, 8-19
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

There is a particular location where one’s gift fits perfectly. There are particular people among whom your genius will be most appreciated. And there is a particular time when the stage is ready for your grand entrance. It is one’s true purpose to create the point at which these elements converge for the glory of God in the uniqueness of your life.

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Lectionary: Proper 14C / Ordinary 19C / Pentecost +12

“Our True Nature”

by AMN

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

I often hear people say that this country is a godly nation and I see people take pride when “God Bless America” gets played. In Isaiah’s day, the Kingdom of Judah felt the same exact way about their nation. Who could blame them? With direct access to God, the beautiful temple of Solomon and having more priests and Levites than the ‘hood has liquor stores; it put the other tribes in the Northern Kingdom to shame.

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Lectionary/Poem: Proper 14C / Ordinary 19C / Pentecost +12

by Kwame Toure Kagale

“The Trampling of My Courts”

“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?”
– Isaiah 1:12 –

I was lost and alone,
behind these bars of steel.
Afraid of what was ahead of me,
with no one to appeal.

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Easter Vigil

by Matthew B. Harper

Isaiah 55:7 – Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thought; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon…

Psalm 42:1 – As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

Romans 6:4 – Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death…so we too might walk in newness of life

Matthew 28:7 – Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘he has been raised from the dead

All of these readings come to us from the service for the Easter Vigil, and together they sum up our faith journey.

The words from Isaiah are in a chapter that my Bible titles “invitation to an abundant life.” They are the words that invite us out of our old life of Sin, and into the life of God. We are a fallen people, and the only way back is through a proper relationship with our God. But we cannot go as we are. We cannot be with God when we love our wicked ways.

I am in constant fellowship with godly men who have been criminals of all kinds. The very foundation of their repentance and transformation is to forsake their wicked ways. There comes a day in every person’s life when they are just tired of being wrong, sinful, and alone. To give up what is wrong, and to return to the Lord, is the beginning of all good things.

When we first begin to turn from our sin, and to turn our face back to the Lord we have such a passionate hunger for our God. We want to be with God and to know God’s ways in all things. It is a sad truth that the ways of the world can make that passion dull in our minds and hearts over time. When we are complacent we can forget that there are bigger things than us. We lose our focus on God, and that puts the whole world out of focus. We have to take time to refocus our hearts and minds.

Christ’s death is something we like to talk about, and we cannot allow ourselves to forget that it is our death as well. When we were baptized we were buried with Christ, so that we could be raised in Christ. This Lent we have worked to put to death those things not of God, and to bring forth those things that are of God. This Easter morning we will celebrate Christ’s rebirth just as we celebrate our own rebirth through Christ. Through Christ all of us are in newness of Life.

Mary Magdalene has often been called the ‘disciple to the disciple’ because of the commandment given to her by the angel. It was she that was the first one told to ‘go’ and to tell the good news, and she did. But it did not stop there, and this commandment is given to us as well.

When we realized we are a fallen people, we turned to God; when we thirsted for God, we were filled; when we were crucified with Christ, we were resurrected to new life. In all things we have been given an unbelievable gift from the creator of all creation, and it is the only natural thing that we should go forth and proclaim this goodness to all people. If you are a Christian, how can you not want that very same thing for everyone?

Tonight is the Easter Vigil, and we sit and await the resurrection of our Lord. We sit as if we were children on Christmas Eve; we sit with great anticipation awaiting the new morning. We may already know what will happen on Easter morning, but we cannot allow ourselves to miss the majesty of it. So rise again this Easter. Rise again a new creation, forgiven of your sins, and alive in Christ. Trade your happiness for Joy, find Peace in a troubled world, and pass on the Love of Christ to everybody you meet.

O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. BCP 295

 

Epiphany 2C

by Matthew Harper

January 17th, 2016

Isaiah 62:1 –5
Psalm 36:5–10
1 Corinthians 12:1 –11
John 2:1 –11

Today is all about weddings. From the wedding poem in Isaiah to Mary’s plea during the wedding at Cana, Marriage is on our mind.

Throughout Scripture God uses the imagery of weddings to describe our relationship. Weddings speak to us of commitment, love, unity, and procreation. Despite how our earthly marriages fall short we are continually struggling to find the pure ideal that reflects God’s plan.

Isaiah’s poem is striking because of the deep longing it reveals on the part of the groom. Scriptural illustrations make it clear that we are the bride, and here we see God, the groom, who is yearning, working, and reworking us so that we might be vindicated, found worthy, and crowned.

Weddings are a big deal. In biblical times the wedding celebration was a sign of love and commitment, but also of family honor and the value and honor due the bride. We need to be vindicated because on our own we are far from worthy.

It is this family honor that is at stake for Mary. John’s gospel shows us Jesus and Mary at the wedding of a family or close community member. The size and quality of the party mattered, and demonstrated value and esteem. To run out of wine during such an occasion would have been a point of deep dishonor to the family and a devaluing of the bride.

Mary is focused on this honor, but Christ’s vision is larger. Christ has before Him the full vision of His life and ministry, and yet He is not deaf to His mother’s plea. Are His words a rebuke to her? Yes, in part, to create distance. Christ acts, but at His own choosing and not simply at His mother’s behest.

God’s gifts are always given by God’s own initiative, for God’s glory. We benefit, and we rejoice, but always to God’s greater purpose. All of today’s readings hold that as a central theme. When we have nothing left but loss, when all that we have and are has run out and we are left with the empty water of ritual, the sweet wine of the Gospel refreshes us and leaves us drunk on joy.

The patriarchy and honor-rituals of biblical weddings are foreign things we have mostly grown out of. They are best left in the past. But we can see in the imagery a powerful analogy of our relationship with God, and a vindication of our identity.

The movement from loss and ritual to joy is the testimony of every believer. It is not only the prisoner who knows destitution and rejection, it is not only we who need to be set right. All of God’s creation needs the gifts only God can provide.

God’s gifts are not charity. Each of the destitute has, at one time or another, received charity. It can feed your body, but not your soul. The yearning we hear in God’s wedding poem isn’t simple philanthropy. It’s Love. Our promise of Hephzibah, of Beulah, is a promise of Love, of Marriage, of a God who loves and delights in us.

Philanthropy, like the Canaanite Cults of Isaiah’s day, offer visions of fertility, but marriage is more than that. What God yearns for, and offers, is a fertile marriage of love and delight.

This celebration transforms us. The words of Isaiah promise a remaking, a vindication, and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians discusses the many gifts God gives and how they work together for our benefit and God’s glory. We will be a bride crowned with a royal diadem, a highest honor given not because of who we were but because of who God is and what God has made us.

Every bride is beautiful. The love of the groom has the power to transform her in the eyes of all present. It has never been that beautiful people are loved, but rather that love itself makes us beautiful. When we acknowledge and live in the overwhelming Love God has for us, we will be transformed.

You are loved and you are beautiful
You are married to God
Let the wine flow.

Let the party begin.

Epiphany 1C/The Baptism of Christ C

by Matthew Harper

January 10th, 2016

Isaiah 43:1 –7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14–17
Luke 3:15–17, 21 –22

Christ’s baptism is a defining moment in the redemption story. This event is a significant declaration to the world about who He is, and the beginning of Christ’s incarnate ministry. The baptism says a lot about Jesus, but perhaps it says even more about God, and about us.

Isaiah, in one of my favorite passages that we read today, shows us the radical initiative of God’s love. God, the creator and sustainer of the heavens and earth, is declaring a deeply personal love for each of us. God has “called us by name,” (v.1) we are “precious and honored,” (v.4) and we will be ‘ransomed’ (v.4-6). God’s redeeming love is a revelation.

But how will God ransom us? And from whom or what will be be ransomed? And, perhaps most importantly, why?

Luke shows us the beginning of the fulfillment of these promises. We are so loved that God’s only begotten Son, God incarnate, has come to ransom us. Jesus comes with both power and judgment. He has the power to see us as we are; He has the authority to judge; and He has the power to set things right.

In introducing us to the person and mission of Jesus Luke has recorded the words of John the Baptizer. John shows us a truth about ourselves, something we already know but never want to face. The power we are enslaved to, and need ransoming from, is, quite simply, us.

Christ offers us acceptance and forgiveness, but will demand repentance. We are imprisoned by our own sin, and the only way out is through repentance and faith in Christ; only through Him can things be set right.

Which brings us to the most important question for our purposes today: why? The baptism of Jesus is the beginning of His incarnate ministry, the anointing by God into Jesus’ earthly work. The same is true for us. Linked to Christ through faith, adopted into the very Body of Christ, our baptism was not only part of our rebirth it is also the beginning of our ministry.

Knowing we are enslaved by sin isn’t new knowledge to anyone in prison, but facing it is difficult. Bad things and bad people have happened to too many of us, and it is easy to point fingers; but the ultimate blame must always lie with us. It is our enslavement to pride, lust, anger and addiction—our own sin—that has left us destitute and distant from God. Only Christ can ransom us and set us free.

But why would He? Why would Christ bother with one such as me?

Love.

The words of God through Isaiah are a revelation. They are a life-giving breath of fresh air, a light in the darkness. The simple truth is that God loves us that much, not because of who we are, but because of who God is. We belong to God.

God does not ransom us only for our salvation, but also for our sending. Redemption isn’t the last word, there is also mission. What we have received we must share, what has been accomplished must be celebrated and proclaimed.

Being sent is scary. It will take us way outside of our comfort zone, and force us to question ourselves and our purpose. It will mean loving others, even those who are hard to love. We will have to talk, teach, and share our testimony. It will mean caring, and making ourselves vulnerable. But we begin our mission with those other powerful words from today’s reading in Isaiah: “fear not… for I am with you,” (v.1-2).

We are loved,
We are ransomed,
And we have work to do.

Christmas Eve

by Matthew B. Harper

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intervene; Then His own arm brought Him victory, and His righteousness upheld Him. (Isaiah 59:16)

Tonight is the calm in the storm. The presents are wrapped, the food is put aside, the traveling is over, and tomorrow is Christmas. Tonight is the night for celebration, for worship, and for community.

I love stuff. On the street I was a guy with lots of tools, lots of clothes, bookcases full, and a kitchen overflowing. I didn’t just love stuff, I loved my stuff. The world seemed to be teaching me that what I owned was the measure of my life, and I listened with both ears.

I’m in prison now, and most of my things have been long given away to friends and family, passed on to those people who can use them. But some of the things are being kept and stored by my family, and that is important to me. It is a type of promise to me, a promise that there will again come a Christmas when I can celebrate at home.

In prison I am not sustained by stuff, or by the memories of something I used to have. I am ministered to, sustained by, and loved by my family. The people that I love, if they are family of my birth or family of my choice, are the most precious things in my life.

Because the real measure of our lives is not the stuff, it is the people that are in it. The measure of our life is not what we have, it is how we love. I miss some of my stuff, (a favorite sweatshirt, a great CD, my bed) but I would not trade the full measure of everything that I own for one single of my friends.

After all, it is only stuff – and this is about love.

Once in royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed, where a mother laid her baby in a manger for His bed: Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child – (Hymn 102)