Lectionary: Easter 4C

by AMN

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Year C

John 10:22-30

When I was younger, I had a distorted view on how to worship God. Many times I would say, “I’m not ready yet.” I thought that before I can enter in his presence, I had to be perfect. That’s crazy, right? It was not until I heard his voice, that I realized I had it all wrong.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

John 12:36 – While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of the light.

I remember well the day I sat in the jail and watched the horror of Columbine unfold on the news. That event defined for the world the anger and fear in my generation. And only a few short years later I was on a transportation bus listening to the horror of the September 11th attacks unfold. Both events were crimes and horrors of such great magnitude. It seemed and felt as if the darkness of the world was overcoming all the good.

But as time went past we began to see the full picture. In the face of fear and death we heard about teachers and students who helped others and saved lives. We heard not just about the bravery of the firefighters, police, and E.M.T.s, but also the courage and heroism of secretaries and stockbrokers. We heard about the airplane passengers like Mark Beemer who died to save others, and the martyrdom of a young woman named Cassie Bernal who died because she refused to deny God when someone put a gun to her head. And for me the greatest act was when the students of Columbine erected crosses for their fallen friends, and also put up two crosses for the murderers. They had done such horrible things, but were also victims of fear, hate, rejection, and hopelessness.

The world is, at times, a very dark place and there are times when God seems silent. But God is never silent. God is with us, and we are the lights shining in the world. It is only when the night is the darkest, that the light shines the brightest.

O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, one God, now and for ever. Amen” BCP 167

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.

3rd Day of Christmas

by Matthew B. Harper

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being… (John 1:1-3)

When we talk about God as the creator we are immediately immersed in controversies concerning scientific or biblical-literalist creation, but the true focus should be the one that we all know personally – the eternally creating God that is creating all of us anew every moment of every day.

Often we approach our faith as if it were a puzzle that must be solved. We tackle each issue in the Bible or catechism as something that we must memorize and draw a little box around it. Then we can go through life and feel empowered when we define and denounce anybody who has even a slightly different truth in their little box. This may do wonders for our rhetorical skills, but it will do little for our faith.

There is much to be said for defining and defending the absolute truth of our Christian faith, but it is something that must be approached with humility, and not manipulated in arrogance to judge others. All too often I have seen my Christian family, in and out of prison, rent asunder by such controversy. All too often I have seen people turn away in disgust from our church, not from God but turning away from the Church.

When I, human that I am, look to the infinite God I do not pretend that I can understand all of it. And if I have even the smallest understanding, I am not sure that I could ever communicate it in words. The whole world is awash with the constantly unfolding puzzle of the Glory of God. I live in it, I love in it, I believe in it, but any attempts to define and dissect it somehow always lessen it.

However you understand creation, live always in the power of the one who is constantly and eternally creating.

Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas: star and angels gave the sign. (Hymn 84)

Fourth Sunday in Advent

by Matthew B. Harper

For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)

All too often when people think of Christians, they think of condemnation. They picture a God who comes to condemn them and the world. We are all sinners, and in prison the reality of our crimes and wrongdoings is ever present to us. We are living in punishment, we are expecting condemnation, and we condemn ourselves. But what we never expect is the radical love of Christ.

In all of His earthly ministry Jesus never condemns people for being lost, sinful, or broken. The harsh words that Jesus does speak are reserved for those who abuse and misuse their positions as ministers and priests. God speaks only words of love and invitation to His children. The Bible is handed down to us as a great gift, not a weapon to use on each other.

Many of us in here have been abused and condemned by Christians. Instead of seeing examples of Christ’s loving presence, we have only seen examples of human weakness and animosity. This is not the Gospel message.

God loves us so much, in our sinfulness and brokenness, that he sends his son to us to invite us back into a relationship with Him. Christ’s birth was foretold, and so was Christ’s death on Golgotha. God gave His son to us, knowing we would reject and kill Him. This is how much God loves us.

Dare we love each other as much?

Dare we not.

O come, thou wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! (Hymn 56)