Rise up Children to Abraham – Advent 2 2019

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Sermon Text

John the Baptist is someone who we are not given much information about in scripture. He will appear in the Biblical Narrative, say a few words, and then disappear before coming back and saying a few more things. From birth to death we are not given a full biography of John the Baptist. What he taught, who he taught it to, or how he ran his ministry. The only thing we know is that whatever he did it must have worked. Whatever it was he did, he was immensely successful at it.

Despite the little bit that is written about him, the biblical text and other ancient texts give us a good idea of who he was and what the general work it included. John the Baptist firstly was non-sectarian. He was not a part of the Temple Sadducees or the Teaching Pharisees or the Monastic Essenes, he existed in a space betwixt and between all of them. Not only did he stand out in this way, but he is the first person in history to be given the title of “Baptizer.” Not only this but he created the concept of “Baptism,” by transforming existing Jewish and Greek which were repeated for the sake of ritual purity into a declarative act of repentant reorientation.

His washing was not just a means to becoming clean, but a moment to commemorate something new was happening. That the baptizand had died to this reality and was born into a new one. John’s baptismal ministry gathered a group of disciples who appear throughout the Gospels. Sometimes they worked alongside Jesus and his disciples, sometimes arguing with them.

The strange thing about all this is that, though John was Jesus’ cousin, John never really interacts with Jesus. They usually sent messengers back and forth, and the text following today’s scripture, the baptism of Christ is the only time scripture records a face to face conversation between them. John and Jesus, two distinct separate messengers working toward the realization of God’s kingdom.

Next week the scripture tackles the differences between the two an what that means for us, but today we will talk about the similarities. How John sets the precedent for Jesus’ ministry and our own. John’s ministry was radically inclusive. He preached a message that managed to reach people where they were. He was so effective in his speaking that no matter how he got it out there, people from all over Judea were willing to come out and see him. Judea was not very large, smaller than most states, but to travel from one side of it to the other would be a trip of days if not weeks. People were willing to uproot their lives to hear the message and receive the Baptism of John.

This message, far-reaching as it was, was simple – “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” We’ve talked about repentance before, we spent a whole month on the concept. We understand the idea that we reorient ourselves toward God. That we reorient our vision of the future to be in line with the goodness that God wants. It is the transformation that comes with the renewing of our minds so that we can become good and do God’s good work. That is the essence of repentance.

If we go a step further I would say that most of us, except in moments of intense doubt or despair, feel as though we have room to grow and are capable of growth. That something can push us to grow by the Grace of God and that we can attain something beyond our current state. With this confidence of self and of God’s goodness, we have a sort of assurance. Here is the question though, is that assurance of God’s grace and our hope of growth just for people like us? Is it only for people in circumstances and situations and churches and pews and denominations like ours? Has the Kingdom of Heaven drawn near to a select few or to all people?

John answers this question in ministering to two groups – the crowd who we can assume were likely peasants farmers or other laborers from throughout the region, and distinct from them the Pharisees and the Sadducees. These two groups controlled, on one hand, the religious instruction of the people and on the other the religious rituals of the Temple. Abundance and necessity, power and powerlessness, potential for action and inability to act met on the banks of the Jordan that day. In the way that Matthew writes a potential confrontation was set up. “John saw that many of the Sadducees and the Pharisees were coming to see him.” The moment they are set apart is the moment we know something is about to happen to them.

Many times in reading this we put ourselves in the place of the repentant crowd, watching on as the Pharisees and Sadducees are made an example of, but today I want us to take on the role of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Imagine that you have heard the preaching of this man that you come out from Jerusalem and step into the muddy waters of the Jordan to see him. Moving through a crowd of people you hear dialects and smell smells that you have never seen before. You walk between crowds of people who society tells you are all beneath you. You walk to see a preacher who your fellow leaders in Jerusalem have decreed a dangerous revolutionary. An apocalyptic preacher who only could cause trouble for someone in power like you.

But you know the power of this man’s preaching because it made a Pharisee and a Sadducee go up to see him. Two people who could not agree on anything religiously suddenly agreeing that this man was worth listening to. Imagine what it must be like then when this preacher you have come to see, looks at you from across the crowd and starts yelling. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come?” And if it wasn’t bad enough that he insults you and calls you a snake he accuses you of not really being invested in what you’re doing. “Do not presume,” As I am assuming you are, “to say, “I am a child of Abraham because God could rise up children to Abraham from rocks if God wanted.”

Now step away from that time and place and join me back in the here and now. Reading this text I find myself asking a question, which rocks are John pointing to? Is he pointing to the memorial stones down the Jordan at Schechem, can God raise up children of Abraham from the past? Is it to the rocks of the Temple, can God raise up children to Abraham through religious devotion? To the pebbles under his feet, is he recalling Genesis? Or is he pointing to those around him, to the crowd and to the Pharisees and Sadducees, saying, “From these stones, God could raise up children to Abraham.”

The Gospel does not use any special word here to indicate a metaphorical or literal meaning. It does, however, use the same word for stone as Greek translations of the Ezekiel do in describing our hearts before God transforms them. “Hearts of stone,” transformed into, “Hearts of flesh.” So we see that while John is critical of these people he is still looking beyond their present state to what could be. That God could take even a literal rock and turn into a child of Abraham is a statement of God’s incredible power and grace not a statement about Humanity’s inability to meet expectations.

If the message is that a stone can become a child to Abraham what does it mean for a flesh and blood person if they are willing to take the leap? This is not to say that John is minimizing his criticism of the Pharisees and Sadducees or that the wrong they have does not matter. John is clear in laying out the stakes. The people must, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” No free pass is given simply because you apologize to God or anyone else you have hurt, but if you are sincere in your commitment to change then the Kingdom cannot be denied you. If we are people who believe, who speak our contrition and act out our penance then the Kingdom is opened to us.

Yet we so often read this scripture as if it ends with John warning the Pharisees, “Bear fruit or perish.” Yet if we read the text honestly we see that his following statement does not change direction. He is still speaking to the Pharisees when he says, “I baptize you with water for Repentance, but the one who comes after me is mightier than I. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John gives correction to the Pharisees and Sadducees but he also gives them hope. “Your present is not the endpoint of your life and even I, John the Baptist, am not the fullest version of myself I could be. But I lead the way for one who will transform all of this.”

Let us return now to the Pharisee walking toward John. Having been insulted, accused, and told to straighten up you are now dipped in the Jordan. You are told those words, “I baptize you with water for repentance.” Now you hold in yourself the hope of the coming Messiah. As you leave the river, the Grace of God literally dripping from your clothing. Ask yourself one simple question, “Can I deny others what to me has been so freely given?” Let that question lead us, shape us, transform us in how we give Grace to the world around us. – Amen

Be Alert – Advent 1 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

Matthew 24:36-44

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Sermon Text

Throughout the Gospels, Christ constantly returns to two words when teaching us about his eventual Second Coming – Be Alert. The coming of Christ is always associated with this command that we be watchful so that we are not unprepared when Christ arrives. If we are not careful this concept of “Being Alert” does not become too vague to be useful. Or else so uncertain that we wrap ourselves in worry and look for whatever sounds good, losing ourselves without even knowing it.

The season of Advent is a time to look forward to Christ’s return. It looks forward to this return of Christ through the historical image of Christ’s birth just over two thousand years ago. The moment that the fullness of deity took on the smallest form of humanity. We do not use these four weeks to celebrate the birth of Christ. We are not yet to Christmas as much as we would like it to be here. Now we come to a time to wait, to prepare ourselves in silence. The birth-pangs are beginning, but they cannot be felt just yet. The silence that we inhabit now gives our heart space to reach out and offer up prayers heard only by God, carrying the ancient prayer of our church – “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”

Advent is not simply a recollection of what was. Christ was born once, Christ lived physically among us once, and Christ ascended once. If Advent is simply a reminder of this history, then we have no part in it. If Advent is us waiting for something that has already happened, then we wait for nothing. There must be more to Advent, to our lives as Christians than chasing after what already has been. There must be more for us, a future and a present for us to participate in.

We have entered into four weeks that invite us to look forward and within. Forward to the return of Christ and within to sort out what barriers we have put up in our life. We are charged to be alert in the face of distraction. To look beyond our daily worries that distract us from Hope. To put away our love of money and personal gain so we may enjoy Christ’s presence with us. We are invited to stop being selective in our histories so that we can see Christ’s movements throughout time.

The call of John the Baptist still comes out from the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” We can respond to this call by removing barriers in our lives, making sure there is no hurdle between us and Christ. The knowledge that at any moment we may meet Christ should lead us into a more considered way of life, should shape all our words and actions.

Christ’s return is not just a final end. We do not sit quietly in anticipation of Christ’s return. We do not gather just to remember what we’ve already seen. We are living people! We face every day knowing that God is working among us and that Christ is always knocking at the door, ready to be among us. The door to our heart, the door to our mind, and even the door to our homes. The doors even of this Church.

Christ asks us to be alert and is clear that this is not some arbitrary state of being. We do not wait by praying the right prayers or thinking the right thoughts. Christ asks us to wait actively, to be sure that we are not found sitting on our hands but are prepared. That we are working in God’s work. Christ always tells us how to wait by telling us how to love.

Following our Gospel reading Christ gives several examples of prepared people. There is a story about brides waiting for a husband, some bring enough oil to last longer than they expected and some bring too little. Those who prepared for the long dark are applauded for their planning. Then Jesus tells of people who are given large sums of money, some invest it well and produce more and one sits by and does nothing. Those who work, no matter the increase they produced are lauded and the one who did nothing is condemned. And lest we misunderstand what these parables tell us about waiting for Christ, a final message is made.

Christ describes those who are alert at his return as sheep and those who are not as goats. The sheep are told – you fed me when I was hungry, you clothed me when I was naked, you visited me in prison. In short – you met all my needs. The goats are told they did nothing to meet Christ’s needs. Both groups ask the same question, “Christ we have been waiting for you, but until this we did not see you. How could we have helped you? The answer is simple – Every time you helped one of the least of these, anyone who is in terrible need – you have helped me. The difference between the ready and alert and the blind and idle are those who saw Christ in those around them. The good servants met Christ whenever he arrived, no matter what he looked like, no matter when and where he knocked on their door.

To teach ourselves to be ready we should participate in an exercise I saw online that I think might be helpful. Anytime you see someone in need, or you read a headline, read that headline and look at that person as, “Jesus, the Son of God.” Here’s what I mean

As you drive down the street and see a homeless man begging on the median, read the sign they have, “Jesus, the Son of God – broke, cold, and out of work.” When we read the news:

  • “Jesus, the son of God, unable to pay for insulin dies at age 27,”
  • “Everyday Jesus, the son of God, is sent to an informal camp. He is taken directly to the encampment and often sleeps outside until he finds a tent,”
  • “Jesus the Son of God, – 11 years old was shot and killed during a party in Cleveland, Ohio,”
  • “Jesus, the Son of God is homeless despite service to country,”
  • “Jesus the son of God goes to bed hungry at night,” “Jesus the Son of God…”

Until we see Christ in the face of those around us, we can never claim to be prepared to see his face in his Triumphant Return. Therefore, as we now prepare to partake of Christ’s Feast of Grace. Let us learn to extend this grace to others. The day is coming when War will cease when God bends all swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. The day is coming when disease will end and pain will be a far off memory. The day is coming when there will be no question that God is with us, that we have Emmanuel. Until that day though, Christ has only two physical presences on Earth – the Church that is his body and those in need that are his Face. Let the body acknowledge its face and let us welcome those in need and love them, as Christ first welcomed and loved us. – Amen.

Do Not be Afraid

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Sermon Text

There are moments in our life when we lose all orientation. The inevitable moment in which there is something that should be and is not. The loss of loved ones, those bright flames we knew that kept us warm and showed the way. The loss of health, the end of peace and the beginning of worry. Great catastrophes, the destruction of a nation’s concept of safety, the continual attack on innocents in schools across the country. There are pillars that hold up the world as we know it, and when those pillars disappear we have to make a choice – will we give in to despair or pursue a new future, stay in a place of disorientation or chase after a new understanding of the world we live in.

We have previously looked together at the exile of God’s people. The build-up of injustice between neighbors and in systems of the ruling class allowed for a great deal of evil to be perpetrated in Judah. The exile to Babylon left them with the choice to be vengeful – asking God to do the unspeakable to their enemies – or else left them mourning the loss of their security. Yet, from these two obvious choices, a third one sprouted up, the impossible hope of a return from exile, the impossible hope of redemption for God’s people. Those who held onto the idea that God was not done with Judah, not done with any of the Children of Israel, and that somewhere down the line they would return home, and they would find orientation once again.

The people were able to return to Judah, and under the imperial edict of Cyrus the Great, they were permitted to rebuild the Temple. Cyrus was not some great benefactor who saw the light in the case of Judah, but a shrewd tyrant. In giving displaced peoples funds enough to rebuild their temples, and through placing strategic officers in high positions, he made sure his new subjects would not be interested in rebellion.

The tactic worked, and Judah was so impressed that he became the first foreign ruler to be given the title, “מָשִׁיחַ” or Messiah. The exuberance of the people returning from Exile saw this man, this person who had given them back their temple, as a ruler who was worthy of a title only given to priests and Davidic kings until now. They looked at their Temple and their Walls and away from the abuses which Cyrus executed against the oppressed of the Persian empire. The taxes the broke the backs of the poor, the officials who were more interested in the foreign courts of Persia, all erased because a new center of orientation was created – a new Temple that the people could gather around.

Cyrus died, and then Persia was conquered by Greece. Alexander the Great began a program that would establish a Greek-speaking and Greek acting empire. The people of Judah were not an exception, and under the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes Judah and especially Jerusalem became like many other Greek cities. The Temple became a center of Greek Worship, and those who opposed were silenced through any means necessary. Following a lengthy revolutionary war, the Jewish people liberated themselves from Greece and established a new dynasty – a family that became gave a priest and a king – two Messiahs – that the people could look up to.

There was discontent among the people, they saw in the brutal uprising of the Maccabees another problem. If God wanted to bring peace only through these rebellions, then the only thing that would come again and again is more blood. So the belief began to form, among pious people not content with endless wars, that someday God would give a true anointed to God’s people. That a final victory could still be one, after which peace would reign. These people waited for God to inaugurate a kingdom of righteousness, and they believed that God – through individuals like Daniel had revealed a hidden secret. This revealing was understood through a single Greek word that over time would become loaded with meaning – revelation, ἀποκάλυψις, or as we call it today an apocalypse.

Those who ascertained these secrets formulated a great many ways to know the secrets of God’s work. They described monsters and signs in the sky. Warriors made of metal and fire. Dark creatures locked beneath the pillars of the earth and wrapped in adamantine chains. The complex symbolism of the Apocalyptics was never what it seemed – it was simultaneously literal and metaphorical, a conception of realities that cannot be described and of present events that demanded to be interpreted.

I have on my shelf in my office a collection of various Jewish texts that anticipated the coming of God into a new and glorious age. There are thirty-three such texts in the two-volume set alone. Each one looking out at the world in which the author lived, and simultaneously looking past it to a reality that was beyond them. To a reality where God was fully in command, where no one questioned what was right because that was all they knew. A world without tears or violence or unpleasantness, but only the good gifts of God and the fullness of communion with all believers.

By the time of Jesus, this worldview was common among the Jewish people. It was irregular, as in the case of the Sadducees, to not believe in some aspect of God’s immediate return to redeem God’s people. For Judah, the expectation was that God would come and destroy Rome, the oppressive regime that had stolen their sons and daughter and turned them into the foodstuffs for a military-industrial complex that was cruel and calculated. For the people Jesus speaks to in our scripture today, they each had their own take on what would happen in Judah, and they had a definite idea of what God’s anointed would look like when they appeared.

Jesus spoke against the views of almost every one of them though. The end would not come in the triumph of Jerusalem and the destruction of Rome – but would only come after Jerusalem was demolished and Rome victorious. When the Temple was plowed over and had a temple to Zeus built overtop of it. The Messiah would not be a great king or priest or warrior who would kill God’s enemies, but a humble teacher who would die for them.

Jesus’ words stand out in our text because, as in the time of Jesus, we have things that we cannot imagine losing in our life. People we love, places we depend on, ideas that give us a constant place to return to and find peace. All these things inevitably do disappear. We learn we grow, our opinions and views change. The buildings we meet in inevitably crumble, and eventually, even the greatest cathedral turns to sand. Hardest of all, friends loved ones, and ministers in our life eventually grow old and die. We reach a place of disorientation, we lose track of our footing, and we all ask for a sign.

Jesus’ message to us it that we will never know when the world will be turned on its head. We do not know when we will see war, rebellion, oppression. We do not know when we will get a diagnosis that sends us reeling or a phone call that destroys our heart. Jesus asks us to be alert, to be prepared but does not ask us to become worried about what is to come, but neither does Jesus ask us to be disinterested. The love that people had for the Temple is not what Jesus speaks against here, nor does Jesus speak against our desire for security and peace. What Jesus asks of us all is to be prepared when security disappears from us, when the world is turned upside down, so that we are not mislead in the aftermath.

Jesus warns that many will falsely come in Christ’s name when the Temple falls, all claiming that this is the final sign of the end times and some even claiming to be the one God has anointed to lead the people through them. Think of every major disaster that makes the news cycle. Within an hour ministers begin flooding the airways with messages – “This is the sign – this is the thing – follow me and we’ll be the ones to make it.”

On a more personal scale, there are always those who try, sometimes unintentionally, to manipulate us in times of grief. Those who tell us, “God is testing you,” “It’s all part of the plan,” “Don’t be sad!” “Be thankful it isn’t worse.” These are all common messages which serve one of two purposes – erasing the pain of the grieving because it makes those around them uncomfortable, or else manipulating the grieving into legitimizing the views feelings of those around them. The grieving are easy targets for those who want to control others.

Yet Jesus tells us something else. That even if the world should end, we can confidently follow Christ into tomorrow. When we hear of disaster, there can still be healing. When the Temples that we orient ourselves around are demolished, new ones will be built. Jesus insists that no matter what hardships we face – war, disease, betrayal, family dissolution, even death itself – that God is with us. Christ looks to the grieving and gives assurance and blessing, taking nothing to advantage himself in the process…

We follow a God who suffered with us. We follow a God who knows death and betrayal. A God who mourned the passing of friends. A God who knew all hardships of disease, of pain, of suffering, and of loss. This God does not look and tell us to, “endure,” as if that is an easy thing to do. This is a God who asks us to do so with the assurance that, just as Christ was not destroyed in death nor God in the loss of the Temple, we shall not be destroyed in our times of distress. The message today and always, no matter what the age or the signs of the time is simple, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you – even to the end of the age.” – Amen.

The Life Eternal – All Saints 2019

Ephesians 1:11-23

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Sermon Text

Today we gather and celebrate All Saints Day. Today we take a moment to acknowledge that we are not alone in our pursuit of Christ. We are not alone in the slightest, not only because of the abundant goodness of God who is our All in All but also because of all those who gather together to worship this same God. All those who gather together at the table of grace – whether they be in Heaven or on Earth. We gather here with all who have ever lived and all who have died and all who will ever live and all who will ever die. Today we acknowledge the miracle of the Church, and the reality that at this table – somehow, someway, all of eternity comes to settle down among us.

For two thousand years, people have cast their hope on Christ. For two thousand years, we have worshipped our risen Lord. For two thousand years, the company of Heaven has grown. For two thousand years, the kingdom has made itself visible and has become hidden. The life of every believer a shining light in the dark, so that their death leaves a very real void. Even as the light shines brighter every day, there will always be those places where a light once shined, and now does not. There are always holes in the mosaic of our life, there are lights that have gone out in our chains, candles missing from chandeliers. We cannot help but notice them missing.

Yet, we do not believe that they will stay gone. We believe in a day that all weeping will cease. When heaven and earth are brought together and God reconciles all things to one another. On that day there will be no pain or death. There will be no more sickness, no need for medicines or surgeries. There will only be us, the Church Triumphant, and our God. Our Jesus. Our precious Holy Spirit. The world will be a temple, and we will be its priests. All will be right.

This day is an opportunity for us to celebrate in a special way what the future holds for us. Today we remember that we are not alone. That there are thousands of people, millions, billions even, who have gone before us in the faith. All gathered around the throne of God, all worshipping the one who rules eternity. They sing a never-ending hymn, “Holy, holy, holy.” There is communion with one another through all eternity, communion with God forever and ever. There is light, and never darkness. There is song, there is dance, there is laughter, there is life.

The life eternal begins the moment that we accept Christ and enter into the fellowship of the Church. Our eyes are opened, and we can finally see what the inheritance of saints really is. The beginning is in the here and now. When we love one another when we live a life that is bold and unafraid to do what is right. When we call the whole world our siblings, and we stop wasting time on anger, wasting energy on resentment. In that moment the life eternal begins. Our light can finally shine out fully in the darkness.

The life eternal continues as we grow in the faith. Our small light grows and affects more people. Our goodness grows and we endlessly reach upward into the goodness of God. Elevated as we are by the grace of God we are not just people who avoid evil but seek good. The world grows brighter not just because we shine outward but we bring others into our fellowship, lifting up the lowliest people to the highest heights. Our families, our friends, our community of the faithful expands outward all throughout our lives.

Of course, we do not go on forever. We age, we get sick, and eventually, we die. We see those around us go before we do. One after the other after another. Until finally, we too disappear. We are pushed through the veil and disappear into eternity. We leave an empty space. There is nothing left for us. There is only what once was us. Empty of personality and life, just a vessel. A lantern without a light, a candle without a wick.

What gives us hope is that the life we began here does not end. The light which Christ lights in our hearts cannot be extinguished, but only made dormant. The kindling is always there ready for life to be given back. The soul is not destroyed but rushes to our God. We who are left behind await reunion with the same anticipation as those who have gone before us. Those gathered around the throne, though ecstatic as they are in the presence of God, await the completion of all things. The day when there is no longer a separation between soul and body, living and dead, here and now, but everything is all at once. God is truly all in all. When the Communion of the Saints is not invisibly around us, but all around us.

The day when all our dear loved ones are back around us. Those we never knew but who have been praying for us in the presence of God. The fact that we go on, the fact that we do not have an end, means that we will continue on in perfection what we have begun now. The dead are not disinterested, the dead do not lose themselves, but in the new-life of Heaven are perfected. They remain themselves, but the self that they had only glimpsed before then.

Today we gather and share time together. Today we gather and break bread together. Today the invisible world around us becomes clear if only for a moment. Today… Yes, today we celebrate the faith we have in Christ, and our love for the Saints – those who went before us, those who sit among us today, those who are not yet born. Today is a day for All the Saints. – Amen.

Humility – Lectionary 10/31/2019

Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Sermon Text

A Pharisee and a tax collector walk into the temple. One praises God for making them so good. The other cries out to God, “Have mercy.” One is justified, the other is not. Humility separates one from the other, but what sort of humility are we talking about? How do we keep ourselves honest about our standing before God without resorting either to self-exaltation or self-deprecation? The task begins in identifying what kind of people Jesus is using for this example. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

For most modern readers, we immediately associate the term, “Pharisee” as something bad, but this was not the case. Jesus had several Pharisees among his followers – Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea among them. They were people who had a certain way of following God, one defined by asceticism that was not in itself wrong, but when taken to extremes produced a great deal of trouble. They taught that whatever the law was, it was better to go above and beyond it, that way you never even approached violating it and you always treated those around you better than was prescribed even by the strictest interpreters.

The Pharisees were a neutral party in the Jewish context. There were some that were only Pharisees in appearance – they kept their strict code in public but not in private, or else only to look good. Others did not keep the Pharisetical codes but used the association the title gave them to amass power or a strong reputation. Still, others were genuine, keeping their strict rule of life out of devotion to God and service to their neighbors. They were a diverse group of people, some among them good, others bad, but never so cut and dry as we like to read them as today.

The Tax collectors were universally hated though. They were either Roman dignitaries or Jewish locals, but in either case, they had the unsavory job of collecting Roman taxes to fund the empire. This would be enough reason for people to have a cut reaction of dislike – very few people are excited to get a call from the IRS after all, but not enough reason to hate them.

The hatred came from how they made the bulk of their money. The ancient tax collectors would receive the taxes they were to collect – let us say 3 denarii a month, one-tenth of a working person’s salary. The tax collector would then go to each house and ask for the money, telling the people within that the tax was 4 or 5 denarii for the month. And that extra bit of money was enough to let tax collectors amass a decent amount of money off the top of the imperial amounts. There is a reason that Jesus was so scandalous when he called Matthew and welcomed Zacchaeus.

These were the two actors in the parable. The upright Jewish citizen that, although there were some bad apples among them, were largely considered to be good and the no-good lousy thief who sold out their own people to Rome. The parable is positioned, just like so many of Jesus’ stories to have the listener look at two examples from their life that they already had a view of. The Pharisees as mostly good, the Tax Collectors as completely evil. Both approach God in the temple, and the listener has a preconceived ending to this story.

The proud Pharisee is given all honor and glory for having practiced a good life. The Tax Collector for having stolen from those around him is reviled and cast out. The ending was written on our hearts. Before the story ended, we know it. As soon as the charges were laid against the Tax Collector, we can think of everyone we know who fits the description. Pathetic sinners – greedy, unrighteous, lustful, and fundamentally ungodly. Our eyes dart across the room because we can pick them out even as we hear their sins read to us.

Jesus was not content to give us the ending we wanted though. The tax collector, of all people, is lifted up as a paradigm to be followed. The Pharisee is the deluded party, not because they have done anything wrong, but because of why they did it. Their hearts condemned them, even with such radically different actions being played out by either party.

The two model for us how we can approach God. There are times when we question God, and so we lament. There are times where we oppose God, and so we fight. What about in the day to day though? When life is not tumultuous and we are at peace. When we are not knocked to the ground or locked in battle with God what is our attitude toward God? Or perhaps asked better toward ourselves?

We are not called to self-hatred by the Gospel, but into a radical self-love that sees ourselves improve over time. We chase off what is sinful and embrace all that is good and lovely. We push away selfishness and self-interest, all desire for notoriety and power. We embrace a self-emptying that allows us to be filled with Godliness. We embrace a future which is better than our present, one in which we own all our actions as good because they really are.

However, we can only make this sort of movement toward good when we first face up to what we have done wrong in the past and what we are doing wrong now. The Pharisee in this story is not wrong for having done all this good work, but they are looking to God and praising themselves rather than God. Jewish prayers traditionally praise God and thank God for God’s existence. “Blessed are you God, Ruler of the Universe,” but instead the Pharisee praises God for what they do not do, “Lord, I thank you for me.” So radical is the self-interest of the Pharisee that the Greek can be translated in several ways, “The Pharisee stood up and he himself prayed,” “The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself,” or most scandalously, “The Pharisee stood and prayed before himself.” His self-interest was so great that even as he stood before God, he was really looking in a mirror and praising what he saw.

The Tax Collector knew their sin though. They knew they did wrong, they acknowledged their failure to do right. They threw themselves on God’s mercy and they acknowledged that only that mercy could preserve them. They were not convinced of themselves like the Pharisee but were convinced of God’s power to deliver them. More than that, Jesus assures the audience that anyone who is willing to do this, to throw themselves down and acknowledge their sin will be exalted. Not only in that they will one day see heaven, but that what keeps them there will be removed. They can grow beyond their sinfulness, put away the evil in their heart, and truly be raised beyond where they are.

A favorite song of mine, which recounts someone struggling with some unnamed problem contains a line that for me can teach us about humility. This song, “Thunderbird,” by secular prophets, “They Might be Giants,” tells us that, “Before you fall, you have to learn to crawl. You can’t see heaven when you’re standing tall To get the whole sky On the ground you have to lie.” This is what a humble heart is like. Before we are knocked flat, we can take the time to fall on our knees, to acknowledge what we have done wrong. Standing up and looking down on everyone we will never understand God’s ways. However, the moment that we who acknowledge our sin, who truly let the mercy of God into our hearts do look heavenward. In that moment we will see all of Heaven, all that our sin and the Pharisee’s pride has kept hidden suddenly imprinted on our eyes, written on our hearts, and resting in our ears.

Let us be humble, let us look on ourselves as we are – no more and no less, and let us be lifted up into the goodness which Christ is working in our lives and in our hearts. – Amen.

A Fight for the Ages – Lectionary 10/20/2019

Genesis 32:22-31

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

 

 

Sermon Text

Israel was born, not because of any great act of devotion or piety, but because Jacob was willing to wrestle the God of creation. Alone, by the side of a river, looking across the river that he had just sent his entire household to ford, Jacob encountered God and fought God. Unlike so many other theophanies throughout scripture there is no mention of Holy Ground. There is no worship of God until after the event takes place. God meets with Jacob, the two fight, and only when the fight is over do we see Jacob worshipping God.

In fact, throughout this whole episode Jacob is acting in ways that we would not typically consider a biblical hero to act. He has just sent his family across the river to meet his brother Esau ahead of him. Jacob stole essentially everything Esau rightfully owned before leaving home – as a result he imagined that Esau was going to be angry when they met, that Esau would kill him. So he sent his family ahead of him, bearing as many gifts as they could carry. It did two things, firstly it would let Jacob know how vengeful Esau was – if he killed people bearing gifts he would not hesitate to kill Jacob. Secondly, it gave Esau a chance to put his anger in perspective. Yes, you rightfully dislike your brother, but he has a family now. Would you make them orphans?

Jacob has set the stage to protect himself at the expense of his loved ones. Jacob in his fear and worry has emptied himself of all his worldly possessions, and is sitting on the literal edge of a new life. When the sun rose the next day he would either be killed, or be reconciled to his brother. Either way, there was nothing that would be the same. The night would end and with it an entire season of Jacob’s life would come to a close. At this river there was a clear separation between what was and what will be, and into that moment God entered to make the separation clearer.

When God appears there is no description of what God looked or acted like, only that God appeared as a, “man,” who wrestled with Jacob. Ancient wrestling was an intense sport, but in this context of what would have seemed life or death to Jacob it would have been even more aggressive. The two did not engage in any sort of organized struggle, it was Jacob striking out and trying to prevail over this stranger. Like anything else in his life, we can imagine that Jacob would not have fought fair in this fight. Anything he could do to win he would use – perhaps this is why the word used here for “wrestle” has the connotation of involving dust. This was not an organized struggle, it was a down and dirty fight.

What is puzzling about this text is that God does not win this fight. The lesson of the text is not that we are doomed in our efforts to oppose God, or else Jacob would be knocked flat here. Instead, Jacob is described as bringing the fight to a standstill. God does not prevail over Jacob, but neither does Jacob prevail over God. The two are locked together, they are equals in this moment. The God of all creation, locked in combat by the side of the river with one of God’s chosen people.

Christians have not liked this image. We turn it very quickly into a variety of things that the text simply does not support. We change this appearance of God into an angel, that way Jacob’s ability to match it in combat does not seem offensive to our sensibilities. Others have made the entire struggle metaphorical for the people of Israel, saying that what this is really saying is that the Jewish people are so basically rebellious that even their namesake refused to stop fighting God. Therefore the one leg of Jacob which is hobbled comes to represent the rebellious people of Israel, and the good strong leg becomes an image of the Christian church. The Body of Christ literally divided for the sake of a more hateful but palatable reading of scripture.

Yet Jacob was not beaten that day, and more than that Jacob was blessed because of his willingness to fight God. In an ambiguous moment of fear, fighting God seems to have been the correct course of action. When God seemed to be an enemy threatening Jacob, when God visited upon him in the secret of night, a fight was what needed to happen. Blessing came from it, enlightenment came from it, the full realization of what happened came after that. After struggling against God, Jacob comes to worship God and shouts out the name for the place the battle to place – “רָאִיתִי אהלים פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים” – I have seen God, face to face.

While being overly analogous with this text is dangerous, it does offer us a model for what our struggles with God can be like. In other conversations of grief and doubt, we have talked about being honest. If we are not honest then we are left in the same place, we do not approach any new understanding of God and we do not really heal so much as bury our feelings. In the same way, this scripture shows us just how brutal our interactions with God can be. When we feel in danger, when we are uncertain of tomorrow, when we are left alone with God the interaction is not always going to be a sweet conversation or a feeling of peace.

Sometimes we will strike out against God. Fists poised and ready before God has said anything to us we assume the worst is on its way. We strike out, we push back, we let God have it. And the strange thing is, God does not end the fight. God who could in a second crush us chooses not to. God who has all the power in the universe, in interacting with us acts as one of us. We can strive against God, we can meet an equal, we can even play dirty, but we will never beat God. God can take our striving, God can come down and be equal with us, and no matter what tricks we try to pull on God, we will never beat God. Yet, somewhere in all these struggles, the two parties draw closer together.

We cannot say all of this struggle is a positive example though. We are a violent species. We, like Jacob, can do some terrible things when we see something that we want. At the root of all our violence there is the desire for power – to show power, to acquire power, to consolidate power, but always to alter the economy of power. Jacob was willing to lie to his dying father, to steal from his starving brother, and now he was facing down God and he made one last play for power.

Having already been blessed by God, Jacob asks to receive God’s name. Now, Jacob is frequently shown being the least willing of the patriarchs not to worship more than one God. Whereas other people are shown destroying idols, Jacob only buries them in well-known locations. Whereas other people are shown to use the divine name, Jacob is more prone to refer to God in the relatively neutral term, “Elohim.” So here, Jacob is asking two questions of God – One, “What is the name of the God I have just fought with,” and two, “What is your name so that I have control over you?” Because, for those in the ancient world, knowing a God’s name meant you had the ability to control their actions, and for them to know yours meant the same.

We, in our interactions with God and with other people, are often thinking about what we can get out of the interaction. We want to take control of the situation and to exert our will on the other party. We want, we want, we want. Yet, deep down in whatever we are after there is some deep need. For Jacob, the need was to know that no matter what happened down the line, God was going to see him through to tomorrow. Where Jacob thought he needed control, God gave assurance – but how could either know what the other needed if the two did not first have their struggle by the river.

And Jacob was transformed by that struggle. Not only in taking on a new name, “Israel” – he who wrestles with God, or perhaps the one with whom God wrestles – but in his approach to this entire situation. Going forward to face his brother, he is no longer fearful. The fight of the previous night is still fresh in his head and the pain in his leg is real. As he walks across the field to meet his brother he would be limping, he would be tired, but he kept on walking forward. The battle against God left him empty of any anger toward his brother, of any fear of what might come next.

Jacob walks across the field – he plans out how he will kowtow to him. He will bow seven times, he will approach with all reverence and power. All his family is already in front of him, and he is prepared to face whatever comes next. How surprising then that Esau, rather than getting revenge against his brother, rather than accepting his submission to him, runs and meets his brother. The two embrace and we are told that Esau celebrates the goodness that God has given to his brother. The two had fought their entire lives, Jacob had stolen everything from him, yet somehow the two had prospered apart from one another. Esau, not as concerned with power as his brother, sees him as a member of the family, as someone he has missed, as someone who he wants to be in community with and work toward a better future together.

Jacob, seeing this act of kindness abandons his own preconceived notions of his brother. He has sought forgiveness for his past cruelty, and now his brother is transformed in his eyes. Esau is not some great villain waiting to take away what he has, he is not power-hungry. Jacob no knows he had projected these feelings onto his brother. When he looks at his brother the words he said at Penuel come back to him, and to Esau, he says, “רָאִיתִי פָנֶיךָ, כִּרְאֹת פְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים” – “looking at you is like looking at the face of God.” His brother, his enemy, the one he has struggled against for so long – becomes the image of God to him. Can we do this? Can we be honest when we fight God, can we let God transform us, can we see in our enemy the face of God? Let us fight the good fight and find out. – Amen

God of All Nations – Lectionary 10/13/2019

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-9

This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord

Sermon Text

God never lets go of us. This truth is something which comes to us as a relief sometimes and a major cause for worry other times. For the Psalmist it meant that God was always ready to do good, always present no matter where they found themselves. For Job is was a source of worry – God, why can you not leave me alone for one second, just long enough for me to swallow my spit even. Two responses to the same truth, that God was present even in the most unlikely of circumstances.

This was not a common belief in the ancient world. The Gods always had some special home. The Gods of Mezo-America lived in the caves that crisscrossed that country, the Greek Pantheon lived on Olympus, Ba’al lived on Zaphar Aqar or on Mount Zaphon. Even the Israelites for a long time considered God to only be present on Sinai, and after it was created wherever the Ark of the Covenant was placed.

God always had God’s place. God always had a way of appearing to people. The fixed nature of God gave the universe something to spin around. When in doubt, when everything seemed mixed up or not quite right, you could always turn toward that place. There was always a temple or a mountain or a river. God was there. God was easy to find. God was a destination we always had a chance to get to. What happens if that place does not exist? What happens if that place of orientation is removed from the face of the world?

For the Jews in exile this question was not hypothetical. The reality was that God did not have a house any longer. They could no longer climb up Zion’s hills and meet in the Temple square. There was no place of centering or peace, there was no home for them. As far as they knew, without a Temple in Jerusalem there was no place where God could possibly live.

The people in exile did not take for granted the omnipresence of God. While the Psalmist imagined a cosmos that God was fully engaged with, they did so seated in Jerusalem. They could see smoke rising up into Heaven with the sacrifices. They could see the graves that dotted the Hill. They could imagine God throughout the created order because they sat down where they thought God entered into it. Behind the curtain, in the holy of holies, that is where Heaven met earth.

Removed from this context there is room for despair. Removed from this context there is room for distrust. Removed from this context there is room for vengefulness and contempt. There is also an opportunity. In the midst of their suffering, the people of Judah were faced with God in a way they never knew before. Removed from Judah, by the Rivers of Babylon, they were faced with the opportunity to meet God outside of the context of a Temple, of the Ark, to return to something far more distant. Reaching back to a time where God was not locked into a single place but seemed to be everywhere. A guest at the dinner table, a visitor in a dream, someone you could wrestle by the riverside.

In Babylon the question of where God could be was answered in the lives of the people of Judah. They continued to gather together, they lived as a people set apart among Babylonians. Keeping Kosher and refusing to accept imperial decree, they retained their heritage in the midst of these struggles. Through the lessons of the prophets and of brave individuals the people of Judah found that even though they were far from home, God still found a way into their lives. In every gathering around the table to pray, in study of their sacred scriptures, by the rivers where they mingled their tears with the Euphrates. It took some time, but soon it was clear to the people in exile that God was not dead, not homeless, but that God made a home in all the world.

The realization that God was on the move was a comfort more than anything to the people of Israel. Ezekiel talks about God moving toward God’s people in more explicit terms, how God was not willing to abandon them and what hope they had before them. However, today we encounter a new revelation of God – namely that God’s ability to move, the lack of an anchor to limit God’s activity, meant that the people of Judah were not the only ones who could experience the community of God. In a letter to the people of Judah we are given the first open invitation from God to God’s people to widen the circle of faith, to marry non-Israelites.

The Torah is clear in various places the Israelites were to avoid mingling with the other nations. Frequently God’s people are described as too easily swayed to interact with other nations. The Torah seems to suggest that the next step from talking to a Moabite is to start worshipping Moabite gods. As if a friendly conversation over coffee could not be removed from immediate sacrifice to an idol.

Yet, on the feast day on which the giving of the Torah is celebrated the book of Ruth is read. A book that describes a Moabite entering into relationship with Israelites. Not only entering into relationship with them but excelling as a member of their people. The Moabite who was forbidden from ever being a part of Israel is named as a hero, she has children, and not far down her family tree comes King David. Clearly, the matter is not so cut and dry as a cursory reading of the scripture might suggest. God did not close doors often, and sometimes the doors that we would like to keep closed open out into a brighter future.

In this text of Jeremiah the prophet instructs the people to do things that were unheard of. Marry in Babylon, marry Babylonians at that. Have as many children as you could ever want. Thrive, plant vineyards and olive orchards. Become a part of this nation, and see it grow.

The world today is more aware than ever that what was is no longer what is. The troubles of the past have in some cases passed away, while in other cases they are alive and well albeit in altered states. We have become a global culture. We have become more diverse. We have become more connected. As we have grown and changed we have met new challenges and new responsibilities. We have faced growth and hardship, progress and regression, and all about us there is a general uncertainty of what lies ahead. We are divided even as we are brought together, we are in the dark even as we learn.

The lesson which Jeremiah can give us in a world that faces uncertainty and questions, that is grappling everyday to redefine how people of all nations can come together and live in community, is multi-valent. God is not locked into any one place, so no matter where we go God is with us. Because God is not limited to one church, one people, one nation – no one is out of bounds for us to be in community with. Because no one is out of bounds, God seeks to create a world in which people from all over the world can come together and not only live together, but grow together, become a family in the truest sense of the word.

The moment that the people of Judah were thrust out of the world they knew, from the experience of God and country that they knew, they were able to see things more clearly. The concern that they could become idolatrous from interactions with other people groups had in itself become a form of idolatry. They had built up a concept of God that was limited only to them, only to their experiences, and ultimately only to they themselves.

The destruction of the temple was a tragedy which cannot be made light of. The exile caused untold trauma that in itself could not be called good. Yet, in this atmosphere of uncertainty and reflection the people of Judah were able to come to new understandings. If a doctrine is removed from its context, and the life it once gave is chased out of it, it becomes lifeless and before too long it becomes an idol. The only way to deal with these ideas is to air them out, to see whether we built them off of God’s revelation to us or if we’ve been propping them up with our own thoughts, our own insights, our own desires.

What will make the difference for us today is whether or not we are willing to explore the status quo that we have invented and truly discern what is and is not Godly. If we will look to a future that does not concern itself with the circumstances of a person birth, the culture that they bring into the assembly of God, or however they may appear then the future will naturally be brighter. The kingdom of God can grow, it can become something more than it ever was before. We can gather as one people, not uniform but united, not speaking with one voice but with many voices in harmony. Together we will seek the prosperity of one another, we will pray for good things to come to all peoples, because through their prospering we will prosper.

We must not let ourselves be deceived – by anyone who claims dreams or visions contrary to this message of God. These are not God’s dreams but are the dreams we have forced upon our prophets. Our twisted visions that makes God and the world into carbon copies of us, and does not allow us change in the face of revelation. Let us embrace a God who is among all peoples, and seek to reflect that diversity in our hearts, minds, and in those we commune with. – Amen.