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Jul 4 20

Fireworks

by davesandel

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Fireworks

The Catholic lectionary was arranged in conjunction with Roman Catholic feasts and solemnities, not American holidays. But after all, since I’m right here in the middle of the middle of the country, and we won’t be watching fireworks of any size, I need to at least say something on this USA Day of Days.

Our friends and family have a few fireworks in store, but none of them are going to reach very high into the sky. I bought two pork butts for 99 cents a pound at Schnucks last night, and a watermelon, but they are for next weekend, not the 4th. I think Chris is smoking something (not like that!) and has invited us to a meal tomorrow night. I hope we can go.

Not sure though, because wearing masks and avoiding human contamination has become, again, the name of the game. I’m sick of it, and not feeling much joy in solitude right now. I have a travel bug tickling first down my right pant leg and then the left. There’s a deep need to hug YOU deep inside my soul.

I want to go to Israel during the good old days, which Amos finally gets to in his book of diatribes.

Good Days are coming!

The plowman shall overtake the reaper.

Harvest will follow upon harvest, rich fruits will follow upon rich fruits. God smiles benevolently down upon us all.

The juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains.

Oh my goodness, what a magnificent sight! Can I just lay down and lick it up? Let it flow over my face and into my mouth? Let me laugh with abandon, not in the inebriation of wine but the Great Drunkenness of the Spirit. God is good, and his mercy pours on us forever.

Plant vineyards and drink the wine

Set out gardens and eat the fruits

I have given these to you and they will never be removed.

Thus saith the Lord.

In a flash I remember the young love of Tommy and Zaneeta, mirrored by her parents’ more mature love in The Music Man. Mayor Shinn and his wife Eulalie host 1912’s Fourth of July festivities in the high school gym and later outside in Madison Park. Of course there are Shenanigans, stolen kisses, and music that rushes joyful through the veins. There be goosebumps.

Fifty years after the Civil War, five years before the US entry into World War I, these halcyon years in Iowa might remind old Amos of those he hopes for in Israel.

The juice of corn shall drip along the prairie. Put on your old straw hat, chew a stalk of ripened wheat, snooze in the afternoon, remember the redemption of Jesus, rest in the arms of God. Listen to the music. Wait for dusk. The fireworks are coming.

I wish. I wait. Be still.

The Lord does speak of peace for his people, to his people.

Kindness and truth SHALL meet

Justice and peace SHALL kiss.

Truth springs out from within the ground

Justice looks down from heaven.

We hold these truths to be self-evident … all men … Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

My friend Don lives on spring-fed and spring-sustained Lulu Lake in Wisconsin. He takes us sometimes in a small boat to a tangled net of reeds along the shore, where we can see the spring still bubbling, always even on the coldest winter days. This water is pure and cold. It has bubbled for hundreds of years.

In the old days before Amana and Maytag, winter cutters in coveralls wearing heavy gloves came and sliced up the ice. They sold it mostly in mansions at first in Milwaukee and Lake Geneva, then later to everyone, and finally to no one. But I can see their old, unpainted wooden sleds sliding along the ice, sometimes nearly crashing through and killing them all, as I sit in my own silence on Don’s dock alongside the quiet birdsong and blue skies of Lulu now.

So much gone.

But what good is it to weep?

Unless I need to weep! Because then, when I need to weep, it’s all good, and my grief, my saying goodbye to something deep and important whether it’s ever been mine or not… that grief must flow free without clot, passing through my heart. Hiring a mourner never does the trick. I need a few hours alone just to sob without stopping, loud and loud and loud.

This memoried rush of joy and anguish always accompanies me into the Fourth of July. We celebrate surfaces without much thought, the rockets’ red glare and all that, but when there’s time to sit on a silent dock or contemplate a bubbling spring that has sprung forever, then the dead red blood of boys killed in wars fought so long ago, the refusal of some to allow the celebrating of others, the arrogance and shame that separates Americans from other Americans seizes up my heart.

“Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created … Equal.”

Sorrow and grief, very personal and very corporate, my guilt and your guilt and our guilt, oh! I am caught until I can at last sob awhile, then oh so gradually notice how near YOU have been, all this time, my Lord and my God.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

You speak softly into my sobs. Thank you, Jesus.

People don’t put new wine into old wineskins because the skins will burst, and then the wine will spill out, and the skins be ruined.

And we will have no wine to drink!

Right!

Pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both will be preserved.

That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom. And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

O Lord Jesus, make my wineskin new.

In good time, David. First you must sob out your heart, let it be wrung out altogether by your guilt and grief. And I’ll be nearby preparing both your new skin and all that beautiful Beaujolais, our new wine together, my gift always for all of you.

All? Every race? Every ethnos, every class, moneyed and unmoneyed, man and woman, child and mother, father and child, all of us, Lord? All?

Oh yes! And you haven’t even scratched the iceberg. Every single one of you, immigrants all upon the earth, is a fingerprint, my own fingerprint on the universe. You are neither Dream nor Dot but fearfully, wonderfully Made. Even your deaths are subsumed into my eternity.

I know you full well. I always have, and I always will.

Follow me.

(Amos 9, Psalm 85, John 10, Matthew 9)

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Jul 3 20

My Lord and my God!

by davesandel

Friday, July 3, 2020 – Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle        (today’s lectionary)

My Lord and my God!

I imagine a four dimensional tapestry created with temporal and spatial, human and divine threads, all held together by Christ.

Through him the whole structure is held together and grows.

In him you too are also being built together

Into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Of course this story of the apostle Thomas is one of the threads.

Our simple study of history, reveling as it does in the tapestry of time and space, becomes quickly sublime when human and divine life is woven in as well.

In all those places at all those times, all that we see and hear and feel transmutes into a wonderful structure of four dimensions when we listen for God, when we too seek to touch God’s wounds, when God finds us and we find him.

Thomas’ doubts about Jesus’ resurrection serve us well. Pope Gregory said of Thomas:

“The Lord permitted the apostle to doubt after the resurrection, but He did not abandon him in doubt.”

Thomas, who earlier said to his friends, “Let us go and die with the master,” could not follow Jesus into the strange world of resurrection. He did not believe.

“But the unbelief of Thomas benefits our faith more than the belief of other disciples. By his doubt and by his touching Jesus’ wounds, Thomas became a witness to the resurrection.”

After the disciples dispersed from Jerusalem, he traveled and witnessed to people in Persia and then as far away as Madras in India, where he was lanced and martyred. No doubt his inadequate and utterly human response to the story of resurrection, with his refusal to believe and failure of faith,  stood him in good stead when he took the message to others. He must have echoed Jesus’ words many times to others:

Blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe! Don’t be like I was!

Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands

Unless I put my fingers in

Unless I put my hand into his side (O for Pete’s sake!),

I will not believe.

Can you get any more graphic?

The story then is suspended. Jesus does nothing, not for a week. As when Lazarus died, Jesus let the doubts fester for awhile, let the questions hang. But then Jesus did come, and he came straight to Thomas.

Peace be with you.

Here, do your darn’dst. Stick in your fingers, push in your hand.

Jesus made a clear request:

Change your mind, Thomas.

Do not be unbelieving, but believe.

We too use the words of Thomas, over and over in our liturgies, in our songs and in our lives:

My Lord and my God!

There are days when Little Big Man and others of us will say, “This is a good day to die.”

But no, not for Thomas, not today.

THIS is a good day to live.

            (Eph 2, Psalm 1176, John 20)

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Jul 2 20

Refresh your soul

by davesandel

Thursday, July 2, 2020           (today’s lectionary)

Refresh your soul

Tuesday was Mom’s birthday. Then Wednesday, the great pain she’s had in her hip for a few days requires surgery. Surgery when she is 98 years old (and a day). Wow.

At St. John’s hospital in Springfield, patients are allowed to see one visitor at a time. I think. So I hope we will get to see her. As of now, we are praying she will recover from surgery.

I could use a prophet, and I could use a priest. What’s going to happen, and will you please intercede with God for us?

The Hebrews in Israel thought they could also use a king, so beginning with Saul there was always a tripartite division of power and opinion, three voices which often confused each other. Amos ran headlong into this scree of competition.

Amos was the prophet, called out of his farming life. Although he lived in Judah, God told him to travel north and speak out to Israel, where King Jeroboam in Bethel had established a religious system of his own. The head priest of that system, Amaziah, cautioned the king against Amos and his negative words.

Israel’s national mood of pride and security (sounds like the good old USA when you put it like that) was threatened by Amos’ calls to purify their offerings and purify their hearts. Of course Amos, like any good prophet, refused to back down. In fact he doubled down, as we say these days. The priest Amaziah was destined for doom.

Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city.

Your sons and daughters will be killed with a sword.

You yourself will die in an unclean land.

What stories will Amos tell in his old age? Do these confrontations change his character? Will he return to his quiet life of shepherd and gardener? As he settles down for sleep each night, I hope Amos  is refreshed by thoughts of God’s grace and the praise and worship of his people. Surely, even as he rails against evil by day, as night falls he will be still and know God’s peace.

The law of the Lord is perfect

Refreshing the soul

The fear of the Lord is pure

Enduring forever, and

The statutes of the Lord are true and just

More desirable than gold

Purest gold

Sweeter also than honey

Honey from the honeycomb

Rest easy, Mr. Amos Prophet. The Lord grants sleep to those he loves. Tomorrow will bring whatever it brings.

Couldn’t Amos have toned down his words and sought reconciliation with Jeroboam and his court? That’s always a question, now and then.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Peter makes it sound easy, but it isn’t. Although Amos had no trouble speaking out, he sounds neither gentle nor respectful toward Amaziah.

But Amos also made it clear he was not speaking his own words. He spoke only what he heard God tell him to say.

Jesus too, got into lots of trouble when he spoke only what his Father told him to say.

Your sins are forgiven you.

Is that God speaking or just you, Jesus? You take too much into your own hands.

OK, just to show you I have the authority to forgive sins, let me just heal this guy while I’m at it.

You sir, yes you, the one who has never been able to walk, yes, you.

Jesus got his attention, then leaned down beside him and touched his hand.

Rise, pick up your stretcher and go home.

And of course he did, and of course the scribes were humiliated, and Jesus went on his way.  But I’m sure Jesus slept well that night.

The Lord grants sleep to those he loves.

(Amos 7, Psalm 19, 2 Corinthians 5, Matthew 9)

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Jul 1 20

What are you doing here, Jesus?

by davesandel

July 1, 2020

What are you doing here, Jesus?

Amos is famous, at least to me, for one line. Vineyard founder John Wimber riffed on this passage when he said forgiveness is like a waterfall. “Just get down under it, and let the river flow right on over every particle of your soul. Forgiveness is always free, and it’s for you.”

Amos knew people in his culture did everything BUT. They made noise, they blew horns, they prayed loud prayers. But they never wanted to get wet, not with that living water of God’s. Amos spoke up with fists and fury:

O I hate, I spurn your feasts!

The Lord says, I will not accept your offerings,

Your stall-fed peace offerings.

What I want is my justice to surge like water,

And goodness to fall like an unfailing stream.

Let judgment run down as deep waters

And righteousness as a mighty ever-flowing stream.

Let justice roll on like the river

Roll on, o waters of justice

That’s what I want, says the Lord. That’s all I want.

Hate evil and love good

Let justice prevail at the gate!

God’s frustration at our misunderstanding and our selfishness, God’s anger at how we do the same stupid thing over and over again, pours out of the mouths of his prophets, and then of course out of the mouth of Jesus.

Why do you recite my statutes and profane my covenant with your lips?

For you despise discipline and treat my words like trash.

We have not lived according to what we’ve been given.

Be fruitful

Multiply

And care for the earth.

Be responsible for every living thing.

James said the Father expects us to be a “kind of firstfruits of all his creatures.”

But just as in the Gadarene territory, sometimes …

We are so savage that no one can travel by those roads.

And we too might cry out, pretending …

What have you to do with us, Son of God?

Why torment us now?

That is not the way to talk to Jesus, Messiah, Christ, Son of David, Son of God.

But when Jesus does the town a favor and removes both their demons and their swine, which they aren’t supposed to eat anyway, the hog farmers and leaders of the town are angry with him. Also afraid, of course.

The whole town came out to meet Jesus,

And when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.

Of course they are no different from the rest of us. They kept their secrets from God, they circled up and defended each other, even when they were wrong. I too fall hard sometimes, fail to acknowledge my sin. I look instead for the praise of people instead of seeking the praise of God (John 12:43).

There are words for this, a liturgical form which can lift without meaning off my lips or convict me down into the depths of my soul:

I confess to almighty God

And to you my brothers and my sisters

That I have greatly sinned

In my thoughts and in my words,

In what I have done and what I have failed to do

Through my fault, through my fault,

Through my most grievous fault …

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,

O please pray for me!

The hard work of humility, obedience, justice and goodness, and especially the work of “caring for all the earth” lies before us still.

As it always will.

            (Amos 5, Psalm 50, James 1, Matthew 8)

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Jun 30 20

Rebuking the winds, raising the dead

by davesandel

Tuesday, June 30, 2020          (today’s lectionary)

Rebuking the winds, raising the dead

Being a newbie pastor has its good days. My friend’s pastor intern buddy went to visit a family at the hospital. Their young daughter had fallen into the pool, and they found her thirty minutes later. She was drowned, she was dead.

He comforted them awhile and prayed for them. After a couple of hours he was about to leave when he was stopped in his tracks. A voice in his head rebuked him. “I thought you were coming to pray for HER.” He had prayed for everyone except their daughter, who was lying on the gurney in the emergency room next door to the lobby.

The young man asked if he could see the girl.

“Are you family?” the nurse said.

“No. I’m her pastor.”

“Are you Catholic?” Catholic priests are allowed to perform what used to be called the Last Rites over people in the emergency room.

“If I’m Catholic, can I see her?”

“Yes.”

“OK. I’m catholic.”

The nurse took him back into the room with the young girl, told him not to touch her and left him alone.

“I can’t touch her?” he asked God. “What do I do now?”

Pray a blessing over her. Put your hands above her body and bless her.” So that’s what he did. He felt a sudden rush of heat between his hands and her body, and he heard the nurse shriek from outside the door. The monitor showed a massive increase in her body temperature.

The nurse rushed in with two doctors. Not just the machines, but also the girl herself was coming back to life. The young untrained pastor listened to their amazed conversation.

“Brain damage?”

“Apparently not. The monitors say everything is going back to normal.”

The nurse shooed the young pastor out. The girl’s family thanked him for coming, he thanked them for letting him come. Before he left he said to them, “You might want to hang around just a little longer. I think the doctor might have something to tell you.”

I know how I’d feel, driving back to the church in a car full of light. This was one low-key guy, but can you imagine what was going on inside him?

He parked and walked into the church. His senior pastor saw him and said, “So, what have you been doing?”

His intern told him he’d been to the hospital. “Good. Well, at least you’re doing something.”

“Yep, just visiting them. Doing the work. Praying for them, praying for their daughter … raising the dead.”

As my friend told me, “That is my favorite raising-the-dead story.” And it happened in California, not a third world nation where people still believe in get-down miracles like this.

Education and disappointment do their damage, and it isn’t long before most of us stop believing that God will just show up, be on time, and do his work. It was probably true of the senior pastor, true of the disciples, and certainly mostly true of me. Young people (like I was once) rescue many from our unexpectant expectations of God. I’m not accustomed to raising-the-dead-type miracles, even if I say I believe in them.

The story of Jesus in the storm, rebuking the winds, is about as low-key as this one. The disciples, panicked and certain they were about to be drowned, had no emotional space to pray and believe. Instead they panicked and woke up Jesus.

The boat was being swamped by waves, and he was asleep.

“Why aren’t you afraid like we are?”

“Why are you terrified, o ye of little faith?”

Jesus got up and rebuked the winds and sea.

And there was great calm.

I didn’t know I had little faith, not until I encountered someone with greater faith than me … maybe a Roman centurion, or a young pastor boy in California, unencumbered with disappointment, judgment, or resignation.

Life sucks, and then you die?

No. Not true. John Wimber said to pray a hundred times for sick people before you dare say that healing is not part of God’s life in us and with us.

Pray a thousand times for people who have died before you dare say God no longer raises people form the dead.

John Ortberg’s best book title? If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.

But if you’re ever going to get out of the boat, you’ve got to get in first!

Who ever said there was no risk in being a Christ-follower? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

C. S. Lewis said it well. “God is never safe. But he’s always good.”

(Amos 3, Psalm 5, Psalm 130, Matthew 8)

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Jun 29 20

Party with Peter and Paul

by davesandel

Monday, June 29, 2020                       (today’s lectionary)

Party with Peter and Paul

Luke’s words rest heavy.

In those days

King Herod laid hands on them

To harm them.

James the brother of John is killed, head cut off quickly. Peter arrested soon after, to appease the scribes. But Peter was soon released by the angel of the Lord, removed from a double set of chains in the middle of the night and led through several suddenly open doors.

At Danville Correctional Center there are ten doors which open electronically between the free outdoors and the unfree but grass-covered quad inside the prison.

The angel opened all those doors.

Then suddenly the angel left him

And Peter recovered his senses.

Peter went on to many bigger and better things before he too was martyred by foolish authorities listening to ugly voices louder than the quiet whispers of our peaceful God.

God does not always seem peaceful. But it is peace and love that define her. God does not listen to the praises or the wheedlings of men.

So I will bless the Lord at all times

His praise shall ever be in my mouth

Glorify the lord with me!

I fought the law, and the law won … but

I sought the Lord and he answered me

My face no longer blushes with shame

Because the angel of the Lord is all around me

On this last solemnity of June, let us celebrate Peter and Paul, their walks on earth complete. How many names did Jesus change? At least two. Simon the self-righteous fisherman who often found his foot in his mouth, became Peter the Rock, “and upon this rock I will build my church.”

Nothing will stand against this church, Peter.

Nothing flesh

Nothing blood

Nothing of the rules or authorities or powers

Of this dark world

Nothing of the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms

Will stand against this church

And Paul. His name too was changed from Saul to Paul. His days and months and years have been full of satisfaction and suffering, celebration and sorrow, great guilt and great forgiveness. And he’s just about done with the only race worth running.

I am poured out on the ground like a drink offering

And I’ve run hard right to the finish

I have kept the faith

All that’s left now is the shouting

With Paul I swallow, breathe deep, and take it ALL in. Breathe God’s air into my lungs. Know I’m loved in the glory and the shame of my life lived.

All of us, let’s celebrate! Shout unto God with a voice of triumph. Make your praises loud. Claim the name of Jesus.

Who do YOU say I am?

Peter spoke up in the sudden silence.

“You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God.”

Jesus knew these words came through Peter from the Holy Spirit.

You bring life, you bring love

You bring light to the darkness

You have free access to God’s kingdom

With keys to open any and every door.

No more will there be barriers between heaven and earth.

It’s God’s breath in your lungs,

So pour out your praise.

            (Acts 12, Psalm 34, 2 Timothy 4, Matthew 16)

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Jun 28 20

Going home again

by davesandel

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 28, 2020           (today’s lectionary)

Going home again

On the Saturday of Easter Vigil I spent time in the Cathedral of San Antonio, the Seattle church where my uncle attends, and a Methodist church in downtown Champaign. Zoom made all this possible.

Then on Easter Sunday I started my day at 8 a.m. with the Easter service from Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Illinois, just like in the old days when I was a kid and sat in the back seat on the way to church. We celebrated our Easter baskets, and now church was something to get through so we could have a great dinner at one set of grandparents’ house or another, where Easter eggs would be scattered all over the yard.

On Easter this year, listening to the organ and the singing of those Lutheran hymns, I remembered everything – the pews, the altar, the pulpit, and especially the liturgy. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

That Missouri Synod congregation at Zion in Lincoln baptized me, confirmed me, sent me to Sunday School and Walther League, and successfully suggested Christ College at Valparaiso University for my undergrad education. The pastors at Zion, Arthur Neitzel and Larry Clemetsen, worked through the rituals with me, and then listened to my arguments when I began to see things differently. And always, they prayed.

Growing up Lutheran meant potlucks of course, and Sunday School, and youth group trips. But being Lutheran also meant believing certain things, and living life a certain way. Eventually, I began to think the living did not measure up to the beliefs, which of course included the teachings of Jesus as their foundation. I thought everyone, last of all me, should be more sacrificial.

These thoughts pushed me away at times, but Zion’s fellowship as I grew up and grew out enriched the deepest roots of my life. A book my friend Don gave me, Why I Love Being Catholic, reminds me of how that fellowship changed me and made me grateful and compassionate beyond either my beliefs or actions. In his foreword Matthew Kelly says he loves being Catholic and loves his church because of the people who partner with him in their faith and “their common humanity.” He calls them his heroes:

My heroes are ordinary people, people who seek to live their one brief life with integrity and faith.

My heroes work hard to support their families.

My heroes know their limitations.

My heroes held a common set of values that make them better people.

My heroes have money problems, marriage problems, and family problems.

My heroes know that life is difficult.

Well, that sounds about right. I think my own heroes lived just that kind of life, and I am very grateful to have grown up among them. I was idealistic when I argued with my Lutheran pastor. I’m still idealistic, but I’ve spent seventy years learning how to be more than that.

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman captures what I am thinking:

He sees eternity in men and women, he does not see men and women as dreams or dots.

Stories of this spiritual specificity abound in the Bible. The Shunammite woman makes for Elisha a small room where he can stay when he comes through.

Let us furnish it for him with a bed, table, chair and lamp.

As they get to know each other, he promises her the miracle of fertility even in her older age. The story goes on into the intimate details of her new son’s birth, death and resurrection. When she calls on him to rescue the boy from death, Elisha doesn’t just pray. She doesn’t let him. He returns to their home from Mount Carmel. Then he lays on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands.

And the boy’s flesh became warm.

Elisha rose up, paced around the room and stretched out again.

The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.

Elisha and his friend in Shunem are not alone in this intimacy. Yesterday, today and forever, my life and yours can intersect in fellowship and even sometimes in miracle.

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever

With my mouth will I make known your faithfulness

I will declare, Your love stands firm

O Lord God almighty, who is like you?

You are mighty and your faithfulness surrounds you

Elijah laid out on a dead boy, and he came back to life.

Elisha laid out on a dead boy, and he came back to life.

Paul too, laid out upon a dead boy, and he came back to life.

Now Paul promises the resurrection of Jesus in our lives too.

If then we die with Christ, shall also live with him.

None of us is alone. God’s living water primes in us the kind of life which is always stronger than death, as death is simply subsumed into our eternal lives.

O chosen race,

O royal priesthood

O holy nation

Call out loudly and announce the praises of him

Who calls you out of darkness

Into his wonderful light.

The living water of Jesus the Messiah is much thicker than blood. Of course we are children of our parents, called to honor and respect them. But familial loyalty is, neither for them nor for us, God’s ultimate intention as we live our lives on earth.

Whoever finds his life will lose it

And whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

As usual, Eugene Peterson puts an insightful spin on Jesus’ instructions about this to his disciples.

I’ve come to cut through cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God … We are intimately linked in this harvest work.

This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cup of cool water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving OR receiving makes you a true apprentice.

We learn this style of life from each other, or we don’t learn it at all. I may never be satisfied by my cozy church life, but I must never turn my back on it either. We are all in this together.

(2 Kings 4, Psalm 89, Romans 6, 1 Peter 2, Matthew 10)

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Jun 27 20

Friends are friends forever

by davesandel

Saturday, June 27, 2020                      (today’s lectionary)

Friends are friends forever

The shadows that fall in the corners of my church welcome me. No bad will here, or doubt and fear, because I settle in these darknesses as if into a womb. What will be will be. Days of wine and roses, days of fear and trembling are all the makings of a life, one life among many. Just one life, mine, thrown up into the air with faith, or confidence, or hope … pick a word.

God picks up my pieces every time, and somehow makes me whole again.

Jeremiah’s words prick my conscience, as I notice my lack of allegiance. They make me glad for those dark corners, where I can catch my breath and start again.

The Lord has consumed our town without pity

So we sit on the ground in silence

Bowed heads of old men

And even maidens

Watching babies die

I vomit into the dust

I am worn out with weeping

“Help me!”

“Do not take my …” but the request remains unfinished

The baby is gone forever.

Great as the sea is our downfall

Our prophets were wrong!

They must have been bribed to lie

So we cry out day and night

Rise up shrill from out the dust

In the heavy night dark starry sky

At the crack of every dawn

Burning up in midday sun

What else can we do?

But always, to pour our hearts out like water

Pleading in our praise,

“O Lord, help us!”

Lord, forget not the souls of your poor ones

Our God does not forget. He removes our infirmities and carries our diseases. He weeps alongside his children, and brings life where there seemed to be none.

O Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof

Only say the word and my servant will be healed.

These words enrich a million billion lives every day of a mass partaken. And Jesus appreciates those simple words of the centurion almost more than he can express …

Such faith there is, right here!

Come, faithful one, recline with me at supper

Sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

And all the saints

Let me touch your hand

Watch the fearful fever fade away

Just rest now

Feel the cool breeze of dawn

Midday

Evening

Let me repair your broken walls

Let me remove your infirmities and bear your disease

 O Lord, you are so good to me!

On this Saturday, Sabbath for so many, prelude to church on Sunday for so many others, here is a poem by Clarence Heller about the shadows rich with promise in the corners of his church, my church and yours …

HOLY SOULS

The holy souls are here,

In the flickering flame of a candle,

In the silence between the notes

In the smell of the air.

 

The holy souls who carried the mortar,

Who polished the floors,

Who brought their babies for baptism,

And who mourned their loved ones a t funerals.

The holy souls are here.

 

It is a cold place,

Not unlike a mausoleum,

Yet propelled into life through the

History

Wisdom

Perseverance

And faith

That dwell here.

The coldness aches to be warmed

With love and friendship and devotion

 

Can you hear their footsteps?

Can you image them lighting candles

A hundred years ago, just as you might today?

We smell the same incense,

We yearn for the same things,

And they remind us that we are connected across time,

And that when our warmth becomes cold we will live on,

Not only through the structure of the church,

But not separate from it either.

 

Yes, the holy souls are here

And we are here with them.

I imagine Clarence, who is my friend and a spiritual director in St. Louis, sitting alone in his church as he wrote. He also paints and draws, creative prayer aided by his developed skill of engineering draftsmanship.

But now his hands are simply still. Clarence sits alone and listens. The “we” that emerges so strongly from his poem is not, at this moment, present.

Or is it?

In the silence we are ALL with Clarence, and the centurion, and Peter’s mother, even with Jeremiah and the maidens who have lost their babies. In all the dark corners AND out there where the stunning stained glass greets the sun, we see, we see!

Now and for all time we have become a crowded cloud of witnesses, clamoring to touch and hug, and just gently kiss each other’s holy soul.

            (Lamentations 2, Psalm 74, Matthew 8)

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Jun 26 20

King Alpha’s song

by davesandel

Friday, June 26, 2020              (today’s lectionary)

King Alpha’s song

Zedekiah, Jehoia …’s uncle, didn’t stay the course with Nebuchadnezzar. After years and years he stopped paying tribute, what the mafia call protection money. And more than arms got broken. King Neb’s two year siege ended in starvation, slain sons, torn out eyes, and fetters. And then the day came, the awful day when the temple and the palace and all the houses of Jerusalem were burned. Even the walls were torn down.

Turns out the house of Jerusalem was not built on the Rock. Not like the original builders thought, anyway.

Can I just sing a simple song of my home town?

Our guards laugh and mock our tears

Sing us a song, they taunt us, play us a tune

How can we sing King Alpha’s song in a strange land?

Yesterday’s gospel ended Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He left his audience with a vivid word picture. If you happen to have visited the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, then his picture might even be personal.

Build your house on the rock of Jesus’ words, and nothing will budge it. Not rain, not floods, not wind.

The key word is build. Not believe in, or reflect on, or argue with Jesus’ words, but build on them. DO UNTO OTHERS … GIVE … ACCEPT … LOVE … FORGIVE FORGIVE FORGIVE.

God builds the rock, and I build ON the rock. The rock is already there, it’s not going anywhere. It’s my giving and acceptance and forgiveness and compassion that makes the strong house.

Jesus himself never wastes time moving from words to action. Leaving the mount where he preached, he encounters a leper and does not shy away. “Be clean,” he says. But more than that, Jesus touched the man, the leper, the untouchable. With a simple and straightforward, but utterly unacceptable unheard of TOUCH, the leper is healed.

How does Jesus DO that?

No answers, just proof that’s in the pudding. “Live the questions,” Rilke said. That’s a good idea for hanging out with Jesus. Just follow him around and “live the questions.” Let the answers settle gradually into place, mostly at night just before you fall asleep.

(2nd Kings, Psalm 137, Matthew 8)

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Jun 25 20

 Jehoia … like father like son

by davesandel

Thursday, June 25, 2020                     (today’s lectionary)

Jehoia … like father like son

The history of Israel story moves quickly from father to son, from despot to despot, from mother to mother. There isn’t much mention of the mothers, except when they are despots too, like Jezebel. And those despot women rarely seem to have kids. Hollywood movies of these stories often highlight the beautiful wives, mothers too of course, but even then the women don’t get much shrift. They are set up as scenery along the way.

As the book of Kings slowly comes to an end, so does the kingdom of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed one challenge after another, and eventually destroyed Solomon’s temple as well. The people of Judah force-marched 600 miles from their country by the Mediterranean into the deserts of Babylon (50 miles south of today’s Baghdad in Iraq). Then they force-lived there  (“by the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, and there we wept as we remembered Zion …”) for decades.

But this time is a watershed in Hebrew history. In Wikipedia a Israeli philosopher says “With the exile, the religion of Israel comes to an end and Judaism begins.” Jeremiah saw the exile as a lost opportunity. The final section of 2nd Kings portrays it as the temporary end of history. 2 Chronicles sees the exile in a brighter light, as the “Sabbath of the land.”

Babylon didn’t last long. Successfully seceding from Assyria (northern Iraq), this kingdom ruled by Nebuchadnezzar II followed Hammurabi after a thousand years, but then was conquered by Cyrus of Persia less than a hundred years after it began. Cyrus allowed the Israelities to return to Israel-by-the-Sea, a book of Torah was discovered, and the temple was rebuilt. Nebuchadnezzar must have been turning over in his grave.

But for now …

None were left among the people of the land except the poor.

The king of Babylon led captive

All the men of the army

And a thousand craftsmen and smiths.

For the glory of your name, O Lord,

Deliver us!

Others have stolen your inheritance

Given the corpses of your servants

To birds and beasts

Poured out our blood like water.

No one is even there to bury them!

God’s jealousy “burns like fire” against his chosen people. Their remorse is bitter fruit in the mouths of those left alive.

We are brought low

O help us, deliver us

Do not be angry forever

This is not complicated. Whoever loves me will keep my word.

And by the way, saying “Lord, Lord” does not necessarily constitute love.

I know, Lord, I know. I must DO something. Or at least DO NOT the really bad, idolatrous stuff. I look back at Judah, and I look around at Illinois … not much different, really. We maintain almost without noticing a routine arrogance of control. We do not look for guidance from God. I participate in this attitude, if only by my silence.

Deliver us

And pardon us from our sins

For your name’s sake, O God.

       (2 Kings 24, Psalm 79, John 14, Matthew 7)

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