Groaning and Flourishing: Gathered by Our Creator’s Care

Over Christmas I went bird watching near my parents house in Arkansas. Driving to a Wildlife Management Area I passed Lake Conway where nearly 7,000 barrels of oil spilled from an ExxonMobil tar-sands pipeline. The site in the lake nearest the spill still had containment buoys eight months after the accident. There was a man in a air boat and hazmat suit testing the water with hundreds of ducks and gulls and cormorants were feeding in the water nearby. Since then there have been other spills. Most recently West Virginia’s waters were poisoned by the ironically named, “Freedom Industries.” The damage done is beyond calculation and it will take years to know the full effects. These examples are just to name some of the ways in which creation is groaning in pain and eager longing for God’s Kingdom to arrive Read more

The Risks of Baby Dedication

Luke 2:22-40

Imagine this at your baby’s dedication.  You go up front where the preacher does her blessing; perhaps water is sprinkled or maybe even your baby is baptized in a little font.  Pious prayers are said, God invoked—it’s a routine that happens month by month in the cycle of the church’s life.  Then a man walks in, “led by the Spirit,” and promises that your child is destined “for the rising and falling of many” and that he will be “opposed so vigorously that it will reveal the intentions of many.”  Then this man says that you will find your own soul “pierced by a sword.”  A little blue or pink New Testament would hardly seem an appropriate gift after all of that.

Jesus was certainly no normal child and that was marked by the extraordinary way in which he entered the religious life of his people.  Simeon and Anna saw in Jesus someone who came to save the world but also to disturb it.  They knew from the start that Jesus was going to stir things up and that the forces of death would soon mount up against the power of life.

It would be easy to leave this as a nice story that doesn’t mean much for us.  We can just go on talking about welcoming children into our churches—crayons and a couple of bible themed coloring sheets to keep them quiet.  Read more

What Are You Waiting For?

Isaiah 35:1-10

Matthew 11:2-11

I keep being told these days to wait.  In sermons, blog posts, earnest Advent Facebook updates, the message has been, more often than not, “wait.”  Waiting is good.  Waiting trains us in patience, one of the most important virtues we can cultivate.  Advent, however, isn’t the time for it.  As our gospel for this Sunday reminds us—the wait is over, the kingdom has come.

The passage opens with John in prison, a place made for the worst kind of waiting.  He wants to know from Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  This is critical for John because he is about to die and he knows it.  Should he die still praying for the Kingdom for which he has been preparing? Or can he uncork the bootlegged Champaign in celebration of its arrival? Read more

Recreating Eaarth

Proper 24: Year C

Jeremiah 31:27-34

“There is…no inconsistency between creation and salvation”–so says St. Athanasius, the 4th Century Bishop of Alexandria.  Athanasius was trying to articulate how it was that God could become incarnate in human flesh–a mind boggling reality as much in our day as it was in his.  For him, the turning of the human will against God had not only resulted in a loss of communion, but also a kind of de-creation.  As Athanasius put it, “Man who was created in God’s image…was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone.” Christ, being God’s Word present and active in creation from the beginning, had to come in human form so that he could re-create the world and show humankind how to be human in the face of the “dehumanizing of mankind.”

I thought of Athanasius, of the mixing of creation and salvation, when I read Jeremiah 31:27-34 in our lectionary for this Sunday.  Here we have the people of God, Judah and Israel, very much in a state of de-creation–broken down, overthrown, destroyed.  But against this, God is promising that the “days are surely coming…when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals.”  This seed isn’t for the same kind of humanity, the kind that turned and turned again against the grain of the universe.  Instead this new humanity, saved and recreated, will have the laws of God on their heart–the ways of acting rightly in the world will be a part of their very nature. Read more

The Church in the Wild

Isaiah 5:1-7

Several years ago I heard an interview with Alan Weisman about his book The World Without Us.  The book’s title is fairly explanatory of its subject–it is a book about the world after humankind–how long it would take for the asphalt and concrete to crack; how well all those animals we’ve bred to live with us would fare after we are gone.  It was fascinating to hear Weisman describe the changes that would come to a place like Manhattan–how the weeds, and successional trees, and cats would take over (dogs it turns out have tied their fate to ours).

I like to entertain such ideas–of a city overgrown with weeds, of the industrial countryside reforested–not because I am a misanthrope but because I like the idea of a reset.  The way we’re living on this earth isn’t sustainable, much less flourishing and it would be good to start fresh with our cities and our countryside alike.  There are certainly times for repair, but then there are those times when what is in place has been so corrupted that it needs to be let go, to lie fallow for a while until something fruitful and flourishing can be made of it again.

This seems to me to be the theme in our text from Isaiah this week.  In this strange love poem, of which we see only a portion, the prophet talks about the people of Israel and Judah as a vineyard, a garden that God did all that God could to make flourishing.  But as any gardener knows, its not all up to the grower.  Sometimes the crop fails due to no fault of our own–some bad seed, a disease, the uncontrollable variances of weather.  The only solution is to plow it under or pull it up.  If there is a disease in the soil then we have to let the ground go uncultivated for a time.  God has seen the vineyard he planted that should have become fruitful with a bounty of love and righteous justice bear the diseased fruit of greed, violence and oppression.  The only answer is a reset.   Read more