Friday, January 31, 2014

final plagues

Good evening sisters and brothers,
The images of wrath continue. This passage has a really interesting parallel to the Exodus both because saints in heaven are singing the song of Moses that Moses and Miriam sang when Israel crossed the Red Sea into freedom from slavey. There's a sea too in this passage, but rather than a foamy, divided sea, it is smooth, made of glass. God's judgment is scary, but the end result is freedom from bondage and oppression. That's good news for the oppressed, for those whose faithfulness has been held against them, but it's not good news for those in power now. When we're honest, we all have some oppressor in us; that means we all need to repent in the face of God's judgment. But God judges to heal; he destroys, ultimately to bring peace and justice.

God bless,

Revelation 15:1-8
Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended. 2And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! 4Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.”

5After this I looked, and the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen, with golden sashes across their chests.7Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever; 8and the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were ended.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

the grapes of wrath

Good afternoon sisters and brothers,
When we read or sing about the grapes of wrath, that refers to this passage. We read before about how anyone who refused the empire's mark would be persecuted and would suffer economic consequences. Now we see that those who go along with the empire's evil will face God's wrath. Sometimes we feel like we can just stay in the middle or fly under the radar, and often compromise and moderation is appropriate. When we're faced with a real question of right and wrong, there is no neutral position. Being neutral in a situation of evil and injustice lends silent support to the oppressor. Martin Luther King said good people staying silent caused more harm than racist people speaking out. We are called to speak and act for our faith and for justice.

God bless,

Revelation 14:8-20
8Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” 9Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” 12Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.

13And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” 14Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! 15Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped. 

17Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

choir robes

Good evening friends,
We've been reading together about Satan's forces including the power of empire and the false prophets that support it. Tonight we see what forces God uses to oppose evil. As we might expect, it is not a mighty, well armed military force, but a diverse group of faithful believers. How can we be ready to struggle against evil with all our non-violent force?

God bless,

Revelation 14:1-7
Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. 4It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, 5and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.

6Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

a number and a name

Good evening friends,
Today's reading gives us one of the familiar symbols for demonic power, the number 666, which John says is the number of a man. Many scholars think the number 666 refers to Nero since if you give each letter a number based on its alphabetic position, Nero Caesar totals 666. Nero was an occasional persecutor of Christians and had died before John's Revelation was written, but some thought he had returned to life in the person of the Emperor Domitian. (New Interpreters' Study Bible) The lesson for today is that no matter what power stands behind evil, we are still called to do the right thing.

God bless,

Revelation 13:11-18
11Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. 

13It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all;14and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived; 15and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 

16Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.

Friday, January 24, 2014

who's kingdom?

Good evening friends,
Today's reading reminds us that God's judgment ultimately is good news, because God is good and loving.

God bless,

Revelation 11:14-19
14The second woe has passed. The third woe is coming very soon. 15Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” 16Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17singing, “We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” 19Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

witnesses living and dead

Good evening friends,
Today's reading is a tricky one that shows how symbolic the language of Revelation can be. The passages talks about two witnesses for Christ in the great city. It seems the city John is talking about is Jerusalem. We see here how important bearing witness is. Our job as Christians is to bear witness with our words and our actions to God's love and rule. Sometimes that witness involves suffering, because people often don't want to hear that God is in charge. No matter what happens, God is with us and we are not alone.

God bless,

Revelation 11:1-13

Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Come and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there,
 2but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months.

3And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth.” 4These are the two olive trees and the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner.6They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. 

7When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; 10and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth. 

11But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. 12Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them. 13At that moment there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

sweet and bitter

Good evening folks,
Today's reading is a great example of how Revelation echoes Ezekiel. When God called Ezekiel, God gave Ezekiel a scroll to eat as well to prepare him to prophesy. The same is true for John. It's an interesting image for God's word in general, which is sweet in our mouth and challenging in our soul.

God bless,

Revelation 10:1-11

And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.
 2He held a little scroll open in his hand. Setting his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, 3he gave a great shout, like a lion roaring. And when he shouted, the seven thunders sounded. 4And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 

5Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and the land raised his right hand to heaven 6and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: “There will be no more delay, 7but in the days when the seventh angel is to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as he announced to his servants the prophets.”

8Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” 10So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. 11Then they said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

horses and judgment

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Tomorrow evening at 7 we are joining in a worship service for Christian Unity. The service will be co-led with folks from our North East Church Cluster neighbors (Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic Churches) and will focus on how we are one church even though we are different. The service takes place at St. Mark's and St. John's Episcopal Church on the corner of Culver and Rosewood. I hope you can make it.

Today's passage continues the judgment of the world. As we read these pretty horrifying passages I think about how much in our world stands against God's desire for a loving, peaceful world. We are so tied to greed and selfishness that only drastic measures can bring about a new government of peace. 

God bless,

Revelation 9:13-21
13Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15So the four angels were released, who had been held ready for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, to kill a third of humankind.

16The number of the troops of cavalry was two hundred million; I heard their number.  17And this was how I saw the horses in my vision: the riders wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur; the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. 18By these three plagues a third of humankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they inflict harm. 

20The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.21And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Good evening friends,
Today we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and all his work for justice. Like most important work, King was the voice, but the power came from the community that supported him. Together, following God's calling, we can still do great things for justice.

Today's reading is an example of the challenging judgment language of Revelation. It's not entirely clear how these "woes" fit together, but with them, God is inviting people to repent and bringing the world as we know it to an end.

God bless,

Revelation 9:1-12
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit; 2he opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 

3Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given authority like the authority of scorpions of the earth. 4They were told not to damage the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5They were allowed to torture them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torture was like the torture of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6And in those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them. 

7In appearance the locusts were like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth;9they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10They have tails like scorpions, with stingers, and in their tails is their power to harm people for five months. 11They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.12The first woe has passed. There are still two woes to come.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

bearing witness

Good afternoon sisters and brothers,
Today's reading continues John's vision of heaven. Here we meet some faithful disciples of Jesus who were killed for their faith. One of the key points of Revelation is witness. The call of Christians then and now is to bear witness to God's love with their words and actions. Here we see that witness and faithfulness can be hard, even deadly. We also see that many people will be disciples of Jesus and that in the end things will be right.

God bless,

Revelation 6: 9-17, 
9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” 11They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. 

12When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 

15Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,16calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

Revelation 7: 9-10, 13-17
9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 

13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The four horsemen

Good afternoon sisters and brothers,
When we read Revelation it is important to remember that it is a vision. The language is symbolic and sometimes, like in today's reading, the symbolism isn't quite clear. I don't exactly see what the individual riders and horses symbolize, but the effect of the "four horsemen of the apocalypse," is that many of the earth's inhabitants die as history moves towards the end. That's a disturbing thing to think about, and at the same time we know that people die every day due to human and natural disaster. The interesting thing is that Jesus, the Lamb, opens the seals, revealing (as in Revelation) the events of the end. Somehow, through all the trouble in the world and at the world's end, God's love will shine through.

God bless,

Revelation 6: 1-8
Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” 2I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.

3When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, “Come!” 4And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a great sword. 5When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, “Come!” I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand, 6and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!” 

7When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature call out, “Come!” 8I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

a sealed scroll

Good evening friends,
Yesterday we saw a vision of worship in heaven. Today we see a mysterious scroll sealed with 7 seals. This is an interesting hint about Jesus' role in the book. 
God bless,

Revelation 5:1-5
Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

praise in heaven

Good evening friends,
Today's passage is strange, and yet one of the more familiar passages from Revelation. John is invited to a vision of heaven to help him understand the visions he will receive about how God will conclude history. Not only is the vision of heaven striking in itself, it is also the key to understanding the book. In our world many powers claim to be in charge: politicians, bosses, other powerful people, empires, nations. That was true in John's time too, especially the Roman Empire. The truth as the heart of our faith is that it's actually God, and no one else, who sits on the throne. God is on the throne and God is love. That's worth singing praise about.

God bless,

Revelation 4:1-11
After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 

4Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside.

Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” 9And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 11“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

beginning the end

Good evening brothers and sisters,
Today we start our journey into the Book of Revelation, also know as the Revelation of John since the Apostle John is its author. While the book is unique in the Bible for it's scope of detail for the end of the world, it is part of a wider literature called apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature, including Revelation, is very symbolic and visual. Often symbols are used that seem very hard for us to figure out now, but spoke very clearly to their audience about specific contemporary people or events. 

As symbolic as it is Revelation will not give us a time table for how the end will be. After all, Jesus clearly tells his disciples in the Gospels that no one, not even Jesus knows when the end will come, so there's no point trying to read between the lines for a date. The important message of Revelation is that God's love and justice will win in the end, no matter how strong the forces of evil and empire seem at the moment. There are some challenges in Revelation for sure, but it is also a beautiful and pastoral vision of God finally putting an end to evil and securing permanent, just peace.

God bless,

Revelation 1:1-2, 9-18
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw…

9I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

12Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

back to the point

Good evening friends,

Today's reading finishes our story from John. Jesus has healed a man and now faces criticism because he healed on the Sabbath. Jesus faced almost constant conflict from the religious leaders of his time because he didn't fit their expectations. Jesus' words here have a lot to say to the church today. How often do we refuse a gift from God because a person or idea that comes in to the church doesn't fit our expectation? Other organizations or companies need to hear the same challenge. Organizations and people tend to lose track of our initial purpose, so when someone new comes along to call us back to that purpose we resist.

God, bless us with flexibility and faithfulness,

John 5:30-47

30“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true.33You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. 34Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.

37And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, 38and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent. 39“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.41I do not accept glory from human beings. 42But I know that you do not have the love of God in you.

43I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him.44How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? 45Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

judging to allow life

Good evening sisters and brothers,
I want to start by extending a special invitation to worship on Sunday. We'll supplement our wonderful choir with an additional lovely voice and with two solo offerings by guest soloist, Madeline Cain. Madeline is in the final semester of her opera performance masters program at the University of Maryland.  She serves as a soloist and section-leader at Emmanuel Church in Alexandria, VA throughout the school year. From the little bit I heard of Madeline's voice at rehearsal on Wednesday, you're in for a treat. 

Our reading today is the "judgy" part of our passage. Jesus says that God has given the power and responsibility to judge all people (like the creed says, the living and the dead). We often think of judgment as bad or scary. This passage, and the healing story we read the last two days as its context, remind us that Jesus judges in order to bring life. Human pride, selfishness and rules (in this case, rigid religious rules) often get in the way of the just, peaceful life God intends. God's judgment stops human evil to allow true flourishing.

God bless,

John 5:19-29
19Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.20The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.21Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. 

22The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. 

25“Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.28Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

blocked healing

Good evening friends,
In yesterday's reading Jesus healed a man who had been unable to walk for years. In today's reading the religious leaders scold the man for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. In our time this feels like a really silly concern, but for Jewish leaders under Roman occupation every decision about following the commandments (including the Sabbath commandment to rest) must have felt like a possibility to support or turn away from God's rules that kept the community together. 

Instead of thinking badly about the leaders, I invite us to consider where we have been inflexible with others. Where have you resisted, rejected or thought unkindly about someone because "you can't do/say/dress like that in church?" Where have you let appearances or manners keep you from seeing a miracle God might be trying to do in your community? Where have you let your own self criticism block a miracle God might want to work in your life?

May we all find God's healing,

John 5:9b-18
Now that day was a sabbath. 10So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there.14Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 

16Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. 17But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 18For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

God's gonna trouble the waters

Good evening friends,
Today's reading starts an interesting story in John's Gospel that will include some pretty harsh sounding words about judgment. One of the things I love about John's Gospel is that he has several extended stories, and this is one of them. Context is always important when we want to understand a passage. In this case, if we start at the beginning of the story we'll see the story in a different and more complete way. Apparently the pool Jesus appears at in this story was known for healing, but the healing was related to the water being stirred up. In this case, the man in question can't get in the water quickly enough to be healed. So not only is he affected by his disability, he also has the constant sense of being left alone by others. 

God bless,

John 5:1-9a
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 

6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

new beginning and reflection

Good evening brothers and sisters,
Today's reading invites us to reflect on our lives in the light of eternity. God is eternal and we are temporary. One good question to start the new year is: how do I want to grow in my faith this year. Thinking about what we want our life to be about is a good way to begin.

God bless,

Psalm 90:1-12
1Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth 
and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
4For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.

5You sweep them away; they are like a dream, 
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
6in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
7For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
8You have set our iniquities before you, 
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
9For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.
10The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11Who considers the power of your anger? 
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
12So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.