Thursday, January 31, 2013

Welcome to MORE Abundance!

Our texts for the upcoming Sunday are two well-known New Testament passages:  the call of the disciples from Luke 5:1-11, and Paul's tribute to love in 1 Corinthians 12:31b-14:1a.  Even if you think you know these passages backward and forward, I would recommend reading them again here.

Last week, we read the story of the first miracle of Jesus that happens in John's Gospel--the turning of water to wine at the Wedding of Cana.  We talked about the extravagance, the abundance of this sign--Jesus made over 150 gallons of wine and made not the cheap stuff, but the finest wine the guests had tasted.  Both of these things were way beyond the call of necessity--they were evidence of God's overflowing generosity.

The Water-to-Wine miracle is only found in the Gospel of John; yet, it struck me this week in my reading that one of the first miracles we get in Luke (though Jesus performs some healings in Luke 4) is a miracle of similar extravagance.  I had never thought about this until I read the following commentary from a website I really respect,  There, David Ewert wrote,

"As near as I can recall, this is the one and only time that Jesus initiates a miracle - all other times, miracles happen in response to others' requests. In this case, the miracle is not simply that fish are caught, the miracle is the abundance - enough to almost sink two boats."

The disciples' boats were NOT small--it would take a lot to sink the average Galilean fishing boat of that time!  So we are talking more fish than Peter and company could have expected, more--maybe even--than they could successfully get cleaned and ready to sell.  And then, it seems, Peter and James and John leave this amazing catch on the beach, walking away from it to follow the one who made the catch possible rather than dwelling on the catch itself.

All this makes me wonder, what does this story teach us about abundance--and the link between abundance and God's character and how disciples are called to live?  How might it challenge us to live as if our nets are bursting even when we have been "out all night and caught nothing"?  Where are we being called to acts of abundant faith "just because you say so," Jesus?

Food for thought on this blustery day as we lean into Sunday...see you then!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Beautiful Gifts of Welcome

Our texts for this third Sunday in the season of Epiphany are John 2:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, which can be read here.

One of the most beautiful places I have ever been is Lucerne, Switzerland.  The two days I spent there about 3 years ago were absolutely breathtaking--and one of my favorite moments of sheer beauty actually involved today's Gospel lesson.  My travelling buddy and I were rounding a corner into a part of Old Town called the Weinmarkt, which is well known for a beautiful fountain at the center of its square where Passion Plays telling the story of Christ's crucifixion have been held since the 15th century.

As our gazes rose from the fountain to the buildings surrounding it, however, we noticed a massive fresco painted across an upper facade:  a depiction of today's Gospel story, the Wedding at Cana.

I remember staring up at this picture for a long time in the square, watching the shadow move across it.  It totally caught me by surprise--just as I imagine this event must have caught all who heard of it in the early church a bit off guard.  I have been amazed, as I have traveled throughout the world, how often I have found this particular miracle of Jesus' depicted in art.  What is it about this miracle--this first "sign of God's glory" that Jesus performs in the Gospel of John--that captures our imagination?  I tend to ask this question, as you might notice, when we come across a story that shows up often in art.   What is revealing about Jesus' first "sign" being in a time of celebration, in a place where really only his close friends and some servants know what he has done, at a time when even he did not expect it?  

As you think on these questions, here are some other pictures of the Wedding at Cana from around the globe (Jesus Mafa's African perspective, John August Swanson's Hispanic-flavored perspective, and He Qi's Asian perspective) that might help spark our imagination to think about what this miracle tells us about how Jesus reveals God's glory to the whole world.  I think it has something to do with sheer beauty, and with celebration, with building community, and most of all with joy...but what do you think?  And, what might this story teach us about hospitality, about the gifts of welcome we offer to one another and that God has offered to us?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Welcome to a Natural Community

Our texts for this week are drawn from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and Luke 4:14-21 (though I would encourage reading Luke 4:14-30 to get the fuller picture of our gospel story).  You can read these here.

I have been really grappling the last couple of days with figuring out a way to blog about what is happening at our church this week as we host 25 guests currently experiencing homelessness through the Arundel House of Hope's Winter Relief Program.  I can't think of anything that weaves in better with Paul's words about our unity in the spirit amidst our diversity, and with Jesus' prophetic first words among his community in the local synagogue about the present mission of justice, grace, and hope he was anointed by God's Spirit to fulfill.

I have had the honor of spending two evenings with our guests this week, and look forward to seeing them again tonight and on Sunday as we continue building community together.  And I think what has surprised me most this week is how much community has not had to be built in many cases--it has just happened naturally.  I can only speak for myself, of course, but I have been amazed and almost overwhelmed by how completely organic it feels to have these guests among us--how much they do not feel like guests to me, but like a natural part of our community.  We all belong together! Sitting around the tables at dinner, like at any church potluck, with guests offering to take the plates of others around the table when all are done.  Watching movies together, cracking jokes.  Someone mentioning that a couple of toilets have clogged, and one of the guests becoming Mr. Plumber, going back and forth between upstairs and downstairs with the plunger.  Another guest taking up the vacuum and probably gave the upstairs carpet as thorough of a cleaning as it has seen in a while.  Here is the miracle of hospitality:  in the presence of God's Spirit, it is not just a matter of "us" serving "them"; it is truly all of us serving, together, side by side.

I remember, when in the interview process with Broadneck, asking the search committee, "Why me?  Why do you want me to come be your pastor?"  The response I got was one of the more remarkable ones I have heard:  "We just feel like you are meant to journey for this season with us, and us for this season with you." It made me want even more to be part of this community--a community where we serve alongside one another, live alongside of one another, journey alongside of one another with equity and companionship and grace. That is how I feel about our Winter Relief guests now--that for this brief season, this week where our lives overlap, we are meant to journey together.  And we are doing it!  I am constantly hearing the words of the apostle Paul, reminding us of God's Spirit manifested in each of us for the common good, and the amazing prophetic hope proclaimed by Jesus:  that TODAY, this day, the promises of the ancient prophets, the promises of God, are being fulfilled among us.  Things are happening TODAY at Broadneck as God's Spirit moves in us and in our guests, making us one; and I could not be more grateful.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Welcome to the Water

Art courtesy of
Our scripture texts for this week are Luke 3:10-22 and Isaiah 43:1-7, which can be read here.

Unable to decide what to blog on this week (hence why you are not seeing this until Saturday!), here are three slightly connected streams of thoughts about this first Sunday in the season of Epiphany and its lectionary texts:

1) Did you know that, in the early church, both Jesus' birth and his baptism were celebrated on Epiphany Day (January 6)?  Though these events have remained largely connected in the Eastern church, since the 4th century the Western church has been dividing them into three separate celebrations:  Jesus' birth on December 25, the visit of the Magi on January 6, and Jesus' baptism on the first Sunday following Epiphany Day.  I wonder, though:  what might we gain if we celebrated Jesus' birth and Jesus' baptism on the same day?

2)  Here is the question (well, series of closely tied questions actually) that has been bugging me all week, and after hours (and I mean hours) of reading I still have no definitive answers, so I am open for ideas:  as far as we know, though Jesus was baptized, he never baptized anyone during his lifetime--at least as far as we know (though he did reference baptism at least through symbolic language in John 3, and command baptism post-resurrection in Matthew 28).  So, how did baptism become so quickly central in the life and practice of the early church?  Were the disciples ever baptized?  Why, aside from Jesus' encounter with John in the Jordan, do the four gospels speak almost nothing about the practice of baptism, even though it has been central to worship and discipleship from the church's very inception?

3)  We are going to be talking a lot about hospitality during this Epiphany season as we host our Winter Relief guests.  I have been thinking a lot lately about what baptism--and especially the story of Jesus' baptism--can teach us about hospitality, about the ways God welcomes us and we welcome one another.  How are baptism and hospitality connected?  For some musical fodder for your thinking, check out this great song by Peter Mayer, which I think is one of the best songs I have heard about baptism anyway (there is also a dearth of good baptism songs in our hymnal--somebody write some, please!):  Stirrin Up the Water.

So, there are three things for you to mull over--or even pick just one if you'd like!  See you tomorrow as we consider the welcome God has shown to us and called us to extend to others through the gift of water.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

An Invitation to an Epiphany Life

Our texts for this Epiphany Sunday, January 6, are Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12, which can be read here.

Many of you know that I am a huge fan of the church year, otherwise known as the liturgical calendar.  I love thinking about the cycles and rhythms of life as dictated not by a clock or a January-December calendar, not by which decorations are out in stores or which cards are featured at Hallmark, but by the rhythms of the life of Christ that shape us as God's people (to read some of my earlier reflections on the church year, visit this post I wrote two years ago, which includes a helpful graphic depicting the seasons, or this post from back in November).  

This week, while preparing for Epiphany Sunday--the day, 12 days after Christmas (January 6), when we remember the wise men following the light of the star to worship the infant Jesus, representing the light of Christ reaching even beyond the Jews to the whole world--the word "Epiphany" means "revelation"), I ran back across this beautiful reflection by Linda and Dwight Vogel on how our daily life can be shaped by the liturgical year, especially at this point in the cycle where we have completed Advent and Christmas and are moving on toward Epiphany:

"When we long for things to be different, when we watch and wait,
we are an Advent people.
When we recognize the presence of the holy in the ordinary,
we celebrate Christmas.
When a sense of the sacramental is broken open to us, and we respond by offering our material wealth, our worship, our lives and our deaths,
we live an Epiphany life."

Read slowly the passages for this week, particularly the story of the Magi's journey from Matthew.  What might it look like for you, as the magi did, to respond to God's invitation and live an Epiphany life in these first weeks of a new year?  Where do you currently have a sense of the sacramental--of God showing up right in the midst of our lives in a way that is holy?  What might your response be to the light of Christ in this season?  What might you be called to offer?

May we reflect well on these scriptures and these questions as, having been an Advent people and having celebrated Christmas, we seek to live an Epiphany life.