Sunday, January 25, 2009

Immediately they left their nets ....

A friend writes....

Sunday 2009-1-25

Out of the Old Testament lesson, one phrase jumped out at me:
God "changed his mind" about Nineveh. Imagine a God who created
the universe and yet can still change his mind.

The sermon and New Testament lesson concerned calling the fisherman-
disciples to be fishers of men or souls:

1) The fish do not want to be caught. In fact, they are pretty
vigilant to avoid it. Do souls feel the same way? It feels like
I have spent a fair amount of time flopping in the net myself.

2) "Immediately" they left their nets to follow him. Several things
about that. They depended on their nets for their survival and that
of their families. Their nets were not of nylon. They were difficult
to construct and required constant maintenance to retain their value.
And yet the disciples abandoned their nets at "at once". I have a
similar impression of the shepherds at Christmas, depending on their
flocks for their lives, and yet leaving them in the fields to
go to Bethlehem "at once". Both groups recognized something as
important as survival.

3) This story does not seem to me to encourage being prepared, rather
when God calls, you go right now, ready or not. Yet being prepared is
still very important. How could you say you believe and not prepare
accordingly? The answer, I think, is to work towards being always ready,
a point repeated with emphasis and even more clearly elsewhere
in the New Testament.

I have had more paltry catches of a Sunday morning.



Sunday, January 11, 2009

like a dove descending


Out of Egypt I have called my Son: a call to repentance, a call to turn home.

A voice in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.

You are my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

As in the depth and darkness of Genesis, before the moving wind of the Spirit, there is nothing in our world but chaos, but when God’s word and Spirit come, there is an epiphany, a showing forth of God’s glory and a quickening of Creation.

Like the people of Israel, called out of Egypt, we are called to pass through a baptismal sea and through a wilderness of transformation into the land of promise.

Like the people of Israel, called back from exile, in repentance we travel from a deep darkness, the bondage of sin, along the way in the wilderness, and across the Jordan into the land of promise once again, into the light.

Through the power of the Spirit all things become new again in Christ.

In Baptism we move from gloom to glory: Baptism for Jesus and for us is being plunged into chaos, the realm of death, the deep dark & formless void, and then being summoned by God’s word out of that nothing to life.

God’s word brings to a chaotic world order, symmetry, and beauty; and a new hope for a future.

However chaotic our lives may be, they are the material out of which God builds us into a new creation. And once we begin to know his redeeming in our selves, we begin to see the Heavens open in the every day.

Creation becomes a series of windows onto eternity, showing us God’s glory. And we are called to live into this new dimension, this new vision of reality.

When Thomas Merton was a young man he lived a full and self-indulgent life of which he became ashamed; at the age of 27 he turned his back on the world and entered a monastery, only to find there the world he had lost. After years of prayer and study and meditation and sacrament, he found his way back to a new connection with the world.

One day, standing on the corner of 4th and Walnut in downtown Louisville he looked around him at all the people passing by; and he saw them with new eyes.

The heavens had opened, indeed. (On another day, he wrote about rain in the city. Rain puddles were shining in a new sun – as the pedestrians crossed at a street corner they seemed to him to be walking through radiant skies, plashing across a field of stars.)

Of course he knew that the world had not changed; but it had become for him a door to the sacred, a sign of God’s glory in the every day.

It was as if the heavens had opened for him and shown him God’s glory: it was an epiphany.

It was as if he was hearing the voice of the Lord – a voice of power, creative, renewing, beautiful, awesome, strengthening, blessing: You are my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

And at last he could hear it as good news for himself and for the world.


In the gospel of Mark, Baptism reveals Jesus’ identity. He seeks Baptism, in obedience, and is endowed with the Spirit, that same Spirit that with ah! bright wings brooded over the primal waters of Genesis. With the Descent of the Dove – God’s new age now begins.

God’s creative power comes rushing out, pouring forth like a river, into and through his Son; the same power that made the world now brings forward its redemption. In the Baptism of Jesus, God identified with us: our human condition and our need for redeeming.

The Word that in Genesis brought order, goodness, life, and well-being, is now calling us from the wilderness into repentance to be transformed and released into the new world of justice, mercy, and peace. In this new beginning, as in the beginning of the world, the spirit wind, the spirit Dove shine forth upon what God has made; he calls his Son beloved, the one in whom he is well pleased, and in Christ and through Christ, by the power of his sacrifice, we are called, too, beloved and pleasing to him. It is the first day, the dawn, of creation, of new creation; all things are made new in Christ — and we live in the hope and grace of Resurrection life.

God’s blessing like a dove descending comes to rest upon us all. In Creation and in Baptism, the spirit moves over the waters. God gives form, order, to the chaotic, formless void, in Genesis; in Baptism he gives peace to lives seemingly chaotic and formless, and he does it once again through water and the spirit.

His order is one of justice, mercy, and peace. His word calls new things into being and all into right relationship under his Christ. We are called through baptism, by repentance & turning, turning home, to become his beloved children.

Through baptism – we are people of the new order of the ages established by his Word. Through baptism – we rejoice in the power of the Spirit descending upon Christ’s body. Through baptism – we are commissioned to serve as his People in the world he has made.

Let us respond to the proclamation of God’s love, by reaffirming our Baptismal Covenant.


Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (re: March 18, 1958)
Thomas Merton, "Rain and the Rhinoceros", Raids on the Unspeakable

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Epiphany Pageant 2009

We watched the skies! We looked for signs, for wonders; we looked for something in the heavens that was telling us, here on earth, that things were going to change. (We knew they had to.) At the Center for Portentous Phenomena, somewhere east of Jerusalem, we all saw something in the sky - and we came to an agreement: it must mean something!

The royal planet Jupiter and the planet we associated with the Hebrew People, Saturn, were in alignment three times in the year now known as 7 B.C. Three times: Hello! Hello! Hello! We get the message, we said, and we set out: for the royal city of the Jews.

We had been following that star for a very long way and we thought we knew what it meant. Across mountain passes filled with untimely snow, across grasslands and along river valleys and into the high desert, across and along the river Jordan and finally up the hill to the summit of the holy mountain - to the city of Zion, the city of (we thought) the kings of the Jews.

That was as far we as got but now we were in the dark.

Politely we inquired of the man in charge: where shall we find him? Where shall we find the one born king of the Jews? For we have been following - his star. (Not yours, pal.)

Oh, he said so politely, is it now? Well tell you what, when you find it, you let me know. I'll be right there - with bells on.

That smelled like dead fish.

But they had clued us in: this may be the royal city, now, but it is not always so: for as the prophet Micah has told us, Bethlehem is not least among the cities of Judah, for from her shall come the greatest of kings: Bethlehem - the city of the shepherd who was king, the city of David.

And so we went.

And then there it was again: that star. We had seen its rising; we are seeing it still. The sign, at last! There was a showing forth of the glorious grace of God: he has sent his king.

And we went into the town of Bethlehem, and inquired at all the right places. And then we were tired, and our camels needed rest.

So we turned their heads toward the caravansary, the place where all the long-distance travelers kept their animals and themselves, to find a place for ourselves in a wayfarers' inn, and, in the stables, a trough at which our animals could feed.

We had looked in all the right places, hadn't we? Among the great we had been courteous, and we had been inquiring minds following the clue of the prophets. And yet - here we were, at the end of our journey, and nothing in the world to show for it.

But there.

There, where we led the camels and the horses to water and food, there we found him. It was a baby, lying in the manger.

An ordinary baby. Of course! We had been looking for the love of God in extraordinary places - well, in this place here it was, in an ordinary looking family in an extraordinary situation. The love was there.

We must have been quite a sight! An eyeful for the caravan men, the stable hands, and the drovers: for you see, we had brought the gifts with us. And we, when we realized what we beheld, had run back and put on our best robes, to present the gifts and ourselves, to give him the honor that was his due - for this baby was the king we sought.

If we had been shepherds we might have brought him lambs' wool or goats' milk, or cheese; as we were wise in the ways of the skies we brought what they had told us, what they had led us to expect...

We carried with us the best gifts of our homelands: frankincense and gold, royal gifts - just as Micah had prophesied! - And one more, one we presented with some trepidation to the young family, myrrh. But the mother nodded: she knew.

And we knew.

And yet we all know something more: he is with us. He is still with us.

And still he calls us, draws us onward, to follow his star, to see the light shining in the darkest night, the light that the darkness has not, will not, cannot, overcome: the light of the love of God.

Come on! He leads us. And we follow. Amen.