Wilderness-Tending Time

December 4, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
2nd Sunday in Advent – Year A
Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

(Gospel Text provided below)

Bugle blast – 3 times

Sing Godspell intro:

gospell-albumPrepare ye the way of the Lord.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

This is how the 1970’s Broadway musical, Godspell, begins. Then comes the booming drum fill with crashing cymbals ripping through the silence, enlivening the procession as the tempo takes flight!

When I was in Junior High School, my youth group enacted a version of Godspell at our 9am Sunday worship service. As the bugle and soloist gave way to the drums and cymbals, the pantomime cast, including me, dressed in colorful clothes and clown make -up, careened through the aisles of the church. This high-velocity, energetic entrance was quite a shock for the mostly buttoned-up, unsuspecting, stoic congregation.

1976 Godspell_049McC

I always think of our Godspell production when I hear today’s gospel story. As startling as the bugle blast you just heard, we find John the Baptist in the wilderness crying out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Now, it is only Matthew’s version of this story that includes the detail that John was wearing camel hair and a leather belt. You see, Matthew’s gospel was written for a mostly Hebrew audience and intends to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient Hebrew prophesies. So, to these early listeners, this image of John would harken back to the prophet Elijah, described in 2 Kings as “A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” (2 Kg 1:8).

In our Old Testament reading today, we heard from another prophet, Isaiah:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding… (Is 11:1-2a)

This is the foretelling of Jesus. Jesus is the “shoot (or descendant) from Jesse,” who was King David’s father. It is in Matthew’s gospel that we hear again and again, as stories of Jesus are told, that “this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophets.”

In the same way, the crying out by John the Baptist is likened to another passage from Isaiah. The gospel version says that John the Baptist’s cry for repentance is:

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 

But the actual passage in Isaiah is worded this way:

A voice cries out:  

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Is 40:3)

So, in Isaiah, the wilderness isn’t the place the voice is coming from, instead, the wilderness is where we are to prepare the way of the Lord. Read the rest of this entry »

Discern Care – Fully

March 13, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
5th Sunday in Lent 
Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

(Gospel text is provided at the bottom of this post)

Have you ever been out to dinner with a group of friends you’ve known for a long time, or with family, and someone starts telling a story about a shared experience that happened years earlier? You get excited because it was such a special adventure that you’ll never forget! Story sequenceThen, as the story unfolds, there are variations in the storyteller’s version that don’t quite match your memory of what happened. Some of the details seem okay, but other aspects, like who actually did or said certain things, or when it happened in relation to other life-events, seem out of line. And while it isn’t exactly how you remember it, the teller is so sure of their version that there’s really no use in arguing about it. It’s their reality, after all.

We see those same kinds of variations in Biblical stories, including today’s gospel reading from John. While this story about the anointing of Jesus appears in each of the four gospels, they don’t all match up. For many people it can be confusing to have these different versions of the same story. When there are inconsistencies, it can create doubt about the validity of any of it!

Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Grow

February 28, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
3rd Sunday in Lent 
Exodus 3:1-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

IMG_4036Today we heard the familiar story of Moses and the burning bush. The burning bush has become the quintessential symbol of God’s call to do God’s work in the world. In the story, we’re told that Moses is tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro. He’s just doing an ordinary thing on an ordinary day. He’s taken the flock beyond the wilderness and finds himself at Horeb, the mountain of God. Then Moses sees something that catches his eye… a bush on fire, yet not being consumed. And what does Moses do?

He doesn’t run away. He doesn’t ignore it and return to his flock. Instead, he says “I must turn aside and look at this great sight…” Moses TURNS and takes a closer look.

[Quick Sidebar: Remember that the root of the word repentance is μετανοέω (metanoeó) – to change direction, to TURN toward God. We are in the season of Lent, so the theme of repentance, of turning toward God, is everywhere! Even in this burning bush story!]

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Shared Vision

August 9, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The 11th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 14 
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

(Epistle text is provided at the bottom of this post)

“Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This was the last verse of today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Does it sound familiar? With a few minor changes, this is the phrase both Ceci and I use each Sunday as the Offertory Sentence – though you probably don’t recognize it so much as a lead-in to the Offertory, as a confirmation that the announcements have come to an end!

At face value, this verse seems like an odd invitation to the offertory. It isn’t as “in your face” as Bishop Wright’s recitation from 2 Corinthians:  “Let each of you give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7) When you hear that, you know it’s time to pull out your wallet… albeit cheerfully!

IMG_1379Yet I contend that to Walk in love; to Live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself [fully and completely], as an offering to God – this is asking even more from us. Giving all of ourselves as an offering to God is the ultimate act of stewardship – giving not only that which comes from our purse, but giving our whole selves; a fragrant offering – a sweet gift – to God. Read the rest of this entry »

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