Genesis 12:1-4 † Psalm 121 † Romans 4:1-5, 13-17† John 3:1-17
Have you ever wondered why Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night? What do you suppose could be possible reasons for this?
It is a striking detail to include, especially given what he says next:
So Nicodemus knows that what is happening has everything to do with the presence and the power of God. It rings with truth. He knows it. Yet he appears to be sneaking around, keeping his identity protected, proceeding with caution, and maybe even a little fear. And did you notice, even though its just him, he says, “We”
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 † Psalm 32 † Romans 5:12-19 † Matthew 4:1-11
Is sin a virus? Does it spread with contact or exposure from one person to the next to the next? Is it transmitted communally, somehow?
Perhaps it is the attention that we’re giving to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus outbreak creating growing concern throughout the world, that has me thinking about this connection. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that while the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low for the general public in the United States, "current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic" and that more cases in the US will be identified.
The story is changing rapidly, as you surely know. I want you to know we are paying close attention, and thinking about how best to respond appropriately and reasonably to the most reliable and current information. And we trust that you are educating yourself, and considering how to respond according to your needs and resources—staying home if you have a fever, keeping yourself from potential transmission if your health is already compromised, practicing good hygiene.
For now, though, listen again to the beginning of the Romans reading:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.
Sin sure sounds like its gone viral as we pick up the writer’s metaphor at this point in the text. It seems to have some of the same characteristics as this new epidemic and, for that matter, many a youtube meme--
Genesis 9:8-17 † Psalm 25:1-10 † 1 Peter 3:18-22 † Mark 1:9-15
Cognitive scientists Steven Solma and Philip Fernbach have spent many a year asking anyone they can find if they know how a toilet works? How about a zipper? They want to know. Or a coffee maker? Do you know how those work?
Yeah – yeah I have a reasonable idea how they work is the answer they would first receive. So then they follow up. Okay, can you explain to me exactly what it takes? How that toilet bowl empties, how the water in the Mr Coffee gets to the pot and how it gets heated, how those little prongs attach when you put on your favorite hoody. Then they let the person think for a while and try to explain as best they can how these processes they engage every day actually work. Finally they ask – so tell me again how would you rate your knowledge of how that toilet works?
These researchers have spent time and effort measuring these dynamics very precisely - lots of well-designed questionnaires and sophisticated coding and exacting measurement - and what they have found is that in the vast majority of cases when we take the time to examine our understanding of some of the mechanisms around us we realize that we actually know quite a bit less than we think we do - on almost every subject.
Genesis 1:1-5 † Psalm 29:1-11 † Acts 19:1-7 † Mark 1:4-11
I bought an app for my iPhone a while ago. It was the second time ever I shelled out any money for one. I suppose it’s the principle of the thing that typically keeps me from paying for a phone app. It wasn’t a lot of money, just 99 cents, but for what I got, I’m sure you’ll be impressed. It does one thing, and it does it really well. Five times a day it sends a note, a simple reminder, “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” That’s it. Pretty cool, huh?
According to the app website, the invitations to stop and think about death arrive at random times throughout the day—at any moment, just like death. The app is called “WeCroak” which, I think you’ll agree, is a refreshingly straight-forward and direct name for a phone app. If you click on the message, it will take you to a quote about death, or, you might say, about life.
Here’s one example from this week, from the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:
Death arrives among all that sound
Like a shoe with no foot in it,
Like a suit with no man in it.
Or this more didactic one from the German philosopher Martin Heidegger:
If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life—and only then will I be free to become myself.
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 † Psalm 148 † Galatians 4:4-7 † Luke 2:22-40
“The old man held the boy, but the boy held the old man.”
The old antiphon, the poetic couplet the church has sung from ancient times during the feast of Simeon captures it perfectly, doesn’t it? The old man held the boy, but the boy held the old man.
The old man Simeon, who has spent his waning years waiting for a Messiah, for a promise of better times for a people who will outlast him, of God’s goodness and justice, of peace and liberty and vitality once again being unleashed on the world was waiting on the temple grounds, waiting for God to show up. No doubt he had been there many other days waiting. Most days. Watching, praying, expecting.
But on this day when that poor couple walked with their new baby and their meager offering into the temple to have their child marked as God’s and blessed, Simeon knew at once that the promise lay before him in their arms. The Spirit told him Luke tells us—three times to make sure we see the connection, hear the proof. And he reached out and took the child and cradled him, and his heart was full. And as so many actors do in Luke, his heart spilled out in song.
The old man held the boy, but the boy held the old man.
Exodus 16:2-15 † Psalm 105:1–6, 37–45 † Philippians 1:21–30 † Matthew 20:1-16
The president of Seattle University, Stephen Sundborg, was talking with a group of faith leaders last Tuesday. The 7000 students who were returning to campus this weekend were on the mind of this university leader who has watched students come and go for 20 years now. And so were the challenges he sees the younger students facing in particular. The culture they have been raised in, he suggested is so overpowering, so ubiquitous, so non-stop, that it sometimes seems inescapable. It is so “thick” that “I’m afraid we don’t think our own thoughts anymore, and we don’t even realize that the thoughts we have are not our own,” he suggested. It constantly whispers its assumptions, this culture—in the technology that brings us non-stop media, in the wall-to-wall messaging that keep us from thinking for ourselves, in the forms of alignment that keep us in our bubbles of reason, in the striving and the acquiring.
President Sundborg is a Jesuit priest, steeped in Ignatian spirituality. At the center of this spirituality is the Examen[i], the simple daily practice of replaying the events of the day to become increasingly aware of God’s presence, and of our own spiritual centers, of the Spirit’s voice that speaks from the center of who we are. Ignatius understood, in other words, that a deeper knowing of ourselves leads to a deeper knowing of God and of the culture of heaven as it compares to the thick cultures that shape our mindset and compete for our loyalties.
Culture, it turns out, is a pretty good modern translation of what Jesus meant when he talked about the Kingdom of Heaven, as he does setting up the group of parables Matthew strings together, including over these several weeks of Sunday readings.
Exodus 3:1-15 † Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c † Romans 12:9-21 † Matthew 16:21-28
“The problem is part of the solution,” Richard Rohr tells us.
Jesus was fully at home with a tragic sense of life. He lived, died, and rose inside it. Jesus’ ability to find a higher order inside constant disorder is the very heart of his message—and why true Gospel, as rare as it might be, still heals and renews all that it touches.[i]
There’s something hopeful here, I think, in Rohr’s insight—especially in these days when we are so attuned to political and social unease, to the distress of recent natural disasters and human suffering moving almost as if in slow motion.
Moses finds himself before the bush because God is fully at home with a tragic sense of life. God has seen the misery of the people of another time.
Paul seems to have understood this in Romans. Evil, hatred, persecution are all a part of the familiar landscape of the early church in Rome and true religion. There is no denial of it—things are rough. But there is also engagement with it, a way out, even: “Bless those who persecute you… Weep with those who weep.”[ii] The one that caught me this time around was a little farther down Paul’s list: “if your enemies are hungry, feed them…”[iii]
Exodus 1:8-2:10 † Psalm 124 † Romans 12:1-8 † Matthew 16:13-20
The midwives “feared God.” Like me, you may have sped right past that little phrase in the long Exodus reading. The Pharaoh commands the Hebrew midwives who bear the new life of Hebrew babies into the world, if they are boys, to drown them into the Nile: “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.” And then, when they are summoned into the imposing “East Room,” they spin a story for the king that sounds, dangerously, like fake news: “These Hebrew women! They are so strong, so vigorous. By the time we get there, they’ve already given birth.” Not only that, they are already back out in the fields lifting 50 pounds bags of straw and running ultra-marathons and developing flying cars. It’s a tall tale, and yet, it works!
They feared God. It’s easy to blow right by for how often it is thrown around, but the phrase is worth pulling off to the shelf to take a closer look. The midwives, Shiphrah and Puah—their names preserved for all of history as monuments to heroic acts that save an oppressed people—feared God. They feared God more than they feared this king, this Pharaoh and his ruthless ecosystem of intimidation and oppression—the tyrannical managers to enforce it; the military industrial infrastructure to support it; a public works project that constructed whole cities to sustain these systems of oppression against a people whose vitality puts the Egyptians to shame.
Julie Kae Sigars
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 † Psalm 105 † Romans 10:5-15 † Matthew 14:22-33
It’s a dark and stormy night.
Well, not stormy, but it was raining.
And it is very dark, almost midnight.
And some of the streets were not main streets.
And I just dropped my son off at a warehouse in the rain for his first job that doesn’t start for another hour.
Nothing says that this is the right place for him to be.
And he is all alone. And he wants me to leave.
And I think I might be terrified.
I pull around the corner and spy on him.
Someone else is there, and they are waiting together.
OK. I will leave.
He texts me that a little group has formed. They are in the right spot. All shall be well. They will wait together.
Later I get the text I really need: They are inside. All good!
We need other people, most of the time, to have courage to do what needs to be done. Sounds like church.
This has been a dark and stormy week. Each day has reminded us of terrors that we thought had been put away.
But of course, they haven’t.
Readings for this Sunday:
Proverbs 1:20-33 | Psalm 19 | James 3:1-12 | Mark 8:27-38
Who do we say Jesus is? I suspect it is a more complicated question than we might first imagine it to be. I also suspect it is more related than we might first imagine to the question of what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples, “If you want to become my followers…” deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow.
So I wonder if we might play a little with these two questions today. Explore them a bit together: Who do we say Jesus is and then, what does it and what doesn’t it look like to follow, to be his disciple, to take up our cross?
St. Andrew Sermons