On average, Death Valley gets two inches of rain a year. Two inches. There are two major mountain ranges—the Panamint Range, pictured here, and the Sierra Nevadas beyond them to the West that trap weather systems that would otherwise drop precipitation from the Pacific, making it one of the driest places on earth.
Yet it is fair to say that Death Valley, one of the driest places on earth, has been shaped by water.
Well, water and tectonics.
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 † Psalm 93 † Revelation 1:4b-8 † John 18:33-37
Last week, we met Jesus in Mark, looking with his disciples at the great temple of Solomon. “Do you see these stones?” he asked. Not one will be left on another. He was warning them not to trust in what seems to be powerful, but instead to see and to heed the signs that speak to what is true, what is really going on, to a clear-eyed assessment that refuses to turn away from what we would rather not notice, whether hidden behind great walls or institutional privilege or fake news.
As a way of trying to illustrate this, with some fear and trembling, I showed you some pictures from the news that might serve as signs of this very thing, of a reality that should and has snapped us to attention as a society, that should impress on us the significance of the challenges we are facing so that we can more clearly look for the hope that is ours when, like a thing with feathers, it alights in our midst.
There was a strong and mixed response to these images last Sunday and early in the week. To all of you who engaged in one way or another, I am grateful. To those of you who were troubled, let me first of all offer my apology to you. This thing we do from Sunday to Sunday is a strange and wild beast, and the power and authority that you give to those of us who speak to what is essentially a captive audience—especially one of all ages and experiences—is a fearsome thing.
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16 † Psalm 19:7-14 † James 5:13-20 † Mark 9:38-50
In his book of essays called My Story as Told by Water[i], northwest writer David James Duncan writes of the chasm between his father and himself. His dad was a World War II vet whose perspective had been forever fixed by the searing experience of liberating a Nazi concentration camp. Duncan was a product of the protest culture of the 1960s Vietnam era. His experience was not unlike many in that age. He describes it this way:
In 1966, when I was fourteen, I began to question the war at our family supper table. The instant I’d speak up, my father would snap that the only reason I could criticize the war at all was that our troops in Vietnam were protecting my freedom to do so. I would argue back by saying that my freedom did not strike me as being dependent upon the clique of Saigon businessmen whom Americans were actually protecting, or on the deaths of the civilians our troops kept “accidentally” killing. Dad would then go off like a bomb, bellowing that I would never talk such rot if I’d seen a concentration camp.
Duncan describes the escalating series of arguments and tensions that grew night after night at the dinner table as both father and son found themselves dug-in deeper and deeper like fox-holes in perspectives that were shaped as much by their stations in life—Duncan as a student watching young men his brothers’ ages going off to a senseless and unwinnable war, never to come back, his father as a veteran of a more comprehensible war with an identifiable enemy, a clearer finish, and now a defense-industry salary that supported his family, including his son of fourteen years.
“I know now,” Duncan writes, “that no argument I could have constructed would have changed my father’s mind, any more than his ‘Nazi’ mantra could change mine. We needed wisdom.”
Genesis 3:8-15 † Psalm 130 † 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 † Mark 2:20-35
I wanted to redeem Jesus’ family. I wanted things to be better in the end. I wanted Jesus’ dilemma to end like the version of Heinz’s dilemma in which they end up on the beach, with her made well from the medicine she needed, and maybe with a fairer health system in place that values people over profit. I wanted the garden before the serpent shows up and everyone starts blaming everyone else for their choices. So I went to the end of Mark where we find two Marys. But, as much as I’d like to tell you Jesus’ mother shows up at the foot of the cross to be entrusted to John or at the empty tomb to wonder where they’ve laid him, I cannot. In Mark there is no happily-ever-after with his family.
One writer puts it graciously, suggesting Mark, unlike the other gospels, did not seem to know of any positive traditions about the family of Jesus.[i]
This is the earliest gospel. It is written closest in time to the conflict and heartbreak we suspect these followers of the reformer/disrupter Jesus experienced as he created something new from a religious tradition that had become misshapen and corrupt.
We know enough about broken families and broken relationships these days and in this political climate to have learned that sometimes the best move is to separate ourselves from what has become abusive or corrosive—even among our closest families. Sometimes we must separate for our well-being and even our survival, even as we try to hold onto our memory that we belong together, that we are one family.
Judges 4:1-7 † Psalm 123 † 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 † Matthew 25:14-30
Did you hear about Danica Roem? She will soon be seated as a Delegate in the Virginia House after soundly defeating 13-term incumbent Bob Marshall.
Now, that may not strike you as especially noteworthy. Incumbents lose all the time. What does a state race all the way across the country have to do with us or with these texts? Well you may remember Bob Marshall for something that made national news not that long ago; he sponsored a statewide bill restricting access to public bathrooms for transgender people. He has been one of those loud voices calling for restrictions of LGBTQ rights and his politics have concentrated on so-called social issues, which is another way of saying Marshall has consistently sought to restrict and discredit people whose lives do not conform to the ways of so-called traditional values. In fact, Bob Marshall has proudly referred to himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe.”[i]
Roem, Marshall’s opponent is something of a policy wonk. A journalist living in the weeds of local policy matters before running for political office. During the race, congestion on Route 28 was her most consistent talking point, along with extending commuter rail to the Innovation Park business incubator in Manassas to lure more high-paying jobs, and eliminating local taxes on business and professional licenses.
But that’s not what caught the attention of the outside world or of Bob Marshall. It was that Roem was transgender after recently completing the transition from male to the female identity she had always understood to be her true self.
Lamentations 1:1 - 6 • Lamentations 3: 19 - 26 • 2 Timothy 1:1-14 • Luke 17:5-10
How many of you have junk drawers at home? What kind of things do you have in them? Why do you have them?
I love the section heading at the beginning of Luke 17. It isn’t actually a part of the original text. It was given by the editors for the NRSV—that’s the version of the bible that we typically use, the one in your pew Bibles. Did you happen to notice it?
“Some sayings of Jesus.” Isn’t that great? We may have just found ourselves in the junk drawer of Luke. Here we have a few really good sayings of Jesus that Luke didn’t want to lose, so he just threw them all right here so that he could find them later.
Readings for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 | Psalm 48 | 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 | Mark 6:1-13
The packing list is small. What a gift that is! Just a staff, shoes, the clothes on your back. No need to worry about bag fees or security measures. No images of trudging down dusty roads dragging behind you a pile of luggage, with that one wheel that broke on that last leg of the trip giving you fits as it drags a wave of dirt with it, kicking up dust, your shoulders getting tired.
Isaiah 11:1-10 • Romans 15:4-13 • Matthew 3:1-12
Every year I am surprised. Advent begins and I start to settle into the waiting.
Waiting for a baby. I remember waiting for a baby. Perhaps some of you do to.
Getting everything ready.
I start to settle into that warm, hopeful waiting, and I feel better – you know?
I know that something special, something beautiful is happening, something that I know, or at least I hope, will bring me to what I want, what I need:
peace, new wonderful life, untarnished possibilities
hopes for new ways of being that are good and lovely.
We wait for that baby, God’s promise to me, to the world.
It’s a lovely, warm, beautiful waiting.
And then every year I am surprised, shocked, saddened even, when John shows up. He shows up every single year at this point in Advent (no matter the gospel we are reading – he is in every single one), and he shows up shouting, proclaiming judgment, promising wrath.
St. Andrew Sermons