Isaiah 5:1-7 † Psalm 80:7-15 † Philippians 3:4b-14 † Matthew 21:33-46
Long before our country was founded, this land belonged to the many indigenous tribes who had lived here for thousands of years. The tribes had their own customs and laws. They were deeply connected to the land and maintained rich wisdom traditions that were lost on the Europeans who came to conquer and colonize to sow a trail of tears through the continent. It is also true, of course, that even before European colonization, they fought one another. They were not unfamiliar with the cycles of violence we often find ourselves trapped in.
One of the reasons for the constant conflict was a practice known as “mourning wars.” Tribal people had come to believe that the only way they could ease their pain when someone they loved was killed was to return like for like, to take revenge—to kill people from the offending tribe.
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 † Psalm 25:1-9 † Philippians 2:1-13 † Matthew 21:23-32
Some of the most striking painted rock art in the world is found in the sea caves of Norway’s western coastline. They are located in wild, remote, Arctic areas where peaks plunge into the ocean, hammered by ice and wave actions over millennia.
There are twelve such painted caves, containing around 170 simple stick figures, arms and legs stretched wide as if they are dancing or leaping. These are different that the far more common petroglyphs which have been carved into rock here and throughout the world by the ancients. These are paintings, made using iron oxide pigment, daubed using fingers or brushes some two to three thousand years ago by Bronze Age hunter-gatherer-fisher people who made their lives along an isolated coastline. The art that they made was preserved in remote caves in wild places.
1 Kings 19:9-18 † Psalm 85:8-13 † Romans 10:5-15 † Matthew 14:22-33
*A video form of this sermon can be found here or you can see the entire liturgy here.
In the Fishlake National Forest, on the western edge of the Colorado Plateau there is a colony of quaking Aspen that is an estimated 80,000 years old. Now, were you walking in the midst of it right now rather than listening to me, it would not be readily apparent. There is no tree in the grove that is anywhere near that age. Cut one down and you might count 80 rings, 80 seasons of growth. Maybe more. Maybe less.[i]
But underground, the eighty-year-old trunks are 80,000, a 100,000 years-old if they are a day. Some scientists think even this is a huge undercount, suggesting the forest has been around for the better part of a million years. Every tree here has sprouted from a rhizome mass too old to date even to the nearest hundred millennia, they say.
Exodus 19:2-8a † Psalm 100 † Romans 5:1-8 † Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
A video version of this sermon can be found here.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
Ordinary people. Middle eastern men compelled by the words and the actions of Jesus.
Something happens when we say a person’s name. We remember their humanity.
Perhaps it’s the names of people we have placed on a pedestal: Andrew, James, Mary, Tabitha.
We say their names and we remember – human just like us.
Perhaps it’s the names of people brutalized: Emmett, Trayvon, George, Charlene.
We say their names and we remember – human just like us.
Human with gifts and hopes. Humans: beloved of God.
There is a phrase in this week’s gospel that with some other phrases in these sacred texts have been used by Christians over time to set humans apart.
Jeremiah 31:16 † Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 † Acts 1:34-43 † Matthew 28:1-10
Two phrases catch my attention in these days of pandemic and social isolating. Two phrases seem especially relevant as we find ourselves a month into a disruptive reality most of us have never experienced before.
The first is this: “Do not be afraid.” It is the message given by the angel—an other-worldly being who apparently looks like lightning in a jacket of snow and shows up just as a massive earthquake hits. Just to the side you have a couple of military guards laying there, by all appearances dead. I mean, the advice sounds a little unnecessary, doesn’t it? What could they possible be afraid of?
Genesis 1:1-2:4a † Response Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26 † Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 † Response Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18 † Isaiah 55:1-11 † Response Isaiah 12:2-6 † Ezekiel 36:24-28 † Response Psalm 42:1-11 and 43:1-5 † John 20:1-18
Do you remember now? Do you see that this age, this time, these struggles are no match for the Holy who moves and lives and breathes and thunders both within us and far beyond our human reach?
We kept it short tonight—I know, that may surprise you! There are so many more stories that speak of possibility when only threat is visible, of light when it is still dark, of hope when all around us injustice and struggle are so apparent. The thing is we have been this way before. Many times! And by we, I mean this ragtag, imperfect, stiff-necked and selfish human history of which we are part and parcel. They is us. And we are them.
If you haven’t already, you may want to get to know these faces. These are neighbors of ours, young Americans predominantly from the northwest, with others scattered throughout the country. They range in age from 10 years-old to their mid-twenties. And they are suing the federal government for knowingly causing climate change and violating their constitutional rights. They are litigants of the youth climate lawsuit known as Juliana v. United States.
Their complaint asserts that, through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.
The constitutional climate lawsuit was originally filed in Oregon in 2015 and has been making its way through the court system. The expectation is that the lawsuit will finally go to trial late this year, although that could change given the considerable resistance it has received from the federal government and corporate interests throughout the process.
Isaiah 62:1-5 † Psalm 36:5-10 † 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 † John 2:1-11
So what is going on here?
Is this a story about a wedding that hasn’t been planned very well, a potential social disaster, a mother and son bickering because they don’t want their friends to be embarrassed? It could be. “Woman”--mother, why are you asking me. It’s not my time. And yet, apparently it is. Jesus’ objection seems to drown in the flow of the story as water jars are quickly filled, as an oblivious steward is astounded, and as a wedding is saved with about 400 bottles of really good wine no one accounted for.
Or maybe it’s not that at all. Maybe the party wasn’t about to collapse. Maybe this wasn’t about poor planning. It could have been even worse: a story about a poor, struggling family doing their best to pull off a celebration demanded by social customs that they could not afford. Suddenly this gift not only saves the day, but delivers them from shame.
Or, it could be that this was a celebration that was simply winding down: “When the wine had run out,” the story goes, as if this was the expectation, as if there was an understanding that all good celebrations have a closing time.
If we read it that way, this becomes gratuitous. A story about abundance for the sake of abundance—unnecessary, saving nothing, a sign, as John tells us, the “first of his signs” of a story and a savior that is so full of life that nothing will be able to hold it back—not powers or principalities, armies or political leaders. Gratuitousness, generosity, an onslaught of extravagance. There are many ways we could read this. The story does not seem to tip its hand.
This is a sign—the first of his signs, says the text. But a sign of what? What do the disciples see that makes them believe in him and sets this greater story in motion?
Isaiah 9:2-6 † Hebrews 1:1-3a, 5-12 † Luke 2:1-20
It is not a secret, this story. It’s no mystery either under these stars, in this realm, in this moment. The simple truth of this night is that steadfast love is what holds us. Steadfast love is what promises a future in even the most uncertain times. Steadfast love is what turns any crisis, any unstable and dangerous instant into possibility and promise and salvation.
This is not to say that suffering and death suddenly cease. It is not to say that tyrants have not and do not control more than they should. If anything, it anticipates that instability, suffering, and danger ramp up. This too, is surely obvious to any who care to pay attention to what happens to those who receive the shorthand designation “the least of these” in any given time.
Zephaniah 3:14-20 † Isaiah 12:2-6 † Philippians 4:4-7 † Luke 3:7-18
Well that was quite a turn wasn’t it. From the smooth certain assurances of the psalm:
“Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
and God will be my Savior.”
And from the bright jubilation of Zephaniah:
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.”
And from the lovely appeal for gentleness and patient prayer in Philippians:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
From all of that to John:
“You brood of vipers – who told you to flee from the time to come…..His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’”
St. Andrew Sermons