I hear these sheep passages differently since moving to Sonoma County … because I see sheep more often.
I didn’t see sheep too much in Berkeley. As the old radio ad said, Berkeley has cows, grazing up in the East Bay hills, but the only sheep I used to see there were petting-zoo sheep at the Little Farm in Tilden Park.
But here they’re just kind of around more. I saw flock after flock driving down Lakeville Highway toward a meeting in Vallejo last Friday. Last fall we went to the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol and my daughter Abby watched a sheep-shearing demonstration, starting with a sheep shaped like a barrel and ending with a skinny buzz-cut sheep and massive, luxuriant piles of wool all over the ground. This is a place where people really raise sheep. (more…)
It doesn’t take a whole lot of time on pilgrimage in the Holy Land before you begin to learn to take some of the historic identifications of the holy places with a grain of salt.
It’s not that there aren’t holy sites that archeologists think could actually be historically authentic—like the Church of the Resurrection, as I said two weeks ago at Easter. But when twenty centuries have supplied enough piety, pilgrimage, and potential income, holy sites tend to pop up exponentially. So there are at least two birthplaces of John the Baptist; at least two sites where Jesus and his disciples held the Last Supper; and no less than four contenders for real Biblical town of Emmaus. Those who visit Israel and Palestine looking to find places to venerate the mysteries of the faith … tend to find what they are looking for. Those who go looking to pinpoint THE spot where they happened … are often disappointed. (more…)
This is the gate of the Lord; whoever God makes righteous may enter.
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It’s been said that there’s only one monument in the world that was built over an empty tomb.
There are many, many monuments over tombs with bodies inside. New York City has Grant’s Tomb and Arlington National Cemetery, has the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You can go to Red Square in Moscow and see Lenin, his body still eerily preserved, lying in state. The tombs of the ancient pharaohs in Egypt are empty now, mostly, the remains inside fallen victim to grave robbers over the centuries; but they weren’t built to be that way. (more…)
Thus says the LORD: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?
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There’s a saying you hear a lot in the world of interviewing and hiring: past performance is the best indicator of future results. In other words, if you want to know what someone is likely to do if you hire them for a future job, don’t pay attention so much to what they say they’ll do. Pay attention to what they’ve done in the past. Someone who’s shown leadership skills in previous situations is likely to show those skills again. Someone who’s been resourceful, or flaky, or creative, in the past is likely to act those ways in the future. (more…)
Genesis 4:2b, 4b-5, 8-10
Words of Outrage: Emma González
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Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness: Spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace. Amen.
That’s a prayer for peace from our prayer book. And like most of the prayers in our prayer book, it echoes the language of the scriptures. And so of course it doesn’t talk about guns; it talks about swords. (more…)
A little over a week ago we heard a spectacular and repellent example of something human beings are all too prone to doing: the phenomenon of “blaming the victim.” It happened after the horrifying murders of Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand. An Australian senator named Fraser Anning posted a statement saying the attack happened because Muslim people had chosen to immigrate to New Zealand in the first place. Other public officials rightly condemned his remarks, and you may have seen the viral video of a teenager hitting him with an egg a few days later—maybe not the ideal method, but an understandable reaction—and the senator responding by punching the teenager, spiraling from violent words into violent action. (more…)
We pray that line from the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. But what is temptation, really? It’s worth wondering about, not only because today we hear the story of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, but also because I think our culture isn’t quite sure what to do with the notion of temptation. (more…)
I remember the flecks of ash on my car, that afternoon this past November. The reddish tinge in the sky; the smell of smoke in the air; and those little white flecks of ash all over the car roof and windscreen. Landing everywhere, of course, but visible especially there on that flat surface, against the blue paint. It was from the Camp Fire in Paradise, of course. I’d only seen those little white flecks one time before: a year earlier, when I was still living in the East Bay, and the smoke and the ash were coming from right here in Sonoma County. (more…)
Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God,
and worship upon the LORD’s holy hill.
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Have you ever had a mountaintop experience?
We use the phrase to speak of a spiritual high, a time of clarity, when our connection with God feels direct and our life feels full of meaning.
From Machu Picchu in Peru to Mt. Fuji in Japan to Mt. Olympus in Greece, mountains are places of spiritual power in cultures all around the world. And in the biblical story there are lots of mountains with special significance. Mount Sinai, where Moses spoke face to face with God and received the Ten Commandments. Mount Zion, the hill where Abraham was said to have received the revelation that he was not to sacrifice his son, and which later became the site of the city of Jerusalem and the location of the Temple itself. And of course the unnamed mountain in today’s gospel, the Mountain of the Transfiguration. (more…)
Imagine you’re living in about the year 500, in Syria. You’re a new Christian who’s just received baptism and is coming to communion for the first time, and your bishop teaches you to hold out your hands, receive the bread, and pray this prayer:
“I carry you, living God incarnate in the bread. You have confined yourself in a fiery coal within my fleshly palms. You are holy, God incarnate in my hands in a fiery coal. Lord, make me worthy to taste the food of your body as a taste of your life.”(more…)
Exactly ten weeks from today, right here in this space, you and I will be gathered together to experience what might best be called a liturgical whiplash.
It happens every year. It’s the liturgy for Palm Sunday. We gather outside, bless palms, and march around singing exuberantly. We hail Jesus as he makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It’s great fun. We get into the church building, finish the hymn, and then all of a sudden it all comes to a screeching halt. We hear this prayer: “Almighty God, your most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified.” The adoration of the crowds shifts to the suffering of the cross. From that moment the whole tone of the liturgy shifts. The gospel for the day is the story of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, and we’re catapulted into Holy Week. (more…)
It’s clear that the early Christians who produced the four gospels had some difficulty with that question. You can tell by comparing the four different accounts. Mark’s gospel is the earliest to be written, and Mark narrates Jesus’ baptism clearly: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan”; and then the Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove. But a decade or so later the Gospel of Matthew retold that story, and Matthew clearly found it awkward to have Jesus seemingly submitting to John the Baptist’s authority. So he inserted a dialogue where John says, “How can I baptize you when you should be baptizing me?” and Jesus responds, essentially, “It’s OK; God wants it to happen this way.” And so Jesus is baptized, and the Spirit descends on him like a dove. (more…)
Two things. It takes the wisdom of scripture and tradition. And it takes an open, seeking heart.
Consider the magi. We sometimes call them the three kings, which is a lovely tradition, although the scripture story neither calls them kings nor says precisely how many of them there were. It simply calls them magoi, a word that basically means something like the English word “mages”—people who studied the stars and ancient lore. Anyway, consider the magi. Their astrological observations lead them to believe something important is happening in Judea. And so they set off on pilgrimage. These magi are the quintessential seekers. They don’t have the scriptures, but they have a seeking heart. They know, they just know, there is someone out there. Their hearts are longing and burning for him. They don’t quite know where they’ll find him, but they have an inkling about the right direction to start. So they load up the best of all their treasures and start their quest. And their intuitions carry them far, all the way to Jerusalem, six short miles from Bethlehem. But then they need something more. They can’t quite make it all the way to Jesus on their own. They have to stop for directions. They need the wisdom of the scripture and tradition of Israel to get them all the way there. (more…)
Martin Luther said, “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul, it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” Every Advent and Christmas I look forward to hearing again music that speaks to my soul. Sometimes it is the melody, sometimes it is the lyrics, and sometimes it is both music and lyrics that help me to see a new connection between humanity and the love of God. I am not a musician and I cannot read music. So, I am in awe of people who can take what looks like hieroglyphics to me and make the symbols into a loving prayer that reaches spiritual places beyond the spoken word. (more…)