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…)
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed & pride the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
That’s a poem by Madeleine L’Engle, author of the famous children’s book A Wrinkle in Time, a writer for children and adults and, incidentally, an Episcopalian. She wrote it in 1973, during a Christmas marked by the appearance of a major comet—but aside from that, almost everything in the poem sounds like it could have been written today. (more…)
“O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the cherubim, lead their praises, Alleluia! Thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious, magnify the Lord, Alleluia!”
That’s from a hymn called “Ye watchers and ye holy ones.” We sing it a lot when the scriptures of the day talk about angels and saints. The verses imagine all the ranks of heaven joined to praise God. But one verse is dedicated just to one person, the one called “higher than the cherubim” and “more glorious than the cherubim,” the one who was the “bearer of the eternal Word.” It’s Mary, mother of God. (more…)
One of the books my daughter and I sometimes read before bed is a 1930s children’s classic. It’s the story of construction worker Mike Mulligan and his beloved steam shovel Mary Ann. Together they dig out all kinds of big projects from canals to skyscraper cellars. One page shows them carving a pass through a tall mountain range. They pull down the high ground and fill in the low ground and smooth out the earth to make a wide, level highway for cars to go through. (more…)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Who do you say I am?
During hard times, when people want to be helpful and they really do not know what to do, they will often come up with a saying in the hope that it might make things a little better for us. My mother used to say, “And this too, shall pass.” It was to remind me that all experiences, good and bad, have their time and place and will not last forever. I once heard someone say, “Stop telling God how big your problems are and start telling your problems how big your God is.” This, I find, is a good reminder for those times when one feels especially overwhelmed by life’s difficulties. Another saying I heard recently is to remember Grace over Drama. G-O-D. It helps us to remember to pause, center, and focus on God’s grace rather than give into the emotional turmoil of the moment. (more…)
As a teenager in the 1990s I spent a few years identifying with a particular kind of evangelical Christian subculture. My youth group friends and I wore bracelets with the initials WWJD on them, for “What Would Jesus Do?,” and shopped at Christian bookstores for CDs by popular Christian bands with names like Jars of Clay and the Newsboys. None of these references will probably make sense to you unless you happened to come up through the same subculture. But they functioned as markers of identity. (more…)
It’s almost too easy, really. Hearing this gospel story the week before the end of our annual pledge campaign. This is one of the classic so-called stewardship texts, isn’t it? This poor widow has put in more than everyone else, for she has put in everything; all she had to live on. Now I’m supposed to say: go and do likewise. Increase your pledge! Classic stewardship sermon, and I can go sit down—which is good, because sermons are supposed to be short during the pledge campaign so there’s time for the testimonials later. (more…)
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23)
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Whenever I read the name of someone who is featured in a Gospel story I learn two things. One is that someone thought enough of the person to remember their name and two that the story is like the underline in a written document as it is meant to draw our attention to something important. I do not know about you, however, these days I have difficulty remembering a person’s name within minutes of having been told what it is. I am much more likely to remember their face what they wore or some part of what they shared with me than their name. It is different though if they have a dog. I will remember the dog’s name. And from then on the person who I met will forever be remembered as “Fluffy’s” mom or dad. I do not care how famous they are or how well known they may be in the community, for me their primary identity will be as a pet. (more…)
In the name of God, Source of all being, Incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit: Amen.
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What comes to mind when I say the word “Ambition”?
Maybe it’s a positive word for you, something to do with setting goals and working hard. Maybe it’s more of a negative word, something to do with lacking humility and trying to be better than other people. (more…)
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, to you be praises, glory, honor, and blessing.
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That’s the opening line from the Canticle of the Creatures, a famous text composed by St. Francis in the 1200s. Francis is well known for his strong sense of kinship, not only with animals, whom we’re blessing today, but with the entire natural creation. His feast day fell this past Thursday, on October 4. We’ll get back to Francis in a minute. But first we’d better talk a little about divorce. (more…)
In the name of the one, holy, and living God: Amen.
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What do aspirin, cellophane, a trampoline, and an escalator have in common?
It’s not a trick question. All four of those words started out as trademarks, but eventually became generic terms.
When a brand name becomes used generically by enough people, a company can lose its trademark. Lots of companies today are fighting very hard against that very possibility. Think of Kleenex … or should I say Kleenex brand facial tissues, as the company would prefer we say. You can probably think of other trademarks that people often use generically: Jello. Xerox. Band-Aid. (more…)
Today is an occasion of great joy. Today we celebrate the baptism of Parker, who is already a child of God by nature and now becomes a second time the child of God by grace. Today Parker becomes a member of Christ’s Body. Today the Holy Spirit descends on him, just as the Spirit descended on Jesus, and God says, “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased!” Today, too, Parker is joined with us as part of the communion of saints, all God’s people in all places and times, past, present, and yet to come. (more…)
A couple of years ago I first became aware of an online test you can take through Harvard University. Maybe you know of it: it’s called the Implicit Association Test, and it’s designed to measure the subtle biases and stereotypes many of us carry around, both consciously and unconsciously. The best-known version is about race. Images of black people and white people are flashed on the screen, together with words with either positive or negative associations, like “kind” or “sneaky” or “hardworking” or “lazy.” The test measures your response times as you push a button to categorize the images you see. The results for most people in our culture can be sobering. It’s easier and quicker for most participants to associate a picture of a white person with a positive descriptor, and a picture of a black person with a negative descriptor, than the other way around. Most people show some level of preference for white people over people of color. (more…)
Lord, speak to us this day: and may we have ears to hear.
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Today’s gospel reading was a long one—and you can blame me for that. The lectionary, our schedule of readings, actually abbreviated this passage, but in doing that it left out some verses that are key to what’s going on … so I decided to take advantage of a permission in the Prayer Book and put them back in. I did this after it was too late to change the bulletins, so you might have noticed hearing some lines that weren’t printed in! Let’s dive in and figure out what’s happening between Jesus and this group of Pharisees. (more…)