Monday, January 16, 2006

MLK Day 2006

For this year's MLK Day, I'm quoting from his Mountaintop speech; I'm including some Deuteronomy, too, plus a few remarks of my own.

Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968, the eve of his assassination
...I remember in Birmingham, Alabama ... Bull Connor next would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water.

That couldn't stop us. And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we'd go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we'd just go on singing. "Over my head I see freedom in the air." ...

It's alright to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's alright to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. ...

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
God sends Moses to Mount Pisgah:

Deuteronomy 3
27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. 28 But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see."
And presents the covenant to the gathered assembly—with plentiful promises:

Deuteronomy 5
22 These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.

30 "Go, tell them to return to their tents. 31 But you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess."

32 So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33 Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.
Deuteronomy 6
1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
As MLK suggested, contemplating the fancy finery we'll wear after we pass into our ultimate paradisiacal dwelling is cool, as are dreams and images of milk and honey—after all, milk and honey is a sign, a visible, tangible sacrament, of the fullness of God's sovereignty and justice accomplished here on earth! (This blog includes some notes about Milk and Honey.) Talking about the sidewalks of the New Jerusalem, new city of God is trendy, too, for the people of God, because after all, God has called us and Jesus has shown us we are to help build that New Jerusalem here in San Diego, there in Chicago and Cleveland and Denver...In a very different location and time, on New Year's Day of this year I preached about the New City of God.

Parallel with the Deuteronomic historian's refrain of land, land, land—the Land of God's Promise, which will transpire on this created planet, MLK prophesies distributive justice with its accompanying redemption, "buying-back," from material want and economic paucity right here on this earthly globe; just as for Don Henley – Heaven is Under our Feet – for MLK, the Reign of Heaven will happen around us, within us and will be about us!

Deuteronomy 5,
So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.
Fully to possess the land, to flourish in the land? Then help make the kind of justice prophets speak about come about: keep all the decrees, commandments laws; obey! Walk in all the way the LORD your God has commanded you. Verse 31 says, all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess. To possess the land? Then teach the people so they will know how and what to obey! Justice, righteousness, rightly distributing the harvests, providing fairly-priced, adequate? no, good housing for all, shalom-full "enough" of whatever other goods and services any urban or rural person anywhere needs. As Walter Brueggemann recently reminded us [in Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism], in beginning his Small Catechism – traditional preparation for First Communion – with the Ten Commandments and their explanations, Luther insists it is the God of the commandments with Whom we commune. Life in community and life in the world makes serious demands of us and gives us amazing rewards.

...there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out...we knew water! Yes, we know water, and anyone who has been reading my blogs or listening to my theology knows what I have to say about water!!! Water of first birth and first death, water of new birth and freedom in the air!

1 Corinthians 10:1-4 tells us,
I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
In the desert, as they were becoming acclimated to minimal living, water from the rock (surprise!) refreshed and revived the emergent people of God; Yahweh gave the Sinai Covenant while the people journeyed out from slavery and into free, responsive (and responsible) living; the Word Yahweh spoke from the mountain out of the fire was a mature covenant, full of demand but replete with assurance from the God Who covenants with creation.

Annually, the Jewish Day of Pentecost recalls the Sinai law recounted in Deuteronomy; the Christian Day of Pentecost on the same day of the Jewish Pentecost - related in Acts - reveals a new way of being the obedient people of God. Acts 2 details the Gift of the Spirit given in fire and in wind to individuals as they were gathered in inclusive community! ...freedom in the the Pentecost Covenant, the Holy Spirit of God and of the Christ inspires, in-breathes and enables obedience in a far freer, more spontaneous sense than before, with the law of the Spirit of Life poured out into our hearts, capturing our wills. The Pentecost Event forms the culmination of the reconciling, redeeming Christ Event, God's ultimate New Covenant of Grace of service to the world and one another: "do this"—I am among you as one who serves.

Jesus lived as all of the law and all of the prophets wrapped up in one person, making the law simpler to grasp but far more difficult to perform. Because of Christ Jesus' life among us, now we're subject to the finely-tuned obedience and morality of living in Christ. However, as Romans 8: 2 maintains, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free—from the law of sin and death, the death which became inevitable because of the human impossibility of total obedience. ...freedom in the Jesus told his followers, it was necessary for him to return to the Father, that the Spirit might be given. And so, this is Pentecost!!!!! Because we live in Pentecostal fire and – drowned and revived – we now live in resurrection, in a newly-minted reality.

J├╝rgen Moltmann distinguishes between the human planner's future that can be strategized and that often develops predictably from us, out of our present (and, of course, out this present's past) and the future that comes toward us from God, breaking into our frequently trivial plans and expectations, making claims upon us and demands of us. Most appropriately, as we respond in obedience to God's Spirit-led commands, we never quite can tease out the parts of God's future that we have made from those aspects initiated and ratified by God's hidden activity. This latter-days future is one for which the Church and the churches only can hope, because its ultimate content has so many resurrection facets that only can be God-imagined and therefore, given only by God.
When the Time Has Come | Huey Lewis & the News

everything's gonna clear up and the sun will shine;
everybody's gonna cheer up, 'cause it's redemption time!

don't you worry 'bout a thing, cause you know things are gonna change
when the time has come

walls are gonna crumble and fall into the sea;
oh, all men will be humble—that's a guarantee!

a little rain is gonna fall, but it will only wash away the tears of us all

don't you worry bout a thing 'cause that train is gonna run
you will be on it from here to kingdom come
when the time has come

listen to the—band feels like a change

wind is gonna rise up and blow us all away;
people gonna wise up, cause it's judgment day

so don't you worry about a thing, cause you know that train is gonna run;
you will be on it not just for some
we'll all be on it from here to kingdom come
when the time has come

when the time has come, when the time has come
oh when the time has come

everything's gonna clear up everybody cheer up;
walls are gonna crumble; all men will be humble;
feeling it getting stronger—won't be down much longer;
we will be free when the time has come

when the time has come—I believe the time has come
feels like a change when the time....
1995 (Hayes and Lewis) Kinda Blue Music/Huey Lewis Music

Album, Time Flies... The Best of Huey Lewis & the News, 1996

Saturday, January 07, 2006

John Wesley's Covenant Service

Usually I post my own stuff on my blogs, but this evening I'll follow my own occasional precedent; in times past I've posted a few hymns and other songs, plus A Lord's Prayer for Justice, and from the Jewish Shabbat service, El'Anu. Here's a John Wesley special, particularly appropriate for the beginning of a new calendar year—his Covenant Service.

Let us, therefore, go to Christ, and pray:

Let me be your servant, under your command. I will no longer be my own. I will give up myself to your will in all things.

Be satisfied that Christ shall give you your place and work.

Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands:
put me to doing, put me to suffering,
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and with a willing heart give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

Covenant Prayer

O righteous God, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, see me as I bow before you.
Forgive my unfaithfulness in not having done your will, for you have promised mercy to me if I turn to you with my whole heart.

God requires that you shall put away all your idols.

I here from the bottom of my heart renounce them all, covenanting with you that no known sin shall be allowed in my life. Against your will, I have turned my love toward the world. In your power I will watch all temptations that will lead me away from you. For my own righteousness is riddled with sin, unable to stand before you.

Through Christ, God has offered to be your God again if you would let Him.

Before all heaven and earth, I here acknowledge you as my Lord and God. I take you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for my portion, and vow to give up myself, body and soul, as your servant, to serve you in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life.

God has given the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way and means of coming to God.

Jesus, I do here with bowed head accept Christ as the only new and living Way, and sincerely join myself in a covenant with him. O blessed Jesus, I come to you, hungry, sinful, miserable, blind and naked, unworthy even to wash the feet of your servants. I do here, with all my power, accept you as my Lord and Head. I renounce my own worthiness, and vow that you are the Lord, my righteousness. I renounce my own wisdom, and take you for my only guide. I renounce my own will, and take your will as my law.

Christ has told you that you must suffer with him.

I do here covenant with you, O Christ, to take my lot with you as it may fall. Through your grace I promise that neither life nor death shall part me from you.

God has given holy laws as the rule of your life.

I do here willingly put my neck under your yoke, to carry your burden. All your laws are holy, just and good. I therefore take them as the rule for my words, thoughts, and actions, promising that I will strive to order my whole life according to your direction, and not allow myself to neglect anything I know to be my duty.

The almighty God searches and knows your heart.

O God, you know that I make this covenant with you today without guile or reservation. If any falsehood should be in it, guide me and help me to set it aright. And now, glory be to you, O God the Son, who have loved me and washed me from my sins in your own blood, and now is my Savior and Redeemer. Glory be to you, O God the Holy Spirit, who by your almighty power have turned my heart from sin to God.

O mighty God, the Lord Omnipotent, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you have now become my Covenant Friend. And I, through your infinite grace, have become your covenant servant. So be it. And let the covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

retrospect and prospect: Reign of Christ and Epiphany

Just before Advent, the start of the new church year (in the Revised Common Lectionary this is Year B, Mark's Year) began, we celebrated Reign of Christ or Christ the King, the last Sunday in the liturgical year; tomorrow it'll be Epiphany, the liturgical festival of light noteworthy as remembrance of the Christ's first revelation to "the nations"—all of the gentile or non-Jewish world beyond Jerusalem's immediate boundaries and confines! Some cultures make January 6 their time of gifting, consequently styling the feast "Little Christmas"; as the Church and the churches move toward Lent's relative sobriety, the liturgical year and its accompanying lections begin counting and numbering Sundays after Epiphany.

To know and to acknowledge Christ Jesus as Lord of all – Pantocratur and Cosmocratur – we don't need to gaze retrospectively, but sometimes looking backward helps anyway, because we humans often have at least some trepidation about looking forward! And, of course, in order to see anything whatsoever, one needs sufficient light, enough luminescence.

At the moment I'm - almost - taking a vacation from doing theology, though within the past week I've acquired a whole half-dozen new books, which (maybe) I'll list on this far by faith some time over the coming weekend. For this Epiphany Eve, I'll close this blog with Marty Haugen's version of the Service of Light that opens evening prayer or vespers:
Joyous light of heavenly glory, loving glow of God's own face,
you who sing creation's story, shine on every land and race.
Now as evening falls around us, we shall raise our songs to you,
God of daybreak, God of shadows, come and light our hearts anew.

In the stars that grace the darkness, in the blazing sun of dawn,
of the light of peace and wisdom, we can hear your quiet song.
Love that fills the night with wonder, love that warms the weary soul,
Love that bursts all chains asunder, set us free and make us whole.

You who made the heaven's splendor, every dancing star of night,
make us shine with gentle justice, let us each reflect your light.
Mighty God of all creation, gentle Christ who lights our way,
Loving Spirit of salvation, lead us on to endless day.

©1990 GIA Publications, Inc.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year 2006

Prayer, from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

God of all Creation, may we see You in every season, in every purpose under heaven; as we observe the many births, deaths, plantings and harvests in each of our lives, may we be aware of Your Presence alongside us and in our communities. God, may we be there for each other in our grieving and in our joy. Lead us in Your dance of new life, in the name of our Crucified, Risen and Ascended Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen!
Revelation 21:1-6

1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the dwelling-place of God is with humanity; He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."

5 Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful."

6 And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to anyone who thirsts."

New Year, 2006

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, and I heard a voice from heaven—God's dwelling-place is with creation; God lives with us, and among us. God is here with us! New heaven, new earth—that sounds like another creation all over again, like the death of the old and a resurrection, the birth of the new—it sounds exactly like Good Friday followed by Easter Sunday!

Throughout history, the God of Life passionately has loved and provided for the earth, showing evidence of His constantly abiding with humanity and with all creation. We can trace stories of salvation throughout the Hebrew bible, and when we reach the New Testament, we meet God's ultimate demonstration of His love and care for creation—we meet Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth, life, death and resurrection makes ultimate newness possible. The many centuries-long story of God and the people of God throughout the Bible's narrative and - afterwards, right up to this day and this year, 2006 - tells us and shows us newness always is possible, in every circumstance. In Jesus Christ, the Word of Life become flesh, even the human impossibility of brand-new resurrected life out of the irrevocable conclusiveness of death becomes possible!

In the passage we heard from the New Testament book of Revelation, John the Revelator says, Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." That One reigning from the throne of forgiving, redeeming, merciful grace is Jesus Christ, and on the Friday called "Good" his throne was the Calvary cross. By Jesus' obedience, and by God's raising Christ Jesus from death on Easter dawn, the entire world would experience new hopes, new lives and a new creation! In plain English, the world would know life sprung anew from the ashes and ruins of death; the world and everyone in it would experience forgiveness of their sins, transgressions and other behaviors that had torn the fabric of their lives and relationships and that they so deeply regretted; we even would know the end of our guilt and shame.

In God's world, this world in which we live, not only is this a brand-new year, 2006—because of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, every month and day, every week and every moment means a new beginning. Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. ...then I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem; then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."

Jesus Christ promises to make everything new and to give water from the fountain of the river of life, the river of new birth, to all who thirst—and that means us! I'm sure that just like me and like everyone, each of you has more experience than you'd care to remember of thirsting for community, for friendship and acceptance, being thirsty for meaningful work or maybe for almost any employment whatsoever, and sometimes yearning simply for ordinary, everyday food and drink—finding the feast of both food and companionship right here at this church indeed does quench a thirst. Christ Jesus also calls himself the alpha and the omega, the source and the destination. Each of us originates, finds our beginning in Jesus Christ, the Word of Life, and then we journey through our days and years with Jesus Christ, with whom we have our ultimate home and destiny.

Just seven days ago, the church and the world celebrated Christmas, the birth of the infant Jesus at the darkest time of the year. A handful of days after the primeval Festival of the Unvanquished Sun, this world and the entire cosmos met the undefeated source of life and light face-to-face in the vulnerability of the Baby in the Bethlehem manger. The media and stores no longer are playing many Christmas songs, but most likely you've heard the song by Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry:
Mary, Did You Know?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered will soon deliver you?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little boy you've kissed the face of God?

Mary, did you know?
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I AM?
The blind will see, the lame will leap and storms will cease; the dead will live again, because this baby boy-child is the great I AM—Jesus Christ, the Word of Life incarnate that created us, redeems us, and continues sanctifying us, making us holy to stand before the Throne of Grace!

Mary's baby boy, Jesus, now become the Christ, still rules the nations, still is Lord of all creation and is Lord of our lives, as well—Christ Jesus is the Word of Resurrection, God's ultimate Word of Life! Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, and I heard a voice from heaven—God's dwelling-place is with creation. New heaven, new earth—another creation all over again, the death of the old and resurrected birth of the new—Good Friday followed by Easter Sunday! New beginnings, even the obliteration of our sin, shame and guilt—Easter dawn, every moment of every day!

Let the River Run | Come, the New Jerusalem
[Carly Simon, from Working Girl, 1988]

God of all creation, we're coming to the edge, running on the water, coming through the fog, your sons and daughters. Let the river run, let all the dreamers wake the nation. Come, New Heavens and come, New Earth—come, the New Jerusalem!

Blessed New Year and a Blessed new life—to God alone be Glory! Amen!