Susquehanna Morning

Susquehanna Morning

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Advent 4 Thursday/ Christmas Eve: A Familiar Story

The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The O Antiphons, in reverse order, were:

O Emmanuel!        (God-With-Us)      
O Rex Gentium!    (King of all Nations)
O Oriens!               (Morning Star)

O Clavis David!     (Key of David)
O Radix Jesse!       (Root of Jesse)
O Adonai!              (Lord)
O Sapientia!           (Wisdom)

The first letters of the Latin titles form an acrostic "Ero Cras!":

"Tomorrow I will be there!"

Our scripture passage this evening is Luke 2:1-14, in the New Revised Standard Version.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,  the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!

You can click here for Lectio Divina suggestions, and return for the meditation and prayer.


Angel by Gary Blythe, in "This is the Star," by Joyce Dunbar and Gary Blythe
It is such a familiar story. And we all can conjure up the scene: the stable, the hay, the cow standing nearby, the father bending near, the mother holding her precious baby... who seems to be glowing, somehow! That's because, we know, this child is special: This is Jesus, the Son of God!

We can see it. We HAVE seen it!

And yet... it is a strange story, isn't it?

What does that mean, all the world should be registered? It means the Roman Empire is in charge, and it doesn't matter that your wife is 39 weeks pregnant. She will have to walk or ride a donkey 70 miles or so, because Caesar wants to make sure he has you on the tax roles.

What do you mean, there is no room for you? This is your hometown! Supposedly. Shouldn't being descended from King David make you at least a low-level celebrity of some kind? Can't you maybe stay in a palace somewhere? Evidently not. Forty generations after he lived, David's descendants might well have been, well, everybody.

It is so familiar, and so picturesque. But so unfamiliar, too, this couple with names-- Yosef and Maryam, is how they would have pronounced them-- names that might well have gotten them on a no-fly list, if their story had unfolded in 2015. 

The story is as familiar as powerlessness. As familiar as pain, of labor, and birth. As familiar as being on your own, without your mother near, for the first time in your life, and facing... who knew what? This story is as familiar as not having a space to call your own, even when you are at your most vulnerable. 

Why is the story told this way? What are we supposed to learn from it? What does it tell us about God? 

Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols, performed by the Arizona Girlchoir


Lord, Christ, born as a vulnerable baby and yet our Prince of Peace, teach us to welcome you into our hearts, and to live your life of oneness with our Abba God. We pray in your holy name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Advent 4 Wednesday: Here and Now

Let your light scatter the darkness, O God, and shine within your people.

December 23: O Emmanuel! O God With Us!

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Our passage this evening is Jeremiah 31:10-14, in the New Revised Standard Version

10Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, "He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock."
11For the LORD has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
13Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.

You can click here for Lectio Divina suggestions, and return for the meditation and the prayer.


This day before Christmas Eve-- as a friend called it today, Christmas Adam (think about it...) we are offered a passage from Jeremiah that speaks to the rescue of the people from exile. It is a song about joyful homecoming.

The people are promised that God will be their shepherd, which must have been welcome after a long time without one.  What follows is a party: The people are radiant, they experience God's goodness in the promise of grain and oil and wine, in their own flocks.

"Their life will be like a watered garden."

They. Will. Make. Merry. 

I have always been captivated by the old illustrations of Fezziwig's Ball from "A Christmas Carol." The spirit of Christmas Past shows Scrooge this scene from his youth, old Fezziwig throwing a party for his clerks. Scrooge was young, and he was poor, and the old man knew his young workers needed an outlet for their pent-up energy as well as to express their Christmas cheer. Scrooge remembers the merrymaking with gratitude and poignancy. It doesn't need to be spelled out for him, what a different boss he is from Fezziwig. 

Faith lives at the intersection of what is and what is hoped (or perhaps what is dreaded). The return of God for the exiles is not a theoretical thing: Jeremiah promises, it will make a difference in terms of their everyday lives. They are poor, and they have long been grieving, and they have almost given up on these simple pleasures that signify "the good life." Grain. Oil. Wine. A garden. A flock. Not riches. Not jewels or doodads or luxurious clothing or the best of anything. But enough.

"My people will be satisfied with my bounty," says the Lord. 

The bounty of God is enough.

"Riu, Riu, Chiu", 16th c. Spanish, Anonymous, sung by The King's Singers


Make haste, Lord, make haste! Come, without delay! Bring your people your delights, for our exile has been long. We pray in your Holy Name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advent 4 Tuesday: Law and Gospel

Love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss.

December 22: O Rex Gentium! O King of all Nations!
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.
This evening's passage is Galatians 3:10-14, in the New Revised Standard Version.

10For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law." 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for "The one who is righteous will live by faith." 12But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, "Whoever does the works of the law will live by them." 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" — 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

You can click here for Lectio Divina suggestions, and return for the meditation and prayer if you like.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, First Lutheran Church, Albany, NY

I had the joy of hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber speak about a week ago, and also had the distinction of misunderstanding her and asking her a question based on an Emily Litella-like faux pas.

I asked, "What does it mean to you to be a 'long gospel' preacher?" I thought I'd heard her say that.

She didn't. She said that she was a "law and gospel" preacher.

This passage, with too many words, is trying to say what Nadia said with great deftness and clarity. No one can live out the law perfectly. That's a fact. She is especially convicted of this due to her own years in recovery from alcoholism. She is convinced that, on her own, she is not capable of living as God would want her to live. In fact, she would tell you she was pretty much hell-bent on destruction.

I do not do the thing I want to do, Paul says elsewhere. But I do the very thing I do not want to do.


The only way we can be holy, the only way we can live wholly, the only way we can live with hope of getting off the path of destruction, is by the grace of God. This is very, very good news, in that it has nothing whatsoever, in any way, shape, or form, to do with our deserving it. It is a gift. This is such good news, trust me. God says, essentially, Here. Let me do that. I love you too much to see you destroy yourself/ your loved ones.

Nadia said that most mainline Protestant preaching is bad news/ bad news. "Here's what's wrong," we say, "and here's what you should do about it." It's all up to us.

Nadia's law and gospel is good news/ good news. When we realize what God is doing/ has done (Good News!) we are ready to overflow with the kind of love for neighbor, community, and even self that Jesus demonstrated (Good News!). We can't manufacture what we need. We have to receive it, let it flow through us.

This is the Good News.

"Some Children See Him" by Alfred Burt, arranged and played by Dave Grusin


Holy One, Come and save the human race, we whom you fashioned out of clay. Let us rest in your salvation, with the trust of little children. We pray in the name of the One who comes as a child. Amen.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent 4 Monday: Blessed

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with my people... Grace and peace to you in the name of Emmanuel, God-With-Us.

December 21: O Oriens! O Morning Star/ Star in the East!
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Our scripture this evening is the story of the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, Luke 1:39-45, read in the New Revised Standard Version.

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."  

You can click here for Lectio Divina suggestions, and return for the meditation and prayer.

Elizabeth and Mary, painting in the church of El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador


It's always good to notice: who (or what) do we turn to in a crisis? Where do we go when we are overwhelmed? Who do we trust to help us to get through the unimaginable?

I have always been moved by this coming together of Mary and Elizabeth. The first time I truly contemplated it, it was because of a piece of art: "A Dancer's Christmas," of which I was privileged to see the very first performance at Boston College in 1980. The Christmas Story, which depicted the annunciation to Mary, her sharing the news with Joseph, her visit to Elizabeth, and finally, the birth itself, were all set to the astonishing "A Lark Ascending" by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The coming together of Mary and Elizabeth was so tender, so beautiful. Their care for one another, the astonishment of both at the condition they found themselves in, and the elation-- the sheer joy of what God had done, was doing, in them and through them-- they were all captured without need for words, only movement and music. That experience has burned itself into my soul.

In this moment of being swept up in God's salvific work, Mary turns to one who might, possibly, have an inkling of what she is experiencing.

If you choose to listen to the music posted below, know that the opening bars, as I saw them choreographed--about two minutes-- are the Annunciation to Mary. When the orchestra joins in, Mary is with Joseph. The folk-song themes in the middle are Mary's visit to Elizabeth; and the final iteration of the lark-- the violin solo returned-- is the birth of Jesus.

"A Lark Ascending" performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with David Nolan on Violin


Help us to know, God beyond knowing, of the wonders you bring to birth in us, through us, and for us, in the name of the one who is the Star in the East. Amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent 4 Sunday: The Compassion of God

People, look East, and sing today! Love, the Guest is on the way!

December 20: O Clavis David! O Key of David!
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
We will be spending one more moment with Zechariah, and so our passage is Luke 1:78-79, the last sentence of the "Benedictus" ("Blessed"), New Revised Standard Version

78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

You can click here for Lectio Divina suggestions, and return for the meditation and prayer.


Today's meditation is very brief: it is a passage from this morning's sermon.

And here, we see how fatherhood has transformed Zechariah. Hidden in this verse (because you’d have to read Greek to find it) is an odd little word (splangchna)that literally means “entrails.” It’s an attempt to describe the feeling you get in your gut when you are moved by compassion for someone. When you see the face of someone in pain. When you hear the voice of someone crying. When you hold a beloved child—maybe the baby you thought you would never have—in your arms for the first time. It hits you in the gut. Zechariah sings it: the warmth, the deep down love and care that we know as a physical response. He gets it. He gets God’s love for us. (Elizabeth gets it too, but I imagine she’s resting now.) God’s loving gaze is shining on us, and it’s just like dawn breaking, like the welcome warmth of the rising sun after a long, cold, dark night. That warmth comes straight form the heart—or maybe the guts—of God.

"What Wondrous Love" sung by the St. Olaf Choir 


Compassionate God, your heart goes out to the suffering of your people, and you come close in love and mercy. Open our hearts to your way of being in the world, a way that truly speaks of your promised faithfulness made manifest. We pray in the name of the One who comes. Amen.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Advent 3 Saturday: Sing Out!

Grace and peace, as God kindles the lamps by which we see the promised salvation.

December 19: O Radix Jesse! O Root of Jesse!
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
Our reading this evening is Luke 1:67-80, in the New Revised Standard Version.
67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior[a] for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71     that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Scene from the animated film "The Promise" by Glorious Films.

You can click here for suggestions on doing Lectio Divina, and then return for the meditation and prayer.

At the end of the infancy story of John the Baptist comes the ecstatic prayer of his father. But it is a song; any time scripture is laid out in poetic format, we are "hearing" a song.

Zechariah endured nine months of his own silence-- inability to speak-- and his first utterance when his tongue is freed again is to sing these praises to God.

I'm struck at how the bulk of this prayer is about what God has already done. Some scripture nerd (a nerdier nerd than me) combed through the first 8 verses of this and found no fewer than 32 allusions and quotations from the Hebrew scriptures. They boil down to one claim, a claim that is arguably at the heart of the belief systems of the three Abrahamic traditions: God is faithful.

God is faithful. So faithful, that Zechariah must burst into song about it.

What makes you burst into song?

I always think of my college pal Steve S., who was known to enter a room singing,

"What a day this has been! What a rare mood I'm in! Why it's-- almost like being in love!"

Which, of course, would tend to suggest that.... he was in love. (Were you, Steve?)

And my entire seminary community raised, spontaneously, songs of communal lament on September 11, 2001.

Songs come forth from us when our emotions overwhelm us and mere words simply won't do the work of expressing what we feel. 

We tend to burst into songs at times when our hearts are filled with overwhelming emotion.

Zechariah is overwhelmed because: God is faithful.

God is faithful.

What makes you burst into song?

"Come Love Away" by the Bright Wings Chorus


Faithful God, hold us in that space between what you have promised and the world as we see it. Hold in our vision your place of delight and peace. We pray in the name of the root of Jesse: your child Jesus. Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent 3 Friday: Another Child is Born

God's dawn from on high shall break upon us.

December 18: O Adonai! O Lord!
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
Our scripture passage this evening is from the gospel of Luke 1:57-66, in the New Revised Standard Version.

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." 61 They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?" 

"The Visitation" by Jacques Daret (1404-1470)

You can click here for Lectio Divina instructions, and then return for the meditation and prayer.


This is such a biblical moment.

If that sounds like an odd way to single out a passage of the bible, consider this: the trope of the so-called "barren woman" having a child is used throughout scripture to show us both the power of God and the extraordinary nature of the child (always a male, sometimes two!).

And if Advent is leading us inexorably to our celebration of the incarnation-- God coming into the world as a human baby-- we certainly are being prepared appropriately for a story showing God's power and the extraordinary nature of that baby.

I really wish there were some biblical adoptions stories, though.

Well, there are. Abraham, when a baby is not forthcoming for him and Sarah, decides to adopt Eliezer of Damascus. (I'm betting that's a name you've never heard until this moment, or, maybe one you'd read but forgotten...) There's nothing wrong with Eliezer of Damascus, mind you. It's just... it's clearly not what God intends for Abraham and Sarah, which we learn because of how the story unfolds. 

I guess what I want to say, is, I wish there were some great biblical adoption stories. Stories about individuals whose worth, whose value, whose importance is not inseparable from their genetics. AND, stories in which the worth of women is not predicated on their giving birth to children (always, always, male children).

But this is what the ancient texts give us: a blissfully happy couple who, without the advantages offered by 21st century medical technology, manage to have a baby through the intervention of God.

God is powerful. The baby, John, will be extraordinary.

I just wish, once in a while, a "biblical" moment would not be at the cost of every woman who was not in a position to raise a baby to whom she'd given birth, nor of every child who was blessed to be raised by terrific adoptive parents.

"The Lord of the Dance" by the Dubliners


Great God of Might: Our lives are in your hands, and we trust you to bring to birth in those things that give us life. Give us your life, dear Lord! We pray in your holy name. Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent 3 Thursday: Privilege and Oppression

In these final days of Advent we begin with the "O antiphons," ancient prayers invoking many mystical titles given to Jesus Christ. 

O Sapientia! O Wisdom!
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Our scripture passage this evening is from the gospel of Luke 1:5-13, read in the New Revised Standard Version.

5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. 8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.

"Zechariah and the Angel" by William Blake

You can click here for Lectio Divina instructions, and then return for the meditation and the prayer.


I'm struck by the existence of privilege and oppression side by side in this family.

First, it is a family of priests, and at the time of the restored (second Temple), there was no higher honor in Israel. The priests could claim a lineage going back to Aaron, the brother of Moses, and they were responsible for the central action of worship: sacrifices offered to God at the altar.

This family has the distinction of having priestly lineage on both sides, with Zechariah tracing his back to a particular grandson of Aaron while Elizabeth traces hers to Aaron himself. (I confess, I don't know the significance. Does this mean that Elizabeth's claim is more august or Zechariah's? Couldn't tell you. I'll ask one of my rabbi friends and get back to you.)

And, of course, as the brief narrative tells us, their lineage may well come to a crashing halt, because Elizabeth is "barren."

It was always the woman's fault. The woman's womb was considered "ground" for the planting of the man's seed. If no children came from a union, the understanding was that it must be that the woman's "ground" was barren. It could never, possibly, in any way, be traced to the man.

Privilege and oppression, side by side.

An august lineage-- about to end-- and we know whose "fault" it is."

And an angel comes to bring what might be THE central tenet of the Good News: Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid of your aging bodies.... God is with you.

Do not be afraid of the stigma assigned to you by society....  God is with you.

Do not be afraid of the ongoing presence of Empire in all its forms.... God is with you.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

"Peace is Here" by Jars of Clay

God of the meek and the mighty, only your Wisdom can overcome the forces that cause us to fear. Be with us. Speak to us. Hold us in the dark places. Whisper your unaccountable wisdom: Peace is here. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent 3 Wednesday: The Temple of the Lord

Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.... a light no darkness can overcome!

Our reading this evening is from Luke 1:26-38; and also the Magnificat of Mary, 1:46-55. We are reading the Common English Bible translation.

26 When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, 27 to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” 29 She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. 36 Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. 37 Nothing is impossible for God.”
38 Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

"The Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Turner

Those who wish can click here for Lectio Divina instructions, and then return for the meditation, music, and prayer. 


Last Sunday, in the midst of the glory that was our church's Christmas cantata, I slipped in an odd little reading. (A fuller version of it was published as part of Sunday's meditation, "Home.") I guess, technically, our liturgist slipped it in. It was the one about King Cyrus of Persia, who suddenly had an idea so good he couldn't resist: Build Yahweh the Lord a House in Jerusalem. 

The background of the story is this: About seventy years early, another king, the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar, had destroyed the first Temple, the one built by Solomon.

Imagine the loss of your church. Imagine it burning down-- which, actually, happened here, a little over a hundred years ago. Then imagine that, along with the loss of the building, all the people who worked here... say, hundreds of us, thousands, even... were kidnapped, carried into exile.

Imagine, there was no other church. This was the only one.

Imagine, the loss of the church mean, in literal terms, that God had gone away. If there was no sanctuary for God to dwell in, then God was absent.


And then, seventy years later, another occupying ruler, Cyrus of Persia, decided to hedge his bets and let the Israelites have a Temple again. Let them go about their worship. Who knew? Maybe this God was a powerful God. Maybe this God would look kindly on Cyrus's other exploits.

They built it, but it was not the same. They built it, but some of the people, the older people, who remembered the Temple's former splendor, wept when they saw it. It wasn't the same. It would never be the same.

And then another five hundred years went by. And after that second Temple was destroyed-- because even Cyrus the King of the Persians was a man of flesh and blood, and his works were not eternal-- someone wrote down the words we know as the gospel of Luke.

And in that account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we read a story of a young woman named Mary, who would become another kind of Temple of the Lord.

A Temple not of stones, but of flesh.

A Temple, not of sacrifices, but of nurture, as a child was knitted together in its mother's womb.

A Temple, not made by the sweat of slaves, but of the frail form of a human being, who gave her consent, who, when asked by an angel, said, "Yes."

Behold, the Temple of the Lord: Young Mary.

"Young Mary" by Madeleine L'Engle

I know not all of that which I contain.
I'm small; I'm young; I fear the pain.
All is surprise: I am to be a mother.
That Holy Thing within me and no other
is Heaven's King whose lovely Love will reign.
My pain, his gaining my eternal gain
my fragile body holds Creation's Light;
its smallness shelters God's unbounded might.
The angel came and gave, did not explain.
I know not all of that which I contain.

"Magnificat" by the Daughters of Mary (Latin Chant)

46 Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49         because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50     He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
55     just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”


Great God, with whom nothing is impossible, let us praise you for wonders we cannot explain or understand. Let us magnify you with our words and our lives. Let us say "Yes." We pray in the name of the One who is coming. Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent 3 Tuesday: Sabbath

Peace, peace, peace.... to you, to yours, to our world. Peace.

Our reading this evening is Psalm 85, from the Common English Bible Translation.

85 Lord, you’ve been kind to your land;
    you’ve changed Jacob’s circumstances for the better.
You’ve forgiven your people’s wrongdoing;
    you’ve covered all their sins. Selah
You’ve stopped being furious;
    you’ve turned away from your burning anger.
You, the God who can save us, restore us!
    Stop being angry with us!
Will you be mad at us forever?
    Will you prolong your anger from one generation to the next?
Won’t you bring us back to life again
    so that your people can rejoice in you?
Show us your faithful love, Lord!
    Give us your salvation!
Let me hear what the Lord God says,
    because he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful ones.
    Don’t let them return to foolish ways.
God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him
    so that his glory can live in our land.
10 Faithful love and truth have met;
    righteousness and peace have kissed.
11 Truth springs up from the ground;
    righteousness gazes down from heaven.
12 Yes, the Lord gives what is good,
    and our land yields its produce.
13 Righteousness walks before God,
    making a road for his steps.

Those who wish to can click here for Lectio Divina instructions, and then return for the prayer.


On this day on which I slept very little, and have several deadlines looming, I am giving myself the gift of a sabbath from this very wonderful Advent practice. 

(I do love this psalm though. I love how it meanders between "God has forgiven us!" and "I sure do hope God will forgive us!" only to conclude with those beautiful verses of confidence, beginning with verse 10: 

"Faithful love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed."

May it be so, Lord. May it be so.)


Creator of all that is beautiful, delicious, and good; give us such a sense of your love for us, that we will know in our bones that faithful love and truth have met, and righteousness and peace have kissed, in this our day. We pray in your holy name: Amen.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Advent 3 Monday: An Open Door

Peace. The door is open. The fire is kindled. Draw near.

Our reading this evening is from Revelation 3:7-13, read in the Common English Bible translation.

Message to Philadelphia

“Write this to the angel of the church in Philadelphia:
These are the words of the one who is holy and true, who has the key of David. Whatever he opens, no one will shut; and whatever he shuts, no one opens. I know your works. Look! I have set in front of you an open door that no one can shut. You have so little power, and yet you have kept my word and haven’t denied my name. Because of this I will make the people from Satan’s synagogue (who say they are Jews and really aren’t, but are lying)—I will make them come and bow down at your feet and realize that I have loved you. 10 Because you kept my command to endure, I will keep you safe through the time of testing that is about to come over the whole world, to test those who live on earth. 11 I’m coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one takes your crown. 12 As for those who emerge victorious, I will make them pillars in the temple of my God, and they will never leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God. I will also write on them my own new name. 13 If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Those who wish can click here to find Lectio Divina suggestions, and then return for the meditation and prayer.


I'm tired today. I'm thinking of my friend Kimberly, who sings a song to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell," but whose lyrics are, "I'm tired enough to die! I'm tired enough to die!"

We'll probably, neither of us, die from tiredness. But, you get my point.

And, oh, what a wimp that makes me, since the church has been waiting.... waiting..... waiting....... for the return of Jesus for close on 2000 years. It makes my Adventian endurance (or lack thereof) seem pretty pathetic.

That word keeps coming up in our readings.... "endurance." It is something that garners praise from the writers of these ancient texts. It is something that wins a prize here... "I will keep you safe," says the writer to the First Church of the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love, "through all this... stuff that is coming."

My friend Laurie and I were exchanging heresies the other day, and I fessed up to my Not Knowing About All That, with regard to this promised (but really late) return of Jesus. Laurie fessed up to her own heresy, and then cheerfully said, "We can have a Heretics' Club in heaven!"

Which brings me to the Open Door, since, I think that's what this is all about. The door is open.... which I take to mean, that love of God we can, none of us, earn, not even if we believe with perfect faith the very best theology of the Return of Christ. Not even if we work all day, every day from now until midnight Christmas Eve. Not even if the tree is, literally, perfect. Not even if we do a thousand acts of charity, and buy presents for all the orphans.

We cannot earn this love which is already ours, because it is already ours.

So maybe we can rest, Kimberly, and Laurie, and you, and me. Maybe we can rest up just a little, and trust... even if it doesn't get done today.... the door is still open.

"Steal Away to Jesus", African American Spiritual, Sung by Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole


God of the weary and downcast, let us rest in you. God of the energetic and vibrant, fill us with your refreshment. God of mystery, hold us in your care, this evening, and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent 3 Sunday: Home

Peace to you, as the days grow darker and our Advent candles burn brighter.

Our scripture reading is from Ezra 1:1-4, 3:1-4 and 10-13, and we're reading the New Revised Standard Version. Ezra was one of the high priests in Jerusalem at the time of the return from exile and the rebuilding of the temple.

1:1 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: 2 "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; 4 and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem."

3:1 When the seventh month came, and the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered together in Jerusalem. 2 Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. 4 And they kept the festival of booths, as prescribed, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as required for each day.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

Those who wish can click here for instructions for Lectio Divina; you can return for the meditation and the prayer (not to mention the music). 


My 23-year-old daughter, doing an internship for the Big Mouse Corporation down south, recently described attending something that sounded suspiciously like Lessons and Carols. To her delight, it was narrated by a beloved celebrity. At a certain point he told the story of the composition of "Silent Night," and then a choir began to sing. Shortly thereafter the conductor turned to the congregation... I mean, audience.... and motioned for them to join in the singing. "And then," my daughter said to me, a thousand miles away, but sounding so close, "I began to weep."

The longing for home is potent. The situation of the Israelites attempting to return "home" after exile is more similar to someone returning to their Jersey shore neighborhood following hurricane Sandy than one coming home to the same house after a 4 month internship. 

And after the house is rebuilt, then what? Does it ever feel the same? Is there ever the same sense of safety and well-being? 

Yes. No. It's complicated.

Can we sing "For God is good, whose steadfast love endures forever..." at the same time we are weeping because we see what never can be again?

Can we weep and join in the chorus of strangers, each soul vibrating with its particular joyous and wrenching memories, singing "Silent Night"?

Can we live with the tension of our imperfect homes until we are at home in God?


O God of wilderness and exile, you choose to make your home with us. God of homecoming, help us to learn to make our home in you. We pray in the One who made humanity his home. Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent 2 Saturday: The Beginning of Birthpangs

Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.

Our scripture this evening is from the gospel of Matthew 24:1-14

1As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2Then he asked them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" 4Jesus answered them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Messiah!' and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

9"Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come." 

If you wish to continue with Lectio Divina, you can click here; then, you can return for the meditation and prayer.


The last time I gave birth (and these are 23-year-old memories, so bear with me), they surely did come like a thief in the night.

My baby was late, three weeks, by my calculations. My mother had, thus, been with me for a month, and I was withering under her watchful gaze, which was constant. I couldn't bear it. So I would grab the videos and run out to Blockbuster (Remember videos? Remember Blockbuster?), just to have twenty minutes alone, without my mom watching as if I were literally about to burst open like that poor man in "Alien."

So, one night, I went to the movies, to see "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me." That night I had fitful dreams, weird ones, reminiscent of David Lynchian scenarios. At 5:30 AM a contraction on the level of a shift in the San Andreas fault awakened me. 

I nudged my husband and said, "I'm in labor! I'm going to take a shower."

90 seconds later (give or take; I wasn't actually timing things yet), before I had even turned on the water, another contraction seized me. I decided to sit on the bed and see how things were going, and this time, I watched the clock. 30 second later, another contraction. 

I nudged my husband again, and said, "I think we'd better get to the hospital."

Joan Paulina was born an hour and 46 minutes later. The midwife was still in her street clothes.

It was kind of terrifying, and I'd done this before. 

The beginnings of the birthpangs are things that say, Hey. Hey. HEY. YOU. Pay attention.


This is it.

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" from the Liturgy of Saint James.
From Red Mountain Music


O God, this season we seek to control and manage everything from the lights we string to the smiles on the faces of our children. Teach us, O teach us, that Advent is about yielding to you, to the Great Mystery, and to allowing what you will, to come to birth. We pray in the name of your Word, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Advent 2 Friday: Mother Hen

Grace and peace, in the name of the One who is coming!

Our passage tonight is Matthew 23:27-39; we will be reading the Common English Bible translation.

2“How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs. They look beautiful on the outside. But inside they are full of dead bones and all kinds of filth. 28 In the same way you look righteous to people. But inside you are full of pretense and rebellion.
29 “How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 You say, ‘If we had lived in our ancestors’ days, we wouldn’t have joined them in killing the prophets.’ 31 You testify against yourselves that you are children of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, complete what your ancestors did. 33 You snakes! You children of snakes! How will you be able to escape the judgment of hell? 34 Therefore, look, I’m sending you prophets, wise people, and legal experts. Some of them you will kill and crucify. And some you will beat in your synagogues and chase from city to city. 35 Therefore, upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been poured out on the earth, from the blood of that righteous man Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. 36 I assure you that all these things will come upon this generation.

Crying over Jerusalem

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you. How often I wanted to gather your people together, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. 38  Look, your house is left to you deserted. 39  I tell you, you won’t see me until you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.”

If you wish to continue with Lectio Divina, you can click here, and then return for the meditation and prayer.


I think it's easy to get hung up on the "good guys/ bad guys" in the Biblical text, and the Pharisees usually have a big target on their backs where the gospels are concerned. But, the truth is, much of what comes out of Jesus' mouth (and Paul's) is very close if not identical to what we actually know about the Pharisees. To be honest, the Pharisees were just a group of people within Judaism who were seeking to be faithful.

But there's a lot of bad news in scripture for people like the Pharisees, and like me...  we professional religious folks. It is simply too easy to be hypocritical. We have this treasure in scripture, and we have Jesus (who is, in fact, the treasure in scripture), and it is so easy to read through the lenses of our own biases and needs and hatreds.

And, you know, it all comes down to this weeping God.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jesus laments. (Faithful people. Faithless people.)

You who kill the prophets. (We, who can't get outside our own notions of goodness to hear that We. Might. Be. Wrong.)

Here. Come here. Huddle close. Let me hold you. (He will feed his flock like a shepherd, and gather the lambs in his arms.)

Yes, I know, this is the song/ video I can't stop sharing. 
"Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" sung by Sufjan Stevens.
"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it..." What can I say? It speaks to me.


Take our hearts, O God who comes, and seal them. Give us the faithfulness we long for, so that we might be your people in a world so desperately in need of you. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Advent 2 Thursday: Angel

Kindle your lamp in us, Lord, and lead us safely home.

Our passage this evening is from Revelation 2:8-17; we are reading the Common English Bible translation.

Message to Smyrna

“Write this to the angel of the church in Smyrna:
These are the words of the one who is the first and the last, who died and came back to life: I know your hardship and poverty (though you are actually rich). I also know the hurtful things that have been spoken about you by those who say they are Jews (though they are not, but are really Satan’s synagogue). 10 Don’t be afraid of what you are going to suffer. Look! The devil is going to throw some of you into prison in order to test you. You will suffer hardship for ten days. Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Those who emerge victorious won’t be hurt by the second death.

Message to Pergamum

12 “Write this to the angel of the church in Pergamum:
These are the words of the one who has the sharp, two-edged sword: 13 I know that you are living right where Satan’s throne is. You are holding on to my name, and you didn’t break faith with me even at the time that Antipas, my faithful witness, was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have some there who follow Balaam’s teaching. Balaam had taught Balak to trip up the Israelites so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. 15 In the same way, you have some who follow the Nicolaitans’ teaching. 16 So change your hearts and lives. If you don’t, I am coming to you soon, and I will make war on them with the sword that comes from my mouth. 17 If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. I will give those who emerge victorious some of the hidden manna to eat. I will also give to each of them a white stone with a new name written on it, which no one knows except the one who receives it.
If you wish to continue with Lectio Divina, click here; after, you can return for the meditation and the prayer.


Wait, every church gets an angel?

These love letters, as I insist on calling them, are actually given to the 'angel of the church.'

So, every church gets an angel.

I wonder who our angel is?

Is it the woman who will be attending the meeting about refugee resettlement this afternoon?

Is it the gentleman who has been keeping the books for many, may years?

Is it the alto in the choir who is shy about singing a solo, but who loves to lift her voice in concert with others?

Is it the man who delivered flowers to a woman with dementia last week?

Is it the administrative assistant, without whom very little would get accomplished? 

Is it the man who gives of his time and talent in about six different areas?

Is it the child who will turn 1 in a month or so?

Is it the woman who sat in the back until she entered into God's embrace five years ago?

Is it all of these, and more?

Who is the angel of our church?

How do we hear the messages God is sending through our angel?

I wonder who our angel is?


God, you speak to us in the beauty of misty grey mountains and the sparkle of stars; you whisper in the notes of a hymn and in the Word proclaimed; you shout in the alarm of headlines and in the ache and weariness of our bodies. Help, us God, to hear you speaking through our particular angels; help us to hear, and respond, in the name of the One who is coming soon. Amen.