Monday, January 10, 2022

Year C Epiphany 1 WED 2022 Ecce Homo

 Year C Epiphany 1 WEDNESDAY, 12 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Ecce Homo”


Collect: O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


John 1:29-42

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated

means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).


The season of Epiphany is all about the declaration to the world who this person Jesus is.


Often the portrayal of Jesus in paintings is entitled, Ecce Homo quoting Pontius Pilate after Jesus’ scourging. The Latin comes from St. Jerome’s Vulgate. “Behold the man!”





We see several seeing Jesus for who he is in our reading.


John declares that he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and that he is the “Lamb of God.” The vision that he received made it clear for him that he was the one.


Then John shared it with two of his followers. One of them was St. Andrew, who shared it with his brother, St. Peter.


We all have ways we were given the image of this one, the Man, the Messiah. We all also have ways we tell the world how we understand and how seriously we take this one, however we see him.


How do we declare who Jesus is? How do our lives say, “Behold the Man!”


Pilate respected Jesus, and had a grudging admiration of him. It was hard to let him go, and he was not willing to take the political fallout for releasing him.


We have a hard time knowing how what we live and what we project will be seen and heard. But that is not our responsibility. We trust the Holy Spirit to precede us, and to lay the groundwork for what our recipients need to see and hear. Just like John the Baptizer. He heard the Spirit, and it was confirmed by the events at hand.


As has been said to be an apocryphal statement of St. Francis, “Preach at all times, when necessary use words.” How does your life preach the Christ?


Think on that today.


Protect yourself, friends. How we behave and care for one another during these crazy days shows how seriously we take the mandate of Christ to care for the “least of these.” Amen


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Year C Christmas 2 WEDNESDAY 2022 Unbind Us

Year C 2nd Sunday of Christmas WEDNESDAY, 5 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Unbind Us”


Collect: O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


John 11:17-27,38-44

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

So here we are again. We are delayed today because we have icy roads, and the schools are opening late. I am actually glad. We are now 5 times higher on the infection rate that shut us down not even a year ago. There are more cases now than at the worst of the last year and a half. I trust that it will be no surprise when we have to make the call to suspend in-person gatherings for a time.

And here we are contemplating resurrection. I wish we could be like Lazarus, and despite our stink, despite what appears to be our imminent demise, despite all the fuss, we could have the stone rolled back, and we could hear Jesus words commanding, “Unbind them, and let them go!”

Now Lazarus did nothing to make this happen, he had just been faithful in what he was responsible for, caring for his sisters and responding to Jesus’ teachings about his way of loving and following and serving God.

Jesus considered him and his sisters friends. And Jesus even wept at the word that Lazarus had died.

I think on the things that I do or that I left undone that brings Jesus to tears.

My prayer is that this time of stink, this time of what seems to be decay and our demise, our time of grief and heartbreak, and death, that we will be faithful as Lazarus was, and that we will be ready for resurrection when it is offered. If it is.

Resurrection is rare biblically, with only a few examples ever mentioned. But one thing that is throughout Scripture is that even in the worst of times, in times of war, or famine, or death, God prevails. A righteous remnant always is saved and left to carry on the faith in the living God. Think on Noah, the prophets, the Babylonian Exile. God always finds a way around the horror and the heartbreak. And even when they attempt to kill the very God that saves the righteous remnant, even there, we are give a Resurrected Lord.


That is my hope. That is the faith I preach and teach. That is the unique heart of our Good News.


In these dark days, hold onto that light. Hold onto that Hope. That is the heartbeat of Lazarus, and may it be ours as well.

Have Hope. Fear Not. Amen



Sunday, January 2, 2022

Year C Holy Name Observed 2022 Creator-Sets-Free

 Year C Holy Name (Observed), 2 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Creator-Sets-Free”


Collect: Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Luke 2:15-21

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.


Words mean things. That is one reason why you hear me talk about etymology so much, the roots and inherent meanings of words. Words are where I live my life, consuming them, sharing them. I love breaking down words and seeing the ingredients. It is like when you taste something new and you try to pick out the ingredients the cook used even though your mouth is being overwhelmed by the mixture and new interactions.


Even more than words, Names are so important. One of the greatest burdens as new parents weas naming our new children. For both of our kids, we narrowed it down to a handful before they were born. Our oldest, when born, was premature. She was almost 6 hours old before we could even see her. A nurse came in and asked what we had decided to name her and Stephanie, obviously irritated said curtly, “I am not going to name her before I hold her!” Because of the shift change, the nurse was not aware of this and helped remedy the situation immediately. And once we held this precious one, our guts confirmed it independent of one another. And we named our child.


As an English teacher I loved looking up the meanings of the character’s and how we shape identity with the names authors pick. Some are for meaning. Some for a feeling. Think of it, would Ebenezer Scrooge be as Scrooge-y if his name were not Scrooge. 


Think on your name. What meaning and purpose does it give you? My given name is Jeffrey, God’s peace, but very few of you ever call me that, much less even knew it. A nickname was given to me in college and it stuck. In my 50s I still use it. It has become an identity, it has become my self-perception. Rock, and I had it before Dwayne Johnson ever started using it.


In Jesus day, one often kept family names, so this angelic imperative was different. For both Jesus and his cousin John. The Messengers declared the names they were to be called. Names mean things. This was important.


The Holy Name of Jesus comes from the Hebrew name Yeshua/Y'shua, which is based on the Semitic root y-š-ʕ (Hebrew: ישע), meaning "to deliver; to rescue." In Hebrew it is often written as Joshua. In short it could be “YHWH Saves” or simply “God Saves.”


Focusing on the meaning of the names is culturally different. A fascinating new translation of the New Testament has just come out that makes this very clear. 


Now when people do translations of Scripture, they have a few choices to make. Is it going to be a literal translation? Word for word? If so it is often clunky and it can make no sense in a new culture. Think of a society that does not have sheep. When Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” how does one translate that? Do you find a cultural equivalent herd animal? Llamas? Reindeer? If you do then it becomes more of a thought translation which is very different as the translator’s understanding, biases, and opinions come into play. So I was excited to hear about this new translation looking at our native populations. 


A First Nations Version writes to the indigenous peoples of our country, and follows the tradition of saying the meaning of a person’s label, and that is the name. In our culture, names are mostly just sounds. We do not think on what they mean when we say them. In reading the Scripture with Names-Spelled-Out, it gives a powerfully different reading. The reading from today’s Gospel shows this…


When the messengers (angels) returned to the spirit-world above, the shepherds said to each other, “Let us go and see this great thing Creator has told us.” So the hurried to the village of the Chief Much-Loved-One (David) and found Bitter-Tears (Mary), He-Gives-Sons (Joseph), and the child, who, just as they were told, was lying in a feeding trough!

The shepherds began to tell everyone what they had seen and heard about the child, and all who heard the story were amazed.

Bitter-Tears (Mary) kept these things hidden in her heart and wondered what all this would mean. The shepherds returned to the fields, giving thanks to the Great Spirit for the wonders they had seen and heard.


Adding the meaning into each and every sentence makes us listen again for the first time. It breaks the rhythm we expect, and makes us ponder the narrative in every word. Jesus becomes Creator-Sets-Free in this translation. Jerusalem becomes Village-of-Peace. Even the name of the Gospel of Luke is enhanced, as it is called Shining-Light Tells The Good Story. With Luke’s emphasis of bringing the light of God to the world, this fits so well.


It is so easy for us to gloss over the meaning of what we talk about because it is old hat to us. Most of us have heard the Good News so long and so intensely, that we forget how Good it is and even more that it is NEWS!


We need to remind ourselves of how precious and miraculous what we share with the world is.




One of the great gifts of the story we tell is the intentionality and patience of God. As our Galatians reading opens, it says “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son…” Galatians 4:4 


Like waiting for dough to rise, the Divine waited for the perfect time and place to insert the leverage of Grace to impact the world. 


In naming the baby Jesus, a declaration was being made. Yeshua, God-Saves, Creator-Sets-Free, Jesus. With every invocation of his name, we make a proclamation. In the Roman Empire, the phrase at the time of Jesus’ birth is Caesar is Lord. One of the earliest creeds of the Church went against that. “Jesus is Lord,” they would boldly declare, throwing down the gauntlet to the powers that be and the state of the world they found themselves in.


In Antioch, in an attempt to mock the early church, the followers of “The Way” as they called themselves first started being called Christians, little Christs, little Messiahs. It was said in derision and used to belittle. But names mean things. It became an identity, it has become our self-perception. In the name of God-Saves Messiah, Jesus the Christ, we see our role in the world as continuing down through history the work he started and left for us to do. We take on the name of Jesus, and we do what we do in his name. We pray in his name. We serve in his name. And today, we honor the Holy Name, the name given him in the Temple at his circumcision when he was first dedicated to God.


We do the same when we baptize, naming them and dedicating them to God. I say the name they will be called, and mark them as Christ’s own forever.


One of the beautiful promises to believers in John’s Revelation is in the letter to the Church at Pergamum, 

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. [Revelation 2:17]

 

God has a special name for you, one that only God knows. A love name. A name for a Beloved. You may have or had one with your special someone. God feels the same way about us.


As we ponder this special, this precious, this Holy Name, may we appreciate and glory in it as we can.


As the old hymn sings out:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

Sweetest name I know

Fills my every longing

Keeps me singing as I go. Amen