That Moment, Part I

Luke 4:14-21 – the Third Sunday after Epiphany – for January 27, 2013

“The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” (Luke 4:20)

Reading ScrollIt is that moment.

Jesus stands in a synagogue on the Sabbath, the people in the crowded space gazing at him, and reads from Isaiah.

But this is not just any synagogue in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, it is the place of worship in Jesus’ hometown . . . where he had been brought up, the Gospel reminds the reader. He is in a familiar room, once seen through the eager or bored eyes of youth, once a place where his mother and father were protectively near him, once a place where—like all children—he could easily vanish behind an adult’s broad back or say something insightful and have everyone focus their attention on him. This was home. These were friends.

He’s Joseph and Mary’s kid.

He’s the carpenter’s son.

In a village, wouldn’t everyone have a memory? He’s the kid with the quick wit, the far-away look, the sad eyes and infectious laugh. A hundred distinctive voices could say, I remember when . . . Jesus ran home, chased by an angry hive of bees or when he stayed by Joseph’s side and helped his old man finish a carpentry project or was the one who found that lost lamb after it wandered away from the flock. They would remember. He was one of theirs. All of them in the sweltering, stark place of worship had yelled at, nodded to, chatted with, scolded, praised and greeted the boy Jesus.

Now something’s different.

He’s a man. Grown. Up.

Rumors about Joseph and Mary’s son include an encounter with the oddball John in the River Jordan.

There are snippets of discussion about the length of time he wandered in the wilderness. All by himself, some said. Didn’t take any food, others said. Gone for weeks. No, it was only for days. Never happened, a few are convinced. They might argue this, but no one had asked Jesus how long, where, why, or even if. Sometimes, isn’t it more fun to gossip and speculate? Continue reading →

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An Awkward Silence, Please

Isaiah 6:1-8 – First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Trinity Sunday – for June 3, 2012

“Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar…” (Isaiah 6:6)

Most Bibles, regardless of the translation, contain footnotes . . . and for good reason.

Thousands of ancient manuscripts, from fragments to fully intact books, were used to compile the “Old” and “New” Testaments. Some documents had multiple versions of the same verses and a footnote highlighted the different sentences or words. One well-known example is the end of Mark’s Gospel. Does Mark officially end at 16:8 or, because of other reputable, and very early, source material, does it end at Mark 16:20? That footnoted example is not one of a few, but one of thousands found on the pages of the “sacred text.”

Frankly, I’d love to create a personal footnoted version of scripture to make the Bible less intimidating! Since I read the 6th chapter of Isaiah this week, I’ll use the “Old” Testament prophet for my example . . .

6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’A,B,C And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

ASome authorities add:  And I looked around, hoping the seraph did not mean me, but it became clear I was the only one in the throne room of the Holy of Holies.

BOthers include:  And verily, desirous of pleasing the Lord and yet fearful of making a mistake, I kept mute until the seraph smote me with its sixth wing.

CA few reliable sources instead read:  And I said, ‘Why not choose Hosea or Jeremiah? I predict they will be excellent prophets for any task the Lord God Almighty might desire.

This passage from Isaiah, a vision of angels, divine thrones and fiery coals able to burn away guilt, is one of the Bible’s best-known call passages. Who will I send, God asks. As written, the Hebrew prophet answered quickly and boldly. Why couldn’t Isaiah be more like me? Have him hem and haw when God calls. Or how about an awkward silence when God asks, “Whom shall I send?”

Or . . . a response from Isaiah like, Let me pray about it before I give you an answer. Truthfully, that’s often what I prefer before tough decisions. I need time for self-reflection and a selfless openness to God’s gift of a new future. Or, more truthfully, I plead Let me pray . . . to buy a few extra minutes hoping the Lord God Almighty will come to His or Her Holy Senses and realize I’m the worst person possible to respond to God’s call for witnessing or whatevering.

About a month ago the director of the Center for Grief & Healing program asked me to consider a part-time position at the hospice where I’d been volunteering. I knew the potential job meant I’d likely continue making phone calls to grieving families, but there might be additional responsibilities. I asked for a job description. The director emailed it to me the next day, a Friday. My first glance at the document caused me to think it was a boilerplate form, not yet including all the details. On my third or fourth read-through, I noticed the title on the job description included Angel Babies.

Gulp. The Center for Grief & Healing also supervised the Angel Babies program . . .

The Angel Babies program offers a perinatal hospice program designed for families whose unborn child has been diagnosed with a terminal condition, offering support during pregnancy and providing ideas for creating loving memories… Continue reading →

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Am I Not Entering Holy Ground?

Did my red socks display jolly Santas, lush Christmas trees or singing angels?

I don’t remember. I’ve worn and worn out many festive socks over the years.

Toes are getting a bit thin from these "veteran" socks!

Advent’s Third Word: WITNESS!

But I recall the snow, my December breath adrift like a miniature cloud, the long tramp from the driveway to their house. An hour or so outside of Madison, Wisconsin, the brittle night air contains the smell of cattle from the barn as my footsteps crunch on the icy path leading to the front door.

I also don’t remember who answered. His teenaged daughter? His wife? His brother from the next farm over?

“I’m Larry,” I say. “I had called and asked–”

“Yes, of course, come inside before you freeze. We’re glad you came.”

I entered a home I’d never been to before, and shook the hand of a stranger. In my faulty memory I can’t be sure if the friendly hand grasping mine was the daughter, wife or brother, but I certainly felt welcomed. Other family members voiced their greetings. An unseen Christmas tree cast splinters of red and green light against the wall. Evidence of baking, maybe cookies, teased my nose.

Someone offered to take my coat. Then, after a cleared throat, one of my greeters quietly asked, “Could you take your shoes off?”

They gestured toward the entryway floor. Work boots, clogs, running shoes and other footwear rested on a throw rug. I shrugged off my shoes and added them to the mix. Especially in a Midwest winter, a season of mud and snow and ice, this wasn’t unusual. Removing shoes helped in the battle for a clean house.

With my Advent/Christmas socks obvious, I padded into the living room, accompanied by members of the family. Everyone glanced at my feet, at those Santas or singing angels prancing against a bright red background. A Christmas tree anchored a corner, across from the fireplace. There was a sofa, several chairs and a hospital bed.

His wife said to me, eyes unblinking, voice strong, “This is John. He’s so looking forward to meeting you.” Continue reading →

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