Word & word: 3 Lent 2016 – something is always falling

Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

fig tree

______________

 

This very day, quite likely before you read these words, you will have heard word of terrible events near and far – of war and bloodshed, of refugee children making their way through the winter of Europe, of gunfire taking the lives of innocents somewhere in our nation or another, of misunderstandings and refusal to listen to one another leading toward more of the same.

So it was, on its own scale, in the Israel of Jesus’ day as he walked among the people.  Long before 24-hour news stations bad news traveled faster than good, and so people come to Jesus to share news about the cruelty of the Roman Governor toward people of Jesus’ own province.  Jesus acknowledges this had occurred and then added bad news he himself had heard, of the collapse of a tower that took the live of 18 people at Siloam.

We might be likely, on hearing similar news in our day, to speak of the apparently random suffering of the innocent.  While Jesus neither says nor implies that those who had suffered at Pilate’s hands or in the tower collapse were any more guilty than anyone else, he does indicate that news like this is a reminder to the living, to all of us, to repent.  That is, to make change in life.  Or even deeper, to allow our mind to be renewed.  To allow the mind in us to be the mind that is in Christ (Philippians 2).

I say allow because the God-given gift, the grace to change in this way, to repent, to be made new, is always available.  It is as much in the air as the light of this morning.  The fig tree in the parable is not far away.  To see its roots, we need only look to the things we are rooted in, what is most central to us, to the ways in which we spend our time and energy. Is there good fruit coming from the ‘tree’ planted in God’s garden that is I?

Since something falls everyday, and there will always be authorities misusing their power, I had better be attentive today.

~ JP McGinty

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Manhattan Muir

Brooklyn Bridge
Roebling’s Bridge (Brooklyn NY)

 

In my head echo the Muir Woods

Ancient, silent, changing yes,

but at a pace no one living can see.

Creation, stately, profound, not to be moved.

 

Around me sounds the vast city

Ever new, abounding in cacophony,

shifting constantly, as often as stocks rise and fall,

a babel, imposing and imposed, never still.

 

Between the two . . .

muir-woods
Muir Woods (SanFrancisco, CA)

me.

It is no simple easy

to build a bridge.

Ask Washington Roebling.

 

 

 

Manhattan1
The City

Word & word 2 Lent 2016: the invitation home from exile

Word & word

2 Sunday of Lent

February 21, 2016

Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)

What strength and confidence Jesus consistently shows before the powers of his day, whether governmental or religious. Warned of Herod’s intent to destroy him, as the prior Herod had attempted in Jesus’ infancy, this time there is no flight into Egypt, no exile.

Rather, in his forthright bold response – “Go and tell that fox for me…” – there lies the revelation that Herod, and the city of Jerusalem, are themselves in exile. They may be situated at the expected place on the surface of the earth, but their hearts are nonetheless exiled. Exiled from their own truest selves and best potential.  Exiled from the loving relationship God is offering them. Exiled from the future God intends.

Here is both challenge and invitation. Why might I presume that I am where I should be in relation to God, to community, to the potential of days to come? Might I too not be in exile, and blind to it?

Jesus’ expressed desire to gather us together is a part of the work of healing he undertakes today, tomorrow, and the until the third day. Are we willing to be brought together?

~ J.P. McGinty

 Herod Antipas

[Image from biblicalarcheology.org]

Word & word. 1st Sunday of Lent ’16

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

from the Gospel according to Luke 4:1-13

Are there times when good and evil somehow cooperate with one another?

It is fascinating that ‘filled with the Holy Spirit,’ and ‘led,’ (or as it is sometimes translated ‘driven’) by the Spirit, Jesus is moved following his baptism directly into a place of loneliness and privation.  But even more than that, he is driven directly into the sights of the devil who stands ready and eager to engage him in conversation.

Rather than this being a kind of instance of cooperation between good and evil, it might be better seen as a moment in which the devil unwittingly is co-opted by the Spirit for the sake of good.  The devil believes, alone with Jesus whom he testifies in effect is indeed ‘the Son of God,’ that he [Satan] is in charge and setting the agenda as he puts one temptation after the other in Jesus’ way.

But there is deeper agency here.  Underneath the devil’s promptings the Spirit of God, the Spirit that animates and moves Jesus, can be seen using the devil to bring the Son of God to a point of readiness to open his ministry.  Jesus is brought by these 40 days of hunger and temptation in the desert to the perfect expression of self-offering to what the Father asks of him, not what Satan asks of him, nor what his own humanity might choose.

Jesus chooses to trust the Father in the Spirit to nourish him, to give him what he needs to carry out his mission, to protect him from ultimate harm, even when ultimate harm will indeed be visited upon him.

There is great hope here as Lent begins for we who live on this same earth of deserts and hungers and temptations today. Evil still goes about doing its harm, planning its triumph. It does not realize even yet that its power is illusory and that Another is guiding all things to the good (Romans 8).  Every day the news we hear is full of the apparent advance of the agenda of disunity, of violence, of heartbreak, and death.

Through it all, we are being polished bright, burnished by the wing of the Spirit to shine in the world, to reflect the everlasting light of the good God who will not allow anything less than the full-throated shout of joy to be the final word of this creation and the first and lasting word of a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1-7).

Botticelli, detail 2
Three Temptations of Christ, detail (1481-82) fresco by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). Sistine Chapel, the Vatican
  • JP McGinty

Talking Buses & What About Churches

  The corner I live on in Nassau County, Long Island, New York features a bus stop. A good number of men and women arrive in the neighborhood every day on that line, and a like number board here to reach further destinations.

These buses talk. As they pull up to the stop each bus, in the same feminine Midwestern voice, announces where it is heading. Often too, it voices a warning to be cautious as the big people-mover once more moves away from the curb.

What the bus is really doing is announcing its identity and its destination. Clearly, reliably, unmistakably.

I realize the life of the church is a bit more complex. And underneath whatever the church may declare about itself there always remains a considerable substratum of mystery. So it should and must be.

And yet, though I do not board the buses at my corner, there is something admirable about their ability to share their identity and destination with such helpful clarity. I know what it it is ANF why it is here and that is of assistance to me or anyone looking to get somewhere soon.

Rather than say who we are and where we are heading, rather than state what makes us who we are (as best we can) and what our destination is, we in the church seem too often to engage in strategies and techniques promising to make us the’belle of the ball’ again.  

Perhaps instead we might, at least in a metaphorical sense, get on board the bus and speak plainly.

John McGinty