Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
and his mercy endures for ever.
Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim *
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.
In our readings today, we hear about the far-reaching effects of sin, and God’s continual efforts to save humanity from those effects. In each of these passages, sin is not envisioned as simple wrong-doing, as if Adam and Eve’s problem was merely that they broke one of the club rules of the Garden of Eden, and as a result lost their voting rights.
Rather, all three passages focus on sin as a way of life, a state of being disconnected from God. For the Israelites in the desert, sin is like a poison from which there’s no cure but to cry aloud to God; for Paul as he writes to the Christians in Ephesus, sin is a state of death, but God’s grace returns us to life; for Jesus in John’s gospel, sin is the adversary who condemns us, and out of compassion, Jesus takes on a human life in order to save us from that condemnation.
The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.
More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.
By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.
The great St. Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, asks us this morning, “Where is the one who is wise?. . . Where is the debater of this age?”
It seems that we live in a time saturated by debate. It’s not that fierce debate is new; rather, ours is a time of endless debate. And I often wonder if all of this debate ever goes anywhere.
In the final installation of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling weaves what seems to be a simple fable into the larger narrative of Harry and his friends‘ struggle with their nemesis, Voldemort. In fact, many around Harry dismiss this story as a mere children’s tale.
The story goes something like this:
Three brothers came to a river that had no bridge, and was for the most part uncrossable. After these brothers constructed a bridge with magic, Death appeared to them half-way across the bridge. He was frustrated that the brothers had evaded him. But Death was subtle. He offered them each a gift of their choosing. The first brother asked for a wand that couldn’t be defeated. The second brother asked for a stone that could bring people back from Death’s clutches. The third brother asked for a cloak that would allow him to leave undetected.
Isaiah 40:21-31; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
Vocation is a tricky thing. As a college professor, I am an advisor for a handful of first-year students. It is rewarding for me to gently steer my students toward careers that will be fulfilling. Generally, we want to help them think critically and self-reflectively about their intended major, and their future careers. Most of the time this requires a willingness on their part to explore, to be open minded, to be up for new experiences. So often students choose the major they do because someone in their life – ahem, parents – have told them which career path will be the most marketable, have the most earning potential, the surest bet for a comfortable and stable career.
But sometimes, I’ll get a student who has a calling, who feels pulled toward something bigger than themselves, their family, or even the expectations that have been placed on them by whomever. And, as many of you know, the kind of vocation that this student will pursue does not have a high earning potential, or even a clear career path. The one called to this vocation follows this calling not for any material comfort or reward that it will bring them. Rather, they follow their calling, much as I have and I’m sure many of you have, because of the intrinsic satisfaction it brings, or at least it should bring. Typically, these students see a need, and they know that attending to that need will be far more gratifying than anything else that they could do.
With the New Year, I’ve decided to indulge you, my vast army of readers, in a brief update on my whereabouts and activities.
In Wes Anderson’s 2001 film, the Royal Tenenbaum’s, the title character, Royal Tenenbaum, played by Gene Hackman, is a quick witted, narcissistic, and failed lawyer. Broke and recently ejected from the hotel in which he had lived for decades, Royal cons his estranged family into believing that he is dying of cancer, in the hopes that they’ll let him move back in to the family house. When they discover the fraud, they kick him out again. Standing next to the cab, he exclaims to his son, “I feel like a different person, I really do.” Confused and a little exasperated, his son replies, “Dad, you were never dying.” Royal enthusiastically exclaims, “but I’m gonna live!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a textbook case of a false gospel. Royal deceives his family, and once they are on to him, he tries to deceive them a second time with good news.
Proper 29, Christ the King Sunday
Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
This Sunday is the last of the Church year. In some Church calendars it is called Christ the King Sunday. Next Sunday we begin the new church year with Advent, a season that for a long time now the Church has recognized as a time of preparation.
For what are we preparing, you may ask? I spoke with my kids about this briefly yesterday. After we joked about preparing for gifts, for Santa, for good food, for time off school, one of them eventually asked, why do we need to prepare for Jesus’ birth. It happened already. Aren’t we just remembering?
Aren’t we just remembering?