Crossing Over - Joseph Wood

Today is Holy Cross Day--or, more fully, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross--one of the major feasts of the church year. Historically, it’s associated with the September 14, 335 dedication of a complex of buildings established by Emperor Constantine on the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. This first Church of the Holy Sepulcher included a large basilica and a circular church, and its initial construction was overseen by Helena, Constantine’s mother. During the excavations, a relic was discovered that was believed to be the true cross. In the late fourth-century, the pilgrim Egeria described such a cross in her detailed account of her journey to the Holy Land and experiences of the religious rituals taking place in and around Jerusalem at the time. (In fact, she mentions that there was by then a deacon guarding the cross when it was on display for veneration, because an enterprising visitor had stolen a bite of the cross when they went down to kiss it.) The feast has also been associated with the exposition of that or a similar cross in Jerusalem in the seventh century following its return by Emperor Heraclius, who recovered the artifact from the Persians after the first Church of the Holy Sepulcher was destroyed and the cross taken in 614. Although the authenticity of the relics is much disputed in modern times, Holy Cross Day still marks a moment for us to remember that “our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself,” just as we “who glory in the mystery of our redemption” are called to “to take up our cross and follow him.” (BCP 244)

The only problem is that, even as the feast itself is quite ancient, the Book of Common Prayer 1979 is the first one to include its commemoration. Why this seeming laxity on the part of our Anglican forbearers? What does our traditional avoidance of this holiday signify? I think it’s because the cross makes us uncomfortable, unsettles our ideas of what it means to be a Christian in this day and age--let alone a Protestant. How are we supposed to claim to be children of the Enlightenment when our worship is centered around an instrument of torture and execution on the part of empire, on the part of Rome? How can we in good conscience talk about taking up our crosses when history is littered with examples of the Church perpetuating similar suffering in the name of our collective salvation?

I don’t have any simple answers to those questions, because they’re ones that have troubled me for years. Coming out of my Roman Catholic days, I too was leery of allowing such cruciform-ity to shape my faith. I prayed that there was a different way to celebrate the wonderful work of our Lord in the world, remaking us into something glorious and new. I prayed for a redemption that didn’t include oppression, didn’t include the death of an innocent victim. Yet, as you’ve heard me preach before, we cannot talk about the brilliance of Easter without the darkness of Good Friday, and we cannot remove the cross from the heart of our faith. The downfall is when we let it become the last word, the static symbol of Christianity disconnected from all that came before and after. The cross isn’t about the demands of a bloodthirsty God, but the Divine reflecting back to us how easily we give into our basest instincts and our worst fears. The cross is the symbol par excellence of our own sinfulness, and turning our gaze only seems to avoid its inevitable truth. We are called to take up our crosses not suffer, though suffering will inevitably be a part of the work. We are called to take up our crosses and follow Christ into a new way of being, choosing life when so much of our culture says death. (As the founder of Latin American liberation theology, Gustavo Gutiérrez, described: “...It is those who refuse to see that the salvation of Christ is a radical liberation from all misery, all despoliation, all alienation.”) It is only when the latter falls silent that the world will well and wholly be redeemed, and we will find that we have all drawn near to our Savior at last. However you do or don’t celebrate Holy Cross Day, remember that there’s more to the story. Remember that we are called to follow Jesus towards a day with no more crosses.

Come On Back - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

You may remember the catch phrase “Come on down” from the television show The Price is Right. Bob Barker would call out a name and invite the person to come to the stage to guess the price of some item--it was kind of silly fun.

Summer has come to its accepted, if not official, end on Labor Day, and now I want to invite folks to “Come on back.” There is always a summer lull in churches when people are away or engaged in summer activities while children are out of school. Or others just take the summer off, sleeping in, reading the newspaper, spending time with friends, walking the dog, whatever.  

I don’t need to tell you it has been a time of turmoil and transition for Emmanuel. Perhaps some of you are not here because you could not bear the tension or you just wanted church to be a safe place. Some of you are angry or confused by what was going on. Those are quite real reactions to life here. In the past several weeks, we have been trying to address the issues facing us as we move ahead with the choice of a new priest to lead us. Responses to the survey which was sent to all parishioners are now being compiled, and we will discuss them at the forum on Sunday. Thanks to all who were a part of that effort or have otherwise shared your voice in the conversation.

But I want you to know that things are happening at Emmanuel. The parish responded generously to the annual Backpack Project, and a wonderful mix of folks prepared the backpacks and other school supplies for children across Baltimore headed back to school. Our organ scholar, Jordan Prescott, is back, regularly filling the building with music as he practices; the staff is engaged in preparing for Sunday and for the coming weeks and months. Folks have been here measuring and surveying the building with so that we can move ahead with the Accessibility Project and our commitment to making the buildings more welcoming to all. A plasterer is making much needed repairs in the Gallery and in the Peace Chapel. Without wearing blinders or being naive, we are looking ahead.  

The Wednesday noonday Eucharist resumes on September 12, and there are plans in the works to have an adult education component sometime in the fall.  As I mentioned, the Forum resumes this Sunday with a session lead by our Senior Warden on what we are hearing from you and our shared hope for Emmanuel. Our splendid choir also returns on Sunday, enriching and enhancing our worship. We are putting in place our Stewardship efforts for the coming year.

On a personal note, I will be here through Sunday, September 16th, and then Tim and I are off for a long-planned trip to France. I return on October 21st and will be here as your Interim Rector until the search process is completed.

If you have been dis-engaged, please re-engage. If you have been here all along, thank you.  All of you, come on back as we look forward to a new season in the life of this wonderful parish.

— Jim Holmes

Solace & Strength - Timothy A. Sabin

"Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal."

The question remains after 60 years: who made the better peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches? I say it was Mrs Farrington, who was very generous with the marshmallow and let us enjoy that airy nothingness called Wonder Bread. On the other hand, Mrs Jordan was sparing of the fluff, heavy on the protein-laden peanut butter, and always spread the filling on the health food of 1958, Roman Meal whole-wheat bread. The sandwiches were served in abundance at all Sunday School functions of the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church. I have in mind today particular memories of this richness when we kids sat outside in the Sukkot Booth; ate too many sandwiches; swilled far too much Orange Crush soda; and listened to the Rev'd Mr. Staples tell us about our Jewish heritage. Yes, I speak of the Jewish heritage that we little Methodists shared with the Lord Jesus. Jesus was our friend and companion, and he wanted us not just to love his people but to tell their great stories.

No Christmas passed without our hearing of Hanukkah; for Easter we marched through the Red Sea waters with our hero Moses. And no hint of autumn blessed the Maine summer air, nor did  golden leaves fall among the slate-marked graves of mouldering Yankees outside the white clapboard church, none of this lightly touched the summer-tired senses of Sunday School ladies and their charges without our happy pilgrim adventure, the Feast of Tabernacles.

That feast, commonly known as “Sukkot”, or “Tents”, is one of the three primordial and primary events of Jewish life, along with Passover and Pentecost. The authority for the Feast is found in Exodus and in Leviticus. The former: “…[t]hou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.” The latter more spiritual: “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days…that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt…”

So the Farrington, Jordan, and Olson men built a frame against the church while the rest of us waited with boughs of scent-rich white pine to adorn the finest booth in all of New England--well, if not the finest, perhaps the only one at a Methodist Church.

We loved the great Jewish stories our fathers told and our mothers sang. We cherished the human and humane Methodism taught by Mr. Staples that was set to universal harmony by “This is my Father’s World”, and the first lessons in Judaism which left us singing early praises to the Lord, the kindly Lover of Israel. I grew from those days of late childhood and early adolescence to be a Methodist and a Jew--as I must tell you, I still am.

It is a pretty picture. Yet now how easy to be tired and worn out and fed up. When illness or accident strikes what was a secure and comfortable home, when BBC America reports horrors in the next street and throughout the globe, it is little wonder that we feel God has thrown our booth of pine into the dustbin. Our Father’s world is replete, even more than with natural disasters, with man-made tragedies. Faith, hope, charity dissolve into a mire of doubt, fear, and resentment. The journey often seems too hard to bear.

But just then we are obliged by our Christian commitment to say we need help. To ask for solace and strength. For just a moment of simple comfort. For one of Mrs Farrington’s gooey sandwiches. There’s no fault in ducking under the pine boughs for quiet time in the booth.

Yet we sit in the booth next to the Lord Jesus, who lived through such as we live through now; died to it; and rose above it. Hearing such solace, we want to build him an even greater booth, which will be a mansion right here where we can stay with Him forever. He tells us, however, to grasp an urgent truth: His coming then and still today has as its purpose to endow us with the strength to leave the booth and be about our business. The sweet-scented tabernacle must be torn down.

Yes, we need and must have refreshment, solace, rest. We may relax in the booths of the Hebrew fathers and mothers and the rabbi Jesus. But refreshed for the journey, and confident that the Table is ready for us, we must leave and serve the world in Jesus’ name.

And with Thy Spirit – Joseph Wood

  Let me start by admitting that the topic of this meditation is brought to you by happenstance, by a happy accident that occurred during lunch after we had finished prepping the school supplies for the Backpack Project. (A huge thank you again to all of the people who donated, shopped, sorted, or otherwise showed up for this moment in our parish’s ministry.) The topic of most recent English translation of the Roman Catholic Mass came up, which was the first one to be approved since Vatican II in the 1960s. A move away from what some Catholic authorities worried was the too conversational style of the earlier translations, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops unveiled the new one in 2008, and it’s supposedly a return to a more elevated tone proper to reverence. Among the changes was one that some Emmanuelites may recognize. Where the earlier version had the congregation responding to the celebrant’s “the Lord be with you” with “and also with you,” now the people are encouraged to answer back “and with your spirit.” Incidentally, the movement from “with you” to “with your spirit” is an almost exact reversal of the change that took place in Episcopal liturgies based upon the influence of the Liturgical Movement. In Rite I of our Book of Common Prayer, you can still find the rubrics prompting a (presumably reverential) “and with thy spirit” before the Collect of the Day and at the opening of the Eucharistic Prayer (BCP 325, 333). Meanwhile, the Rite II language that we regularly use here at Emmanuel follows the same pattern as the Vatican II translation, the congregation replying to the clerical salutation with “and also with you” (BCP 357, 361). The question is: why is there such debate over a seemingly simple phrase?

  At lunch, I didn’t have much of an answer to the other’s puzzlement, because I wasn’t sure myself what was at stake—beyond the usual anxiety over any ritual changes. All I could tell them is that “with your[/thy] spirit” is a closer translation of the Latin of the Roman Rite: et cum spiritu tuo. After a little more sleuthing, I can tell you that the two phrases seem to be reformulations of the end of greetings in several of the Pauline letters (emphasis mine):

·      “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” (Galatians 6:18)
·      “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philippians 4:23)
·      “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon 25)
·      “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.” (2 Timothy 4:22)

Given the consistency of the examples, it may be the case that St. Paul was drawing upon an earlier tradition, but I wasn’t able to find any sources that spoken directly to such a precursor. It’s worth noting, though, that 2 Timothy is one of the letters that is now known as “of the Pauline School” or “Deutero-Pauline,” because there is a fair amount of scholarly consensus that they were not actually written by Paul—so at least some of the difference in our phrase can be chalked up to diverse authorship. In either case, the concern of translating shifts from Latin to New Testament Greek and the context and intentions behind those scriptural words.

  When we say spirit, are we talking about the individual spirit of the celebrant? Or the spirit of the community? And, in either case, is that spirit the Holy Spirit? Pages upon pages have been written throughout Christian history trying to come to some kind of definitive conclusion, and I won’t go into even a fraction of those arguments here. I will note that there is a real beauty to the possibility that the spirit mentioned in the response is the Holy Spirit, especially when paired with the opening of “the Lord be with you.” Then we have at least two members of the Trinity evoked in mere moments, inviting the people and the celebrant to share together in a Triune pattern as we worship. Even so, there is something striking about the idea of the people echoing that the Lord be “also with” their clergyperson, reminding us that even our most formulaic (and all too often clericalist) liturgy should be understood as a mutual act. Thus, I’m not going to try to tell you that either translation is a better one. Perhaps you find the conversational tone of the one or the elevation of the other more prayerful. Perhaps you even find the idea of a difference between the two a kind of holy nitpicking. Whatever the case, it’s extraordinary to think about how each line, each word of our prayers contains such an inheritance. Phrases that have become almost second nature to us bear the imprint of an untold number of hands and were born from an untold number of lips. So, the next time you find yourself immersed in our ritual language, notice what especially resonates with you—God only knows the overabundance of meaning behind that moment. It’s another way to enter into communion.

Eclectic, Enlightening, Engaging - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

On most mornings--except in the cold of winter--Tim and I have early morning coffee in our small screened porch, which opens to a stand of woods in the back where we regularly see deer, some times foxes, and often our neighbors walking themselves and their dogs.

I drink my coffee from a cup which reads ”Eclectic, Enlightening, Engaging, Emmanuel.”  It's a wonderful motto or slogan dating, I think, from the early days of Rodney Hudgen’s time as Rector.  It's meant to identify the present Emmanuel and an ongoing commitment to the days ahead.

Does it still reflect who we are?  I like to think so, though perhaps not in the same ways as six or seven years ago.  With me as your Interim Rector, the Sunday services are probably closer to The Book of Common Prayer than they might have been before, but we still regularly use materials from other Anglican provinces and our denominational partners.  Though our choir has not yet started its season, I trust that it will continue its tradition of offering superb music from eclectic sources.  Having Sugar (Rob and Lucy's white dog) in the front row most Sundays also says something fun about who we are.

I hope you find the sermons enlightening at least most of the time.  We anticipate a new season of the Adult Forum and trust it will bring intellectual and spiritual stimulation.  The several parish meetings we have had in the past month have been enlightening as we have heard a variety of voices offering differing perspectives and experiences about who we are and where we want to go.  The commitment to Emmanuel is remarkable as people engage in growing not only in numbers but in our spiritual lives and in our connection with the world.

The vestry and the parish’s commitment to the renovation of this building to make it more accessible for us and for all who come here is a sign that we intend to engage ever more broadly and deeply with the community around us.

Can we do ever much more?  Absolutely.  Might we do some things differently, even in this time of transition?  Certainly.   Let us continue to show our care for one another.  Let us listen acutely to our own voices and the voices of those who look to us to model the love of God.  Let us be open to the notion that “new occasions teach new duties.”  If we do this, I believe that those coming to us--be they visitors, prospective members, or a new rector--will find Emmanuel Eclectic, Enlightening, Engaging. Lift high the coffee cups.

Jim Holmes

Slouching Towards Horeb* - Joseph Wood

  Last Friday, I traveled back to Annapolis to visit some old friends from college, both to catch up and to prepare for their wedding as it edges ever closer. Since I made the journey via public transit, it turned into a kind of pilgrimage for me. Not only does the route leave plenty of time for contemplation—it takes roughly two hours—it’s also a journey that I had to make frequently during the year after I graduated from St. John’s College. During that time, I was living in Baltimore** and working for the Episcopal Service Corps, but I was still making almost weekly treks back to Annapolis to take part in the communal life at St. Anne’s Parish as I tried to convince them that it would be a good idea to support my seminary aspirations. It’s a rather odd experience, continually returning to your college town during the year when you’ve supposedly, finally become an adult. Catching glimpses of so many familiar sights as the bus trundled along gave me pause, musing about the difference between who I was then and where I find myself these days. (Admittedly, the proximity to my 30th birthday probably didn’t help the instinctive turn towards self-examination.) What does it mean to grow up? And what does it mean to become who we’re meant to be?

  In this week’s Hebrew Bible reading (1 Kings 19:4-9), we get a brief, bleak glimpse into Elijah’s literal and figurative journey as he tries his best to live into his own vocation as a prophet of the Lord. Having just taken the drastic measure of executing all of the prophets of Baal as he tries to stem the tide of idolatry in the kingdom of Judah, Elijah is fleeing for his life before the wrath of King Ahab and his infamous wife Jezebel. Having failed to move the royal hearts to anything but wrath, the prophet despairs. He cries “enough” and begs God to “take his life, for [he is] no better than [his] fathers” (19:4). After this lament, he collapses into an exhausted sleep beneath a broom tree. (If there’s any image that can illustrate the dichotomy between the supposed loftiness of being the Divine spokesperson and the reality, it’s Elijah needing to seek shelter underneath a literal bush after his desperate escape into the wilderness.) However, the Lord does not take his chosen prophet’s life—to the contrary, God tends to Elijah with almost gentle concern. In a sequence that echoes the calling of Samuel (1 Samuel 3), the prophet is awoken twice by an angel with instructions to “arise and eat” (1 Kings 19:5,7). Thus, even in the midst of his despair, even in the midst of the bareness of the wilderness, God provides. Elijah is fed with “a caked baked on hot stones”*** and his thirst is slaked with “a jar of water” (19:5). The prophet’s emotional and physical needs are met, and he continues on in his journey for “forty days and forty nights,” which echoes, among a number of different Biblical precedents, the mountaintop experience of Moses and Noah’s sojourn in the Ark. His literal and figurative journey comes to an end at “Horeb the mount of God” (19:8). And it should be noted that “Horeb” means dry place, though it’s often used interchangeably with Mount Sinai. So, even in fulfillment, God’s prophet finds himself in a place that is paradoxically both dry and the heart of his faith.

  I offer you that summary not to suggest that my trip or my thoughts were anything like Elijah’s, but rather to illustrate just how much growing up and becoming who we’re meant to be can mean letting go of the familiar and its expectations. In despair, Elijah meets the Lord. In the wilderness, Elijah is fed. I’m not sure that my freshly-minted college graduate self could ever have imagined what my life looks like now, and I’m positive that the teenager who enrolled at St. John’s couldn’t possibly have. It’s a strange blessing to know that my life has exceeded my younger vision. I pray that it continues to do so—though, Godwilling, without ever coming too close to the prophetic experience. That’s also my prayer for Emmanuel more broadly. May our communal journey exceed our abilities to hope, like water and bread underneath a broom tree. May we recognize God as our constant companion, even in the driest of places. May we one day find that, without ever quite noticing that it’s happening, we’ve become more than we ever meant to be.


*While Joan Didion’s collection of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, might more quickly come to mind these days, I'm more inclined towards Yates’ “The Second Coming."

**Well, Pikesville

***The Ancient Near East equivalent of pita           

Reflections on Shakespeare - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

Unlike many of you, I am sure, I was not brought up with Shakespeare as a constant presence. I never read a Shakespeare play in high school, nor did I have to memorize any of his sonnets. (The deficiencies of my high school, thought to be the best in Baton Rouge fifty years ago, is another story.) I have since seen several Shakespeare plays, with the movie versions being the most memorable.

This week, Tim produced an evening of Shakespeare scenes and sonnets. I was particularly struck by Shylock’s speech in The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, a Jew pleading for justice, describes himself as a human being at a time when it was illegal to be Jewish in England and Jews were persecuted throughout Europe. “Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions. . . ? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”

Why have these people of God, who taught us that we are all made in the image of God, been so vilified, so defined as other? The answers are myriad and reflect on human nature. But we can ask now--four hundred years later--why there is again a rise in anti-semitism, and we can also ask why we have to put up banners saying “Black Lives Matter” and have a movement called “#MeToo"? Why do we consider some folks humanity to be less than ours, whoever we are? If we prick them, do they not bleed?

There is a new play on Broadway called “Straight White Men” which takes a look (not particularly successfully, according to one reviewer) at the nature of privilege in our society. Privilege is part of the answer to the questions in the prior paragraph. Many us here at Emmanuel enjoy being of one or more of those three categories, and we may really think about it as “just the way things are.”

Shylock invites us to keep the issue of ‘the other’ in the front of our minds and hearts. And to let it inform our actions. “Will you respect the dignity of every human being” is a question followed by a vow in our baptismal service (BCP 305). It is who we are called to be as Christians, as human beings, as we try to live into the notion that there are no others. When we are pricked, we all bleed; when we are tickled, we all laugh. We are all in this together.

Jim Holmes

Entering Together - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, Tim and I live in a retirement community in Prince George’s County.  Now in our early ’70’s we are among the younger residents of the place.

Tim is a licensed lay preacher in the Diocese of Washington, and he and I—separately and together—have occasion to conduct services in the Memory Care unit of the health center.  The services are usually short, with prayers, familiar hymns, a reading from Scripture, and a short meditation.

Last Sunday’s use of the 23rd psalm at Emmanuel reminded me that we both usually invite our worshippers to join in saying it together.  (We don’t have to say “The King James Version;” that is a given.)  Almost to a person, these aged and impaired folks are able to join right in and keep going even if one of the leaders loses his place. 

What is it about this particular psalm that causes it to be so firmly implanted in the memory of all sorts and conditions of people?  It is certainly a psalm of comfort as it describes God as a shepherd who leads us to safe places, green pastures and still waters; who guides us in the right way to live, the paths of righteousness; who is with us in the most difficult times, through the valley of the shadow of death.

It is often thought of as a psalm which is about what God does for us, for me, but my domestic theologian points out that the last half verse, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever,” implies a response and commitment on the part of the comforted one.  Not ‘oh, by the way, God has me as a tenant forever.’   Any number of churches have inscribed over their entrance doors the words from Genesis: “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” I, we, choose to enter the doors, to be a part of the household of God, which—as we all know—is not all green pastures and still waters.   We, at least I, stray from the pathway of righteousness regularly.   Goodness and mercy seem at times in short supply.

I believe we stay in the Church because it is a locus of God’s comforting promise to be with us always.  The 23rd psalm is a reminder that we can all commit to memory and call upon as we, the Church, and the world need it.

Jim Holmes

How Do You Covenant? - Joseph Wood

  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the main word for covenant is ברית (berith), which is often paired with the verb כרת (karath)--to cut. The imagery of making a covenant through an act of cutting has deep Biblical roots, extending out into the ancient Middle Eastern cultures that surrounded the Israelite community and helped inform its development. Perhaps the clearest example is the word pairing’s first appearance in Genesis 15 and God’s covenant with Abram; however, covenanting through karath can be found in sources ranging from Joshua 9:6 to 2 Kings 23:3 and even Jeremiah 32:40. (Isaiah 55:3 and 61:8 are also excellent examples, striking an eschatological chord similar to Jeremiah.) In more modern usage, the idea of cutting a covenant has narrowed to implications of circumcision, so I would be mindful about using berith karath language around your Jewish and/or Israeli friends. Nevertheless, I think some familiarity with the Biblical tradition of forming a covenant with another party--particularly God--by means of some kind of cut is essential for beginning to understand what Paul is up to in this week’s second lesson from his letter to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 2:11-22).

  You see, Paul is making his theological point about the peace that Jesus Christ “proclaimed” “to [those] who were far off” and “to those who were near” through an extended circumcision pun (2:17). Yes, the Bible does, in fact, contain jokes--and sometimes it’s even Paul making them. Here, he juxtaposes that literal act of ritual cutting with all of the ways that we have been historically and continue to be metaphorically cut off from the Divine. Without at least some reference to the scriptural wellspring he’s drawing upon, it’s easy to read these passages as supersessionist, as devaluing the legitimacy of more traditional Jewish religious understandings and experience. Which is not to say that context exonerates Paul of such charges, but it does help to remind us that he was a Rabbinically trained Jew from Judaea, like Jesus and the rest of the apostles. It clarifies why he would talk about genitalia in the same pericope that he talks about the passion and death of our Lord and Savior. It’s because Christ offers us--in Paul’s terms, is (2:14)--a peace that transcends any of our attempts to maintain worldly divisions. The gentiles who were once literally “far off” in terms of both distance and worship practice are brought into a community that does not maintain the strictures of the temple in Jerusalem (2:13). He preaches instead a radical “access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18), one that knows no distinction of citizenship, of ethnicity, or even of geography. It's an access that resists any division that we might try to place upon grace, rippling out towards a kind of universality in broader and broader circles. All are invited to join together to form a new kind of covenant and grow “into a holy temple in the Lord” through the community of believers (2:21). And thus the rupture of karath is reoriented towards a new creation.

  As many of you know, I have a complicated relationship with St. Paul. If I’m being entirely frank, I don’t think there’s a way to read Ephesians 2:11-22 that isn’t at least a little bit supersessionist. Even as Paul talks about building together "upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (2:20) in a way that is suppose to transcend all of the ways we seperate ourselves, he dismisses the "commandments and ordinances" of the Torah and his people (2:15). But, if anything, that falling short is something of a relief to me. Because if there is any part of Paul's legacy that redeems the rough edges, it's these moments when he points beyond himself, when he points to all of the ways that the Lord enters into our lives that surpass our wildest preconceptions. Even when God's chosen apostle is messy and more than a little problematic, the Gospel is proclaimed and the Lord enters in. Which is not to let any of us off the hook--even Paul--but it does remind us that we are more than the sum of our parts. The Christian community is more than any of our messy, more than a little problematic bits. There is always a chance to lay aside our divisions; to lay aside all of the ways that we have been cut off and cut down (or, worse, done so to others); and try to live into a new kind of covenant. The temple of our joint efforts may not be any where near perfect yet or any time soon, but it is here, it is holy, and it is in the Lord. Perhaps that's enough for now.

Plumbing Our Depths - Joseph Wood

  If this week's first lesson leaves you scratching your head, let me begin by clarifying that a "plumb line" is a line with a weight attached (from the Latin for lead, plumbum) used to measure the depth of a body of water or check that vertical structures are true. So now Amos 7:7-15 makes perfect sense, right?

  Continuing on the various iterations of the theme of measurement, of taking account of the beloved community, that the lectionary has offered us over the last few weeks, these verses challenge us to re-examine how God upends our expectations. Last week, the Rev. Daynes spoke beautifully to the dichotomy between hometown (temporal, geographical) and home (emotional, relational) when it comes to reading Mark 6:1-13. In the same way, Amos' prophesying draws a distinction between how we name ourselves and our surroundings and how the Divine enters into our lives and names us. Pushed aside are all of the ways that we try to fit God into our own contexts, because--let's be honest--the majority of us have more than a little Amaziah in us. We hear the Word of the Lord and we paraphrase it, we echo back a version that conforms more to our own perceptions and preconceptions. When Amos speaks, all that Amaziah can focus on is the last handful of words from the prophet's lips. All he can hear is how destruction will come to Israel, how the king who has given him so much power will face "the sword" (Amos 7:9-10). In his dismay, "the priest of Bethel" cannot bear to actually take in very much at all of what Amos says (Amos 7:10), and so he accuses him before the king of plotting against sovereign and state. (He even inserts the whole idea of exile into the prophet's mouth.) Notice how he then turns and counsels Amos to flee from the land and never again "prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom" (Amos 7:12). Perhaps the most telling part of his response are how he identifies Bethel and its affiliations--not as the Lord's sanctuary, as a temple of the God of their holy and righteous ancestors, but as the king's sanctuary, as a temple of the kingdom. In his fear, he cuts off himself, his temple, and his people from anything but the present and its immediate bounty.

  Who among us hasn't done something similar? Who among us hasn't clung to what we know--even, sometimes, when it is painful--rather than face the anxiety of what lurks beyond our expectations? It is an utterly human response to such situations. But the Divine words that Amos shares with us are not all calamity, now matter how our most primitive instincts might begin to distort them in our ears. Yes, there is talk of "desolation," "waste," and "the sword" (Amos 7:9), but such grimness is outlined by relationship. These are the difficult words that God commands Amos to declare to "[God's] people Israel" (Amos 7:15), so that the crux of even the most tumultuous upheaval is how the covenantal relationship between Israel and her Lord continues to unfold. A plumb line isn't a tool of obliteration, it's a tool of exploration and building up. Thus, the lesson we'll hear is bounded by the nature of salvation history, and it's message is clear: we cannot allow ourselves to be cut off from the past or the future, we cannot make the present into a false sanctuary. It is only by continuing to name all that we have been and all of the (often unexpected and even a little scary) ways that our Savior is calling us into deeper relationship that we truly claim our nature as believers and a believing community. It is only in the fullness of both of those relationships that we can properly be named as beloved. After all, God can take the most unexpected elements and fashion something glorious and new out of them. In God's hands, even "a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees" (Amos 7:14) can transform a people. Who knows what our Lord and Savior might call forth from us?