Antiphonal

 

I like antiphonal speaking or singing in worship.  That is, I like when the pastor and the people or a choir, sing or chant a psalm back and forth.  It’s a dialogue in song.

I believe I came across the first use of antiphonal in the Bible.  In Deuteronomy 27 Moses and the elders directed the people that when they crossed over the Jordan into the promised land, six tribes were to stand on Mt. Gerizim and six tribes stand on Mt. Ebal. These two mountains are directly across from one another with a valley in between.  Those on Mt. Gerizim were to call out the blessings of the Lord, if they faithfully obeyed the voice of the Lord and carried out his will.  They would be blessed in all things in their coming in and going out.

Those who were on Mt Ebal were to call out the curses of the Lord if they were unfaithful.  If they were unfaithful, then the curses would come upon them and overtake them.  Nothing will go right for them and they will end up being carried out of the land.

Joshua 8 tells us that this antiphonal calling out of the blessings and curses on the two mountains was carried out under Joshua in a covenant renewal service.  In the valley between the mountains the priests placed the Ark of Covenant, the sign of the presence of the Lord in their midst.  Everyone was present, men, women, children and sojourners living among them.

When we look to Jesus on the cross on Mt Calvary we see these blessings and curses gathered on one mountain in Jesus, who is all of Israel wrapped into one person.  He suffers the curses in our behalf and he bestows God’s blessings upon us.

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When God Explodes

 

Isaiah 42

God had been annoyed with his people, but he held it in.  He chose a servant to gently talk with the people.  Equipped with the Spirit, he would not become discouraged.  His servant would be a light for the nations.  He would open the eyes of the blind, bring prisoners out of their dark self-made dungeons.  In fact, everything was going to be new.  The old things would pass away.

But the people didn’t listen to the servant.  They refused to come into the light.  They refused to see and remained as if they were still imprisoned in dark dungeons.

Finally, it was just too much for God (Is. 42:14)

I have been silent for a long time.

I kept quiet and held myself back.

But like a woman in childbirth I will cry out.

I will gasp and pant.

In his thrashing about, mountains will be smashed to smithereens.  Plants will die in the dryness.  Rivers and ponds will dry up.

But with the Lord, where there is anger over sin, it is always followed by grace.  He will lead the blind on the road of faith which is unfamiliar to them.  He will turn their darkness into light.  He will smooth the rough places.

He concludes in Isaiah 42:16, “I will never abandon them.”

That promise of never being abandoned is still with us.  In this season of Lent, we make our way to the cross and the empty tomb.  There we will see God explode again, not in anger, but in an explosion of grace and life which covers us from head to toe.  It wipes out the old sinful past and creates us new again.

The Gospel Springs forth in Nature

 

The Blind Man Sees

David Lose on John 9

In this story, it seems like it’s just really, really hard for the people around the man who received his sight – which John calls him in v. 18 – to adjust to his new reality or see him for anything more than what he used to be. And so some folks don’t recognize him at all. Others, including his parents, know what he struggled with and see his transformation but aren’t sure what to make of it.

The two exceptions to this pattern of being trapped in designations reflecting the past are, first, the man himself and, second, Jesus. The man who sees can only rejoice in his recovery and looks ahead to an open and even delightful future that probably exceeds anything he had previously imagined. How else, I wonder, could he engage the religious authorities who have intimidated others (including his parents) with such good humor: “Do you, also, want to become his disciples?” Indeed, there is a certain joyfulness to his portions of dialogue that is easy to miss if we understand him only as “the man born blind.” Consider the brave playfulness of his retorts to the authority: “I do not know if he was a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25) Or, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (30-33). He has been given an open future and nothing will deter him from seizing it.

Jesus also looks to the future rather than the past, inviting this man to faith and encouraging him by not just taking his question seriously but by revealing himself to him – indeed, the play on “you have seen him” is simultaneously poignant and joyful. All of this leads the man who now sees to make the quintessential confession in John’s Gospel: “Lord, I believe.”

How might we grasp hold of the open future that Jesus’ grace and forgiveness and resurrection provide? How might the baptismal identity of “child of God” replace some of the other names we’ve been called or have accepted?

This is not at all to deny the importance of the past or some of the scars (or for that matter triumphs) we carry forward. But it is, perhaps, to remind folks that the way forward is in the future. Years ago, I a colleague with whom I worked observed that there’s probably a good reason that the windshield of a car is so big and the rearview mirror relatively small: because while it’s good to be able to glance back once in a while, the key to getting where you need to go is looking forward

 

 

Quote from Book about the Borgia’s

 

Sarah Dunant’s book “In the Name of the Family” is her fifth historical novel on the Borgia family.

Background:

In August of 1503 Lucrezia Borgia receives word that both her brother Cesare, (Duke Valentine) and her father Rodrigo,(Pope Alexander VI 1492 – 1503) are ill but not dead.  Her father, the Pope, dies in a matter of days.  Her brother Cesare will recover, but will lose all the territories in mid Italy which he has captured with the financial and power backing of his father, often by ruthless and deceptive means.

Sarah Dunant writes:

“She (Lucrezia) calls her confessor, closing the door against everyone else.  ‘Father, will you hear my confession?’

Within the hour, the household is gathered in the chapel, a host of young women’s voices rising up like the choir of Corpus Domini in deepest intercession for the lives of the Pope and his son Duke Valentine.

During the night that follows, great multitudes of Swifts, so high on the wing that they are invisible to the human eye, pass over a dozen cities where by now urgent dispatches have been opened and read, and where prayers are also rising into the air; most of them are tipping the scales away from recovery, toward death and revenge.”

Psalm 95, Today, hear the Lord

 

The psalm begins on a high note.  “O Come, let us sing to the Lord…make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation…Come into his presence with thanksgiving…In his hand are the deeps of the earth.  The mountains belong to him too.  The sea is his…and…the dry land.”  God is the great Landlord of the earth.

We worship the Lord because, “he is our Creator.”  And, He has chosen us to be, “the people of his pasture…the sheep of his hand.”    We belong to God in that we were called and chosen in Christ.  Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3-4, that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing available in the heavens. God has chosen us since before the creation to be holy and blameless before him.  Therefore, “Today, if you hear my voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Now comes a warning from history.  “Don’t be like my people” when they lost faith in me as a caring God.  I, who had brought them through the Red Sea, they made me prove myself once again.  “I…said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’  Therefore, I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”

What happened to Israel in the past, could happen to us Christians today.  Thus, every day is a “today” in which to hear the word of the Lord, and trust in God who has created us and chosen us in Jesus Christ. Every day is a “today” to come into the Lord’s presence to sing, and make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.

Prayer: Almighty God, neither let us go astray as did those who murmured in the desert, nor let us be torn by discord.  With Jesus as our shepherd, bring us to enjoy the unity for which he prays; to you be the glory and praise now and forever.

Prayer of the Day

 

The Prayer of the Day or Collect takes only a moment in the service; yet it often carries some deep meaning as it keys into the theme for the day or collects the thoughts put forward in the lessons.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the hymnal for ELCA, emphasizes the water theme found in the lessons for the Third Sunday in Lent, with attention paid to Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in the gospel lesson from John 4.

Prayer:

Merciful God, the fountain of living water, you quench our thirst and wash away our sin.  Give us this water always.  Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

On the other hand, the Collect in the LCMS looks to God’s mercy for those who have gone astray.  The people of Israel are once more struggling with God in their need for water.  They are living up to the name of their ancestor Jacob, whom God renamed Israel, one who struggles with God.  The Gospel tells us of Jesus bringing the good news to the Samaritans who have strayed from his promises, and have developed something of a mishmash of Jewish and pagan religion.

Prayer:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable trust of your Word; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Joseph, guardian of Jesus

 

March 19, is the day the church remembers Joseph.

Only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke do we hear of Joseph.  However, he gets no lines to speak.  Nor does he get to sing a song.  Zechariah sings, Mary sings, the heavenly host praise God at Jesus birth and Simeon sings of the salvation he is holding in his arms. Joseph is an unsung hero.

A verse that might sum up his life is Matthew 1:24a, When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.  I see Joseph as one of those behind the scenes doers that every congregation needs.  If a toilet won’t flush, the furnace needs looking at or a door is malfunctioning, we know who to call.  Joseph was one of those people.

Thus, he went ahead and married Mary despite her questionable pregnancy.  If he was dutiful to the Lord, he was also dutiful to the civil authorities.  In returning to Bethlehem at the behest of Caesar he satisfied the plans of both God and government.  He was present at the birth of Jesus for whom he would act as guardian.  He saw to Jesus circumcision at 8 days of age and the sacrifices ordained for the first male child born into a family.  Joseph protected his family by fleeing with them to Egypt until it was safe tom return.  The last we hear of Joseph is when he and Mary find 12-year-old Jesus in the temple after a three-day search.

Psalm 89:1 certainly applies to Joseph, Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!

Almighty God, from the house of Your servant David You raised up Joseph to be the guardian of Your Incarnate Son and the husband of His mother, Mary.  Grant us grace to follow the example of this faithful workman in heeding Your counsel and obeying Your commands; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives, and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Threshing-Floor of Repentance

 

I was entrusted with a sinless and living land,

But I sowed the ground with sin

And reaped with a sickle the ears of laziness;

In thick sheaves, I garnered my actions,

But winnowed them not on the threshing-floor

Of repentance.

I beg of you, my God, the eternal farmer,

With the wind of your loving-kindness

Winnow the chaff of my works,

And grant to my soul the harvest of forgiveness;

Shut me in your heavenly storehouse, and save me.

From Byzantine Vespers service

 

Christians need the Lord’s Day

I found these thoughts in a Lenten Resource book.  The first paragraph calls to mind the prophet Elijah when he was fleeing for his life from Jezebel following his victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.

Some days it’s easy to identify with a fellow who has had a enough of a troubled life.  He flops down, says he’s ready to give up, and has a nap.  Well, it takes two nap.s, two jugs of water and two hearth cakes-all served up by an angel-to give him the strength tro complete his forty-day journey.

The Lord’s Day, every Sunday, is food and drink and rest for the journey.  Every Sunday is like an angel that comes to us when our heart is heavy.  We desperately need our Sunday naps and “hearth cakes.” We desperately need a day free from business as usual, a day without errands, demands and travel.

Recreation is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.  Without Lord’s Day refreshment, Christianity itself would soon flop down unable to go any further.