Friday, March 25, 2011

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

"'Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you...Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David'...Then Mary said, 'here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.'" (Luke 1:28,30-32,38)

Today, the church celebrates the Annunciation of the Lord. This feast commemorates the angel Gabriels's announcement to Mary that God chose her to conceive Jesus and the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit at that moment. Mary is the Theotokos, God-bearer, Mother of God.

Mary's role in salvation history is unique, and the Church has always honored Mary for her role. Protestant Christians, historically suspicious of non-biblical speculations and practices, have not shown the same level of interest in, or devotion to, the Mother of God as Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Yet we need to be reminded that Mary is the first and preeminent witness to our Lord.

On this day when the Church celebrates God's promise of the Incarnation, let us join the Church of all times, including the Protestant Reformers, in honouring Mary as the Mother of God and as our Mother.

"[S]he became the Mother of God, in which work so many and such great good things are bestowed on her as pass man's understanding. For on this there follows all honor, all blessedness, and her unique place in the whole of mankind, among which she has no equal, namely, that she had a child by the Father in heaven, and such a Child.... Hence men have crowded all her glory into a single word, calling her the Mother of God.... None can say of her nor announce to her greater things, even though he had as many tongues as the earth possesses flowers and blades of grass: the sky, stars; and the sea, grains of sand. It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God." (Martin Luther)

"To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son". (John Calvin).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lent 3 (A): Romans 5.1-8

Romans 5.1-8. Epistle for Lent 3 (A)

In recent weeks the developed world has been reminded that the forces of nature are often incomprehensible and beyond human control. As is often the case when our ordinary lives are shaken by the unknown we search for explanations. Some self designated experts assert they understand the mystery of the Divine and are able to proclaim with utter certainty (I am not sure if it is because of hubris or sincere ignorance) that tragedy reflects the judgment of God upon a faithless people. Their word is not the last word.

The apostle asserts “we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. However we are not exempt from pain, sorrow, disappointment, and tragedy. Indeed the apostle, and many since him, have tried to explain how Jesus' suffering and death rescues humanity from nihilism.

Theological interpretations of the suffering and death of Jesus seek to explain the suffering and death experienced by humanity and the creation. We affirm he died for us, but our words are not able to exhaust its meaning.

Professor David Bartlett of Columbia Theological Seminary writes, “We struggle to come up with a doctrine of the atonement, and all the classical solutions seem fall short. Paul was blessed by a richly unsystematic mind. His language about what Jesus does shifts from verb to verb: Christ saves; Christ justifies; Christ reconciles. His description of what Christ does shifts from metaphor to metaphor: an obedient second Adam undoes the disobedience of the first. A sinless man is made to be sin. A godly Messiah dies for ungodly people.

The claim outreaches all our metaphors. The name embraces all our weaknesses: Jesus Christ, access to God's grace; where we stand.”

As we continue to wrestle with the meaning of life and death, we wrestle with the knowledge that we are not alone in this struggle. Dorothy Sayers reminds us that a unique claim of Christianity is that God is with us. In her essay "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged" Ms. Sayers writes, “...for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death – He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat despair, and death.”

The United Church of Christ's Statement of Faith affirms God's solidarity with these words: “In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.”

“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). This Word is God's promise and our hope.

Martyrs for Justice

Today, March 24, is the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, and tomorrow, March 25, the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City which killed 146 workers (mostly young immigrant women).

Archbishop Romero and the young women in New York did not seek martyrdom. In the case of Archbishop Romero, he was a reluctant bishop and advocate for justice. The young women worked in inhumane condition to provide for their families. Forces beyond their control propelled them into the center of the movement for justice.

This is the season of Lent. A time of reflection, repentance, and recommitment. I pray that we reflect on the horrific working conditions that the young women in New York faced and that people throughout the world endure today; repent of our exploitation of people in El Salvador and many countries because of our allegiance to the false gods of materialism and greed; and recommit ourselves to follow the saintly example of Archbishop Romero who proclaimed in word and deed the gospel of Jesus, the good news of God's coming reign of justice and peace.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lent 2: Psalm 121

Psalm 121: Lent 2(A) March 9, 2011

Lent is an invitation to a journey. The life of faith is a journey, the way is as important as the destiny. The earliest followers of Jesus were known as people of the way. What is the way? The psalmist's invites us to a communal recitation of our assurance of God's presence during our sojourn. The descendants of Abram and Sarai continues the journey.

Bobby Morris' reflects:
“Journeying was a major reality for ancient life. As a result of the available modes of traveling, the ancients are likely to have had far greater appreciation for what was involved in getting from one place to another that we ever can. Abraham and Sarah took the countless steps necessary to travel from Haran to the land of Canaan and even as far south as Egypt. Elijah made the arduous journey from northern Israel to Mount Sinai and back again. Even Jesus traveled throughout the Galilee and eventually down to Jerusalem.

Not surprisingly then, one of the most common Hebrew verbs in the Old Testament is the one for "going, walking." Likewise, a good deal of the biblical text, as alluded to above, deals with the undertaking and complexities of traveling. One such example is Psalm 121.

Psalm 121 is the second of the Psalms of Ascents (120-134). These texts seem to have been used by pilgrims during their travel to Jerusalem and/or as part of celebratory worship at the temple there. Individual cases have been made for the use of Psalm 121 by a traveler who is approaching and departing from Jerusalem. In either case we can say with some certainty that Psalm 121 deals with journeying.

The stark geographic diversity found in the land of Palestine is such that travel for the ancients was at best difficult and commonly dangerous. The availability of water would have been a constant concern, especially in the hot dry summers when the sun mercilessly beats down. In addition, the danger of bandits could never be ruled out, as the parable of the Good Samaritan later bears witness.

Psalm 121 responds to what must have been unavoidable misgivings about travel with unwavering reassurances that God protects his beloved. In fact, the Hebrew verb translated as "keep," which has the sense of "watch over, protect," occurs six times in only eight verses. In all of these occurrences God is the one doing the action. God protects the traveler from a host of possible dangers, from the most basic slipping of the foot (verse 3) to the light of the moon (verse 6), which in ancient times was viewed with a degree of supernatural apprehension. It is because God is the same one "who made heaven and earth" (verse 2), meaning all that exists, that the sojourner can rest assured in God's ability to offer such far-reaching protection, even of the traveler's very life (verse 7).

It may be enough that Psalm 121 offers such profound reassurance to the traveler moving from place to place. Yet it exceeds this particularity by reaching into the journey of human life itself. The final two verses of the text hint at the broad scope of God's protective activity as it references to the protection of the traveler from "all evil" (verse 7) that lasts "from this time on and forevermore" (verse 8).

The life of faith that begins with baptism is indeed a journey on which God's guidance and protection is needed. Accordingly, Psalm 121 plays a prominent role in the worship life of the Christian community of faith. Verse two contributes to the understanding of God the Father in the Apostle's Creed while other parts of the text have appeared in either the baptismal liturgy or funerary services of various faith traditions. The reassurances of Psalm 121 are thus able to accompany the faithful at the beginning and end of their life's journey, as well as help sustain and uplift them with God's presence and protection along the greatest journey of all. “