Jesus’ Paraclete

My friend Evan Garner, being the good Church Nerd that he is will hopefully find this next sentence very exciting.  Evan Garner and David Lose have me thinking.  In his post for today, Evan offers a quality reminder that even though 90% of sermons for Pentecost Day will focus on Acts 2, there is a deep and rich Gospel text ready and waiting to be mined as well.  Meanwhile, in his post for Pentecost B, David Lose works out his own issue with the Gospel text, specifically the word Paraclete (Advocate), in light of the Acts lesson.

I will, no doubt, preach on Acts 2 this Sunday, but thanks to Evan and David, it won’t be without at least some temptation to deal with Jesus’ promise of the Paraclete in John’s Gospel.  The more I think about it, the more I think I might even find a way to preach on both.  The Holy Spirit that appears with power and might and leaves the crowd in Acts 2 totally blown away needs to be jived with the Comforter/Advocate that Jesus talks about in John 15.  The Holy Spirit that works in the lives of the faithful, calling them out of their comfort zones, empowering prophets, lifting up leaders and voices for change, sending forth missionaries and reticent priests often doesn’t feel a whole like like she’s comforting us.  No, when the Spirit is at work in your life, things get downright messy; sometimes even dangerous.

The Holy Spirit compelled Peter to stand up before a crowd of bewildered, sometimes sneering people and tell them that Jesus is the Messiah, that he was killed by those outside the law, and that God had bigger plans, bigger even than the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, or Solomon.  As one who steps into the relative safety of a pulpit on a regular basis, it is easy to take what Peter did for granted, but the reality is that what he did was shockingly risky.  Jesus had been hung on a cross 53 days ago.  The religious powers-that-be were still on edge about the whole Jesus movement, and Peter and the disciples continued to, rightfully, be scared for their lives.

As David Lose says in his blog, “We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the answer to a problem, but what if the Spirit’s work is to create for us a new problem; that we have a story to tell, mercy to share, love to spread, and we just can’t rest until we’e done so!”  That’s what the Holy Spirit of Acts 2 is all about.  As I said earlier this week, the universal gift and call of the Spirit is to preach the Gospel in the language of our circle of influence.,  That’s pretty damn frightening.  That’s why the Church is shrinking rapidly.  We’re too afraid to share our story, too afraid to let the Spirit do her work in our lives, too afraid to offend someone.

The Paraclete that Jesus promises is literally, “one who comes alongside” and when she does, hold on tight because the ride is about to get rough, for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God.

Paraclete Tactical Body Armor Solutions is perhaps the best image of what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. She calls us out of safety, but promises protection along the way.


What kind of sermon will you preach?

Sunday isn’t just the Day of Pentecost, but it is also the last Sunday before my sabbatical.  I’ll be out of the pulpit for eleven straight Sundays after this one.  As I prepare to preach, I am finding myself struggling with what, if any, challenges I should place upon the people of St. Paul’s in my absence.  At its best, a sabbatical isn’t just for the cleric taking time off to study, fish, travel, or whatever.  The goal of a sabbatical should be for clergy AND congregation to spend some time thinking about their ministry together.  Now this is different, of course, in a congregation with more than one priest.  At Saint Paul’s, TKT will be here all summer, and he is the Rector, after all, so that vision and goals go through his desk, and yet, TKT and I have the sort of relationship where we share that work of vision and goal setting, and my sabbatical will be a time for me and the congregation to reflect on our work together, but certain for him to be thinking about it as well.  So I wonder, how pointy a stick should I use on Sunday?  And you, dear friend, what kind of sermon will you preach?

How sharp a stick will you use?

The lessons appointed for Pentecost, Year B are ripe with opportunity to challenge the status quo.  The Acts lesson is all about the Spirit pulling the disciples further and further out of their comfort zones.  The text from Romans reminds us that things are still not what God wants them to be, and we know it, and we are called to join with all of creation in struggling and striving for the Kingdom of God.  Even the Gospel lesson asks us to re-think about what the work of the Holy Spirit really is in our lives.  There are real opportunities to push the envelope on Sunday and leave our congregations feeling not unlike the crowd gathered outside the disciples condo on the Day of Pentecost: bewildered, amazed, astonished, and perplexed.

Yet even those aren’t strong enough words to convey what the crowd was feeling that morning.  In his commentary on Working Preacher his week, Frank Crouch, Dean and President of Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem (PA, not that other one) notes that our popular English translations have watered down what people felt when the Spirit arrived on the scene.  “The Greek terms describing their reactions could be appropriately rendered… as confused, in an uproar, beside themselves, undone, blown away, thoroughly disoriented, [and] completely uncomprehending.”  Are we willing to risk, just as things are supposed to be settling down for the summer, whipping our congregations into an uproar?  Is it possible, through a story we think we know so well, to help our people feel thoroughly disoriented?  Isn’t Pentecost the ideal day to trust God enough to invite the Spirit to come with power and might, understanding that it might mean changing everything we think we know about the Kingdom of God?

I’d like to have a job to come back to on August 30th.  I’m just not sure how much risk I’m willing to take?  What about you?  What kind of sermon will you preach?  Will it be safe or will your people find themselves blown away?

Where do you belong?

Before Paul made it famous in Philippians 3:20, Jesus had already made it clear to his disciples that though they might be Jews living in a Roman occupied land on the eastern edge of the known world, they were neither citizens of Rome nor Israel.  Followers of Jesus do not belong to this world, but rather they belong to the Kingdom of God.

This is a timely lesson as a blog post by Tony Jones makes the rounds on Facebook.  In “There’s No Traffic Jam on the Canterbury Trail” Tony suggests that the recent conversion by famous Evangelical author turned Episcopalian, Rachel Held Evans is a chance for the [former] Mainline to reevaluate is citizenship.  In post-WWII America, the burgeoning Mainline was the American Establishment at Prayer.  It was so deeply tied into American politics and the capitalist machine that kept it all running that it lost the Gospel message as its members took up citizenship not in the Kingdom of God, but in the Kiwanis Club, the Country Club, and ultimately, the comfort of a Middle-Class lifestyle.

The downfall of the Mainline can be traced to the relative comfort of its members, and the same will ultimately be true of evangelicalism.  In order to claim membership in the comfortable things of this world, we must first renounce our citizenship of the Kingdom of God.  That’s Jesus’ main message to his disciples in the high priestly prayer: things are about to get really uncomfortable, but that’s OK because that’s what it means to live counter-culturally.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we all have to give up our houses, cars, and jobs and move to inner city Birmingham to preach the Gospel to under-served populations, but I am saying that following Jesus doesn’t assume a big house, a nice car, and cushy job.  For a disciple of Jesus, the goal of life isn’t cushy material things and political power, the goal of life is the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God: a place where the Good News is shared with reckless abandon, where the poor and the outcast are tended to, where the comfortable give sacrificially, and where the only language spoken is love.

I’m not there yet.  On my best days, I strive to help bring the Kingdom of God into my circle of influence.  Most days I end up worrying about the rat race.  Every moment offers the choice: where do I want to belong?

More than Words

On last night’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy was joined by Jack Black in a shot for shot remake of the classic jam, “More than Words” by Extreme.  Take four minutes to watch it, it’ll make your day.

Did you watch it?  Did you pay attention the lyrics?  I hope so, because they work perfectly with the main theme in Sunday’s lessons: love is a verb.  Both the reading from First John and the Gospel lesson explicitly say that loving God means keeping Jesus’ commandments.  In case you forgot, Jesus summed up his entire teaching, all the law, and the prophets, in two commandments.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.

The kind of love Jesus is talking about requires a lot more than words: it requires a lifetime worth of actions.  Or as the writers of “More than Words” put it:

More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
Cause I’d already know

Showing the love of God for the world is at least as important, if not even more so, than telling the world about it.  Following Jesus means loving our neighbors until they ask why, and it means loving them enough to have an answer ready when they do.  Following Jesus means reaching out in compassion, caring for the needy, and respecting the dignity of every human being.  Following Jesus means abiding in a love that is deeper than mere words: the very love of God.

Gentile Pentecost

In preparing for last week’s sermon, I ran across a WorkingPreacher commentary from 2009 written by the late, Richard Jensen, the Carlson Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.  One of the things I loved about Jensen’s piece was how he described the ongoing unveiling of the Spirit as various Pentecosts through the book of Acts.  There was the Jerusalem Pentecost in Acts 2, which we will celebrate in a few short weeks.  There was the Samaritan Pentecost unveiled by Philip in Acts 8.  And there was the Gentile Pentecost which we will hear read this coming Sunday from Acts 10.  It is a good commentary, and I commend it to you as a framework for preparing for a possible Easter 6B sermon on Acts.

I find it helpful to frame the experience of Peter and the Gentiles as a Pentecost story because of how caught off guard everyone is.  Think about it.  In Acts 2, the disciples are still huddled together 10 days after the Ascension.  After three years walking with Jesus, forty days learning from the resurrected Christ, and ten days after receiving their final commissioning, the Disciples still aren’t quite sure how to be Apostles.  They are waiting for a sign from the heavens when, all of a sudden, there is wind and fire and a cacophony of voices as the Spirit arrives in power and might, and Peter finds himself standing before a crowd of thousands, sharing the Good News.

Fast forward to chapter 10.  The fledgling Christian community has seen the Spirit at work in all sorts of unexpected ways.  Three thousand were baptized that first day.  Stephen spoke words that were not his own before the Council; as did Peter and John.  The ground shook as they prayed for boldness, and Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for their lack of faith, while Saul was converted on the road to Damascus.  Even the Samaritans had received the Holy Spirit!  Pentecostal experiences were happening everywhere the Apostles went, and now it was the Gentiles turn.

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.”  The Holy Spirit does not discriminate.  She’s ready and willing to fill the heart of all who put their trust in Jesus Christ.  The Gentile Pentecost of Acts 10 can be, and is, replayed over and over again as the Good News is shared and people believe.  The floodgates of the Kingdom have been forever opened, thanks be to God, so that we Gentiles can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, know Christ and make him known.

Life, Soul, Self

There I was, sitting at my home office desk, minding my own business, reading my sermon notes for this week, when about halfway through Scott Hoezee’s post at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, I learned something brand new.  It hit me right between the eyes.  It was one of those things that changes the way you read scripture: one of those moments when you realize just how less than ideal English translations really are.

“But then comes one of the most famous things Jesus ever said [that he never actually said].  Starting in verse 35 Jesus talks about the human soul, conveyed four times in three verses through the Greek word [psuche].”

The NRSV translates this word as life throughout verses 35-37, but the underlying meaning in Greek seems mean something closer to soul or self.

“Jesus is concerned about our souls, about that mysterious but undeniable spiritual center to who we are as marvelously complex creatures made in the image of God.  If Jesus is who we Christians say he is… then we ought to take seriously what Jesus has to say about our souls.  After all, we believe Jesus is the One who created those souls in the first place.  Who would know better than Jesus how they work?”

Whether you choose to translate this word as life or soul or self (my preferred translation) the deeper meaning in Jesus’ words need to be highlighted.  He isn’t telling the crowd to martyr themselves beside him on the cross, though some of them will meet that fate, but rather to be aware of, as the well worn adage goes, “who they are and whose they are.”  Giving up life, soul, self, is about a change in identity that comes through repentance (to change one’s mind).  When we turn away from our own selfish desires and turn to God’s will for our selves, for our family, for our Church, for the world God created, we have, in effect, laid down our selves and picked up a new identity as a beloved disciple, a child of God.

Formless and Void

I’ve linked to Rob Bell’s fabulously amazing video called “Everything is Spiritual” on this blog before, and I’m glad to do it again today, but things feel different now.  Bell is no longer the pastor of a congregation, having left Mars Hill Bible Church in 2012.  He is now living in California, doing spiritual weekend retreats, a Robcast, and hanging out with Oprah more than I’m comfortable with.  Like other pastors turned famous authors, Bell seems to have succumb to the pressure of his publishers to stay relevant and sales worthy, though I’ll readily admit he still has a strong voice and is certainly making a difference in the world.  I begrudge him partly because I’m jealous and partly because I can’t imagine being a priest outside of the context of a regular, ongoing community, but both of those are about me, not about Rob Bell.

Anyway, long preamble aside, this post isn’t about Rob Bell’s life choices, it is about the book of Genesis, which Bell opens up in a really neat way as his one hour and seventeen minute presentation/lecture/sermon begins in the video below.*

“The earth was formless and void… some translate it ‘wild and waste.'”

That’s where we find ourselves as the lessons open up on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, in a world that is formless and void; wild and waste.  The Spirit is hovering over the waters of chaos, and God is just about to act, simply by saying a word, the Word, but it hasn’t happened quite yet.  There is a tendency to rush to “let their be light.”  We want God to get to work fixing things so that they make sense to our human comprehension, but there is something quite beautiful about the Spirit of God hovering over the chaos.  I think, in times like these, in any times really, it would behoove us to pause, even if only for a moment and think about what it means that God was present, not just before it all, but in it all, especially in the mess and muck and wild and waste.  Think about what it means that God is present even in the chaos.

Just yesterday, an NAACP office was bombed in Colorado; a dozen people were killed in an orchestrated attack on a French satire newspaper; thousands of people were diagnosed with cancer; hundreds of women died in childbirth; and a child died of the totally preventable malaria every 30 seconds.  Some might say that the world is once again wild and waste, and they probably wouldn’t be wrong.  There is a tendency to rush toward the light, to ignore all the bad stuff and look only for God to speak a word, the Word, and make it all right, but there is something to be said, for all of us who live in the midst of chaos and void, for taking time to realize that God is present, even in the darkness.  Perhaps especially in the darkness.

In this Season of Epiphany, as we seek God in the light, I hope we’ll take just a moment to realize that many people live in deep darkness every day.  There is a (somewhat arrogant) tendency to insist that those people join us in the light, but as Christians, we have the opportunity to meet them in that darkness, knowing that God is there.  We aren’t called to stay there, mind you, for the Lord will speak a word, the Word, soon enough, and light will come and it will be good.  It might take a while for the spark to ignite.  In the meantime, we can join with the Spirit as one who is present, hovering over the chaos, offering a word of peace, of comfort, and most especially, of hope.

* You should totally take the time to watch it all. It is a beautiful example of Bell’s gifted storytelling and imaginative theology at work.

No Longer Outcast – a sermon

You can listen to my sermon on the Saint Paul’s Website, or read on.

I’m always amazed at how easily the past can sneak up on me and send me spinning into an existential crisis.  It happened again this week over a pair of shoes.  I grew up the son of blue collar parents in the one of the richest school districts in Pennsylvania.  Now that I’m grown, it is a source of pride for me, but I didn’t have the same perspective back in 1986.  When I was a first grader at Bucher Elementary School there was only one shoe that you had to have to fit in on the playground: a pair of high-top Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  My parents, frugal as they were, wouldn’t spend the money to buy a pair of real Chuck’s, so I wore the K-Mart equivalent, and was teased by spoiled brat rich kids whose parents bought them Chuck’s in every color under the sun. (As you can tell, there are no hard feelings about this.)

Fast forward almost 30 years, and The 7 Experiment has us re-thinking the way we buy things.  Cassie brought up the idea of buying the girls TOMS Shoes this time around.  Now, TOMS are not cheap, but they are comfortable, environmentally friendly, and for every pair you buy, TOMS donates a pair to a child in need.  To top it off, they may not be as cool as a pair of high-top Chuck Taylor’s but they are pretty cool.  Instantly, a simple shoe buying conversation set off a battle within me between my inner cheapskate, my inner humanitarian, and six year-old Steve who wants my girls to have brand name stuff.  The first two I can handle, but the reappearance of six year-old Steve surprised me.  It probably shouldn’t have.  Being created in the image of God means that we were created to be in community and so the feeling of being an outcast is one of those things that stings most about being a human.  Whether it is about the shoes you wear or the color of your hair, the zip code you live in or the fact that your marriage fell apart, whatever the reason, every person, at one point or another in their lives has felt like an outcast, and it hurts.  Sometimes, the old feelings sneak up on you when you least expect it, and for a tormented few, the pain is so deep that “outcast” becomes their identity.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, we hear the story of Jesus meeting a woman whose name we don’t know, but her identity is “outcast.”  Fresh off his encounter with the insider’s insider, Nicodemus the Pharisee, who sought out Jesus in the royal city of Jerusalem, Jesus had caught wind that the Pharisees were after him and so he decided to return to the Galilean countryside.  The expedient path would take them through Samaria, but Jews rarely took this route.  Instead, they would opt to go several days out of their way by heading east to Jericho, skirting along the Jordan valley and then entering Galilee from the southeast.  They did this for two reasons.  First, it was not uncommon for Samaritan thugs to attack Jewish pilgrims along the road, and second, “the first-century Jews regarded [Samaritans] as the worst kind of outcasts.”[1]  They were ethnically outcast as unclean half-bloods who had been left behind during the Babylonian Exile and inter-married with non-Jews.  The Samaritans were also religiously outcast because they dared to suggest that God did not reside in the Temple in Jerusalem, but rather in their Temple on Mount Gerizim.  Generally speaking, it was best for proper Jews to avoid the region of Samaria all together.

For some reason though, on this trip north, John tells us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.”[2]  At about noon one day, Jesus and his disciples entered the town of Sychar, and Jesus took some time to rest at Jacob’s Well while his disciples went off in search of food and drink.  Meanwhile, there came a woman, a Samaritan woman, to draw water from the well.  While it is true that the Samaritans weren’t particularly nice to the Jews, it is perhaps more true that the Jews were not nice to the Samaritans, so as this woman came to the well, all alone, in the heat of the day so as to avoid the chatter of all the other women in town, her heart must have sank all the way to the tips of her toes as she noticed this man, this Jewish man resting by the well.  Here she was, minding her own business, when all of a sudden, she once again found herself playing the role of outcast of the outcast.  Even among her own people, this woman was an outcast because of a past that may or may not have been her own fault.  She had been married five times and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband.  In a world where women were nothing more than the property of their husbands, odds are this doesn’t mean she was an adulterer or a serial monogamist, but rather a victim of her own cultural situation.  John doesn’t give us much detail about this woman’s life, other than what Jesus says about her, “you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband,” but in a culture where the point of womanhood was to produce children, preferably boys, and where a man could divorce his wife simply by taking her into the street and saying “I divorce you” three times, it seems reasonable to assume that this woman is barren and has been cast off by at least a few of those five husbands, while perhaps a few others, and probably her most recent husband, could have died.[3]  Certainly, there is talk around town, whether it is out of pity, gossip, disdain or a bit of all three, and so this woman comes to the well in the heat of the day to draw water in the silence of her outcastness.

With her head down, hoping to avoid eye contact with the Jewish man at the well, the woman begins to lower her bucket when Jesus clears his throat and says, “May I have a drink?”  And with that, a relationship is born and a life is changed.  It begins with a simple question, based in the universal need for water, but quickly goes much deeper.  The woman seems just as taken aback by the fact that Jesus would ask her for a drink at all as she is that he didn’t demand it from her.  As the conversation unfolds, the woman’s eyes are slowly opened.  She’s no theological slouch; she knows the history of her tradition and the centuries old arguments between the Samaritans and the Jews.  And, as is the case for most of us who find ourselves in the role of outcast, she is waiting for a better life to come along.  After Jesus had revealed that he knew her pain and suffering, she confesses her hope to him, “I know that [the] Messiah is coming” (who is called [the] Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”  The Greek idea behind what gets translated as “all things” is in a root word that means “expressing the totality of any object.”  Or, as we might say in modern language, “giving the final word.”  When the Messiah came, for this woman and for all of us who have been outcasts, it wasn’t to help us understand String Theory or to explain the process of evolution, but to be for us God’s final Word of salvation, the totality of God’s dream for his creation.  Jesus reveals to the Woman that he is that final word in a simple two word phrase, ego eimi, “I am.”  “I am” is the name that God called himself when Moses asked him for a name at the burning bush.  “I am” is the name so holy that even now, faithful Jews won’t speak it in Hebrew.  “I am” is the identity of the one who came to bring about healing, restoration, and redemption in the world.  “I am” is the first and final word.

Jesus gave the doubly outcast Woman at the Well the final word of hope by engaging her as a human being who is worthy of love and attention.  In this brief encounter, he changed her identity from outcast of the outcast to beloved child who belongs in the Kingdom of God.  He does this over and over again in his ministry. The blind beggar becomes whole when Jesus heals his sight and welcomes him into the Kingdom. The lepers are made clean by the touch of Jesus and are invited into the Kingdom of God. To this day, Jesus continues to heal, restore, make whole, and welcome the outcast and oppressed. It makes no difference if we don’t wear the right shoes or don’t have the right job or don’t have our mental illness under control or still struggle with our addictions or can’t have children or can’t find “the one,” in Christ, our identity is not that of outcast, but rather we are beloved children, invited into God’s Kingdom with open arms, and offered the cool drink of living water and eternal life.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Tom Wright, John For Everyone Part I, pg. 38-39

[2] John 4:4

I love learning something new…

This post is way late.  The day just would not cooperate, but I learned something new today that I thought I’d pass along.

I’ll let the Christ Seminary-Seminex Professor of Old Testament, emeritus, at Luther Seminary tell you in his own words,

“In verses 7-12 and 17-18 Abraham again has trouble believing the promise, this time the promise of the land: “How am I to know that I shall in fact possess it?” God told Abraham to take a series of animals, cut them in two, and lay each half opposite its counterpart. Then, at sunset, a deep sleep fell on Abraham, much like the deep sleep that overcame Adam before God took one of his ribs and built it into a woman (Genesis 2:21). The point is not to be missed: Abraham is fast asleep for the rest of the pericope, and he contributes nothing to the making of the covenant after he has prepared the animals.

In a dream or vision Abraham observes a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passing between the cut up animals. On that day the Lord made with Abraham and Sarah a covenant, saying, “To your descendants I give this land.”

Again, this is God’s good news for their bad situation, but what does this ceremony mean? In making an agreement, our ancient ancestors often invoked on themselves a curse. An eighth-century treaty from a place called Sefire says: “Just as I am tearing the shoulder off this sheep, may my own shoulder be torn from its socket if I violate this agreement.”

Abraham and Sarah had a hard time believing the promise of the land. Would it help God says if I would invoke upon myself a curse? That is, may I be cut in pieces like these animals if I don’t fulfill this promise? At other times in the Old Testament God reinforces his promises by “swearing by himself” or “by raising his hand to heaven.” When a promise is hard to believe, God reinforces the promise by putting himself at risk. Now can you believe?

The crucifixion of Jesus is interpreted in a variety of ways in the New Testament and in Christian theology. One way of interpreting it is to say that God took upon himself the curse that was meant for us: Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. When God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, is this not good news that empowers our trust? And is not the God of the Old Testament much like the God of the New Testament in putting himself on the line?

Genesis 15 recognizes that it is sometimes hard to believe when we are in bad situations. But God addresses our bad situations with promises that ring true to our needs, just as God doubled down on the promises to Abraham and Sarah. God lives up to his relationship with us by demonstrating that his news for us is indeed good, that he is willing to risk his very self so that we might believe.” (Read the whole commentary here).

In this section may be the coolest sentence I’ve ever read.  “Just as I am tearing the shoulder off this sheep, may my own shoulder be torn from its socket if I violate this agreement.”  I mean, how cool is that!  SHW and I closed on a refinance on our house last week.  There were no torn shoulders, no promises of physical harm.  We’ve lost a great way of sealing covenant relationships with the end of animal sacrifices.

Anyway, I’m not sure if this’ll preach, I hope it does, but even if it doesn’t, I can rest easy knowing that I have shared this great insight by Ralph Klein.

Free to do what?

On Sunday, we’ll get to do something post-1979 Episcopalians rarely do anymore: read/sing a canticle.  Some of my readers have probably never heard the word.  I hadn’t until I arrived at Virginia Seminary.  A canticle is a non-metrical song, usually based on the Bible (other than the Psalms).  They have been a part of the Daily Office for ever, I think, but since we moved the Eucharist back to the center of our liturgical life and since very few people actually attend a Daily Office service, let alone pray it on their own, canticles have gone out of favor with Episcopalians.  And its a shame, really.  Two whole generations of Christians don’t know the joy that is Calvin Hampton’s setting of Canticle 18, A Song to the Lamb, from the Hymnal 1982.

As I said, this Sunday, we’ll have the chance to read/sing a Canticle, number 16, the song of Zechariah.  My friend, Evan, is blogging about it all week, you should read his stuff.  Anyway, I was struck by a part of Canticle 16 as I read through the lessons for Advent 2 this morning.  It come about halfway through Zechariah’s song, as he is extolling the virtues of God’s covenant with Abraham.

“This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *to set us free from the hands of our enemies, /Free to worship him without fear, *holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.”

I was probably more struck by it today than other days because of another blog I had read today by a fellow General Convention Deputy and Acts 8 Devotee, Megan Castellan, about her encounter with Zach, a 10 year old boy who is learning to knit.  Go read the whole post, but in the meantime, here’s the pertinent excerpt:

“[Zach asked,] ‘Why, if God gave us free will, did God insist that we worship him, and “not just let us sit on a beach in Miami all the time?”’ (That made me laugh out loud.)

To the last, I admitted that it remained a deep mystery, but for me, personally, I worshipped God because I actually like God.  Chances are, if I didn’t love God so much, I would ignore God a lot more.  But, moreover, I show God my affection by trying to live the way Jesus lived, and by trying to love the people around me as much as God did.  Zach pondered this concept for a while, knitting industriously.”
In Christ, we have been set free.  As Martin Luther said, we may “sin boldly,” but that freedom, Zechariah reminds us, should propel us not into dissipation, drunkenness, or debauchery (to paraphrase last week’s Gospel), but instead, our freedom in Christ is freedom to worship and freedom to act like Christ acted (or like Christ would have us act).  It is a powerful word from Zechariah, one for which I am thankful that the blog stars aligned so that I might see it.
Be set free.  Free to worship and obey.