In the church we are used to speaking about the ramifications of the law and its impact in our lives. We speak about how God uses the law to show us our sin, to punish our sinfulness and to be a guide as we make decisions and chart a course forward. The law, in this way is all around us, our lives are saturated in it. Sometimes it hits us more deliberately than others, but it is always there.
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). Most scholars believe this line used by St. Paul is part of an ancient baptismal hymn. You can imagine it being sung out by a gathering of the people of God as the newly baptized rises from the water. Its poetic words form a call to a new life, a life free from the terrors of the grave, free from futility and aimless wandering. Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,
I feel genuinely sorry for people who do not go to a church that follows the old church calendar. Not that it will necessarily make the preaching better or ensure the handing over of the gifts of God, but as an organizing principle the movement of seasons and times throughout the year gives us something powerful, something beautiful, something to help drive our attention and focus. Could you imagine not having the season of Lent?
When I became a pastor, one of the questions asked of me in the ordination rite was if, “I would minister faithfully to the sick and dying, and demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry of the Gospel?” To which I answered, “Yes, I will, with the help of God.” This meant my call as a pastor was not to stay within the walls of the church or to remain in my study, but it was, in part, to go to the sick and dying, go to those who could not come to church on their own, to those who needed the gifts of Christ brought to them.
There can be no off days. There are no times when a preacher can just mail it in, saying, “I’ve covered this all before. I’ve said it all before. Perhaps this once, we’ll do something different. Perhaps, this Sunday I will take the opportunity to lay out a vision for the future of this congregation. Perhaps, this time I will get creative and show my prowess for finding the hidden connections of a particular text and how they matrix with the greater Scriptures. Perhaps, I won’t worry so much proclaiming the Word. Just this once, I won’t focus so much on the distinction of Law and Gospel and instead I’ll give some good lessons for reading the Word at home.”
She whispers softly.
He stands an arms-length away.
She calls again.
He holds his reasoned stay.
The great forerunner, John the Baptist, has been imprisoned by Herod Antipas and the time has come for Jesus to begin the public work for which He was sent. He leaves behind His home town of Nazareth and travels to Capernaum by the sea. His movement is like the inbreaking of a great light into a land trapped in darkness. As Isaiah declares, “Those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” For as John had preached and baptized for repentance, as he had so faithfully pointed to our Lord and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world,” now we hear from the lips of our Savior the great call of faith. The light that breaks into that darkness comes in the gift of His Word as he now declares, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Numbers seem to define us. How old are you? How many years of schooling have you done? How tall are you? How fat? How much can you lift? How many calories did you eat? How far away is your house? How many lovers have you had? How many hours does it take to get to mom’s? And of course, how much money have you made, how many true friends do you have, how many years left do you have?
There was a time when the darkness and loneliness of divorce seemed to me tragically romantic. Probably, I was reading too much Andre Dubus and John Updike at the same time. Raymond Carver probably did not help either. There was a resigned dark humor to the characters, an alcoholic loneliness, and (for Dubus’ characters) a tangible and inescapable divine presence.
“I thought we decided we weren’t going to exchange gifts?” she mumbled to her husband after receiving a surprise gift from her brother.
Have you ever received a surprise gift from someone that made you feel inadequate or even angry?