Only a Full House

Only a Full House

Only a full house. Acts 11, Psalm 148, and Revelation 21 will abide no less.

In Acts, God presents animals of every kind to Peter, even those preciously considered unclean, declaring, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” God’s blessing breaks down barriers between Jew and Gentile: "The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” In the Psalm every feature and detail of creation is enlisted and embraced in praise. Every voice joins in the song of the whole. In Revelation, the “sea" of isolation and division disappears. Heaven and earth are joined in marriage. The pain of separation is replaced with togetherness.

If It Weren't for All These Sick People

If It Weren't for All These Sick People

A young resident at the hospital is off her shift and getting herself ready to go on a date. Just as she is headed out the door, her directing physician tells her that test results have come back indicating that one of her patients is dying. It is up to her to inform him and his family. When she protests the interruption to her plans, her director responds with less-than-subtle sarcasm, “Oh I know, this would be just the most terrific place to work on the planet if it weren't for all these sick people. Wouldn't it?”

The Wound of Hope

The Wound of Hope

Disciples preacher and professor Fred Craddock once told a story:

    Used to have a kid down home who’d believe anything you’d tell him. You could say, “The schoolhouse burned down. We’re not having school tomorrow.”

    “Oh boy!” He’d believe it.

    “They’re giving away free watermelons down at the town hall.”

    “Really? Free watermelons?” He’d go running off.

Foreboding Joy

Foreboding Joy

Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem marks the culmination of the whole middle movement of the Gospel of Luke “toward Jerusalem.”  Popular anticipation built from “all the deeds of power” along the way now unleashes in celebration. The proclamation of the multitude—“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”—is adapted from Psalm 118:26, which may have been used as a greeting to pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover. As they “praise God joyfully” it rings with relief, possibly not only remembering Israel's deliverance from Egypt, but also joyfully anticipating the overthrow of the new Egypt—Rome.

Such Fine Stuff

Such Fine Stuff

I have always been fascinated with the lives and habits of writers—especially poets and novelists—people who bend over a page and pour themselves out. Some are methodical and disciplined, others unpredictable. They often live the kind of lives that look prodigal and impractical from the outside. But in the act of writing, each is weighing out the world as well their own soul, losing and discovering themselves in the writing and the written.

Cynicism or Celebration

Cynicism or Celebration

“They couldn’t have been more different.” I had heard it said of siblings before, but as my wife and I draw near to the birth of our second son, it sunk in closer to home this time. We sat after dinner with a couple whose two sons are now adults, and as our own son explored their home, they reflected on how their first as a child had been so easy and peaceful. The second: “holy terror."

The Rock Was Christ

The Rock Was Christ

For the Jewish worshipper, desert language in the psalms would conjure images of the Exodus and exile, times of wilderness, weariness, and want. Paul reflects on these annals of Hebrew wandering and the way God guided and provided: “for they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them.” Paul may be referring here to a Jewish tradition that the rock from which God brought water was actually carried by the Israelites as they journeyed.

Dead Set

Dead Set

“Keep death before your eyes daily."

This is one of the “tools of good works” listed in chapter four of the Rule of St. Benedict. Though it is only one of over seventy, it jumps off the page. It is how we begin this season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, being reminded “that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Lent has death at the start as well as the destination.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Every time I officiate a wedding, I warn the couple that if their ring bearer and/or flower girls are under 6, they are almost guaranteed not to make it down the aisle by themselves. (It's not a bad thing; I just want to make sure they know.) I share this from experience not only as a pastor but as a former toddler. At three or four, I was ring bearer in a family friend’s wedding. The story goes that my parents told me so often not to “wander off,” that by the time the reception came I looked at them and groaned, “Can I wander off now?"

Face to Face, Glory to Glory

Face to Face, Glory to Glory

The small town in Illinois where I went to college had an inexplicable wealth of thrift stores, and I quickly developed a thrifting habit. (“Habit” sounds better than “problem,” right?) I shared this secondhand lifestyle with my roommate, and we would do the rounds at the local shops at least once a week. For me there was (and still is) something deeply satisfying about the treasure hunt, the searching and discovery. During one of our forages among the dusty shelves, my friend found a light therapy lamp—one designed to mimic sunlight and shine on your face to combat seasonal depression.

Beautiful Frustration

Beautiful Frustration

Jumping into Genesis 45 feels like dropping in at someone else’s family reunion right around the point when everyone has “drank freely” (43:34) enough to start a tearful trek into the past. We are left to catch up. This passion has patiently waited over the twenty years that have passed since Joseph’s brothers jumped him, threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, and lied to their father that he was dead. Joseph is known for his dreams and interpretations of dreams, but I wonder how he slept those long years. 

Fish and Dishes

Fish and Dishes

I was by myself taking care of a particularly overflowing sink of dishes on what I believe was a Tuesday night. On the mission style armchair behind me was a copy of Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, my seminary reading that I had just put down to go about some housework. One blessing of such ordinary tasks is the space they leave for the mind. Mine began to wander.

Here Are Your Mysteries

Here Are Your Mysteries

Today, we usually imagine “reading” as a primarily private act and “reading the Bible” as the definitive devotional act. Such has only been the case for a few hundred years. In the ancient world especially, for the vast majority of people Scripture was something spoken. Setting Scripture within its original context of the worshipping community, we are poised remember something central about what Scripture even is.

Always Too Much

Always Too Much

Since beginning at Peachtree, I have come to delight in officiating weddings. Few events are so paradoxically weighty with meaning and light with joy. All the preparation and anticipation is released in a moment. All rise. The doors open and there stands the bride. Fanfare builds and climbs to a breathless rest. And she enters. While all eyes are fixed on the bride, mine move to the groom.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

With all the yearnings and warnings of the prophets in your imagination, read today from the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel:

Luke 1:5–2:38

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
    that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Our Rest and Consolation

Isaiah 66:7–11

Before she was in labor
 she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
 she delivered a son.
Who has heard of such a thing?
 Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
 Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?
Yet as soon as Zion was in labor
 she delivered her children.
Shall I open the womb and not deliver?
 says the Lord;
shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb?
 says your God.

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
 all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
 all you who mourn over her—
that you may nurse and be satisfied
 from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
 from her glorious bosom.

Our Rest and Consolation

In a 12th-century Advent sermon, Bernard of Clairvaux taught that there are three “advents” or “comings” of the Lord. We are certainly familiar with two: his birth in the flesh and his return to restore all things. The whole tension of Advent is that we live in between these two arrivals, but Bernard of Clairvaux proposes a third arrival in the meantime:

“The intermediate coming is a hidden one…Listen to what our Lord himself says: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.”

by Rev. Nick Chambers

Holy Hush

Isaiah 42:10–18

Sing to the Lord a new song,
 his praise from the end of the earth!
Let the sea roar and all that fills it,
 the coastlands and their inhabitants.
Let the desert and its towns lift up their voice,
 the villages that Kedar inhabits;
let the inhabitants of Sela sing for joy,
 let them shout from the tops of the mountains.
Let them give glory to the Lord,
 and declare his praise in the coastlands.

The Lord goes forth like a soldier,
 like a warrior he stirs up his fury;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
 he shows himself mighty against his foes.
For a long time I have held my peace,
 I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor,
 I will gasp and pant.
I will lay waste mountains and hills,
 and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
 and dry up the pools.
I will lead the blind
 by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
 I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
 the rough places into level ground.

These are the things I will do,
 and I will not forsake them.
They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame—
 those who trust in carved images,
who say to cast images,
 “You are our gods.”

Listen, you that are deaf;
 and you that are blind, look up and see!

Holy Hush

The Advent season provides us a time to “be still” and know that God is God. Verse fourteen states, “For a long time I have kept silent.  I have been quiet and held myself back.” Perhaps we should step back and realize there were four hundred years of “silence” between the last of the prophets and the appearance of John the Baptist in the desert proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Amazing how we tend to rush toward Christmas. By November, lights are already appearing in various places. Halloween stuff is being replaced by Christmas décor and shopping for just the appropriate gifts for those on our lists. But Advent reminds us to contemplate the arrival of God’s greatest gift to humanity, his one and only Son. John tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” May we pause and reflect, even meditate on the first great doctrine of the Christian faith: The Incarnation. Yesuah/Jesus, whose name means “YHWH Saves,” is unique among all the “founders” of the world’s three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I first came to Peachtree under the ministry of Dr. Jim Collins. One of the things I recall he often said, “At Peachtree, we are not about “religion.” Religion kills people. Jesus brings people together.”

As in many ways we rush toward Christmas, Advent provides a “holy hush”—a time of introspection, illumination, and reflection as each candle of the Advent wreath reminds us of the entry of the Light into this sin-darkened world. Isaiah entreats us: “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth. You who go down to the sea and all that is in it, you islands and all who live them. Let the desert and its town raise their voices rejoice….let them shout from the mountain tops, Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his name…he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies.”

by Rev. Bob Tyler

A Covenant Remains

Jeremiah 31:31–34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

A Covenant Remains

One of the foundational principles throughout Scripture comes into view in understanding the difference between a covenant and a contract. Whereas a contract is voided if one party violates the agreed terms, a covenant remains. God’s covenant with Israel emerges as a promise that endures despite Israel’s repeated follies. The text of Jeremiah 31 plainly acknowledges that the people have broken their promise—their covenant. And yet, here again, God acts to renew his promise that had been made in the past. God will be faithful even still. 

In renewing this covenant promise, the text of Jeremiah speaks of what it would look like for Israel to take its pledge and promise to heart. With prophetic urgency, now is the time for the people to live with unwavering commitment. In the words of Walter Brueggemann, the intent is for this renewed covenant to be: “as readily accepted as breathing and eating. Israel will practice obedience because it belongs in Israel’s character to live in this way.”

In the end, the fact that the “new covenant” is not to be like the “old covenant” is not a word about God having given up on his people. God has always been faithful—the point is for the people to stay true to their word in their next iteration. Jeremiah’s text is a declaration that imagines what it would be like for the people to keep up their promises—to live out their love of God and neighbor in ways that are earnest and heartfelt. 

Let us take Jeremiah’s proclamation to heart in our own age. Let us, too, renew our promises to be faithful in what we say and how we live.

by Rev. Jared Wortman