August 21, 2016 – Like birds of a feather

Pentecost 14 August 21, 2016   Ps 133; Acts 16:11-15, 25-34; Ephesians 4:1-6   Like birds of a feather ******************************************************* Last week our family took a stay-close-to-home-vacation, during which we took some day trips – including three times to the Outer Cape. One day we took a long walk at Nauset Light Beach in Eastham…. And as we walked further, farther from the main beach area, we saw more and more herds of seals, fishing and playing together… Some swimming right alongside us as we walked, as if they were following us. It was a delight to watch – especially when they’d come out of the water, flipping tails in the air, splashing water, as if having a spectacularly good time enjoying each other’s company… Another day last week, while my wife and daughter sat and played and read, I walked the beach at Race Point for a mile or two. As I got away again from other people, I noticed more and more of nature… And as I approached a series of flocks of sea-birds, spread across stretches of the beach, close to the water’s edge, each time I grew nearer, birds would rise together in the air, calling out to each other…Telling me off for disturbing their peace… Annoyed, but not angry, just squawking… Mostly enjoying their fellowship together immensely – acting as if with one mind… Rising up in the air, fluttering – then quickly settling back down behind me as I walked past… (The birds know how to flock together, without, apparently, even having any individual leader…. and…) Back home Saturday a week ago, I went for a walk at the Canal by the railroad bridge…When I got there people were running to look at something in the water, taking pictures… I parked quickly – and here was a big school of dolphins – long fins sticking way out of the water – leaping in synchronized joyful feeding, playing, and traveling…. (and…) *** Our readings today from the book of Acts and Ephesians both affirm and expand on this theme of flocking, herding, and schooling together – something many species of birds, fish, and animals do…. Something we humans are also designed and equipped to do… Though we often seem to need reminding… The similarities aren’t accidental… God makes fish and birds first, then animals, then crowns the work of creation, making human beings in the image and likeness of God… Not the physical likeness, obviously, since God is far beyond all physical limitations… But we are made in the spiritual likeness of God – endowed with spiritual gifts and graces – empowered to believe and hope and love – even as God our Creator has believed, hoped, and loved life itself into being… (and…) If I seem to be obsessing today on the parallels between birds, seals, dolphins – and human behavior – it’s yes, partly because I’ve seen so many examples of flocking and schooling together this week that I can’t ignore it. Sometimes God strings together events like this to make it harder for us to miss the point. And in my case, God had already got me started thinking along these lines several weeks ago, on the day I attended Rohi’s Junior Ranger class at Cape Cod Visitor’s Center. The adult rangers were...

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August 30, 2015 – Doers of the Word

Pentecost 14 August 30, 2015   James 1:1-8, 9-16, 17-27   Doers of the Word ************************************************************* James, author of this letter that bears his name, is almost certainly the same James, whom we meet in Acts, named there as brother of Jesus, leader and chief spokesperson for the early church in Jerusalem. James has been called the first Bishop of the Church. The title “bishop” probably wasn’t in use yet in James’ lifetime, but he did fill the role. Modestly, and/or because no introduction was necessary, James never identifies himself anywhere in this letter as any kind of office holder in the church, or as brother of Jesus, or as anything but a slave (or servant) of God and of Jesus. But he writes with power, wisdom, and eloquence, addressing this letter simply “to the twelve tribes in the dispersion” – a clear reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, and a reminder of James’ deep roots in the ancient Jewish wing of the still very young Christian church. James is an elder spokesperson for ancient living traditions newly alive in Christ. This letter was written sometime (we can’t be sure when) in the first few decades of the Christian movement, a time of great transitions and rapid change. The church was now rapidly growing and spreading far beyond its place of origin in Galilee and Judea. This was a time marked also by the beginnings of persecution of the church, and the emergence of new leadership in the church. The apostle Paul, who had been a persecutor of the church, was now a convert and chief ambassador to the Gentile non-Jewish wing of the church. Paul’s telling of the gospel assumes some of the teachings of Jesus but emphasizes above all else the saving grace of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the power of the resurrection. James led the older Jewish wing of the church. His telling of the good news assumes the cross and resurrection of Jesus, but stays especially close to the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus. The letter of James sounds a lot like Jesus, but in a different time zone. Most of what James says is traceable to Jesus. But this can take a while to notice. In the gospels we encounter Jesus as the lead character in a narrative filled with other characters and conversations that shape our hearing as we follow Jesus from Galilee through the countryside and on to Jerusalem… James, on the other hand, is a letter, composed mostly of brief teachings and sayings, many in the form of parables. The content of James is very close to what Jesus says. But the packed-tight-together-writing-style-of-James requires a different manner of listening. Like the biblical book of Proverbs, James is probably best read a few verses at a time, prayerfully and meditatively… We’re reading the whole first chapter today, because it brings together the main themes of the letter, and serves as introduction to the rest of the letter. But we’re reading it divided into short sections… Hear now again the word from the letter to James, chapter 1, verses 17-27: **************** Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In...

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September 14, 2014 – Holy struggle

Revelation 15:1-4 Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.” Exodus 5:1-9, 15-23 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’“ But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!” Pharaoh continued, “Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!” That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words….” Then the Israelite supervisors came to Pharaoh and cried, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ Look how your servants are beaten! You are unjust to your own people.” He said, “You are lazy, lazy; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.” The Israelite supervisors saw that they were in trouble when they were told, “You shall not lessen your daily number of bricks.” As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them. They said to them, “The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O...

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