the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sunday 1/1/06 Year B - New Year's Day

Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Encountering God in Worship
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

We have been following the revised common lectionary in our worship for several years now. We will continue to do so. Usually I base my sermon remarks on the Gospel passage for the corresponding Sunday in the lectionary. This morning, however, I wish to deviate from that practice. I have taken as my text this morning, a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. I will read from chapter 11, verses 23 to 26. Let us read that passage together this morning.
Reading of the scripture...
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

January stands at the end of one year and the beginning of a new year. It is named for the Roman God Janus. Janus is the Roman god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings, and hence represented with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions. He was worshipped at the beginning of the harvest time, planting, marriage, birth, and other types of beginnings, especially the beginnings of important events in a person's life. Janus also represents the transition between primitive life and civilization, between the countryside and the city, peace and war, and the growing-up of young people.

It is both traditional and appropriate at the turning of the new year to look backward and forward at the same time, evaluating what we have done and planning what we will do in the year to come.

Just as people take stock of their lives over the past year and plan for their future during the coming year, it is also appropriate for churches to do the same. It is to this end that I address my remarks on this first day of January, 2006.

The main point of religion is to connect people to God. When this happens, religion has done what it is supposed to do. When a religion, a faith, a church fails to connect its membership with the God of that faith, religion, that faith community and/or church becomes irrelevant.

Often in the past year, I have wondered if Hope Memorial Baptist Church may have become irrelevant in bringing the people of this community in contact with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We pay attention to prophets because they bear witness to encounters with God. Their words and life confirm their claims. The apostle Paul is one of those prophets whose words have power because we believe Paul really did meet Jesus face to face on the road to Damascus.

Paul had done missionary among the Corinthians, and a church was created from his efforts. Since most of the Corinthians were pagans before they joined the church, they had no idea how they were supposed to worship God. Our text was written between the years 52 and 54. This was about twenty years after the death of Jesus and about fifteen years before the writing of Mark, the first Gospel. Beliefs, and practices were passed along by word of mouth.

Children play a game where they sit in a circle and one starts by whispering a tale in the ear of the person next to them. The second does the same until the tale makes it all around the room. Then the fun of the game is see how different the tale is at the end of the cycle from what it was at the beginning.

And just as a tale changes character when it is passed around the room, stories of Jesus, his teachings and instructions for practicing the faith were being mis-stated, misunderstood and misused.

Paul begins with “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you...” Paul did not create this form of worship, but passed on what he had learned.

I. The Lord Took Bread... “This is my body,”

“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is [broken] for you.”

The bread we take in the Lord’s Supper connects us to Christ. We are doing more than remembering here. The supper is more than just a symbol. We are in company with the resurrectd Christ. We call the Lord’s Supper communion becaus in the act of worship we are in communion with the Lord. Jesus wants us to remember everything about Him – His love for us, His forgiveness, His purpose, His hope, His presence, and His power.

Some churches observe the Lord’s Supper once a month, others, both catholic and protestant, including some baptist churches, observe the supper as a part of their worship every Sunday. The call it the Eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek word meaning Thanksgiving. And it is this giving thanks to our Lord that is meant when they observe the Eucharist. This pattern of observance goes back to the earliest times. They believe that through the Lord’s Supper, Christ comes near. The point of worship, remember, is to put us in touch with God.

II. Then He took the cup... “The New Covenant,”

“In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”

Covenant is a key word in the Bible. God made a covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses and the children of Israel. Covenants are between two or more parties and they spell out what is expected in the relationship between the parties that is governed by the covenant. God chose and approached the people of Israel, He would become their God, and they would obey His law.

Keeping the law turned out to be an impossible task. People couldn’t do it. The Israelites couldn’t do it. Christians, today, can’t do it. So as far back as Jeremiah in the Old Testament, God began to speak of a New Covenant. It is to this New Covenant that Jesus referrs when he says, “this is the New Covenant in my blood.”

But covenants always demand a price. To get from the Old Covenant to the New one cost Jesus his life. No longer is religion about Moses and the law; now it is about Jesus and about Grace.

III. Remembering.

Twice Jesus has called us to remember. Once after the bread and once after the cup. Samuel Johnson once said, “It is not sufficiently considered that mankind requires oftener to be reminded than informed.”

We celebrate the Lord’s Supper often because it centers us on Jesus. The supper calls us to first things. Not everything in our faith has the same importance. Jesus, the cross and his resurrection, is the very core of our faith. When we remember, we remember what is most important.

But, remember, the point of the supper is not remembering, it is communion. The point is an encounter with the risen Christ. When our worship does what it is intended to do, we have fellowship with more than just the people assembled here. We meet the God that we know in Christ.

IV. Proclaiming.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

There is more than one way to preach and more than one way to do the work of an evangelist. In the Lord’s Supper there is a subtle, implied appeal. When a sensitive soul sees the Lord Supper, that soul is drawn toward the One who gave his life in a broken body. The event pulls at the conscience. It makes us all want to come to Jesus.

Cecil Sherman lists six things that a church is supposed to do:
  1. Give a worship experience that connects people to God.
  2. Teach the Bible to laity, especially the New Testament.
  3. Do pastoral care that heals the wounded and creates Christian fellowship.
  4. Do missions, both hands-on missions and checkbook missions.
  5. Do the work of an evangelist.
  6. Maintain the institutional church;
The hardest thing we have to do has to do with evangelism and missions. Paul gives us another way to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Friday, December 30, 2005

Baptist Summit

On November 15, the Georgia Baptist Convention chose to sever a 172-year old relationship of major significance when it voted to break ties with Mercer University.  Now we must begin serious dialogue with our church constituencies about how this decision will impact Mercer.
     We invite you to attend an important conference in Macon.  At this conference, we will begin the discussions on the effect this watershed decision will have on Mercer's relationship with its primary Baptist constituencies:  Baptist churches and Baptist Students in Georgia and the Southeast.  We believe that this "Summit" will be the beginning of an effort to listen, learn and minister as we move forward through a new era in Baptist life.

I received the above notice in today's mail.  Please pray for the students, staff and faculty of Mercer University.  Please pray for the non-fundamentalist Baptists in the state of Georgia that we will have the courage to forge ahead in new directions "as we move forward through a new era in Baptist life."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Merton update

On Christmas Day, I posted a quote from Merton, dated February 15, 1946. In that post he was through with The Cloud and the Fire, and since no book was ever published with this title, I took him at his word. But then I cam upon this (I started to write post) journal entry from April 29, 1946:
It is extremely difficult to write theology well. The main reason why I can't write it is that I don't know it. I don't know precisely what I mean to say, and therefore when I start to write I find that I am working out a theology as I go. And I get into the most terrible confusion, saying things which I try to explain—to myself more than to anyone else—and rambling off the track of the plan I had arranged.
   I wonder how many plans I have made for this book, The School of the Spirit? Perhaps six—including the ones I made for it when it was called The Cloud and the Fire. So I sit at the typewriter with my fingers all wound up in a cat's cradle of strings, overwhelmed with the sense of my own stupidity, and surrounded by not one but a multitude of literary dilemmas.

I like Merton's journals in much the same way I like blogging and reading your blogs. What is visible is a process of thought. When we read a completed book, that book is a snapshot of the author's thought at the time of the last edit. Reading Merton's journals helps me see that good and even great writing doesn't happen all at once like an inspiration from the Holy Spirit and a rapid dictation of words on the printed page. Creative writing is really a process. Anyone reading Merton's journals without knowing the corpus of his published work or how it has been received by posterity, would never guess that he had in him what has come out of him. I know that I am reading the online-journals (blogs) of future writers who will be as well read and well revered as Merton. And I am confident that if Merton were alive today, he too would be a blogger.

More Thomas Merton

This passage is taken from the frontpiece in The Sign of Jonas, published by Harcourt Brace, © 1953.
The sign Jesus promised to the genertion that did not understand Him was the "sign of Jonas the prophet"—that is, the sign of His own resurrection. The life of every monk, of every priest, of every Christian is signed with the sign of Jonas, because we all live by the power of Christ's resurrection. But I feel that my own life is especially sealed with this great sign, which baptism and monastic profession and priestly ordination have burned into the roots of my being, because like Jonas himself I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Thomas Merton on Writing

Sign of JonasFebruary 15, 1949
I had been worrying and bothering for two months about being unable to get anywhere with this new book, The Cloud and the Fire.  There were some forty pages of it, written mostly in blood, since the end of the retreat.  And they were terrible—great confusion.  Too long-winded, involved, badly written, badly thought out and with great torture too.  Finally it has come to seem obvious that God does not want the book and that He has simply blocked it by not giving me the strength, the sense, or the time to write it.

Yesterday when I had to do a prefatory note for The Waters of Siloe, it went like a breeze.  I had six pages done in an hour and a half, and time to spare to write to Bob Giroux before the end of the work.  And besides that I had taken time out to read a long letter from Laughlin and another from Sister Thérèse.

I had been thinking of tearing up The Cloud and the Fire for a long time.  I haven't done that, exactly, but I have simply stuffed it into an envelope, plans and all, and reconsidered what it was I was supposed to start.

About The Cloud and the Fire—I have in mind something that needs to be done some day:  the dogmatic essentials of mystical theology, based on tradition, and delivered in the context and atmosphere of Scripture and the liturgy.  In other words a mystical theology that is not a mere catalogue of "experiences" many of them outside the range of the ordinary economy of the Gifts—but a book that drinks contemplation de fontibus Salvatoris and exploits all the mysticism there is in the Liturgy and in revelation: an objective mysticism, integrated with the common intellectual heritage of the Church as a whole and yet with its full subjective application to the experience of the actual or potential mystic, the concrete and individual contamplative.  The contemplation of the Mystical Body in all its members.

And this is what I seem to be incapable of writing at the moment.

from pages 160 and 161.

Merry Christmas Everyone

From Sandra and me, Merry Christmas
The Heatons

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sunday 12/25/05 Year B - Christmas Day

Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-4
John 1:1-18

In our own time God has spoken to us
through his own Son,
the radiant light of God's glory
through whom he made everything.
May this Son, Jesus the Lord, be with you.

Many times in the course of history God spoke and his word was effective and liberating. He spoke, and the world was made. He spoke, and man and woman were created. He spoke, and he created the free nation of Israel, his Chosen People. But Israel refused to listen to God in the prophets and the gloom of sin over the world settled also over his people. God did not give up on humanity. He spoke his definitive Word, Jesus, and Jesus came and was born a child of people. He came to save us. Do we listen to his Word? Do we give him our word of acceptance and love?

A child is born to us! But who is he really? He is, from the beginning before creation, the Word of God. And this child is light that darkness cannot overcome. And the world, and even his own don't know him or receive him. But to those who see this child will give the power to become the children of God with him. The Word is made our flesh and pitches his tent among us. God has come home to dwell with his creation, his children on earth. History has been penetrated to its core, its heart and we see God's glory-the glory of an only Son coming from the Father, full of truth and loving-kindness. Do we see this glory? Because of the Incarnation do we see God's glory on the face of every human being? Look in love!

When a child is born

A ray of hope flitters in the sky
A shiny star lights up way up high
All across the land dawns a brand new morn
This comes to pass when a child is born

A silent wish sails the seven seas
The winds have changed whisperin the trees
And the walls of doubt crumble tossed and torn
This comes to pass when a child is born

A rosy fume settles all around
You’ve got the feel you’re on solid ground
For a spell or two no-one seems forlorn
This comes to pass when a child is born

And all of this happened
Because the world is waiting
Waiting for one child
Black, white, yellow, no one knows
But a child that would grow up and turn tears to laughter
Hate to love, war to peace
And everyone to everyone’s neighbour
Misery and suffering would be forgotten forever

It’s all a dream and illusion now
It must come true, sometimes soon somehow
All across the land dawns a brand new morn
This comes to pass when a child is born

All across the land dawns a brand new morn
This comes to pass when a child is born

When a child is born
Thoughts in preparation for Sunday's sermon.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Highway Travellers

As you may know, if you read my profile, I live in a little town called Sharpsburg. I don't actually live in town, but on a rural route that is based out of Sharpsburg, so my mailing address is Sharpsburg. I had to go to Newnan yesterday. Newnan is the largest town near us and is the county seat of Coweta County. The easiest way to get there from my home is to get on I-85 and go South for one exit, or about 5 miles. So that is the way I went.

When I got off at the exit, I saw on the side of the ramp, a couple of highway travellers. He was older, she was younger. I knew their van had been there for days because it had one of those colored stickers that the highway patrol puts on the back window to tag how long the car has been there.

When I say the guy was older, I mean he could have been about 30, give or take. He was standing next to the traffic holding a makeshift sign that read "DOWN ON LUCK, PLEASE HELP." He was gladly taking handouts from passing motorists.

When I say she was younger, I mean she could have been 18, but she looked younger. I have to watch myself about age in the young. The older I get the younger other people look. But I'm sure she was not older than 18.

Even though the sun was shining, it was cold. And the wind was blowing briskly. The young woman sat on the ground behind the van huddled up with a shawl around her trying to stay warm. It chilled me to the bone to see them there in that condition.

I thought about another couple. He was older and she was younger. They too were highway travellers on their way to Bethlehem from Nazareth. They too were down on their luck. Instead of a van they had a donkey to ride on. By donkey it can take several days to get to Bethlehem from Nazareth. What about the nights? I guess they slept by the side of the road.

What about riding on a donkey! What about being pregnant and riding on a donkey! She, the younger, was at the end of her term. Giving birth was eminent. All over, people were making their way to their place of birth to register for the census.

Because she was pregnant, they travelled slowly. Slower than the others. By the time they got to Bethlehem, all the rooms were taken. They had to spend the night in a barn.

I said that seeing this couple on the side of the road made me think of Joseph and Mary. I was going to a take-out restaurant to get lunch for my wife and myself. I thought about getting them some lunch. I thought about how warm my truck was compared to how cold they must be.

I thought about it. I reached in my wallet and pulled out a dollar bill and handed it to the man as I drove by. I said something like "God bless you, my son," and drove off.

I thought about it. I have never thought of myself as a Pharisee before. But picking up strangers is dangerous. Besides that, I was expected back at home before too long...Oh, I have a list of excuses.

I have no idea what happened to them. I have no idea where they were going. The van was pointed south. A good direction to be going in this weather. I know where I was headed...on my knees to ask forgiveness. "In as much as you did it not to one of the least of these, my bretheren..." Well, at least I have a nice warm house in which to make my confession.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

I'd Like you to meet some friends of ours

This is Isabella. She's ten and was our first kitty.

The big white cat in the foreground is Socrates. Behind him is Agatha. They are litter mates and were given to us by Francesca, an abandoned cat that we rescued. Francesca is gone now as are three others in her litter.

Agatha and Socrates are trying hard to look innocent here. They had cornered Isabella and got caught by me. They quickly moved away together and looked at me as if to quote that famous line from "Hogan's Heroes", "I know NOTHING."

Love comes in many ways. And they give it unconditionally.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sunday 12/18/05 Year B - Advent 4

This Week's Texts

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46-55
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38


Last Sunday we lit the candle of joy. We light it and the candles of hope and peace again as we remember that Christ will come again and bring us everlasting peace and joy.

— The fourth candle of Advent is the Candle of Love. It's light is meant to remind us of the love that God has for us.

— Jesus shows us God's perfect love. He is God's love in human form. The bible says that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."

— Love is patient, love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful or conceited, rude or selfish. Love is not quick to take offense, it keeps no records of wrongs, it does not gloat over other people's troubles, but rejoices in the right, the good, and the true. There is nothing that love cannot face, there is no limit to its faith, to its hope, to its endurance. Love never ends.

— We light this candle today to remind us of how God's perfect love is found in Jesus

— LET US PRAY Loving God, we thank you for your gift of love; — shown to us perfectly in Jesus Christ our Lord. Help us prepare our hearts to receive Him. Bless our worship. Help us to hear and do your word. We ask it in the name of the one born in Bethlehem. Amen
© Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1993, 1996, 1999

Monday, December 12, 2005

Re-Discovering Rilke

Saturday, I received my latest installment of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. This volume was Ezekiel and is written by Margarett S. Odell. Dr. Odell is associate professor of religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. And is somewhat of an expert on Ezekiel. Walter Breuggemann says of her:

[Dr.] Odell is among the most important members of the new wave of Ezekiel scholars who take full account of the peculiarity of the book of Ezekiel, but have the patience and the erudition to engage its stunning and demanding theological cliams.

In her introduction to Ezekiel's first vision she quotes a bit of Rilke, and the poem she quoted seemed to bring the vision of Ezekiel alive for me. I remembered that I had the book somewhere. (Don't you just love it when someone quotes a source and you have that very source in your personal library?) So I tore through my book cases and found the book, leaving the bookcases and the room a mess. After dusting off several years of dust, cat dander and hair from the edges of the book, I sat back and treated myself to several hours of Rilke.

Dr. Odell quoted only the first stanza. Here is the poem in its entirety:

Dich wundert nicht des Sturmes Wucht

You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees' blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit;
now it becomes a riddle again,
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
Ranier Maria Rilke; Book of Hours; translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy; Riverhead Books, NY,1996; page 95.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Ich glaube an Alles noch nie Gesagte

I belive in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widining channels
into the open sea.

Wir bauen an dir mit zitternden Händen

Our hands shake as we try to construct you,
block on block.
But you, cathedral we dimly perceive—
who can bring you to completion?

What's Rome? It crumbled.
What is the world? We are destroying it
before your towers can taper into spires,
before we can assemble your face
from the piles of mosaic.

Yet sometimes in dreams
I take in your whole expanse,
from its deepest beginnings
up to the rooftop's glittering ridge.

And then I see: it is my mind
that will fashion
and set the last pieces in place.
Ranier Maria Rilke; Book of Hours; translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy; Riverhead Books, NY,1996; page 58 & 62.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Sunday 12/11/05 Year B - Advent 3

This Week's Texts

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28


Last Sunday the candle of peace was lit. We light it and the candle of hope again as we remember that Christ will come again and bring to the world everlasting peace.

The third candle of Advent is the Candle of Joy. It reminds of the joy that Mary felt when the angel Gabriel told her that a special child would be born to her — a child who would save and deliver his people.

God wants us all to have joy. The angel who announced to the shepherds that Jesus had been born told them: "Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of a great joy for all people — for to you is born this day, in the City of David, a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord."

We light this candle to remember that Christ brings the promise of a new life - a life in which the blind receive sight, the lame walk, and the prisoners are set free. We light it to remember that He is the bringer of true and everlasting joy.

LET US PRAY - Loving God, we thank you for the joy you bring us. Help us prepare our hearts for this gift. Bless our worship. Help us to hear and to do your word. We ask it in the name of the one born in Bethlehem. Amen.
© Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1993, 1996, 1999

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Sunday 12/4/05 Year B - Advent 2

This Week's Texts

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8


Last Sunday we lit the first candle in our Advent Wreath, the candle of hope. We light it again as we remember that Christ will come again to fulfil all of God's promises to us.

The second candle of Advent is the Candle of Peace. It is sometimes called the Bethlehem Candle to remind us of the place in which preparations were made to receive and cradle the Christ child.

Peace is a gift that we must be prepared for. God gives us the gift of peace when we turn to him in faith.

The prophet Isaiah calls Christ "the Prince of Peace." Through John the Baptist and all the other prophets, God asks us to prepare our hearts so that he may come in.

Our hope is in God, and in his son Jesus Christ. Our peace is found in him. We light this candle today to remind us that he brings peace to all who trust in him.

LET US PRAY - Loving God, thank you for the peace you give us through Jesus. Help us prepare our hearts to receive Him. Bless our worship. Guide us in all that we say and do. We ask it in the name of the one born in Bethlehem. Amen.
© Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1993, 1996, 1999

Preaching Peace Among an Angry People

In the sixth century BC, there occurred a deep and irreversable disruption in the life of ancient Israel. This fissure became decisive for the faith of Israel as it is voiced in the Old Testament. That disruption is indeed a concrete, describable sociopolitical event, and it cannot be understood without attention to the specificities of political history. That event, however, became decisive and definitive for Israel's Faith, not simply because of the its enescapable concreteness but also because Israel found in this event the workings of the inscrutable sovereign God upon whom it had staked its life.

The Rev. Dr. J. Barry Vaughn says: Advent reminds us that we, too, are exiles. The exiles in Babylon looked back to the days when they lived peacefully in their own lands and looked forward to their return. Like the exiles in Babylon, we live between the times, looking back to God’s coming among us in the babe of Bethlehem and to his coming again “in power and great glory”.

Israel's longing for Freedom and Return can be and has been compared with our anticipation of the Advent of God-in-Christ

When God is about to Act in history he sends his messenger. Isaiah writes in chapter 40:

A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
     make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
     and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
     and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
     and all people shall see it together,
     for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

And in today's Gospel passage Mark writes:

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
     who will prepare your way;

(the actual reference for this verse is Malachi 3:1)

the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
     'Prepare the way of the Lord,
     make his paths straight,'"

It is this same preparation that we make every year during the season of Advent. Symbolically we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord in our lives. We break down the mountains, the obstacles to faith and hope, and we even out the rough places in our hope, by dispelling our doubts with a dose of faith. And it is then, as with the coming of Cyrus and the coming of Jesus, "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed" in us.

In Psalm 137 we read of Israel's despair and their anger:
First hear the despair:

By the rivers of Babylon—
     there we sat down and there we wept
     when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
     we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
     asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
     "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

How could we sing the LORD's song
     in a foreign land?

Then hear how quickly the despair turns to Anger!

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
     let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
     if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
     above my highest joy.

And hear how ruthless their anger is:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
     the day of Jerusalem's fall,
how they said, "Tear it down! Tear it down!
     Down to its foundations!"
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!

And then the revenge:

     Happy shall they be who pay you back
     what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
     and dash them against the rock!

The Message of Peace is an un-popular message. In our own times, there is little talk of peace or forgiveness. There is a lot of talk that is angry talk. A lot of talk about retribution and revenge. The whole campaign and election of 2004 turned on whether one was a Hawk or a Dove. The Hawks put up signs that read simply "REMEMBER." It is an angry, vengeful rememberance born out of deep fear and terror. What they want remembered and not forgotten was the day the United States was attacked in a horrifying and devasting way by an invisible and seemingly untouchable enemy. And the Doves seemed to spout the most angry messages of all. When the election was over the Red side had won the Blue side began to talk of secession or mass exodus to Canada or France. But now, a year later, that talk has changed from exodus to political activism, anger and revenge.

The preaching of Peace is an unpopular message in our land. The cries of restraint and love and forgiveness do not resonate in the ears of the angry or vengeful. A church in California has been under investigation by the IRS and may lose it's tax exempt status because on the eve of the election, a visiting minister preached a message of Peace that was interpreted by the current Administration as a message of political activism. Even within our churches the preaching of Peace is very unpopular. A young minister wrote to me this week, he said, "I don't know about you, but many in my congregation really don't like it when I talk about peace and peacemaking; it rubs against their current politics and flesh."

But the message of Peace is the message of God-in-Christ. Peace, whether it be global, regional or personal, is exactly the message the Church must preach, not only today, but in every day. The message of Peace is the message that Jesus preached during his ministry. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus enters a synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. He stands up to read and is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He turns to Isaiah 61 and reads these words from the great prophet:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
     because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
     to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
     and release to the prisoners;

Is this not a messasge of peace? Did not Jesus abdicate the roll of a Warrior Messiah? Jesus' message was one of peaceful activism against the societal ills of his day and the sins of the world of any day. When he was in the desert and the devil came to him, and Jesus was faced with the possibility of world domination, he shunned that role. When facing his accusers on the morning of Good Friday, he would not defend himself, but accepted the inevitibality of the outcome of the mock trial. When he hung on the Cross, suspended between Heaven and Earth, and his tormentors cried out "Save yourself, 'King of the Jews'," he only prayed to his Father, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

The message of Peace as a companion to Hope. Last week, we spoke about Hope. God-in-Christ is the Hope of the World. But that Hope is not in a world dominated by the power of the nation with the largest military arsenal and the greater will to use it on its neighbors. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. And it is the message of Peace on Earth, Good will toward men that we echo in our great Christmas Carols. Our Hope is not built on the spoils of War but on the Prince of Peace.

Who was the model for Proverbs 31?

Proverbs begins with "The words of King Lemuel." So who was King Lemuel? This name is not found in any of the lists of kings that have been found thus far by archaeologists. It is as though Lemuel was unknown to history. Except, that the Anchor Bible Dictionary says that in some ancient Jewish texts, Lemuel was a name used for Solomon. So, perhaps Proverbs 31 was, historical criticism aside, written by Solomon himself.

Now Proverbs 31 is about the ideal woman, an archetypal woman, if you will. In other words, she is not real, but the kind of woman a young boy, or even a young man, imagines his mother to be. Young boys and men don't really know what their mothers are like except as they experience them in the interaction of mother and child. So a mother's past history is usually not known.

OK, who was Solomon's mother? What kind of woman has history painted her to be? Was she a saint? Based on the description of her in Proverbs 31, what kind of mother do you think she was?

I think history owes Bathsheba a great apology, don't you? And now, don't you think that if God could use Bathsheba for His purposes, he can use you too?