Monday, December 11, 2017

The Voice Crying Out – 17 December 2017 – Third Sunday in Advent

On this penultimate Advent Sunday, John the Baptist enters to give us our marching orders:  Straighten the road for the Lord is coming!

And who is John? asks one of the Homily Service writers from 2002. John is one who is not worthy. He is, therefore, a model for our lives. He is focused on the One who is beyond him and who he yet knows so intimately that he cannot presume even to serve this coming one.

John is a voice crying into emptiness. Into the wilderness. Where we live. We need to hear him.

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Like the prophets before him, and like Jesus, John has been sent (apestalmenos) from God. The people in Jerusalem, in contrast, were the ones [who] sent (apesteilan) the "priests and Levites" to question John (v 19), as on another occasion, most probably, the Pharisees were sent to question him (v 24). Here we see an example of one of John's favored contrasts: John the Baptist, sent from God, is questioned by religious leaders, sent from human beings, the power figures of this world . . .

Who, then, is John? "A voice crying in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Lord" (see Isaiah 40:3), And how does one make straight the way of the Lord? By repentance.

This repentance is specified clearly in Luke. After quoting more of Isaiah's words (40:3-5 and 10-14), Luke has John the Baptist give precise answers to questions about preparing for the coming kingdom. His words have to do with sharing one's cloak and food; collecting only prescribed taxes, without the kick-back; and not extorting or falsely accusing others. Significantly as well, only in Luke's gospel are Isaiah's words from today's first reading cited at the start of Jesus ' ministry (Luke 4:18-19). –– S. Marian Bohen, OSU

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

These well-known words of glad tidings to the lowly come from the tradition of the Third Isaiah, who sings of glory and hope after suffering. The Spirit of God was promised to the messianic king (Isaiah 11:1-2) and to all the people (Joel 3; Zechariah 12:10), the Spirit always associated with the great works of God. The servant who sings the song describes the good news. . . Those who are singled out as recipients of the glad tidings are not the rich and powerful, not the religious leaders and pious devotees. The glad tidings are for the lowly, the brokenhearted, captives and prisoners, those who mourn. The salvation announced by the servant is one of justice and liberation: a setting right of all aspects of human society. . .  

The following section (vv 8-11) begins emphatically, "I, the LORD. . .." The stress is again on "rightness" and "justice." If the people are open to the salvation offered them––if they live in justice, creating a just community––then the "lasting covenant" will be theirs, and they will be "renowned" as a blessed people. –– S. Marian Bohen, OSU

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

The Christian community is to live the way of the Spirit: a way of loving esteem for those working to lead the community; a way of peace among the members and of mutual correction, encouragement and patience (vv 12-14). This exhortation encourages community members to "follow good" always rather than to repay evil with evil. The ideal presented here, though on a smaller scale, is basically the vision of Isaiah: Salvation is offered to humans in . . . their personal and societal relationships.

Whereas Isaiah's vision was presented as proclamation and promise, Paul's vision is presented as a way of life made possible by the free gift of God and made attainable when people attempt to reflect that vision and gift in themselves. –– S. Marian Bohen, OSU

S. Marian Bohen, OSU, a writer and editor, was engaged in formal education for twenty-four years in Indonesia, has taught at Marist College, the Maryknoll School of Theology, in Sing Sing Prison in New York, and in Stateville Prison, Chicago.

Homily Service 36, no. 1 (2002): 29-34.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Healing Ritual for Emptying out

This excerpt from the issue of Liturgy on “Liturgy in Rural Settings” is from Marvin Lee Anderson describing a tangible liturgical gesture that is meant to help individuals let go of burdens.
This healing liturgy of lament is designed for this sole purpose: to help the assembled people prayerfully empty themselves and let go of all that weighs them down, dwelling in the peace promised by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Just as our bodies remind us of our need to empty our bowels and bladders, our souls and minds need to be emptied of all that has filled––and even seized––them. . .   
 To command their attention and dramatically make my point, I lowered my head and shoulders as if encumbered by invisible dumbbells to convey the sense of being heavily burdened, still captive to the residue of that day’s thoughts and feelings. I then invited everyone gathered to ponder all that still holds them in its grasp, that prevents them from being present to the Spirit of God. . . 
 After briefly explaining the format of the liturgy, most of the congregation voluntarily came forward in a queue comparable to the act of receiving communion. With music in the background, congregants each took their turn. They lined up at both sidewall aisles of the sanctuary, but instead of coming to partake of the bread and wine, they waited in line alongside two tables centrally placed in front of the altar. Two bowls, like big salad bowls, were filled two-thirds with water and placed, one on each table. Congregants then followed my lead in coming up to both tables, where each person took one of the sponges on the table and then immersed it into the bowl of water, while facing the congregation. 
 The central task of this liturgy is to invite participants to come forward as they feel comfortable and soak the sponge in the bowl of water. Prayerfully cognizant of what it is that they need to lament and let go, forgive, or be forgiven, participants are asked to wring out the sponge they have just dunked, letting go of all that holds them captive to make room for God’s peace and healing Spirit. 
 I urged each person that evening—as every time I facilitate this healing liturgy of lament—to be present to the moment and to the whisperings of the Spirit as they squeeze and wring out the sponge saturated with water. What are you feeling released from as your hands wring out the sponge, a metaphor for your heavy heart? What is it that you carry around with you, from your own life, the life of your congregation, or the pain of the world, that you need to lament and let go? What is the burden being lifted from your heavy heart? Remember the solace offered by Jesus’ reassuring words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). 
The full essay is available in Liturgy 32, no. 4 available by personal subscription and through many libraries.

Marvin Lee Anderson, PhD, has taught rural ministry in both Canada and the United States, served in interim ministry, consults on congregational renewal and community development, and chairs the board of the Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality in Boulder, Colorado. See


Marvin Lee Anderson, “Are You Heavy Laden? A Healing Liturgy of Lament,” Liturgy 32, no. 4 (2017): 47-54.

Monday, December 4, 2017

It’s All About Baptismal Life – 10 December 2017 – Second Sunday in Advent

Mark 1:1-8

John's proclamation includes his own lifestyle: he embodies possibility by insisting on living in a new way, one that disdains the trappings of power and maintains harmony with creation. John invites people, therefore, to live in a community that calls into question the whole of society. We prepare for Jesus by the way we live together now. . . .

Pheme Perkins asks: "How can modern men and women recapture the eager expectation that God will redeem humanity from the cosmic and human power of suffering, evil, and injustice?" (New Interpreter's Bible 8 Abingdon, 1995] 529-33.) The answer, she says, lies not in human longings for an end time that leads to a sectarian isolation from the larger community but by following Jesus into the real world of human experience.

John cries "in the wilderness," she suggests, because that is where the exiles of Isaiah and the Hebrews of the exodus walked in obedience to God's revelation. In the wilderness God's people are made receptive to God's grace and respond with hope by building a highway for the coming of God who has already drawn near to them and turned them toward the light of God's promise. –– Blair Gilmer Meeks

Isaiah 40:1-11

The people who have suffered from terror and exile will know God's mighty arm and tender care. God's goodness is not given because of the people's worthiness––they have, in fact, been faithless: "surely the people are like grass. The grass withers; the flower fades" (vv 7-8) –– but the people will be rescued because God is faithful. . .  

The image of the triumphal way prepared for God's entry contrasts with the splendid processional street, probably known by the exiles, that was enjoyed by the oppressive kings of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar's ornately decorated road to his throne has been partly reconstructed and, since German reunification, is easily accessible to visitors in Berlin's Pergamon Museum. Modern viewers cannot fail to be impressed with the symbols of power and astounding display of wealth represented by this ancient road.

God's triumphal way, on the other hand, is the way home for God's people and is built with the cooperation of creation. God intends to restore the people and all the earth.

God's coming will display power. . . but will also demonstrate God's tender care: the shepherd (or mother) feeds the flock, cradles the lambs in her bosom and gently leads the sheep (v 11).  –– Blair Gilmer Meeks

2 Peter 3:8-15a

2 Peter raises the question of how our Advent hope––our eschatological expectation––affects our present behavior. This issue, addressed in several epistles, was troubling to preachers and teachers who had observed a thoughtless attitude among some members of the community.

Why bother about everyday matters if the parousia is almost here? Our contemporary tendency to focus on Advent as a time of "spiritual" preparation for individuals may produce a similar predisposition, leading to a neglect of acts of justice and compassion.

There is, in other words, a social dimension to Advent waiting. To prepare for citizenship in God's resurrection household means living holy and just lives now. . . to participate in new life today. –– Blair Gilmer Meeks 

Blair Gilmer Meeks, was at the time of this writing, a pastoral minister, writer of worship-related resources, and leader of workshops on worship living in Brentwood, Tennessee. Among her four books is Standing in the Circle of Grief: Prayers and Liturgies for Death and Dying (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002). 

Homily Service 36, no. 1 (2002): 17-26.