All Saints B: A Vision of Home

OLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 25: 6-9

To read the passage from IsaiahHouse-On-The-Hill

This reading, which we also read on Easter Day, comes within the block of material (Isaiah 24-27) which many refer to as The Isaiah Apocalypse. The view of the future here is universal and speaks of God’s power in the cosmic realm as well as the earthly realm. It is probable that whoever wrote this material truly thought that the crucial event in world history was about to dawn. This material is probably dated about the last quarter of the 8th century BCE, probably late in the Babylonian exile or perhaps even after it was over.

All Saints’ Day is, of course, that Sunday that we set aside to remember those who have walked before us.  But with that, it is also a time to look ahead, to realize that we are all connected in an eternal chain of witnesses.  Our chapter in the story would not make sense without the chapters before us and the future is dependent on our chapter being well-written.

The text that we read envisions a significant role for Jerusalem, the city set on the mountain of the Lord. Here God will offer divine hospitality to all people. Both the food and the wine are described in superlative terms. Through this divine welcome, the shroud of destruction and horror will be lifted off all the peoples of the earth. Death itself will be swallowed up. The sadness of tears and the shame of disgrace of God’s people will be removed. These promises of restoration are the word of the Lord. The salvation of God and God’s hospitality can only lead to one thing: ‘let us rejoice and be glad’.

This Scripture is about waiting. It is looking forward to a different time. Keep in mind the context of this lesson. The people were in the wilderness. The Babylonians had swept in, had captured the Israelites, destroyed the temple of God, and scattered the people of God into the wilderness. In the wilderness, the people were asking that desperate question, “Where is God?” Many have lost their faith. There were desperate cries, desperate questions in the wilderness, and it was there in the despair and in the wilderness that God came to the people of Israel (but not in the way that they would have expected!). Never could they have predicted what they heard from Isaiah and would soon see. God was using Cyrus, king of Persia, to lay the groundwork for their return home. “I will give you the treasures of darkness,” says the Lord God. Cyrus, king of Persia, would capture the Babylonians. It was Cyrus that God was using, the king of Persia who didn’t even believe in God. Marduke was his god. Still, God was using this surprise to make it possible for the people of God scattered in the wilderness to return home, which they eventually did.

For us, too, it is a vision of home. All Saints’ Day is always full of some psychological and spiritual tensions as we walk between profound grief and joyful remembrance and between what is and what will be. But this passage tells us that death shall soon be no more, “swallowed up forever” as the text actually says, overtaken by life everlasting. It brings comfort but it also brings a bit of heartache. There is a part of us that wants that now, wants to be with those we love now. There’s a part of us that wishes that we had some means of understanding or overcoming what happens on this earth. We believe; we try hard; we try to patiently wait. And the storms continue to come. And yet, even waiting, is part of our faith journey. And in the waiting, we come to learn that life is there all along.

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What stands in the way of our waiting for God?
  3. What would your reaction to this vision have been in the context in which it was written?
  4. What is your reaction to this vision now?


NEW TESTAMENT: Revelation 21: 1-6a

To read the passage from Revelation

In spite of its veiled images and difficulties presented in interpretation, the Book of Revelation presents some beautiful depictions of hope and promise. Here, using Old Testament imagery (some borrowed from the Isaiah passage that we just read), we are presented with a veritable tapestry of hope. We are not just looking to the past; we are also looking ahead. And it is not some far off place to which we are looking, but to a time when the here and the now will be renewed. Notice that it is not just heaven that is renewed but the very earth itself. All that we see and know and all in which we have our being will be and is being recreated before our very eyes.

And all this happens because of God. Finally, God will make the divine dwelling place among us. Do you remember that cloud that followed the Israelites around, the sign of God’s Presence? The Ark of the Covenant symbolized this sort of removed image of God actually dwelling with the people. Then in the Gospel of John, we are told in very similar language that God lived among us in Christ. And the story of the Festival of Pentecost is the sign of continued Divine Presence. But here…this passage takes it even further. God will be fully with us. God, the Creator, the Divine Presence, will now dwell with mortals. And God’s very Presence will be enough to wipe away tears and mourning, banish death for good, and make everything new.

The writer of this Revelation passage finishes with the most amazing thing. “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” There will finally be established the truth which has been peeking out at us since the very dawn of human history—that God, indeed, stands before, in, and after all of Creation. It is a metaphorical glimpse at the end of the story as we know it and, yet, it is the very beginning of life to come. This reading gives us a glimpse of what the author thought that might look like.

What a great Scripture to read for All Saints’! At the same time that we are remembering and perhaps still grieving those who are gone, we are given this reminder of what’s to come. It is an affirmation that this story that began when God breathed life into Creation is not quite finished. And we are part of it, part of the ongoing conversation that began long before we got here and will continue long after we are gone.

The point is that the past and the future connect us all. I think that’s what the Scripture is reminding us—not that there is some promised land out there where we all come out OK, but, rather that we are part of it now. We, like those that came before us, are part of building that future city, building the Kingdom of God in its fullness. The story is not yet finished, but it’s definitely worth the read!

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. How does this speak to you within the context of All Saints’ Day?
  3. What does the idea of our connection to the past and the future mean for you?

GOSPEL: John 11: 32-44

To read the Gospel passage

In this week’s Gospel lesson, a man dies and is restored to life, sisters complain and weep, and the crowd comments, weeps and complains. Front and center, however, is Jesus. He is really the focal point of the story, not Lazarus. He determines what will happen. He says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” So it is with our own understanding of life and death. People weep and commiserate. They wonder what happens next, to them and to the one who has gone ahead. But Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, the way, the truth and the life, is the focal point at the moment of death. He says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus is the assurance that there is always something more. When we have Jesus, we are prepared for anything that follows.

For many, this is one of those odd, somewhat problematic texts. After all, people don’t usually get up and walk out of tombs into the land of the living. This story challenges norms and even reality, to some extent. Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps it sort of jolts us into the realization that God is capable of more, that God will go beyond what we plan, what we think, even what we imagine. And yet, “Jesus wept.” In the older translations, it is supposedly the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus’ tears remind us that grief is real and that God realizes that and truly cares what happens to us.

Ironically, this is the act that would ultimately cost Jesus his life. Bringing Lazarus to life would end his own. After this, the Sanhedrin’s step in and the journey to Jerusalem, mock trial and all, escalates. There is no turning back. Perhaps it should be our turn to weep. But we are given a new hope and a new promise. Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go.”…He will do the same for us. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

The truth is, on some level, we are all lifeless at times. We are all bound by things in this world that literally suck the life out of us. Think about it. This is also an account of the raising of Martha and Mary and all of those who loved Lazarus, raised out of grief to hope and life. And, for us, Christ is there breathing life into us yet again. We are always in the process of and actually becoming a new creation. The story of this raising is more than a miracle; it is the stuff that we are made of. Jesus probably weeps for us too—weeps that we hurt, weeps that we get so wrapped up in the minutia of life that makes us forget who we are, weeps that we are not who we are called to be. This is a story about the in-between. Some things don’t make sense. Some things don’t go like we plan. Some things we just miss. Creation groans towards its ultimate promise. And so we wait…But in the meantime, we can always get up, come out of our tomb, and let Jesus free us once again. Fred Craddock said that faith is first generation (From “A Twofold Death and Resurrection”, The Christian Century, available at In other words, we do not inherit it. Oh, maybe we inherit a knowledge of it or the culture to rely on it, but this belief thing has to be ours. For that is the way that we see the glory of God for ourselves.

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does this say about faith?
  3. Where do you find yourself in this story?
  4. From what lifelessness do we need to be freed by Christ’s lifegiving breath?
  5. What do you think of the notion of faith being “first generation”?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


Joy is the most infallible sense of the presence of God. (Teilhard de Chardin)

Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see…. Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaries, and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope. (Rubem Alves quoted in There Is A Season by Joan Chittister).

The note we end on is and must be the note of inexhaustible possibility and hope. (Evelyn Underhill)





May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war so that you may reach out my hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that, through your love, you can make a difference in this world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen. (Franciscan Prayer, Author Unknown)

Proper 9B: Beyond Home

Beyond HomeOLD TESTAMENT: 2 Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10

Read the Old Testament Lectionary passage

While the spirit of the LORD has rested upon David for some time, the formal coronation takes place in Hebron. David, now thirty years of age, has proved himself as a leader faithful to the LORD.  The coronation happens at Hebron. There is no crown or scepter to pass down. Rather, the people recognized the LORD’s anointing of David, the elders recognized him as king, and David made a covenant with them as their leader. You’ll remember that David was “anointed” as king by the prophet Samuel and at God’s direction. Then he was anointed king by the decision of the people of one tribe, the tribe of Judah.  This rule lasted about seven and ½ years. And now, after the house of David has grown stronger and stronger, all the tribes of North Israel acknowledge David as king.  The tribal leader has become a king. David would rule for a total of 40 years.  Jerusalem would become the City of David and Israel’s capital city.  (When you think about it, that was a choice that did not favor one tribe over another but rather began a unified kingdom in a new place.)

Now, it’s obviously wrong to picture this as some sort of idyllic situation.  David has not been the most compassionate of leaders.  In fact, he has taken Jerusalem by attacking its water system, the very heart of the city.  The verses that we skip contain a reference that sounds as if David is shunning or excluding the blind and the lame.  We’re not really sure to whom this actually refers.  There is a sense that the city was indeed so fortified that it was believed that even the blind and the lame could have fought off the intruders.  So this may be a slur of sort toward David’s enemies.  The point is that David, in spite of it all, has indeed risen to glory.  And he became greater and greater as the years went on.

Now the passage says that God was with David.  Well, that’s right, because, as we know, the Lord is with us all.  We have the assurance over and over in the Scriptures and in our lives.  But is this saying that God was on David’s side, even over and above against the blind and the lame, or David’s enemies, or whoever else is not standing in David’s court?  David was chosen and anointed by God.  He begins as a great leader, even though there may or may not have been some questionable ways of getting there.  A new order has begun.  There has got to be some excitement, some underlying hope for what will come.  After all, David has been given the power to change the world backed by a compassionate and deep love of communion with God.  David’s relationship with God was strong.  And yet, what responsibility does that hold?  David, like so many leaders before and after him, would have his ups and downs.  He would make questionable, if not bad, decisions.  So what does it mean for a leader to claim to be “anointed” by God?  Is it carte blanch to do whatever it takes to further the anointed agenda?  Or is it a calling to be something more?  What does it mean for a leader to be anointed by God?


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. How would you characterize David’s rise to leadership and the way he carried his reign out?
  3. What does it mean for a leader to be anointed by God?
  4. What message does this hold for our world today?


NEW TESTAMENT: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

Read the Lectionary Epistle passage

The setting of this part of this Second Letter to the Church at Corinth is a church that is beginning to fracture. There is escalating tension between Paul and this church that he loved. There were rival versions of the Gospel springing up everywhere and they were beginning to take hold. Many probably contained wildly popular mythical and fantastical versions of what heaven or what God looked like. We experience some of the same things today. Drama sells.

And yet Paul stops short of some sort of dramatic explanation. He acknowledges the existence of something beyond but also acknowledges that he does not and cannot know exactly what this is. Rather than finding God in some sort of mystical ecstasy, Paul claims that we find God in our weakness and our vulnerability. In fact, Paul seems to quash the idea of a divine justice where God rewards the faithful and punishes the weak. Rather, Paul lays out a scenario where God comes to us not in spite of our weakness but because of it. In fact, for Paul, our weakness and our vulnerability makes us stronger in the faith. It is not a test from God; it is a gift from God that even in our weakness we might be strengthened.

Sally A. Brown makes the point that “the culture is eyeing the churches these days, testing our credibility. Congregations may imagine that they cannot think about public witness until their internal problems, doctrinal and budgetary, are all resolved. But it may be precisely our internal challenges that press us into the kind of engagement with each other and with the Spirit that can turn us, sooner rather than later, away from cloying self-absorption and outward to the world God loves. Even in our weakness, maybe even because of it, we become credible witnesses of saving news in this frantic, fearful world.” (Available at, accessed 4 July, 2012.)

The truth is, the first Christian witnesses were completely counter to the culture, the society, and, for that matter, even the religion of the day.  They were considered unpatriotic and unfaithful.  They were fools, seemingly uninformed and unaware of the “right” view of God, the sure view of God.  And yet Paul’s message here essentially tells us that being “right”, being “sure”, is not the witness to which we are called.  Rather we are called to let God be God and in our vulnerability, our weakness, and our profound need for God in our life, to somehow try to listen to the voice that is calling us not to rise above the world but to witness to it.

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. So what does it mean to become witnesses of the Gospel in our weakness?
  3. Why is it so difficult to admit our weaknesses in the face of our call to witness?
  4. What message does this hold for our society today?
  5. What message does this hold for our churches today?


GOSPEL: Mark 6: 1-13

Read the Lectionary Gospel passage

This story is told in all four Gospels. So to be told in all the Gospels, it must, then, have meant something. It must be a story to which we should listen. Leading up to this, Jesus was really having a good week. He had done three miracles in three days. That is a pretty good success rate. First, he had calmed the sea. Then he had healed the woman that had been bleeding incessantly for twelve years. And then he had raised a child in front of her grieving parents. Yes, things were going well. And so now he was coming back to his hometown, to those who knew him, to those who had “known him when”. And he began to teach.

The truth was that Jesus wasn’t seen as a prophet or a Messiah by this crowd. He was just one of them, this little kid that they remembered tagging along after Joseph as he did his carpentry work that had made good and of which they were very proud. They probably thought that his ministry would be a reflection on them. But Jesus was not cooperating. Jesus was standing there, calling them to change, calling them to look at things differently, to step out of their carefully constructed boxes and away from their earthly temples and actually become the people of God. Who did he think he was? God?

The truth is, Jesus was asking them to open some doors in their lives. As hard as it was for them to fathom, God was not some far-off inaccessible entity to which they could go when it was convenient and from which they could turn when it was not. This ordinary, earthly man standing before them was God—Immanuel, God-with-us—calling them to serve others, to put themselves out there, and to unlock all those closed doors in their lives.

We can identify. There are places that we view as “safe”, places that everyone agrees with us for the most part. So we go home expecting unconditional acceptance and full support of whatever it is we’re doing. But “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown…” The problem is not that things at home are different. The problem is that we have changed. If we’ve done what God has called us to do, we’ve actually gotten in the way of our own lives.

I don’t really think that Jesus was shunning his family or leaving them forever. I think he was realizing that he was a different person than the one that had left. He knew that what was around him had to change too. He loved his family, but you really can’t go home again. Not because home has changed, but because you have.

That’s the way life is sometimes. Think of yourself like water in a river. The free, uninterrupted flow of life is fine until it encounters some sort of obstacle. It does not go back the way it came but instead it either turns its course or waits until it is filled enough to overcome whatever is in its path, making it a part of itself.

So, Jesus used it as a teaching moment. He called the disciples and sent them out in twos. After all, everyone needs a sounding board, a community, small as it may be. Everyone needs someone to support and affirm them. Jesus knew that. And he told them that they, too, would encounter rejection. But there was work to be done.   After all, those doors are not opened merely to welcome people in. They are also opened to call us out into the world.  Those open doors connect the world to life as we know it in Christ; but they also take that life into the world. And sometimes that’s a whole lot harder for us.  It means stepping out; it means putting ourselves into a place that is not the way we know; it means leaving what is safe and familiar and following where God leads.


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does it mean to essentially say we can’t go home again?
  3. What message does this hold for our world today?
  4. Where do you find yourself in this story?

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Any society which does not insist upon respect for all life must necessarily decay. (Albert Einstein)

I claim credit for nothing. Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control…We all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper. (Albert Einstein)


I think we can say that democracy is a form of government that demands more virtue of its citizens than any other form of government…So let us term freedom of choice less a virtue than a necessity, a precondition to real freedom, which is the ability to make choices that are generous, loving, and wise. Our wills are not free when they will what is bigoted, narrow, ungenerous. Our wills are only free when they can will the will of a loving God. “They will be done on earth.” (William Sloane Coffin, Credo, 80-81)





We know well the “honor roll” of nation states and mighty empires that run all the way from Egypt and Assyria to Britain and Japan and Russia—and finally us. We know about the capacity for order that they have and the accompanying capacity for exploitation and violence. We know that the great powers, while held in your hand, are tempted to autonomy and arrogance. In the midst of war, we ponder modern empire.


In these moments, we hold our own resource-devouring empire up in your presence. For the moment, we pray for it: forgiveness for its violence, authority for its vision of freedom, chastening for its distorted notion of peace.


We pray, for the moment, that our very own empire may be a vehicle for your good purposes. Beyond that, we pray the old hope of our faith: that the kingdoms of this world would become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. We do not doubt that you will reign forever and ever. Along with all waiting powers, we sing gladly: Forever and ever, Hallelujah! Hallelujah!


O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears! America! America! God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law. Amen.

(“On the Oracles against the Nations”, in

Prayers for a Privileged People, by

Walter Brueggemann, p. 177-178

and “America the Beautiful” (vs. 3),

by Katherine Lee Bates, UMH # 696)