Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday. This means you will want to scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday. The blog will be labeled with proper, liturgical date, and calendar date. You also can simply search below by entering the liturgical date, scripture, or proper. This will pull up all previous post. Enjoy.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Proper 9C / Ordinary 14C / Pentecost +7

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Notice how Jesus only tells them what they should do and doesn't say anything about measuring their success. If people don't accept your message, he says, shake their dust off your feet and move on. In our congregations it's difficult to avoid measuring success."

Commentary, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Michael Rogness, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"Leo Bebb said, 'It's worth breaking the law just so you can get put in the lock-up, where the grapes are ripe for the harvest and the Lord needs all the hands he can get for the vineyard. You should hear the way they sing hymns behind bars, Antonio. Makes you go all over gooseflesh.'"

"Hands for the Harvest," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog. The following excerpt was initially published in Lion Country and later in The Book of Bebb:


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Give us the courage of the apostles, and let the gospel set us free that wherever life takes us and with whomever we find ourselves, our first word may always be your gift of love and peace.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We begin here in the same way that we began with last Sunday’s Gospel from Luke. Jesus sends out before him messengers. This time he is sending out seventy. The harvest is rich says Jesus. Pray for help in the harvest.

I cannot help but imagine this text without thinking of Moses’ seventy elders who go with him to the mountain. While I do not intend to question the number I cannot help but think this is an important story to be included in the Gospel account because of this very fact. It is important to the theme of Jesus as the great high priestly prophet that he is compared with Moses, not just in deeds as in our last few weeks of reading, but here in action of disbursing authority and replicating and multiplying the proclamation of the Good news.

We can see immediately that previously in our text, Jesus sent the twelve to preach and heal, the messengers to prepare hospitality, and the seventy to do both!

Just as we remember this prophet and the prophets work makes orphans of family members and homeless those who have houses, so here we see that those who follow and undertake this work are sent out for the good work of harvesting and will for their efforts place their lives in danger.

He tells them what to take with them and what to leave behind. The message here seems to be travel light and carry with you the providence of God.

This mission is in the hostile land of Samaria and this cannot be overlooked. They are to be careful and remember they are ministering in a place that will not be welcoming to messengers sent from a prophet of Jerusalem…even if it is in Jerusalem where he will meet his death.  And, at the same time it is in Samaria a perceived hostile land that the Good News takes hold and great works and miraculous deeds are accomplished.

Nothing less than the kingdom of God is going with them, the very same message that has traveled as a mantle with Jesus’ every word. Now they are to carry it, and where it is accepted there will be peace. The kingdom is here and where it is there is peace for those who choose to live their life within its expanding territory.

Wipe off the dirt when they don’t accept you…leave them be and go. When the Day of Judgment comes they will receive what is due them. Jesus uses a colloquial proverb from his day, “go easier for Sodom.” (LTJ, Luke, Sacra Pagina, 168).

We se here in the verses that follow the them of repentance. And, we understand that where the kingdom is, where the grace appears, where God is truly received there is indeed an automatic work of repentance taken on by the people. Woe to those who do not turn to the Lord.

I think that it would be much clearer if we understood that the messengers, these seventy, were actually to do the fire bombing Jesus speaks about. But we must remember from last week’s reading, Jesus carefully instructs those who go before him to stay away from this work. Will there be judgment? The answer is clearly yes. Are we to be the ones to dish it out? Clearly: no. In fact we are to keep focused on the mission. We might remember the plough imagery from last week. We are to keep moving, dust our feet off. True enough…woe to Chorazin…but keep moving…keep proclaiming the Gospel message.

Then Jesus talks about Satan’s fall as he hears of the work his disciples have been doing. This is great news. But don’t let the news of the good work be what drives you forward. Jesus again redirects our attention. It is not the winning or the loosing, the success of the mission, or the fact that they seem to be doing good work that is important, it is rather that they are citizens in the reign or kingdom of God and they are fulfilling their citizenship by ministering in God’s name.

A new beatitude is added to our list. Blessed are those that see and those that hear. Blessed are the ones who can experience and the reign of God in a very real way. While scholars seize on the seeing and the hearing, it is interesting to me in the pericope to note that there is also a part of this saying which is the desire fulfilled. There are many Jesus says who desired to experience the kingdom. They do. So, indeed, blessed are the ones who see and hear of the kingdom. Perhaps, blessed are the citizens of this new kingdom and blessed are they that repent and are able to dwell within its boundaries.

The journey to Jerusalem is the unfolding of Jesus’ sermon on the plain. There is a declaration of woe says Luke Timothy Johnson and then a blessings, here in the alternating action, conversation, witnessing, and teaching we see Jesus’ reign of God unfold. (LTJ, 171)

It is clear that Jesus sees the Samaritans as outcasts of the people and that we are seeing in his own ministry the very essential ingredients to the life and work of the church. If we are a mission of Jesus Christ, the “seventy” sent out into the world, then we must measure our success not on the results of our work, but on these qualities expressed in today’s Gospel.

Moreover, instead of fearing the land outside our congregations like a neo-Samaria we should lift our heads and eyes to see that it is in the world of mission that great things happen and the Gospel takes root.


Some Thoughts on Galatians 6:1-18


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

While taking a stab at the spiritually superior Paul reminds them that their work is to be a mutual support to one another in fulfilling the law of Christ.

This law is governed by the Spirit of Christ.  The law of God in human relationship has a particular history.  God's initial and singular law is replaced by the law of Sinai which human beings are unable to keep.  This then is replaced by Christ and the return to the singular law.  The Sinai law will enslave us; for Paul this is self evident and illustrative both in the teachings of Jesus and through the spirit of revelation.  The singular law revealed is the law of love.

Love one another.  Christ has brought this one way love of God to humans and into the world. The law of Christ, the law of love, is to be the law which ultimately governs the new emerging community of the church.  The church will be known to be Christ's and governed by Christ's law based upon love.

In Paul's words:

"In love, bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will bring to completion in the corporate life of your churches (future tense of ἀναπληρόω - anapléroó) the law that Chris himself has brought to completion.  For Christ brought the Law to completion, when he made it his own Law, by loving us and giving his life for us.  Indeed, he did that precisely in accordance with the will of God our Father, whose promise and whose guidance are spoken by the scriptural Law that is now the Law in the hands of Christ." (Translation by J. Louis Martyn, Galatians, p 558)


Some Thoughts on 2 Kings 5:1-17

I think a lot of times we forget how many times God does good work for the least and lost in the Old Testament. We often times think that it is purely a series of books that have only to do with the people of Israel.

We might do well to remember the Elijah story from a few weeks past when Elijah went and was with a woman, most likely canaanite, and multiplied the food she had and raised her son from the dead. Here again we have a similar story in that Elisha is called out to work miracles for someone not found to be of value in Israel's religious eyes - he is not Israelite, and he is not clean.

The first thing to notice int he story is that Naaman is a great warrior who has had many victories. He has everything in terms of victory but has nothing for he has leprosy. He is counted unclean and therefore he is one of the least.

One of his servants/captives, who became his wife, is one who knows of the miraculous work of the Sinai prophet Elisha and says to her owner/husband you should go and see him. She is an Israelite and considered even lower than he in the eyes of the the powerful in Damascus.

Naaman's king writes to the king of Israel for permission. Naaman is a great warrior and so the king is VERY scared! He is worried that the king of Aram and Naaman are plotting to overthrow him. Elisha says, calm down and let him come to me. So Naaman goes with many gifts. He arrives with many horses and chariots and in great finery.

Here is one of the great exchanges in biblical history:

Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”  
Naaman has a fit. We are told that Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.  
Again, a servant wife who is accounted nothing comes to Naaman and says, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  
So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Naaman offers Elisha gifts but Elisha says no. The miracle story is important because on the one hand it is telling the story of religious truth found in Israel over and against its neighbors. Certainly God's power is present there in the prophet Elisha, in the Israelite woman, and in the river Jordan. But I think there is still more here for us.

This is a story of how the power of God to deliver and heal for the least and for the other is important. God is clearly working to restore all people, not simply the people of Israel. God is the God of all nations and all people. All come to him and all will worship. This is a story about how God is, through the work of Elisha (like Elijah), working in the lives of those who do not count as members of his flock - Israel.

I know that there are a number of readings possible over these weeks and some number have stayed with the readings from Isaiah. I have kept to the readings from Kings because I think it is of the utmost importance to see that Jesus himself was involved in a ministry not so very foreign to the Sinai prophets who ministered to the least and lost, to the lame and leper, all of whom have very little value in the eyes of the religious. Jesus' work to expand and pronounce goodness and healing for all the least and lost despite of religious or national orientation is essential and rooted deep in a tradition of a God who has forever sought to work on behalf of the least and lost.



Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Proper 8C / Ordinary 13C / Pentecost +6

Quotes That Make Me Think

"It is easy for us to say, Come, see our zeal for the Lord! and to think we are very faithful in his cause, when we are seeking our own objects, and even doing harm instead of good to others."

From Matthew Henry's Commentary (c. 1700).

"Whether we think of ourselves as aliens, strangers, nomads, or pilgrims on this earth, it is because we follow Jesus, and that often takes us into new ways of living!"

Commentary, Luke 9:51-62, Michael Rogness, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"So what if the deepest calling of a Christian disciples isn't to be in control – ourselves or vicariously through God – but rather to give up the illusion, to take some risks, and to throw ourselves into this turbulent life and world God loves so much trusting that God will join us in the adventure, hold onto us through all the ups and downs, and brings us in time to the other side."

"Out of Control," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Sustain us in our decision to follow where Jesus leads, and by the power of your own love, at once both strong and gentle, keep us faithful to Christ and compassionate in serving others.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 9:51-62
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We begin this Gospel lesson with two striking images. The first is the use of the words: “for his being
taken up.” This is the only place in the New Testament where this phrase is used. Hearkening back to Elijah, we can see that Luke intends for his narrative focus to be upon the ascension. (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, Sacra Pagina, 162) What is interesting to me here is how much we focus on so many other things in Luke’s Gospel. Nevertheless, there is seemingly a continued focus on the reign of God into which Jesus is taken. There is also a great sense in these first words of our passage of an urgency that surrounds the events that follow. This is the second striking image of the first words from our passage. Jesus is setting his face like a flint towards Jerusalem. The time is now and he is going there now! We must follow now! Come on lets get going.  His being "taken up" will soon occur!

Perhaps it is the elongated waiting for Jesus’ return that makes us loose the urgency of Jesus mission? Yet the call is before us again in this passage; and it is urgent.

To help get the people ready Jesus sends messengers with the purpose of making ready. Again we see that Jesus is in the land of Samaritans, and not in the land of the faithful. This paradox continues to reflect Jesus’ focus on those outside the faithful community and for the church today returns our attention on the people outside our Christian communities. Are we being sent out into the world to prepare the way of the Lord? And, are we answering the call on our lives to do so? Or, are we sitting in our pews waiting for the world of the Samaritan to come in?

Luke Timothy Johnson gives us some history on the differences between the Samaritan and the Temple worship in Jerusalem. It appears that not unlike our disputes in the church today it was about who is a true believer.
“The ancestral antipathy between Judeans and Samaritans is reflected in this verse. It was based on the rivalry between shrines of Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Zion, and on a whole cluster of disputes concerning the right way to read the sacred books, messianism and above all, who was a real Israelite. See e.g., Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20:119-138; John 4:9-20).” (LTJ, Luke, 162)

The disciples’ response finding that the Samaritans are not receptive is not unlike the complaints of why we shouldn’t bother reaching out to our communities. Why bother? Let the dice fall how they fall…let fire be cast down on them. They aren’t like us at all. They really don’t belong. This lack of vision for the mission of God is as wrongly placed today as it was when those first messengers returned to Jesus. Jesus’ response is clear, he is here to save and not to destroy.

So we get the message. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He is prophetically breaking into the world and bringing with him the reign of God. His mission is urgent and he is here to save and not to destroy. Old divisions are set aside for the Gospel of Christ. We are offered again the vision of how God sees us and that is a vision of potentiality and a vision of hope that we will see our salvation and join Jesus in the proclamation work, the messenger work. And, so we are told a few hear, a few recognized, a few see who this Jesus really is and what he is up to. So they are eager to follow.

Luke Timothy Johnson reminds us that the threefold call and offer are similar to the threefold willingness of Elisha to follow Elijah in the period just before his ascension, again bringing into focus the great prophetic work of Jesus. (LTJ, Luke, 162)

The problem is that while these want-to-be followers of Jesus get the invitation and they get the vision, they do not get the urgency or understand the cost. This is a prophet who is homeless until he returns home to heaven. This is a prophet who will not rest till rest is won for all. Jesus’ proclamation of the reign of God and his mission sees the potential future of the restoration of God’s world as the highest goal and makes clear the consequences of following.

When we choose to follow we must be attentive like the ploughman. We cannot take our eye off the work and the mission -- to do so is to risk wondering aimlessly and destroying the good work and labor already performed.

Luke Timothy Johnson writes the following about Jesus’ challenge to his audiences and how he calls each into action:

Luke is very careful to note Jesus’ audience in every instance. To each group, furthermore, Jesus speaks quite different sorts of words: to the crowd, he issues warnings and calls to conversion. To those who convert and become disciples, he gives positive instructions on discipleship. Finally, to those who resist his prophetic call, he tells parables of rejection.

Luke gives dramatic structure to these sayings by carefully alternating the audiences. Throughout the journey (as the notes will indicate), Luke has Jesus turn form one group to the other, form cord to disciples to Pharisees. The narrative that results form this “arrangement” is therefore filled with unexpected tension: the Prophet makes his way to Jerusalem, to his death and “lifting up.” As he goes, he speaks the word of God to those around him. Some hear and become part of the people. Others reject the word and are themselves in process of being rejected from the people. The climax is reached with Jesus reaches the city and is greeted, now not by a handful o followers (cf. 8:1-3) but by a “whole multitude of disciples” (19:37) prepared to hear the teaching of the Prophet in the precincts of the Temple. (165)

Several questions come to mind for the preacher. Do we know to whom we are talking? Can we, like Jesus, direct our words in accordance with the challenge needed to be heard by those listening? Are we actually able to proclaim the word of God in different contexts, clearly being aware of the challenge before the one’s in front of us?

Another set of questions arises as I reflect on the particular passage and wonder are we giving positive messages and instruction that help those within our church be better disciples? What does that look like in today’s American church context?

Do we have the sense of urgency needed to motivate our congregation to action?

Are our people ready to hear the teaching of Jesus? Or are our churches filled with individuals who have more in line with the crowd in Luke’s Gospel?

Missionary context and the wisdom to navigate it with solid teaching is an essential ingredient for the modern day priest. Today people are out there in the world soaking up religious and spiritual information from the internet, and the book store, and at the water cooler. They come to church on any given Sunday or during the week and they turn to the leaders of our churches and expect us to have a message. Like the pilgrims who entered the dessert seeking out the solitaries: Abba, give us a word.

Church life today is manifestly different from the pilgrim journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. There are bills to pay, metrics to reach, and leadership groups to contend with – all this is true. But the message of Jesus, the message of the possibility of the reign of God, is no less urgent. The people who live out in the world are turning to their leaders and asking for a word. We must be ready to give it to them. We must reclaim our preaching and teaching office as clergy in the church of God. And, I would argue that we must raise up around us others who also can teach and share in the discipleship and mentoring needed to transform our church into the vision that we had when we joined; a vision that offered hope for the future, and plenty of labor for the laborer. We must recapture and reclaim our churches as places, along the road with Jesus, where those who journey with Him can find words which warn and convert, which instruct and offer positive reinforcement for the journey, which talk about division clearly and work towards unity.

What are my excuses to Jesus for why I cannot come and follow? For why I cannot do what is asked?

Fear of the other: They are not like us. They believe differently. They should have fire brought down on their heads.

Fear for my needs: The journey itself looks too difficult. I might find myself homeless.

Fear for of all the things I have to do….
I sometimes wonder how many of us, including myself, ever get past the gratitude for grace into the mission field?


Some Thoughts on Galatians 5:1-25


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

J. Louis Martyn writes regarding vs 4: "Emphasizing a point he has made in 3:11, Paul puts the verb dikaiousthe in the present tense (conative), thus referring to "action attempted, but not accomplished."...These Galatians have come to think that their salvation results from an allegiance to Christ only when the allegiance is enacted in observance of the Law..As soon as one attaches to Law observance some degree of salvific potency, one has violated the gospel of Christ, thus severing oneself from him." (Galatians, 1997, 471)

How many times have we discovered the freedom Christ has given us to follow him than we turn around and make a new law for ourselves and for others?

This is the primary problem with our mission work in the world today. We have gotten everything backwards! We believe that it is only in becoming deeply religious, deeply spiritual, perfect in following scripture...etc, etc that one can be accepted.  What we have forgotten is that as soon as we do this we abandon Christ and his freedom.  When we do this Christianity itself is of "no benefit" to us or to others.  

"Ouch" I want to say to Paul! You got me...I was "running well" but how easy it is to slip into a Christless faith... a faith where in I am the chief hero and the chief protagonist.  I slip into that thinking that will get me no where and can say, "I got my salvation from here God, thanks!"  And in so doing the power of the cross to set me free is removed (vs 11).

How I need to hear Paul's words, "For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" 

Let us be clear that we understand the fruit of freedom, the results of living out a grace filled life and mission are these things:  "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."

How often do we take the list that goes like this:  fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and make it the measure of others - never ourselves.  And, create a new law by which others must be circumcised to follow Jesus.

Instead let us simply ask of ourselves are we living in the freedom of Christ and are our communities characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? And if not let us aspire to such a community free from the law by the grace of Christ Jesus.


Some Thoughts on 2 Kings 2:1-15


Resources for Sunday's OT Lessons


The reading for this Sunday is the transition from Elijah to Elisha. The mantle of Sinai prophet is passed along. They are on their way to one of the holy Sinai cult sites - Bethel. They make their way down to Jericho. There they are met by local prophets and keepers of the tradition. So it is they the go on to the Jordan. Elisha travels the whole way with Elijah. 

When they arrive at the Jordan Elijah takes up his mantle and strikes the water with it. Here then the waters divide and they are able to cross on dry ground. The mantle is the great shawl that was worn across his shoulders.

We are meant to see in this journey a walking and claiming of the land promised by Elisha. They crossing over is no mere crossing over but a reenactment of the crossing over the Jordan into the land that is promised.

On the other side Elijah plainly passes on a double spirit of his prophetic powers to Elisha. After this a chariot of fire and horses come down and take Elijah away in the whirlwind. Elisha is left grieved by the event. He then picks the mantle and puts it on. He then reverses the river Jordan crossing. 

We know historically that the prophetic Sinai tradition was strong, especially in the North, but as some scholars now point out in the South as well. Jeremiah certainly being one of those great southern prophets. Nevertheless what we see here is a deep connection with all that is past, with the covenant theology rooted in their tradition.

Elisha's very passing over is not only meant for us readers to see that he will also be a great prophet, or that he is the inheritor of Elijah's spirit, or that he is welcomed by the local prophetic schools. There is, you see, a message we are meant to receive. God makes way, God delivers, God will take care. The prophet themselves is not some kind of inheritor of a magic mantle as he is a very participation in the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. His prophecy and his ministry is rooted in the delivering act of the God who frees Israel and hears the cries of his people.


Proper 7C / Ordinary 12C / Pentecost +5

Quotes That Make Me Think

"It could also be a time to stress that Christianity is more than just coming to church to receive from Jesus, to praise God in community, but it also involves returning to the world and declaring our experiences with God -- a world that may not always have been kind to us."

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.
"Luke 8:22-25 tells how Jesus stilled the storm. Our passage is equally dramatic: Jesus defeats the powers of the abyss. These are celebrations of power against power."

"First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Pentecost5," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.
General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Not in power and not in vengeance, O Lord of the prophets, but in weakness and compassion did your Son come among us. Schooled in this unique wisdom, may we be prepared to conquer our fears and temptations, to take up our cross daily and to follow Jesus toward true life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.



Some Thoughts on Luke 8:26-39


In order to plumb the depths of this weeks gospel passage it is important to understand the narrative context in which it resides. In verse 22 Jesus gets into a boat, a storm arises and Jesus calms the storm as well as the fears of his disciples. The end of this story leaves a question hanging in the air: “Who is this, then, that commands even the winds and the water and they obey him?”

As the question is asked, Jesus steps out of the boat into the land of the Gerasenes, which we are told is opposite of Galilee.

Jesus is met by a man from the city who lives near the tombs and is seen in torn clothes. It is “Legion” then that answers the disciples’ question as he cries out: “Son of the Most High God.”

The name of the demon implies that there are four or six thousand demons inside the man; this is the number in a Roman military legion. While Mark’s Gospel takes on a political tone in the retelling of this story, Luke stays with his thematic proposition that this is a great prophet of God who has tremendous power. So the focus in Luke’s Gospel is on the number of demons and the power given to Jesus by God to heal the world. Who Jesus is and the work he is to do remain the focus in our Lukan version.

The demons beg for mercy. They do not want to return to the abyss, the place of sea monsters. So that is exactly where Jesus sends them.

People gather around to witness the event and then go into the city to retell the story. What the pig keepers saw was the man restored: in his right mind, clothed and sitting at Jesus’ feet. While the people tell the story out of fear leading to Jesus’ dismissal, the man who has been healed is charged to go to the city and make the work of Jesus known.

In this passage a number of themes come together. There is the prophet healer, the revelation of the Son of God. We also see the Gentile mission beginning to take shape. And, last of all, we see one way in which Luke provides us an understanding of discipleship.

The model proposed in this story is the individual healed by Jesus, sent to proclaim the good news into the Gentile world. In this model discipleship is partly a response to the reception of Grace and is aimed at a mission of proclamation to the world, which has not yet heard the Good News of Christ.
The work of the reign of God is the work of salvation. We are healed not only for our sake, we are healed for the greater glory of God, which is manifested in the growing discipleship community. Faith, salvation and mission are united in the work of Jesus and in the work of those whose lives are “closely linked” with him.

Luke Timothy Johnson points this out in the last paragraph (Luke, Sacra Pagina, p 140) of his teaching on this chapter:
“Finally, in Luke’s terse reduction of Mark 5:16, ‘How the man was saved,’ we see his characteristic understanding of what the meaning of the story is: God’s visitation is for salvation. Now, when we see two stories (of the stilling and the demoniac), we perceive not only that they both demonstrate the power of the prophet over winds and spirits, but that they join the elements of ‘faith’ and ‘salvation,’ and thereby provide a link between Luke’s version of the parable of the sower, where hearing the word and doing it is ‘believing that they might be saved’ (8:12), and the story of the two daughters in which saving faith is the entire point.” [8:40-56]
I sometimes wonder how many of us, including myself, ever get past the gratitude for grace and actually venture into the mission field?

Some Thoughts on Galatians 2:15-21

We continue in this section about the work of Jesus and how it is his faithfulness which sets the world aright.

If we follow Jesus we place our trust in him; and in his faith.  And, Jesus' faithfulness with always deliver us.

Paul argues that under the law we were quite simply imprisoned. We were unable to fulfill the law. We could not bridge the gulf between heaven and earth - though it was this law that was to be our guide in making the crossing.  Paul says the law "was our disciplinarian until Christ came."

We might remember last week that Jesus was faithful even under the law.  He was faithful to the end.  It is his faith that justifies us.  And, it is in baptism that we are clothed in Christ.  This is how we come into the loving and saving embrace of Christ.  This completely transforms us.  In baptism we are seen by others, and we see others, as members of the God's beloved family. We see each other through the lens by which God sees us: forgiven, loved, and free.

The conclusion of our reading reminds us of this total freedom and new family.  Paul writes those powerful words which have mended the great schisms and divides:  "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise."

We are heirs to the first promises of God to his people.

Today we live in a world which is predominately made up of many and varied diasporas.  They are mini communities and most have little or nothing to do with either the family of Abraham or the Gentile offspring which Paul is speaking about. 

Is it possible that the same argument that Paul makes to the Galatians might also be turned upon the Christian denominations and non-denominational churches today?  Is it possible that a key to our failure lies in the fact that we have so cut ourselves off from the very people Jesus has come to save? 
What would it be like for the Christian Church to take up the banner of the family of God and welcome all people?  Instead of figuring out how they can't or don't belong...we might be better served if we talked with our neighbors and friends about how God's faithfulness in Christ Jesus has freed us from the law and has broken down the barriers between the "us" and the "them." 
Is it possible that even now the family of God and Abrahams heirs are being added to?

Some Thoughts on 1 Kings 19:1-15

Resources for Sunday's OT Lesson

We continue with our story about Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel. In our text this Sunday we see the response of power to God. Jezebel threatens Elijah's life. He then flees. God waits on him through the work of an angel who comes and encourages him to eat and drink. He is to go to Mount Horeb, one of the great Sinai tradition sites, the mountain of God. It will be a wilderness journey to find the dwelling place of God. 

When he arrives to the mountain, there is a great fire and God's voice speaks to him. We are to be put in the mind of Moses, the Israelites freed from Egypt, and for Christians - Jesus' time in the desert. Elijah is quite literally making a metaphorical journey to restart God's covenant with his people. 

Here then after fasting, desert wandering, and an epiphany of God on Mount Horeb, Elijah is told to go and anoint Hazael as the new king in order to take action on God's behalf against the broken reign in Israel.

On the one hand, the story continues the notion that Elijah is one of the people. He is one of the lost. He is oppressed by the powerful. The reigning kings are pushing more and more people "out of the old protective tribal structures by political centralization and social stratification."(Gottwald, Hebrew Bible, 352) God, who delivered his people out of Egypt, will not stand for more oppression.

Again, the theme of the Sinai tradition continues. The centralization of power, the classification of society along the lines of the centralized power, the reorientation of sites to a centralized faith are all seen as forces that are working against God's desire to be in relationship directly with God's people. The idea of the broken system of intermediaries continues. The price of reform will have to be paid.





Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Proper 6C / Ordinary 11C / Pentecost +4

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Let the candour with which our Lord accepted this invitation, and his gentleness and prudence at this ensnaring entertainment, teach us to mingle the wisdom of the serpent, with the innocence and sweetness of the dove. Let us neither absolutely refuse all favours, nor resent all neglects, from those whose friendship is at best very doubtful, and their intimacy by no means safe."

From Wesley's Notes. John Wesley (1703-1791).

"But is forgiveness really everything? Can it possibly be worth that much? Consider: forgiveness at heart is the restoration of relationship. It is releasing any claim on someone else for some past injury or offense. That's why the analogy to a debt works so well. Forgiveness cancels relational debt and opens up the future. Which is why it's so important, so valuable."

"Forgiveness and Gratitude," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Your mercies, O God, cannot be counted, nor do you tire of offering us forgiveness. Grant us, then, a heart both faithful and repentant, ready to respond to your great love, so that along all the pathways of life, and to everyone far and wide, we may be able to proclaim the gospel’s message of reconciliation and peace. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 7:36-8:3

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This week we have a lesson that teaches us about hospitality and forgiveness in the reign of God.


We have a dinner party in the home of one of the Pharisees where guests are eating Hellenistic style -- laying back. One can imagine that they were probably laying back on pillows and or couches. Most likely, they would have been facing one another and the table with their feet tucked behind them, making them accessible to the woman. (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 127)

The woman is obviously known as a sinner and her reason for being present is unknown. We might recall the anointing of Jesus in the readings prior to Easter. Here in Luke, this lesson carries none of the same imagery regarding the oil being similar to oils used at burial or that it is expensive oil. This is important so as not to confuse the two stories. Here, Jesus is teaching carefully about the everyday work of living in the reign of God.

I love the next verse. It is as if our narrator is playing or joking with us -- jabbing at the Pharisee. The Pharisee says, “If this fellow were a prophet he would know who and what kind of woman it is who touches him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus of course is a prophet; we have been reading about his prophetic powers in the chapters that precede this one. So we are on the inside and know the Pharisee is wrong. Moreover, we see that Jesus does know her heart and in fact also knows the Pharisee.

Jesus begins and he is quickly cut off by his host who jabs a little himself by cynically saying, “Teacher speak.” Jesus gives us a parable.

Jesus’ parable causes us and his host to think. Who loves the moneylender more? The one who is forgiven a little or a lot?

Luke Timothy Johnson points out that this is a gracious act and that the forgiveness of debt is seen as a gift. The word used for love means gratitude. So a debt is owed, a gift of forgiveness is made, and there is gratitude. (LTJ, Luke, 127)

Jesus then uses the opportunity, having revealed the woman’s gratefulness for her Lord’s forgiveness, to highlight the lack of hospitality by Simon. Yikes! 

Jesus uses the phrase, “you did not give to me,” each time he challenges Simon. Simon did not give water for cleansing, a kiss of greeting or oil for anointing. Johnson writes, “by the logic of the parable, the woman’s actions showed her state of forgiveness. Simon’s refusal, likewise, indicates a lack of forgiveness. There is the edge.” (127)

The woman has reacted with great gratitude because her sins were forgiven and the manner in which she illustrates her gratitude shows, not the reason for the forgiveness but, the level of the forgiveness that was received. God has forgiven her much. One can see this by her expression of faith and gratitude.

Jesus then says, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” Johnson points out that this is the first time that faith and the act of saving have been put together. Peace comes to the one who lives in the reign of God, forgiven and free. (128)

Luke Timothy Johnson writes:

“In 7:29-30, the people were divided between sinners and tax-agents who accepted prophets and justified God, and the lawyers and the Pharisees who rejected prophets and also God’s plan. In 7:34, furthermore, Jesus was pilloried as a “friend of sinners” and one who “ate and drank.” Here we find him eating and drinking at table, showing himself a friend to a sinner, who in turn accepts him as a prophet, while the Pharisee rejects him. The ending of this story, in turn, prepares for the next development, in which Luke will show more fully how ‘faith saves.’”

As I sit and write and reflect on preaching this weekend, I wonder how I am in different situations, not unlike the different people in the Gospel story.

How often do I act like Simon, oblivious to my own behavior, while very clear and willing to speak out about another person’s behavior?

How often am I like or unlike Jesus, willing to stand up to the power in the room and offer kindness and hospitality to someone so clearly outside the normal social construct of our own time?

How often do I give back to God a level of gratitude commensurate with my feelings of grace and provision? In other words, do I return to God in keeping with my feelings of forgiveness by God? Or, do I give back based on what I feel I am able to give?

Lest we get to driven here with actions and rules let us go a bit deeper. Robert Farrar Capon, in Kingdom, Grace, Judgement, says that part of this is to understand that we do not deserve the gift of God's presence to begin with, it is gift. When it is given, along with grace and love, then we are to keep it circulating. We are to share it not hoard it or keep others out. We are not to keep our risk low or protect it. And, we are to understand that it isn't all in some way a reward for good and perfect behavior. (422)

Jesus in a very real way is saying to Simon, don't you see, you are a loser. You just don't know it. This woman knows it and is responding.There seem to be four pretty powerful themes this week: lostness, forgiveness, hospitality and stewardship. Each has the power to inspire for the community gathered in a counter-cultural way of responding and being in relationship with God.



Some Thoughts on Galatians 2:15-21


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

Paul is getting into it this week!  Our lesson begins with Paul describing how he has entered the discourse with Cephas.  The argument is over eating with the Gentiles who are not circumcised.  Paul pointing out that this only became a problem after some false teaching made its way into the community.

Paul's believes that they are not acting "consistently with the gospel."  He points out their hypocrisy with this phrase: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Paul then reorients them to the Gospel:  justification by ourselves is not possible but it is possible in Christ.  Paul writes, "...yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law."

We place our trust in Christ's faith.  It is God's act of rectification, God's love, God's mercy, God's faith upon which we place our trust.  Paul writes: "...the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God."

Paul challenges us to not make a new law.  He challenges the Galatians to not make a new low to build up where the old law was torn down by the cross and resurrection of God in Christ Jesus.

I wonder what kinds of laws we have created informally and formally within our church that keep out the sinners - the friends of Jesus?  We might well take Paul's challenging words to us as a question of what is essential to follow Jesus? Vs. What have we made essential to be a Christian?

Some Thoughts on 1 Kings 21:1-21

Oremus Online NRSV OT Text

Resources for Sunday's OT Lesson

The story this week is a story about how the central Southern Kingdom of Israel is being led by a murderous king and his wife. King Ahab who was a mighty king of Israel takes a vineyard he covets from Naboth. The story tells us of how Ahab and his wife Jezebel plot with leaders beneath Naboth to have him stoned. They do so after a letter writing campaign. Then Ahab takes over the vineyard.

Elijah is sent to him by God to tell him that because of this wickedness that he will die a horrible death. Which in fact he does according to historical records outside of the biblical text - thus bringing Elijah's prophecy to fruition.

One of the things the first hearers of this tale would have known is that this vineyard is located not simply next to a palace but next to Ahab's most powerful chariot/military installations. This is not simply a whim for a vineyard. This is an act of conspiracy aimed at a coup resulting in strengthening his military power at the cost of the death of a just man.

There are two things of interest here. The first is that the story is placed in the scripture itself because of the important role it plays in the overall history of the people of Israel. It is there because of the essential theological understanding that the kings of Israel are always given their power from God and that God will take away their power if they are not just. The question that is posed to Ahab in the scripture is wether or not he "fulfills or fails" his role. The redactor who placed these passages in the great story arc of Israel judge all the kings based upon the great king, in fact their king, David. Here then is Ahab's judgement. ( Van Rad, Old Testament, vol 1, 344)

There is a second underlying conversation going on though. One that may be particularly important for the reader of the gospels. The Sinai prophet tradition, in which Elijah is schooled, is one that is very clear that there is to be no other God but the God of Mount Sinai. The covenant that this God has with God's people is of the highest regard. Rather than the judgement of Ahab being wrote through the eyes of the Davidic kingdom and its authors/redactors, the judgement comes from Sinai.

Here what is essential to understand is the very rejection, in the Sinai tradition, of kingship. In the Sinai tradition there could be no suzerainty. Suzerainty is a political relationship by which the local people of a nation may have autonomy while remaining a part of the occupying power and subservient to it. The Sinai perspective was that the centralized power of both state and religion on Mount Zion was to set up a different king in the place of God, and to place a different set of disciplines around their inherited faith than that which was received in the desert. It is clear that this tradition continued. 

While the vast majority of the scripture of the Old Testament reveals a strong and powerful Sinai tradition, it is also clear that the redactors have attempted to answer the Sinai concerns. They allow for the kinship and suzerainty of a Davidic monarchy under the power of god. But we see when we look close in Deuteronomy 17-18 that the Mosaic covenant, the Sinai prophetic tradition, and the rule of God will continue. The redactors hold that the king will be accountable to God, to Sinai, and to Sinai's prophets. They write in Deuteronomy 18.15ff, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: 'If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.' Then the Lord replied to me: 'They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable." The prophets Elijah and Elisha turned their gaze to exactly this work. ( Jon D. Levenson, Sinai & Zion, 191.) 

I say all of this because what seems very essential to understand is that from Elijah's perspective Ahab is no representative of Israel. The nation state can never supplant the relationship of God and humanity. Power will always be judged as oppressive and a culture of death. Over and against this is the story of God's work with the widow for instance, or any of the ways in which God serves and cares for the poor, the lost, and the least. 

It is typical for us to simply say, "Ahab was a bad king." This is in fact what the powers so very focused on the reign of David want us to see. But what Elijah is really saying is power is corrupt and Ahab, like all other powers of this world is corrupt and will in the end use death as its leverage for more power and authority.
   

Monday, May 30, 2016

Proper 5C / Ordinary 10C / Pentecost +3

Quotes That Make Me Think

"And as Luke systematically connects the church's ministry to Jesus' own mission, we have the evangelist's mandate to exhort our churches to embrace compassionate ministry to the poor in Jesus' name."

Commentary, Luke 7:11-17, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013

"Jesus isn't so easily boiled down. You can't take the breadth, length, height, and depth of the power that created the earth and everything in it, and the love that suffered death on the cross, and capture it in a tagline or a bumper sticker."

"No Formulas," Rick Morley, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer
Lord God, ever attentive to the cry of the lowly, you sent Jesus among us as the prophet of your compassion, with healing in his touch and power in his word.  Raised up by this Savior from the death of our sins, may we glorify you and share with all your gift of life restored.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 7:11-17

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Our passage this Sunday follows the passage of Jesus and the Centurion; and the healing of the Centurion's slave.  Not unlike the the passage last week, this too is focused on the prophetic ministry of Jesus.  In fact in reading them they should most often be taken together.

This week we take the raising of the son of a widow from the dead as proof of Jesus' prophetic powers.  It reminds us of the miracle of Elijah in 1 Kings 17.  Jesus raises this young man right out of the coffin.  And...he begins to speak.  Perhaps a foretaste of the work of proclamation for those who receive the blessings of God and the coming tongues of fire.

Jesus is proclaiming good news and restoration. This story like the one before shows that Jesus is more than a man of words.  He also one of action. Indeed we see this in the words of the people:  "A prophet has been raised up among us!... God has visited his people!"

After a generation of prophecy by the Church I am interested in the fact that the people around us do not respond to our efforts with shouts of acclamation.  "Look the church has been raised up among us!  God has visited his people through the church!"   Instead there is rejection.

I ask are we perhaps missing the work or prophecy?  Prophecy is not an angry voice or a raised fist against the machine.  Prophecy in Luke is about offering in word the Good News of Salvation to the people (spiritual and physical food for the hungry) and by actually giving them something to eat. It is to say that those who mourn will find joy in the morning and then to actually raise a widow's son from the dead.

Prophecy as a gospel act is to raise the dead, spend time with those society sees as of no value, and to feed the hungry with good things. This is a prophecy which does such good works that the society is then judged by the works themselves and not the voice of an angry people who echo the culture's means of toppling power.


Some Thoughts on Galatians 1:11-24


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


As we well know the Galatian communion has some trouble. It has some competition regarding who to believe and what is true.

Paul wants them to believe again as when they first received the Gospel. He wants them to realize that regardless of their divisions there is hope in the Gospel and mission work to do. In order to inspire them he tells his own story of conversion. He tells them of how he was changed and transformed. I cannot believe that he does this for any other reason than to inspire the Galatians to remember when they first heard the Gospel for the first time.

Paul says to them see this God whom I believe in is on the side of Jesus. This God chooses the law condemned Jesus and so he is the Christ of God, the Messiah of the one true God. This is the revelation that has come to him. And, it is a revelation that holds within itself the truth of grace for all those who are condemned by the very same law.

This is not a condemnation of the past or of his inherited faith but rather it is a celebration of the new thing that God is doing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Paul wants those who call the Galatian church their spiritual home to see that it was this powerful message of Grace that first inspired them. It was this message of God in Christ Jesus that drew them together and drew them into relationship with Paul himself.

Moreover, that as in Judea, the faith of Paul itself is a miraculous sign of the change that even now has hold of creation. Paul a servant of the law is transformed into the servant of grace.

I think what I love the most about this passage is the manner in which Paul is urging faith and belief by sharing his own experience of faith. This is a good model of evangelism. Paul shares his story of faith and transformation as a sign of the Gospel itself. It encourages those who chose to follow this Christ to share not rational arguments, or beat people over the head with the bible, but instead to realize that the most powerful tool of evangelism is simply telling the story of grace and how it has changed our life.

Some Thoughts on 1 Kings 17:8-24


Resources for Sunday's OT Lesson



This is the story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath. Elijah comes to the widow to stay there. He is commanded to go by God. While staying in her home there is not enough food. But Elijah tells her to have faith and the food they have is multiplied. While there the widow's son dies. Elijah prays over the son and he lives. 

In both cases the woman is upset because she has not enough. She is upset because having such a great prophet in her house has arisen her understanding of her own low station. This again comes out as the boy dies. She tells him that her sins have brought this upon her. Furthermore, she is a widow. This means she has no station and more than likely she is completely dependent upon the people of the area, the tribal leaders. 

To make this more interesting, the land of Zarephath was north of where the tribe of Asher settled and east of where the tribe of Dan. It was a land predominately made up of Phoenicians and Canaanites. So like Jesus who flees to Egypt, or spends 40 days in the desert, or the mission to the Gentiles our story has a particular flair for taking place in an uncharted territory where the people of Israel are not present. In other words God and God's deliverance and power comes to rest on people who are foreigners to Israel. And, in doing so one of God's own, Elijah, is cared for as well. He must depend upon the kindness of God and of this widow.

This is a gospel story. She, like so many widows in the scripture, is one of the least of God's people. She is considered of no value. Not only because she is widow, but most likely not of Israel. So she is an extreme outsider. Yet it is exactly to them that God comes, in this story in the presence of one of the greatest prophets of Israel. God comes and provides. God comes and raises the dead.

The God of Israel is a God of the widow and the child, of those who have none, and those who are not worthy. It is exactly to the lost and the least (Robert Farrar Capon's term from Kingdom, Grace, and Judgement) that this God comes. 

And, though the least of God's people have nothing, and are lost in suffering and death, this God is present and acts. This is the God who freed the people of Israel out of bondage. In the book of Kings this God continues to act in the affairs of mortals - acting exactly for the those who are imprisoned by loss, hunger, scarcity, brokenness, and are of no value to society.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Proper 4C / Ordinary 9C / Pentecost +2

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Like the people of Nazareth who respond to the story of Elisha and Naaman with anger and rage (4:28), people might respond less than positively if we preach that Jesus cares about, ministers to, and wants to bless our enemies."

Commentary, Luke 7:1-10, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"Have your needs been carried to jesus by your friends?"

"The Centurion's Friends," Lauren Winner, The Hardest Question, 2013.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer
To you no one is a stranger, God of all peoples and nations, for your saving love knows no boundaries, and your compassion extends to all.  In Jesus, you have come under our roof to speak but a word, and we are healed.  May we, in turn, never set boundaries to your grace, but gladly offer the embrace of your peace to all without difference or discrimination.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 7:1-10

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The Centurion
As we begin our season of ordinary time following the great Eastertide, we return to Luke who will be our primary companion over these next months of preaching and teaching.

In this passage Jesus heals the centurion's slave.  In the passage we have emerging the themes of the prophet king who is powerful and does acts of power.

In the healing we see the generosity of God to the gentiles. We also see God's power reaching down to earth in love. We see the living out and practice of the words that Jesus spoke to the crowd as he taught.  It is a revelation that Jesus is like the prophets who did such work in the ancient days of Israel.  here again is a great prophet.

All of this is very important in the Lukan narrative as it prepares for the prophecy of Jesus' own death and rising to life again and mission to be fulfilled; and for the gospel message to be proclaimed throughout the world to become a reality.

This passage has in it some interesting themes for our church today.  These are well worth a moment before you pen those final words to your sermon text.

Let us for a moment take the model of this passage as a mission strategy for the proclamation of the reign of God and its transformative potential.

1.  Like Jesus the church is in the world engaging with people who do not belong - the Gentile Centurion.
2.  Like Jesus, the church engages not by blaming the world but by coming into the life of the world - Jesus goes to the centurion's home.
3.  Like Jesus, the church listens to what is needed - healing.
4.  Like Jesus, the church discovers in the world faith, and proclaims that it is there - Jesus proclaims the faith of the centurion.  This faith is foreign to the faith of the church and is exhibited by humility, desire, and seeking.
5.  Like Jesus, the church works to heal what is in need of healing.

The prophecy model here is one where in Jesus proclaims that God loves people... and wants the very best for them... and then meets people.. and then points out their faith... and then helps them.  I wonder is this the kind of prophecy the church is engaging?

I wonder as we look across our congregations this Sunday and think about our ministry as a preacher, teacher, bishop, priest, deacon or lay person...does what we do as church fit this particular model of ministry?

Some Thoughts on Galatians 1:1-12


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

There is a great deal in this passage!  It contains particular words which tie into the discussion about Paul's own authority.  It contains pieces that are believed to be part of ancient liturgies.  It is theological in its understanding of God's redeeming work.  There is much here to intrigue the student and reader to be sure. Indeed the themes in this first passage are the themes of the whole text.

I want to focus on the work of the church.  I am most interested in how Paul communicates his understanding of the ministry of Christian Community.

Rooted deeply in his understanding of the Godhead and in human nature Paul makes a particular argument.  This argument is meant to counter those arguments that the Galatians are making within a very divided community.

Individuals commit and will continue to commit sin.  For Paul the solution or "antidote" is not forgiveness for the particular sin. It is instead that God is God and is even now overcoming through the work of Jesus the power of sin.  (J. Louis Martyn, Galatians, 97)  God is working his purposes out and God's work is grounded in the incarnation.  Paul writes:  "Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father".

Paul believes firmly that God has called the church into being.  God has created it.  It participates in the new creation - the reign of God.

As one person recently challenged - the church is a principality of this world and we should not forget that as such it is part of those principalities which the devil has oversight.  I understand the point.  The church is made up of sinful broken human beings in need of redemption and as such is not perfect to be sure! Sometimes the church does really horrific things; history tells us this truth to be sure.  But there is much good in her too.  And, Paul sees this good and is very intent on focusing our attention on it.

The church even in its brokenness even now participates in the good and heavenly work of the reign of God.  It does this in spite of our human tendencies to harm others and to sin.

For Paul one of the things the church does is to deal with instances of sin.  If it forgives the sins of any they are forgiven and if it binds the sins of any they are bound.

More importantly though is this notion that it is in community that people are able to be at their best.  It is in the Christian Community of the faithful, where the good news is offered, that we outperform the norm of a society that is fallen and "evil" in Paul's words.


Some Thoughts on 1 Kings 18:20-39


Resources for Sunday's First Lesson


The story of 1 Kings is a story of prophecy by Elijah. This is a Sinai prophecy, it is not oriented at the Temple mount, but from the wilderness rooted in the first covenant with God on the mountaintop.  

While this is often correlated with the ministry of John the Baptist, and the later desert fathers, what we see here is that the work of the Sinai prophet is to be responsive to God's love and to enact in life a response. In this we see that Elijah and his story and prophetic work is about life lived in the wake of God's action. 

In this passage Elijah is calling the people back to God. He is reminding them of God's action and how they are to be in response to this delivering God. 

Unlike the church which seems to cower inside over and against the silence of the world around it, Elijah's response to the people is not to resent them or to be moved to inaction. Instead, Elijah calls the people together, he repairs the altar, and makes a sacrificial offering. In doing this he restores the Sinai site to its rightful holy place. It is this re-newing of the temple that prepares him for the contest agains the prophets. 

What seems important here is the reality that instead of allowing the temple to continue to be used for the secular he renews it for the sake of evangelization of the community around it. It is the renewing of the Sinai worship site that brings about the renewal of the people. Elijah calls the people to action, and after the renewing of the site, they obey and do as he commands.

Then Elijah calls upon God:
“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
Then God acts:
Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.
Then the people respond:
When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”
God is acting, and God will act in the world. However, in order to encounter the world we must renew ourselves, renew our altars, call upon God, and faithfully respond to the God who freed the Israelites and has made a covenant with them. In this then we may reenter the world and respond to God's work and acts.

When we stay huddled in our broken down and decaying buildings it is very difficult to remember the mighty hand of God at work in the world. Elijah calls us to renew our faith, to get busy, to make sacrifices, to clean up, and to renew our faith that we might receive God's fire.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Trinity Sunday C May 22, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...we need to hear this brief section from Chapter 16, not as Jesus giving a lecture on the doctrine of the Trinity, but as a personally intense commitment of abiding, continuing, present love / loyalty / protection / guidance / bonding with his followers then - and now - and always." 

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 16:12-15, David Ewart, 2013.

"There is always a degree of finagling that goes on when any biblical text is called upon to support a doctrine or understanding of the church..." 

Commentary, John 16:12-15, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

"Not everything which masquerades in garments of light brings light. To affirm this Spirit, this Christ of John, is to deny counterfeits and to encounter popular spiritualities inside and outside the church critically."

"First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Trinity,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Prayer
We glorify you, O God, and ponder the mystery of the wisdom by which you created the world in wondrous beauty and order.  We, your church, your new creation, reconciled in your Son and sanctified by your Spirit, ask you to lead us through endurance into hope and from hope to full knowledge of you, who are love itself, fullness of truth and undying life.We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on John 16:12-15

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


It is interesting that this passage is part of Year B's Pentecost readings.  This year it becomes our reading for Trinity Sunday.

Jesus begins his teaching several passages before our reading today when he speaks to the disciples about the fact that because of Jesus' own intimate relationship with God he is going to suffer and die; and if they follow him they will certainly suffer and be persecuted as well.  They will be persecuted because the notion that the individual may have a personal experience of God was anathema to the people in religious power of his day and it is anathema to people in religious power today.  In point of fact (and as Bonhoeffer once put it) the grace and mercy received in personal relationship with the Godhead through Christ is the non-religious faith of Jesus.  Direct connection, unorganized, non approved, and unsanctioned, relationship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit is a threatening to institutional threat. For this reason, and for the reason that Jesus is a friend of sinners, he and all who follow him will suffer and many will die.

Jesus then offers to those who are listening, his closest followers, a message that the Holy Spirit will remain with them and that they will not be disconnected either from Christ Jesus or from God himself.  In fact the very nature of a personal relationship of grace, thereby unmediated by the world and its religion, will in point of fact prove the reality of his words.

This grace of the Holy Spirit is given by God alone. It cannot be earned.  This Holy Spirit comfort will put at ease all those who bear witness to it because it requires nothing of approval from the world.  Jesus in his words here is clear that living in the Holy Spirit is a way of life devoid of worldly approval and religious authority.

One of the reasons that I love the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is that we are (when at our best) trying to live into the challenge of God's Holy Spirit.  The challenge to be one and united as God is united in an undivided Trinity.  We are trying to see God moving in the world as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We see God's grace and mercy challenge our piety.  We see God's grace and mercy challenge our lawlessness.  We attempt to be conscious of the Holy Spirit's presence in the midst of our context.  At our best our mission and ministry is not limited to our church campuses but is meeting the Holy Spirit in the world; both as it sends us out and as it transforms us through our experience of the Gospel in the world.

We listen to the personal stories of life lived with Jesus.  We also are aware of God's fatherliness as creator and provider.

I want to suggest that at this week we should not lose the power of  the Holy Spirit as part of the trinitarian life; and we may wish to remember it is the Holy Spirit that offered relationship beyond the confines of our church with the sinners of the world.  That it reminds us within the church of our smugness and too often self-satisfaction which builds up barriers rather than offering an embrace.  May we on this Sunday be reminded not of God's having birthed a perfect community but of God having invited his people to leave the temple and synagogues in favor of a faith (a personal relationship) that leads the faithful followers of Jesus out into the street to meet the people where they live and in the market place.  

May we perhaps this Sunday discover that the life lived in a trinitarian community is a life lived out in the world.  Where in the context and community in which we find our churches is an essential ingredient of the Holy Spirit's ingathering.

May we on this Sunday rediscover a missionary Holy Spirit that is articulating in the culture of the world (its images, music, economy, and culture) God's grace. And, like the disciples who on Pentecost were given the tongues of the culture which surrounded them, let us pray to be given tongues to name and call out the Gospel as we find it in the world around us.

Some Thoughts on Romans 5:1-11


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

We live in a culture which is based upon the exchange of capital.  This economic equation that makes the world go round is very often applied to the life and community of faith.  We will say things like: if I am better at this or that I will somehow have more God in my life.  How often have I myself used the phrase, "If I would just...." How many times collectively have we as preachers spoken to our congregations about how if they would only: love the poor, give more money, ask for forgiveness, come to church more often, attend bible study, do more social justice, or any one of the myriad things we believe are necessary for the Christian life.  We all too often preach and live our own lives of faith (me included) out of a sense of capital exchange.  If I am a better Christians, a better Episcopalian, God will love me more.

This world of capital exchange and economic transactions are not the world of the Gospel.  They are not the world of Pauline Christianity. They are not the world of Episcopal theology.  No, the spiritual economy of God is one where God chooses us first. God reaches out to us.  God saves us out of his love for us and the world while we are sinful broken people.  Paul writes in verse 9:  "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."  And, in verse 2: "...through [Jesus Christ] we have obtained access to [God's] grace."  We are chosen, we are selected, we are loved by God first.

Our redemption, our forgiveness, our reconciliation with God is not dependent upon anything we can or ought to do.  Paul is clear in verse 11 that it is "through [God] we have now received reconciliation." The embrace of the Father (as in the prodigal son) is not dependent upon a return to him as a perfected human being.  We are embraced by God as the broken individual who is even now wasting our inheritance of God's grace away; and still God chooses us.  

I believe that in the Christian Church the thing we most often neglect and forget is the message of Grace.  Instead we supplement grace with a "but" or a "try harder" sermon.  God is clear in the person of Jesus - it is the sinner who God is most interested in finding and making his friend.

I do believe that life is hard and it is difficult. There is no question that the message if accepted that we follow a God who is not interested in the righteous or people pleasing followers is one that will haunt anyone who is determined to figure out the exchange rate for God's love.  It is for us, the sinful and broken, the struggling and the people pleasers, the poor and the rich, the perfect wanna be's and the imperfect that "...God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit."

Perhaps this week we might try putting down the God exchange rate and try accepting a bit of grace.

Some Thoughts on Proverbs 8: 1-31


Resources for Sunday's First Lesson

Christians read this particular text as the Holy Spirit speaking. In the stanzas presented the Spirit is personified as a woman. We are told that she is calling out to us all - especially the youth. She is speaking truth and wisdom and she is the one upon whom we are to depend. 

You must open your self up to her and to her good advice, sound wisdom, insight, and strength. She is the one who will guide us in justice and righteousness. The more that we enter into her words the more we will discover God's love for us through the Spirit, through her.
Wisdom comes from God and has flowed through the beginning of creation. The Spirit moved with God in creation. She was a master worker who helped God to bring forth all things.