Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

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 posts.

Enjoy.

Search This Blog by Proper and Year (ie: Proper 8B or Christmas C or Advent 1A)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ash Wednesday March 1, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"In Jesus' prayer we are connected and bonded with each other. We find our health, our integrity, and our righteousness; that is true piety."

"Preaching on the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:1-8)," Irving J. Arnquist and Louis R. Flessner, Word & World: Theology for Christian Ministry, Luther Northwestern Theological School, 1990.

"What are we praying for when we pray for God's kingdom to come?"

"Thy Kingdom Come: Living the Lord's Prayer," N.T. Wright, The Christian Century, 1997.

"That piety should be a private matter is a radical not to say revolutionary idea. It goes totally against the cultural grain. For traditional piety is something performed for others to see. In Roman culture, pietas referred to the public veneration of the gods. Without such a display from prominent citizens, what would happen to the traditional values that were associated with the gods? Pietas was the cultural glue, holding all things in place. How could there be law and order without it?"

"The Call to Secret Service (Matthew 6:1-18)," John C. Purdy. Chapter 4 inReturning God's Call: The Challenge of Christian Living. At Religion Online.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

At this, the acceptable time, O God so rich in mercy, we gather in solemn assembly to receive the announcement of the Lenten spring, and the ashes of mortality and repentance. Let the elect, exulting, to the waters of salvation; guide the penitent, rejoicing, to the healing river; carry us all to the streams of renewal. 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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 6:1-21

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

If we were reading along in the scripture and we arrived at our passage for this Ash Wednesday we would see the continued conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. The religious hierarchy have set themselves above the faith and have become, if you will, arbiters of piety. They are the intermediaries between God and God's people.

Jesus has been expanding and expounding on the nature of the law revealed by the messiah and now he turns to talk a little about how Christians should live with one another. What we have in our passage are the characteristics of a Christian community according to Jesus; and they are contrasted with the practices of these other religious leaders. Of course we are doomed to exhibit the same tendencies at our very worst but we have here some outlined behaviors that should at least set our trajectory.

Don't get in other people's faces about how you are better than them when it comes to prayer, believing, and the rest of it. After all, living a Christian life benefits God and others. Here are a couple of examples of what not to do...

Example One: Just be a good steward and don't brag about it.
Example Two: Don't be verbose in your praying. It is a real turn off to God an others.
Example Three: Please pray privately and sincerely.
Example Four: God knows what you need so you don't have to always be telling God out loud.
Example Five: Don't look dismal and sad. Look happy and enjoy your relationship with God.
Example Six: Remember that what matters is the love of God, the love of neighbor - these are the treasures worth having.
All of this is because good works are done for God and on behalf of others. This service is purely for the reward of doing what is good and well in the eyes of God and not for a community's lauds or glory.

What we have in our reading today is very good and it is the parenthesis between Matthew's teaching on the Lord's prayers.

I say this because in my mind it helps to frame what Jesus is teaching about prayer. The reality is that Jesus' prayer is very powerful when seen through the eyes of the overall passage and its meaning is much greater than the by rote version we say without thought most Sundays. So, here is a meditation on Jesus' Prayer with an eye to Matthew's Gospel and to the passage for Ash Wednesday.

Jesus’ Prayer
In the Episcopal Church, the Lord’s Prayer--the prayer Jesus taught his disciples--is central to our common life of prayer. It is present in all of our private and corporate services of worship, and is often the first prayer children learn. With the simplest of words, Jesus teaches those who follow him all they need to know about prayer, as they say:

“Our Father”: Our Father, because we are to seek as intimate a relationship with God as Jesus did. We are can develop this intimate love with God, recognizing we are children of God and members of the family of God.

“Who art in heaven”: We are reminded of our created nature as a gift from heaven. Life is given to us from God, who is quite beyond us. We recognize in this short phrase that we are not God. Rather, the God we proclaim is a God who makes all things and breathes life into all things.

“Hallowed be thy name”: In response to the grace of being welcomed into God’s community, bowing humbly and acknowledging our created nature, we recognize the holiness of God. We proclaim that God’s name is hallowed.

“Thy kingdom come”: We ask and seek God’s kingdom. The words of Jesus remind us that, like the disciples’ own desires to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus, this is not our kingdom. The reign of God is not what you and I have in mind. We beg, “God, by your power bring your kingdom into this world. Help us to beat our swords into ploughshares that we might feed the world. Give us strength to commit as your partners in the restoration of creation, not how we imagine it, but in the way you imagine it.”

“Thy will be done”: We bend our wills to God’s, following the living example of Jesus Christ. We ask for grace to constantly set aside our desires and take on the love of God’s reign. We pray, “Let our hands and hearts build not powers and principalities but the rule of love and care for all sorts and conditions of humanity. Let us have a measure of wisdom to tear down our self-imposed walls and embrace one another, as the lion and the lamb lay down together in the kingdom of God.”

“On earth as it is in heaven”: We ask God to give us eyes to see this kingdom vision, and then we ask for courage and power to make heaven a reality in this world. We pray to God, “Create in us a will to be helping hands and loving hearts for those who are weary and need to rest in you. May our homes, our churches, and our communities be a sanctuary for the hurting world to find shelter, to find some small experience of heaven.”

“Give us this day our daily bread”: In prayer we come to understand that we are consumers. We need, desire, and just want many things. In Christ, we are reminded that all we need is our daily bread. So we pray, “O God, help us to be mindful that you provide for the lilies of the field and you provide for us. As we surrender our desires, help us to provide daily bread for those who have none today.”

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”: Sanity and restoration are possible only because God forgives us. Because of that sacrificial forgiveness--made real in the life and death of Jesus--we can see and then share mercy and forgiveness. Then we can pray, “God, may I understand your call to me personally to offer sacrificial forgiveness to all those I feel have wronged me. I want to know and see my own fault in those broken relationships. May I be the sacrament of your grace and forgiveness to others.”

“Lead us not into temptation”: As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and replaced God with their own understanding of reality, we need help turning away from our own earthly and political desires and turning toward the wisdom of God in Christ Jesus. So we ask, “We are so tempted to go the easy way, to believe our desires are God’s desires. We have the audacity to assume we can know God’s mind. Show us your way and help us to trust it.”

“And deliver us from evil”: Only God can deliver us from evil. There is darkness in the world around us. We know this darkness feeds on our deepest desire: to be God ourselves. That deceptive voice affirms everything we do and justifies our actions, even when they compromise other people’s dignity. It whispers and tells us we possess God’s truth and no one else does. We must pray, “God, deliver us from the evil that inhabits this world, the weakness of our hearts, and the darkness of our lives, that we might walk in the light of your Son.”

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen”: Without God, we are powerless. So we devote our lives to God, resting in the power of God’s deliverance. We humbly ask, “Help us to see your glory and beauty in the world, this day and every day. Amen.”

Using prayers like this one, Jesus modeled a life of prayer as work, and work as prayer. The apostles and all those who have since followed him have sought a life of prayer. They have engaged in prayer that discerns Jesus’ teachings and then molded their lives into the shape of his life. We can take up the same vocation and become people whose lives are characterized by daily and fervent prayer. Indeed we reflect and acknowledge the centrality of prayer and work in our own commitment to God when we say, “I will, with God’s help, continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” [This is an excerpt from Unabashedly Episcopalian.]

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:20


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

One of the things that has happened to us in our culture is that we think not about whom we represent.  Yet, we represent (as Christians) Jesus Christ to the world.  This lack of mindfulness is complex; yet for the world in many respects God in Christ Jesus is not the problem for Christianity but rather it is his followers that create the stumbling block.  This passage is about the life of Grace which transforms the Christian first.

We are ambassadors for Christ.  In Paul's setting this would have meant that we are the oldest and wisest of Christ's children.  We represent Christ but not in the worst way but on behalf of him in the very best of manners.  This is difficult to do if we are always at war with ourselves.  It is hard to be Christ's representative if we can't represent Christ to one another; which means forgiving one another and offering Grace.  We are the great law givers rather than the donors of grace.  So what do we do?  How do we get there? How do we make room for the other?

We like Christ must give grace, make room for grace, and offer grace.  However, before we can do this we must receive Grace.  This is easier said than done.  We must really and truly receive the saving Grace of Christ; this means allowing God to love and save us in our mess and not waiting for perfection.  We are truly saved and perfected through the grace we receive. We are made a new creation by God if we will but let him.  Instead of performing for God or hoping that God will deliver us out of our "labors and sleepless nights" we are invited instead to live under the umbrella of God's Grace; within the saving embrace of God.  When we do this Paul believes the other things will fall into place.

We don't become the new creation and then we get grace.  Instead we allow ourselves to receive God's Grace and we become new.  We don't live and so we don't die.  We die to our desire to be perfect and so we live in the Grace of God who takes us just as we are.  It is this reversal of the world's economy of salvation that enables us to be alive, joyful, satisfied, and content.

When life is lived with the mantle of God's Grace upon our shoulders then we are beautiful and resplendent ambassadors of Christ to the world.  When we live in Grace we give grace freely, we share life freely, we embrace the other freely, we see there is enough and offer plenty of good things freely.  This is the life lived as a new creation, this is the life of Grace. This is the life of ambassadorship.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Transfiguration - Last Epiphany A February 26, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"You can tell them that they are called, that this story is their story, that they have a part to play in God's ongoing drama to save, bless, and care for all the world. But you can also listen. And this may be just as important."

"The Transfiguration of Peter," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

"Jesus' followers receive the promise that his story and their story will be forever intertwined, whether they are on mountaintops or in valleys or someplace in between..."

Commentary, Matthew 17:1-9, Audrey West, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"While interpretation should bridge the distance between the biblical texts and ourselves, it should not facilely collapse that distance, drawing parallels that are not parallel, thereby reducing and even trivializing a grand text."

"Christ is Not as We Are," Fred B. Craddock, The Christian Century. At Religion Online, 1990.



General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

God of all that is worthy of trust and destined to endure, you have made the words of your Son a solid rock on which the children of your kingdom can build their lives. Shelter us from the storms of mere worldly wisdom; anchor our judgments and choices in your timeless truth; that, with our lives set securely on this firm foundation, we may not collapse int he face of adversity or assault, but stand steadfast and true in the faith that endures. 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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 17:1-9

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Matthew is ever the story teller. His art shines through in this narrative of the Transfiguration. Certainly we see (as we have already seen in other parts of the Matthean Gospel) traces of the Sinai experience of Moses and God, and Moses with his followers. The telling of the Jesus story has mimicked the landscape and has given us a sense of space and place not unlike the Exodus itself.

Scholars in most texts say - that is not all. Matthew weaves images from Daniel, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 255)  The transfiguration is central in the revelation of who Jesus is. 

We have talked some in the past few weeks about Jesus as a new Moses and new Elijah. We have talked about how Jesus' ministry begins a new age of prophetic action and an age of the Holy Spirit. 
We have talked about the emerging importance of the disciples in this new ministry; and how each follower of Jesus becomes a bearer of the Good News of Salvation in the world through action and word. Here in this text we see clearly these themes amplified.

Jesus is not Moses or Elijah - that time is over. Jesus is leading his disciples not to create a revolution in religious thought which still manifests itself in one or two given locations. No. Jesus is recreating the world holistically. Jesus' mission is not in a temple on a mountaintop, or even in in one country. His ministry is not a ministry where the followers come to him, but a ministry where the followers primary worship act is going with him into the world.

In his Lambeth address to the Bishop, Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) told them that it was typical of our Christian life to believe that we needed to take the baby Jesus by the hand and lead him out into the world. He remarked at the reality of sin in such a belief that God must be protected by us. He instead offered an image, which remained with me after reading it on Tuesday morning this week, that we are to go out of our churches and places of worship to find Jesus already out in the world. We are to leave the safety of our booth like churches and follow Jesus into the world.

We might remember as we reflect on the Transfiguration Jesus' own words earlier in Matthew: Follow Me. Not please come with me, but a command -- follow him. Here again Jesus leads his followers out into the world, off the mountain top, out into the place where the proclamation of Jesus Christ is made.

Some Thoughts on 2 Peter 1:16-21


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"One could use these two texts to tie together the splendor of the gift of the law and of the gift of the son, two markers of God's covenant with humanity. This could be underscored by comparing what Moses brings off the mountain “the Law“ with what Christ brings off the mountain “his own body"; both of these serve as the vehicles of divine relationship with the community of faith."

Commentary, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

This passage is chosen specifically to accompany the story of the transfiguration.  Yet there is a little bit more here as well.

The passage begins by saying that the author has not followed myths - in this context the word myth refers to clever lies.  He then refers to his won experience of seeing the majesty of Jesus and refers to the transfiguration event.  Stating as an eye witness to the moment of God's blessing Jesus in Majestic Glory.

The author then makes it clear that the transfiguration itself is further proof of the resurrection.  It is a prophetic message because it came true.  This reality, the author argues, is to be a light of knowledge which out shines the myths and lies.  The prophecy of scripture (meaning the books of the Torah and Prophets - there was no New Testament at the time of this writing) is proven by actions in the world - like the transfiguration.  Moreover, what the reality of this worldly proof means is the the words of scripture and their prophecy of the messiah were written by men and women moved by the Holy Spirit.

This passage leans heavily on the Jewish understanding of prophecy.  The first rule is the most basic: if the prophecies don't come true, that prophet is a false prophet. The second rule applies when a prophecy has come true or the prophet performs a miraculous sign: if his doctrine contradicts that already revealed. These are the basics.

I think what is of profound importance is that Peter's experience of grace, of majesty, of God - the mysterium tremendum et fascinans! - is one that helps reveal the prophetic message of deliverance found in the ancient scriptures.  [A reminder - mysterium tremendum et fascinans is the “numinous” (the spiritual dimension), the utterly ineffable, the holy, and the overwhelming. The “holy” is manifested in a double form: as the mysterium tremendum (“mystery that terrifies”), in which the dreadful, fearful, and overwhelming aspect of the numinous appears as the mysterium.] (I used to teach Rudolph Otto's Idea of the Holy from which this notion stems.)

We might well invite our people to talk about the places where they experience or see God.  How do these experiences (like the proof of the old testament prophetic school and Peter) reveals the truth found in Holy Scripture.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Epiphany 7A February 19, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think


"You see the lines in their faces and the way they walk when they're tired. You see who their husbands and wives are, maybe. You see where they're vulnerable. You see where they're scared. Seeing what is hateful about them, you may catch a glimpse also of where the hatefulness comes from. Seeing the hurt they cause you, you may see also the hurt they cause themselves. You're still light-years away from loving them, to be sure, but at least you see how they are human even as you are human..."

"Enemy," Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark.


"Walter Wink makes the case: 

"that antistenai has to do with violence. The word is formed from anti--"against"--and stenai--"to stand." Literally, the word means "stand against" or "withstand." Wink notes its repeated use in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) as a word for "warfare." Likewise, it appears in Ephesians in a context of warfare (6:13). Josephus, writing in the time of Jesus, continually uses antistenai to mean armed struggle... Therefore, the sentence should be translated: "Do not violently resist the evil one."

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Lift from our hearts the burden of hatred, and drive all resentment far from our lives; so that, loving not only our neighbors but even our enemies, we may, by your grace, be perfect, even as you are perfect. 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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:36-48

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As last week we are continuing our passage from the sermon on the mount wherein Jesus uses the phrase, "You have heard that it was said...." 

Last week we worked on lust, marriage, and swearing (oath taking). This week we are presented with two more. They are offered as examples of how Jesus "came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it."

This is an important theme within the whole of Matthew's Gospel as Jesus is the righteous one and those who claim to be his followers are to be righteous still. We might recall that last week I talked about how Jesus is in these reflections being very pointed about his comments and is clearly making them with the idea that one's commitment to these principles is a necessary component to one's response to the covenant God has with all of creation and with us specifically as creatures.

The last two antithetical teachings have to do with violence and with loving neighbor. 

Jesus is clearly calling those who would follow him and desire to fulfill all righteousness must refrain from violence; in fact choose intentionally not to enact violence upon one another. Specifically not to retaliate or seek to revenge violence with violence. 

What wold a world be like if we were able to create a culture wherein people lived whole lives without physical violence being done to them. I think as Christians and as people who live in a world of the Internet and a world with an understanding of psychology we must broaden Jesus' imperative to say that we as Christians are called, challenged, to live a life without being violent in our words (written or spoken), in our emails, videos, conversations, treatment of others, etc. The world would be a very different place today if Christians took this to heart. I imagine the world would be transformed if we simply tempered in some measure the violence we perpetrate and perpetuate on others. 

I don't believe that Jesus is saying don't stand against the oppressor, but he is saying don't wound or kill him.  

This passage again ties into the notion that the law itself was based upon how one reacts to another.  You do this thing so I do this thing..type of approach.  Jesus has reoriented the conversation. He says God is impartial with his love and forgiveness to you.  How will you respond?  A follower of Jesus and of God is to respond with the same impartiality - regardless of what the other person does.  Jesus has reversed the work of the law, not only fulfilling it but raising it to a higher quality.  This higher demand of the law - your response to God's action - is one that was purchased upon the cross of Christ when he himself stood against all evil, all sin, and all brokenness - holding it tightly into the grave where by he left it and rose on the third day.  His trampling of the law and death and is invitation to respond is supposed to be the hallmark of our Church's mission.

Christian community today is very complicated and the reality is that most congregations have been involved in violent heart rending conflict in the past decade.The congregational study called FACTS reports: 86% of congregations had conflict in the last five years. 32% of churches reported very serious conflict. Of congregations that had serious conflict, that conflict: is ongoing in 6%; remains, but is no longer serious in 28%; was resolved with no negative consequences in 26%; was resolved with some negative consequences in 40%.The report says that the following are the primary reasons for conflict in a congregation: priest’s leadership style (17% so report); money/finances/budget (11%); priest’s personal behavior (11%); who makes a decision (10%); member’s personal behavior (7%); how worship is conducted (6%); program/mission priorities (5%); and for theology (4%).

From what I gather these statistics are not unique to Episcopal congregations alone. I believe one can make a case that based upon this statistic most congregations have not paid much attention to this passage of scripture at all! 

One might also say this may very well be one of the most important passages to preach!I believe that if we as Christians and as Christian communities do not truly try to work on this area regarding loving our brothers and sisters, our enemies and our neighbors unconditionally as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does then we will perpetually live within the false expectation that people will want to become members of the community of Jesus Christ; a community which promises love and kindness, gentleness and hope.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"The buzz of self-promotion and the satisfaction at increased recruitment, even in the name of Jesus, can so easily go awry."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Corinth is holy because God's spirit dwells in it. Holiness is not Corinth's possession. It is a gift that has been given to it by Christ."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Mark Tranvik, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

Paul begins this passage with a metaphor of building.  He points out that he laid a foundation - which is Christ and not himself.  All others will have to chose how they build for you always want to build on Christ and Christs work and not your own.  This of course has been the problem with those other teachers in the Corinthian community.

You also do not need to worry about the judgement for these preachers who build up other things than Christ and Christ's building.  God will do that work.  He writes:
"Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done."
You are God's temple of the Holy Spirit.  So whatever you put on to hide yourself or build up to look like something else - God will burn that way. God will in the end have you as his temple.

One way that you will know if you are building up a different building than what God has purposed is if you are dividing your self from others. Are you separating yourself out?  Are you separating others from God? Are you the one doing the judging? Are you the one who is using fancy arguments and following a leader who takes you out of the community? If you are doing those things then you are following the wrong leader. You are in fact not building up the temple but tearing it down.

Godly leaders will want to help you - the real you - the internal you - become God's vessel - God's temple.  Don't boast on the leader - boast on Christ and Christ's work in your heart!

I imagine that the reality is that most of us are more interested in our way, our language, our view, our leader, our group, our team.  My intuition tells me this is where we most often begin and then expand to God and pull God down on our side.  Paul is reminding Corinth - This is not how God works.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Epiphany 6A February 12, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"As far as I know, there is only one good reason for believing that he was who he said he was. One of
the crooks he was strung up with put it this way: 'If you are the Christ, save yourself and us' (Luke 23:39). Save us from whatever we need most to be saved from. Save us from each other. Save us from ourselves. Save us from death both beyond the grave and before. If he is, he can. If he isn't, he can't. It may be that the only way in the world to find out is to give him the chance, whatever that involves. It may be just as simple and just as complicated as that." 

"Messiah," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"The season of Ephipany proclaims the good news of God's presence with us. Our response to that proclamation, our recognition of God's life and work here and now, is more than going through the motions of church. Jesus calls us to a whole new life in God."

Commentary, Matthew 5:21-37, Amy Oden, Epiphany 6, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

As we come to offer our gift at your altar, make us eager in seeking reconciliation, so that e may live the gospel of your kingdom with single-hearted devotion, our every thought filled with respect for one another an our every deed with reverence.  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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:13-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This part of the Gospel has a number of sections. Our reading today has four of these "antithetical" style teachings. "You have heard that it was said, but I say to you," are the introduction for each one. In each Jesus recalls a teaching and then presses his followers to go deeper. We might remember that in the previous introduction to Jesus' teaching on the mountain he reminds us that he is the one to fulfill the law and not to abolish the law.

A quick read of Daniel J. Harrington's thoughts on the idea of law can help us better place this teaching in context. (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 91) The English term "Law" can distort the Jewish understanding of Torah. The word "Torah" derives from the Hebrew verb "instruct" (yrh) and refers to the teaching or instruction presented in the Scriptures, especially the Pentateuch. For Jews the Torah was (and is) the revelation of God's will, a kind of divine blueprint for action. It is a gift and privilege given to Israel, not a burden. Acting upon the Torah is the privileged way of responding to the Creator God who has entered into covenant relationship with Israel. It presupposes the prior manifestation of God's love.

The Greek translation of Torah (nomos) is not incorrect since the Torah is concrete and demands action. But the theological context of covenant can never be forgotten if distortion is to be avoided.If we begin then with this understanding we can read these antithesis in a very different way.

If we think of the prerequisite of God's love and covenant, then the baptismal affirmation of that covenant, we arrive at these understanding that these then are a manner of Christian life. When we work on these higher ways of being we engage in the fulfillment of the covenant relationship we have with God. When we do not we turn our backs on the covenant relationship God wishes to have with us.

In the first antithesis Jesus teaches us that when we live and dwell in anger, when we use anger, and lash out or treat others out of our anger we are destroying the creatures of God. Anger leads to death. The higher way of following Jesus is to acknowledge this death and to seek reconciliation. Both illustrations make clear that not only is anger a destructive force in the life of Christian community but that it is an unacceptable manner of leadership. One cannot offer gifts and talents at God's altar unless one is reconciled with ones enemies.

Somehow in our culture we have decided it is okay to be angry and to treat others (service providers and enemies) with scorn, discontent, and hostility. Jesus teaches us that we destroy the creatures of God and one another when we do this. Yes, we live in a country where we honor a person's right to free speech. That does not mean that such manners of speech build up our country or the communities in which we live.

Jesus teaches us another way. Jesus teaches us (and many of his followers need to hear this clearly) that such behavior is unacceptable, destructive, and we are held accountable to a higher standard. Our bodies and person reflect the glory of God and in his second teaching Jesus explains that lust destroys the higher purpose of our flesh. Christianity and the Episcopal Church is uniquely a very incarnational faith. We understand that the beauty of God is reflected in all creation and in one another. When we look on one another with the eyes of Jesus Christ we cannot help but see God's glory revealed.

 Jesus calls us to this higher understanding and tells us that lust leads to adultery. These are two charged words. But if we remember the understanding of the Torah above we have a better and much more clear understanding of the teaching here. Certainly what he says is true. However, there is a higher code being offered here. Lust is a form of viewing individuals as objects of desire. It turns the flesh from being a revelation of God and God's creative and covenantal acts to something that can be possessed by another human being. In this teaching we see the role of dominance and power abusing the creatures of God. Bodies and people are works of Godly art when we treat them otherwise we change them. When we use sex to sell something or when we abuse people sexually we are defaming God's handiwork -- that which he called very good. In our culture we use lust, sex, and images of humans as commodities to be bought and sold for the purpose of individual enrichment or for power gain. Not unlike free speech, our country provides an environment where this is seen as normative. However, for the Christian we must as individuals live a higher standard. Lust destroys that upon which it fixes its gaze. It will also eventually destroy the person who lives a life fed by it.

I would add that divorce enters into the picture here because it is the death of the covenant relationship illustrated in the man and woman's brokenness. While Jesus speaks of lust leading to adultery, we live in world where divorce happens for many different reasons. Jesus is clear about what happens in divorce and how it is rooted in brokenness. When humans have so destroyed the image of the union of God with humanity that in their relationship they can no longer see the love God has for them the relationship is itself broken. When they cannot see the beauty they reflect or the goodness out of which God created them -- the relationship is over.

The Episcopal Church has responded by allowing for divorce and for remarriage. It has done this as a pastoral and caring approach to members of the community who find themselves in this very sad place. The church has more that it can do to help people shoulder the pain of divorce; regardless of its cause. An individual who lives with the false belief that they are no longer good, somehow failed, or that God does not love them can be an incredible mill stone around an individual spiritual life.

The last of the antithetical styled teachings in this Sunday's lesson is about oaths. Here Jesus offers the very simply reminder that yes and no are perfectly good answers. The Torah permits oaths in every day speech as long as they are neither irreverent or false (Allison/Davies, Matthew, vol 1, p. 532). Again, one must be careful in speech to not do damage to that which is God's.

I am struck here by thoughts provided by the Anglican theologian John Milbank offers in a number of his texts that our words have meaning and they have being. They have substance. We believe in a God who created with the and through the Word. We believe in the Word which becomes flesh, the living Word of God. Not unlike how feelings change the world in Jesus' teaching about anger. Not unlike how we look and treat people changes the world. How we speak, for Christians, makes meaning and being in the world. Our words are powerful and we are accountable for them.

These are three very difficult teachings. These teachings are tough no matter who you are, but especially if you claim to follow Jesus. All too often the Christian point the world and calls for transformation. More often than not it is the Christian, me included, who needs to do the transformative work of listening to Jesus' words.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 3:1-9


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"God's grace is manifested not only in the forgiveness of our sins but is also creatively redemptive, the power that works in us to make us perfect in love. Nothing short of perfection, Christlikeness in thought, word, and deed, can measure God's loving purpose for us. It is our faith that the fundamental change wrought in the individual by regeneration is a dynamic process which by growth in grace moves toward "mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." We may quench the Spirit and fall from grace but our divine destiny is perfect love and holiness in this life."

"We Believe in Christian Perfection," Georgia Harkness, Chapter 8 in Beliefs That Count, 1961. At Religion Online.

"This congregation, this people, this great good news of Jesus Christ are not objects to be fought over. No church member and no apostle owns this mission field. It is God's."

"You Are Not Ready," Paul Bellan-Boyer, City Called Heaven, 2011.

I love that we are continuing through the Corinthian readings!  In our passage Paul begins by saying that people are still people. That we, some of us that is, are not fully formed in the spirit and so we are "infants in Christ."  We come from the world into the body of Christ through baptism.  We are cultured and as we move closer to Christ we grow in our understanding that we belong to God and in this being are now made different.  Paul is clear the Corinthians are having a hard time with this and are really struggling with their worldly nature.

Will Willimon is fond of saying: "In baptism our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, & we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens."  This is Paul's point...It is as if Paul is saying to the Corinthian church folk look you have got this backwards you are not to be resident aliens in the church; instead you are to be resident aliens in the culture.

Paul says if there is jealousy and strife then there is the world and the world's values.  Those who truly represent God are those who act with gracious conduct towards one another. Regardless of the celebrated cause of the day those who are God's never make their cause God's cause they are focused. They never seek division nor do they cause division.

Paul continues to make his case by pointing out that when we take sides...so in so is right and so and so is wrong...we are just parroting the world.  Just because you add Jesus' name before you divide people doesn't make it right.  Whenever you abuse another in God's name (our Matthew reading for today points out) you do murder.  Anger and vengeance are not Godly traits.

Preachers will think it is their role to do this.  Paul believes it is worse when preachers do it. Those who are tasked with building up, uniting, and growing the body should never be about dividing it. This is the sign of a false teacher.  The work of the preacher or leader is to do the work of reconciliation with God for themselves and then to aid in God's reconciling work in creation.  To play a role in politics and divisions is to engage in a worldly act.

It is our job to encourage, to love, to unite, to reconcile, to give God's blessing.  As Paul Zahl says: it is about love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. That is it...what more is there. Love, mercy, forgiveness, grace...repeat...

God grows.  We don't grow things.  We are, Paul says, "nothing" in this process.  We are mere vessels.  Every moment we begin to think we are in charge of the vessel leads us down a terrible world.  Our feelings and our perceptions about our-self are flawed.

Paul does say though that those who do the work faithfully will be blessed. Those who keep to these values of unity and encouragement will in fact be fellow-workers with Christ; rather than frustrating Christ's efforts in us.

"For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building."  It is as Gods and in making ourselves open to God's perfecting Holy Spirit that we are able to become a temple of prayer for all God's people and a field in which rise up the great Harvest Lord's ingathering.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Epiphany 5A February 5, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...we need to actually show people that they are, in fact, salt and light. So I suggest starting a "Salt & Light Log." Really. Start asking people to collect examples of where God has worked through them to help someone else."


"Salt and Light," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

"God's perfection in this context is, therefore, love offered without partiality."

"You, Therefore, Must Be Perfect," commentary by Fred B. Craddock in The Christian Century, 1990. At Religion Online.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Almighty God, giver of all things, give us grace to be salt with flavor so that we may be helpful in spreading the good news of your kingdom.  Give us wisdom to be light in the world, not hidden but shared, so that people may not only hear of your love for them but find their way into your loving embrace.  Let our salt and light be not only words but actions that honor by serving our neighbor.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:13-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This passage follows on the heals of the sermon on the mount. However, most everyone did not read that passage last Sunday in our Episcopal tradition but skipped over to Luke for the presentation in the temple and the prophesies by Ana and Simeon.

In this weeks passage Jesus turns his attention to his followers and begins to expand his teaching.  What is interesting is that salt does not actually lose its flavor!  What?! That is correct. Salt does not lose its flavor.  
Common salt comprises a very stable, simple chemical compound called sodium chloride, which has a salty flavour. As table salt, it typically also contains minor amounts of additives to keep it free-flowing.  As it is so chemically stable, sodium chloride will not lose its saltiness, even after being stored dry for many years. However, there are ways in which salt may appear to lose its saltiness.

Historically, salt has been obtained from crude sources such as salt marshes, and minerals such as rock salt. This contains the stable sodium chloride plus other components. Sodium chloride is readily water-soluble, so if this crude salt were exposed to condensation or rain water, the sodium chloride could be dissolved and removed, and the salt could in effect lose its saltiness. 
Also, the salty flavour is detected by our sense of taste. If there were a physiological change in the functioning of our taste buds, salt consumed may no longer taste the same, but this would not be due to any inherent change in the salt itself.
In summary, salt, i.e. sodium chloride, is a very stable material which retains its properties when stored dry. (By Peter Stotereau, 10 Jul 2010 / Chemistry, http://askascientist.co.uk/chemistry/can-salt-lose-its-saltyness/)

What I also found interesting is that salt did, in the religious tradition of Jesus' day, become unclean and was to be thrown away.  When it was ritually pure it was used in the temple to season incense and it was even added to the offerings.)  So...salt was a big deal in the life of Israel and in the life of emerging societies that depended upon it as a preservative.  The basic image nevertheless is a powerful one...salt without its saltiness really isn't any good to anyone.

Jesus then also gives a very practical understanding about light and how people don't go around wasting perfectly good (and expensive - as candles were a luxury) light. Interestingly, candles are mostly associate with worship.  Jesus may be speaking about a lamp here which is probably more likely and more relevant to his hearers' ears. That being said light in darkness was an important and life giving ingredient to humanity.  Think about it also... a typical home only had one opening...the light would only go through a door - no windows. We are to pour light out into the world like a city. And, if we remember our past lesson - even though it was from Luke, Jesus is light in our darkness.  Again...there is a lot going on here.  

Both of these images begin to shape Jesus' expectations of us...that we not remain disciples, but that we become apostles. That we not simply follow Jesus but that we are meant to go out and be an example to others.  We are to change lives by reflecting the life of Jesus. Sometimes I think we get into trouble by trying to reflect other things...but Jesus is saying, "Be salt as I am salt in the world. Be light as I am light in the world." 

Jesus reminds us that there are very faithful people who are members of the family of God. They are good, they try to be good, they do their very best at trying to do the right thing.  Jesus adds thought and says that really isn't enough.  Being a really good person is ok...but if it is focused on you then we may have a little problem.  We are to share what we have in God and what we have found in God.

Jesus is talking about something very different.  Religion is most often about the individual coming to a certain sacred place, doing sacred acts, and so receiving an invitation to be closer to the divine.  Jesus is saying that the divine one is out in the world and all about us.  God is present and when we serve others on God's behalf his presence is multiplied.  Jesus is offering a view of faith that is far more than simply bing good and following the rules.  This is really an expansive view that is not limited to the holy shrine of choice.

Jesus is offering a vision of where the law to love God and love neighbor becomes rooted in the heart where love and compassion are found.  That we are to love, have compassion, offer mercy without partiality to all those we come upon.  Here is how Chris Haslam describes this change:
"One of the ways he fulfills the Law is by looking at its intent and not just the words used to express it. (For example, the Law says you shall not murder but Jesus says, in effect, you shall attempt never to impair your relations with another person.) Whoever regards the Law as he does, even if he or she fails sometimes, will gain entry into the Kingdom."
Jesus is saying that we are to be perfect in moving beyond the law.  You cannot fulfill the law if you are not in healthy thriving relationships with others.  Moreover, it isn't enough to love the ones you love and hate the ones you hate.  Jesus expects the relationship to go far beyond the expected - you are to love the ones you love and love the ones you hate.  Here is what is crazy!  In the regular way things work the old law is based upon ho the other person (other than yourself) treats you.  Fred Craddock says this well:
"The flaw in such relationships is that they are entirely determined by the other person: the one who is friendly is treated as a friend; the one who behaves as an enemy is an object of hatred; the one who speaks is spoken to; the one who spurns is spurned."
Jesus is then saying...to bad...the difference between knowledge and wisdom is that knowledge says this or that...wisdom says love...love...love.  No matter how they treat you...love.  No matter what they say...love.  Do not become like them!  You are God's so be like God.  Craddock continues with these words:
"Jesus says that one’s life is not to be determined by friend or foe but by God, who relates to all not on the basis of their behavior or attitude toward God but according to God’s own nature, which is love. God does not react, but acts out of love toward the just and unjust, the good and the evil. God is thus portrayed as perfect in relationships, that is, complete: not partial but impartial. God’s perfection in this context is, therefore, love offered without partiality."
So there it is...God in Christ Jesus is challenging us to the law and more.  This is how salt and light keep their flavor and how they are shared with others.  For in acting as God acts the world is truly stumped by such grace. And, it is transformed in the face of such abundant grace and love.

As a bishop we talk a lot about why the church is shrinking in size and why people don't find us helpful ingredients in their recipe to find God or light in their pilgrimage to God's embrace.  The real reason is that we have gotten really good at the law part and we really fail to be like God.  We are to love, to not react, but to act always out of love, to do this to the just and unjust, to love those who are good and those who are bad. We like God are to have a complete impartiality with others.  That my friends is difficult and it is certainly not an abolishing of the law but rather an increase of its precepts.  

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 2:1-16


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"...Paul's understanding of the Spirit is different from that of the Corinthians, who see the Spirit in terms of miracle and power. For Paul the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and brings to life again that same Christ of the cross."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 5, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"And so one more time we see that the story we tell about the cross of Christ becomes the measure by which the stories of our own communities are judged."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16), J.R. Daniel Kirk, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"It is better to speak of "learning Jesus," rather than of "knowing Jesus," because we are concerned with a process rather than a product."

"Learning Jesus," Luke Timothy Johnson. Spiritual intimacy through Christ, adapted from Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel (1999). Republished at Religion OnLine.


Paul is a simple guy. He is not a philosopher. He was probably educated and he was certainly a man who knew the law. He was a business man and a tent maker.  But Paul was pretty simple and he reminds us of this fact in the first verses of today's lesson. It is as if he is saying, "Look you guys. You like philosophers and lofty words of wisdom. That isn't me. I am a normal guy. But I know this...I know and have come to know God in Christ Jesus and his cross.

It isn't so much an educated vs. non-educated thing. Hardly! In fact it is simply not about signs, symbols, and philosophies.  It is instead about ministry.  It is about our response to God. It isn't about being a hypocrite or not but rather about responding to God.  The cross is a symbol of how God humbled himself, how God became one of us, it is about weakness, and it is about giving oneself over for and on behalf of the others.  Jesus' death on the cross is a symbol of what our ministry is to be like. Transformation comes not from power or convincing someone of a right argument. Instead transformation comes from humility and love and the giving up of oneself and ones agenda so others amy hear clearly the love of God.  (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

The people of Corinth are so focused on the arguments and words of their leaders (almost like a fundamentalist) that they are missing the whole point of Jesus' mission.  Paul is actually completely undermining and then reconstructing their understanding of "wisdom."

David Lose in his blog says this, "Paul sets the disputes in Corinth on a cosmic stage: to side with those who advocate worldly wisdom is to side not with the God who saves by means of the cross but, instead, with those who blindly warred against God's wisdom by crucifying the Lord of glory (2:8)." Yikes!  

(One has to wonder if how we treat one another, our councils/conventions, and our way of running our churches exemplifies the cross of christ or the wisdom of this world?  As they say, "Houston we have a problem!")

Paul then challenges us in our own current mission context.  Are we attempting to attract people because of our superior learning? Are we hoping they will be drawn to Christ because of some measurement (way of reading the bible, way of worshiping, or social class/education).  Are we merely attracting people to our way of being church? If so then Paul seeks to undermine us. 

Feast of the Presentation, February 2, 2017

This year this major feast falls on Sunday. So these are the lessons that should be used.

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Luke reflects the honouring of wise elderly people. Probably frail and able to achieve little that counts on the scale of the economic rationalists, they are rich sources of wisdom. Congregations often have Simeons and Annas; are they heard?"


"First Thoughts on Passages from Mark in the Lectionary: Christmas 1," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"And rise we shall, out of the wilderness, every last one of us, even as out of the wilderness Christ rose before us. That is the promise, and the greatest of all promises."

Love," "Simeon," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Lord, set your servant free, let us go in peace as you have promised;
open our eyes to see the Savior, the one you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel. In the darkness inspire us to bring light to your people who still sit in darkness and to proclaim release for those who are not free to go.  In the name of the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some Thoughts on Luke 2:22-40
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Jesus was brought to the temple for his naming and circumcision ceremony.  He was in that ceremony forever marked as God's chosen and a member of God's chosen family - Israel.  Little did they know that he was going to increase that family to a fulfill the promise to Abraham that his descendants would number the stars in the heaven.  

Christ Haslam, of Montreal does an excellent job explaining the tradition:

"After childbirth, it was 40 days before a mother could be purified before a priest in the Temple, so it is at least that long since Jesus’ birth. She was expected to offer a lamb, along with a turtledove or a pigeon; if she were poor (as Mary is), two turtledoves or pigeons sufficed. Exodus 13:1-2 required that every firstborn boy be consecrated to God. Jesus’ presentation in the Temple is like Samuel’s. Jesus and his family fulfill the requirements of Mosaic law."

The whole people of Israel have been waiting for the coming of the messiah.  Simeon gives voice to this longing and has been waiting especially for the Messiah having been promised in a vision that God would restore Israel in his lifetime; and that in fact Simeon would see the Messiah. 

In the daily prayer service many episcopalians pray, Simeon’s words in vv. 29-32 are known as the Nunc Dimittis.  from the first words in Latin. He says out loud, he prophesies, he makes known that God has fulfilled his promise.  He is free.  He is free in the restoration of Israel and he is freed to die now and make his journey to rest in the arms of Abraham.  

Simeon, along with Ana, become some of the first evangelists sharing the revelation of Jesus' identity as the Christ and the Messiah.  The images of freedom, light, and new life are potent.  Israel if free as well... and Luke makes it clear that this message is for all people.  God is miraculously doing something in this moment of incarnation but God is also about to gather in all of humanity. 

Simeon also prophesies that life will be hard for Jesus.  He prophetically offers the vision of a God whose mercy will defy death on the cross.  This will be a mighty work and it will completely change the nature of God's family.  It will in fact bring Jews and Gentiles together as mutual beneficiaries of God's special choosing and love.  And, imaged in the fact that Ana and Simeon stand together and both prophesy, Luke offers a vision of a family where men and women are all involved - each has a part to play.

The Gospel lesson at the presentation challenges us to see all people as God's people. It challenges us to be bearers of light and life and freedom to those who do not have such blessings. It challenges us to see that God is increasing our number and sometimes they are not who we think...sometimes in fact (like the Gentiles) they are people wholly unlike ourselves (like the Jews).  We are given a vision of the kingdom which turns over our preconceived ideas about who is a member of our family...young and old, churched or unchurched, black or white, male or female, you name the difference it is a wall God is already on the other side of working his Gospel out.  All that is left is for us to take our place with Simeon and Ana in the midst of the faithful company and to reveal God's glory and mighty acts,
Some Thoughts on Hebrews 2:10-18


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"This passage offers four ways of looking at Jesus and ourselves. When preaching, ask who you are preaching to: people in need of a future, people in need of belonging, people held captive by powers beyond themselves or sinners in need of atonement?"

Commentary, Hebrews 2:10-18, Craig R. Koester, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2007.

This passage normally comes up in our reading schedule on the first Sunday of Christmas which is always associated with the sacrifice of the innocent children by king Herod's search for Jesus.  That always puts it into a different context. At the presentation it offers still another view.

To the people of the first century, not unlike today, the world was manipulated by invisible hands of gods, demons, and angels.  They also believed that in the future the world would be different.  It is different in part because of God's work of living and moving among us, of dying like us, and of his defeat of death.  This means that life is forever changed because of his incarnation and God's coming among us.
14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.17
It is difficult to understand this I think because we cannot get a good view of where we actually are. Most of the time we think we are the center of the world - certainly our world. Only in certain moments do we see ourselves as one among many who is making their way along with a great host through space and time.  And that it is God who comes and stands with us, next to us, as one of us...as Tori Amos proclaims.

God does this because God is reaching out to us and desires that we are reconciled and that we might not simply live in the flesh that we inhabit but that we see the great spiritual reality deep within us which was at our beginning (like Christ) and is at our end (like Christ in the resurrection).  The life of God in Christ Jesus helps us to see where we are, whose we are, and where we are headed. We are forever linked to this Christ because of his walk on earth.
For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
We see also that Christ is our great mediator. It is his work that mediates, that reconciles us...not unlike a priest or high priest in the temple. Though they are limited to simply making offerings, Christ as high priest actually offers himself and in so doing bridges the gap between earth and heaven.  It is not so much that our testing or our life of endurance saves us or makes us holy.  Instead it is that God experiences this life and takes with him its very essence.

In the tradition in which this scripture was written they believed that God did not intend for the world to be like it is.  We still say this.  We believe as they did that God intended to walk in the garden in the eve of the day with his people, to talk with them, and to be with them.  This is in part why the image of being "friends with God" is so powerful.  So, we are God's friends and in a never ending line of friends, holding hands, we make our glorious procession into the heavens with Christ.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Epiphany 4A January 29, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Jesus calls us to join a radical kingdom. He gives us a radical vision to match, that the kingdom of heaven infiltrates our present."

Commentary, Matthew 5:1-12, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"There is a trap hidden in the Beatitudes that I know I have fallen into countless times, and perhaps you have, too. The trap is a simple as it is subtle: believing that Jesus is setting up the conditions of blessing, rather than actually blessing his hearers."

"Imagine That!" David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Rescue your church from the seductive promises of this world's powers and form us as the community of the beatitudes, that we may become your faithful remnant in the world, and that Christ alone may be our wisdom and our righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.  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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:1-12
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

"Each 'Beatitude' states that the possessor of this characteristic will be 'blessed' by God. A formal 'blessing' is a divine action, sometimes brought about through an intermediary (priest, king, parent, etc). Beatitudes are common in OT wisdom books (Prov 3:13; 28:14). The NT Beatitudes refer to a future (or eschatological) reward, whereas the wisdom beatitudes assume that the reward is already present." (Daniel Harrington, SJ, Sacra Pagina, Matthew, p 79)

Not unlike the forebearers found in Wisdom the Beatitudes were most likely sayings of Jesus, blessings by Jesus, which circulated among the first followers. The reality is that sayings such as this made their way throughout the community of first followers and eyewitnesses and make up an important part of the oral tradition of Jesus and his ministry. (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p 263) 

These blessings are different too. The blessings in Wisdom are blessings found in the present. Jesus is speaking of blessings to be received in the future.This important connection to the past Wisdom tradition is equally as important with the statements which follow the beatitudes and their connection with the Torah. I make these two points because I believe it is essential to understand that for Matthew and his community, they saw themselves as continuing the tradition of the family of Abraham. So, while we see that the blessings in Matthew point forward we also must think and look into the past and wonder about all the other blessed ones who came before. 

It is in the midst of these two blessed communities (our ancient faith ancestors and the hosts of saints in light) that we find our own blessed pilgrim journey. We walk our way of Christ always continuing the ancient faith of the past and leaning towards the reign of God which lies in our future.This Sunday preachers will spend time preaching the beatitudes as Christian character, "Ethics of Christian discipleship, "values in opposition to the world," or philosophies. (Harrington, 84) 
 "The Beatitides are thoroughly Jewish in form and content. They challenged those who made up 'Israel' in Matthew's time by delineating the kinds of persons and actions that will receive their full reward when God's kingdom comes. They remind Christians today of the Jewish roots of their piety and challenge each generation to reflecton on what persons and actions they consider to be important or 'blessed.'"  (Harrington, 84)
So, we understand then at our first glance that the text places us firmly rooted in our ancient faith, and that we are challenged to see others as God sees them. But is that all?

As is typical we spend more time on us and we might very well miss the opportunity to realize the importance of reading the beatitudes together with Isaiah 61:1-3.61  "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory."  

Remember our text in context. Jesus has come out of the desert time, he has led a great crowd, he is gone up to the mountain. Who is this person that looks and acts so very much in line with the great prophet Moses? Is he Moses? He is in the historic and prophetic line, but see he is the one Isaiah speaks about. Jesus is the Messiah the one who had come to bring good news, good blessings. The parallels are beautifully woven in Jesus' speech to the people. This is a revelation moment. 

The Beatitudes, and their proclamation reveal the very nature of who Jesus is and who he is to become.  Note that Jesus himself is meek, he mourns, he is righteous, he shows mercy, he is persecuted and reproached. Jesus himself is enacting a new creation by reenacting an exodus... he is linking his ministry as the continuation of the prophets and revealing his true nature... but he is himself embodying the incarnation of God's blessings in his own life and ministry.This person - Jesus - is God with us. It is in God's incarnation that we receive the blessings that are to come. 

 Like the Matthean community we are pilgrims along the way, our eyes opened to the revelation of God in Jesus, blessed by a God who knows our suffering and life in this world. This week as we step into the pulpit will we talk about the person of Jesus as revealed in the beatitudes or will we spend time trying to link our lives in the first world with the blessing message of Jesus in a third world? 

It may be that this Sunday we need more to see the revelation of Jesus Christ than to receive more blessings in this life.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31


Resources for Sunday's Epistle
"The message that a convicted felon was the bearer of God's forgiving and transforming love was hard enough for anybody to swallow and for some especially so. For hellenized sophisticates-the Greeks, as Paul puts it - it could only seem absurd."
From "Foolishness," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

We must remember that this text is primarily about the community that has taken sides over against itself aligning along factions associated with particular preachers.  In the midst of preaching Christ it has somehow gotten off track and has become about signs, philosophies, and the preachers themselves.  So it is that Paul begins by marking the nature of Gospel preaching that which locates all the power and authority in the crucified Christ. 

No preacher and no human has the power of redemption - save the Christ.

Those who look for sound wisdom will most likely not understand the foolishness of the cross.  The philosophies of the world have not brought forth the knowledge of God and his grace, Paul proclaims.  People will look for signs and symbols, philosophies and wisdom in order to believe. And, many preachers will offer these things. You may even be drawn to these things as a seeker.  However, it is never the signs or symbols that save. It's not the wisdom or great philosophies that save.  It is always and only the death and resurrection of the crucified Christ.

This truth and reality is where we find the strength of God.  It seems foolish by philosophical standards that God should become human and die; yet Paul proclaims it is this very foolish notion by which we are all saved.  That in some very profound and miraculous way God undoes all philosophies and all wisdom by doing the unusual and becoming one of us and experiencing life as one of us and dying as one  of us.  God in Christ Jesus becomes strong in weakness and victorious in death.  

God himself claims the world as his own and through his incarnation and presence shows us the way to eternal life.  We discover in Christ that he is the source of life and light. If we are to understand through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ alone, and we are to seek wisdom in God alone, and we are to seek righteousness and sanctification from God alone.  It is not in understanding fancy things or secret things that we are wise; no more is it true that by becoming strong we become stronger than death.  Only in Christ do we receive eternal life.  Paul writes, "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”"


Some Thoughts on Micah 6:1-8




The problem that the Lord has with his faithful people is their lack of faithfulness! What is so often missed in the reading of the Old Testament is God’s forgiveness and God’s concern for the lowly.

Micah gives voice to God’s concern that the people’s lack of faith is revealed in their lack of concern for the poor. Here then we see that God is reminding the people of his work on their behalf. God was faithful. Micah writes:

“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

God looked upon God’s people and saw that they were in need of a champion, they were oppressed and suffering. But in Micah’s time the people have forgotten and so are oppressing their own fellow citizens. They are mistreating the poor and those who are hungry. So it is that Micah pleads God’s case as if he is in court. There is judgement for those who do not share what they have and the judgment is guilt. Faithlessness is seen here as a key ingredient to righteousness and caring for those out of an understanding of plenty a sign of the lack of such faith.

Faithlessness believes that the Lord won’t provide.

Micah offers a glimpse into the response of the people:

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

The people want to make a sacrifice to God…that is their way of thinking this will soothe God’s woundedness on the part of those in need. God then responds by reminding that God delivers, God frees, God provides, and God takes care. The response that God requires is this:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

This is not unique to Micah. Mercy, kindness, and humility coupled with justice can be found in Hosea 6.6, Zechariah 7.9. The Gospels pick this understanding up with the metaphor of God’s nature as shepherd and compassion for the helpless and hopeless. As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews: share what you have and do good works these are the kinds of sacrifices that God desires…none of this groveling stuff. The work and response to God’s raising of Israel out of Egypt, and raising Jesus is in fact to raise others.