Finding the Lessons

The latest blog post will be the bible study for the next week. 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. Enjoy.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Proper 18A/Ordinary 23A/Pentecost +13 September 7, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Real churches have - or should have - real conflicts. The only real harm that will come to a church community is to refuse to deal with conflicts. Conflicts do not kill churches. Refusing to deal with conflict kills churches."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 18:15-20, David Ewart, 2011.

"Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has made the important connection that we can learn a lot about the Christian practice of forgiveness from the character Ian Bedloe in Anne Taylor’s novel Saint Maybe."
"Costly Truth, Costly Forgiveness," Carl Gregg, Patheos, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

God of unity and peace, your Son has taught us that where two or three are gathered in his name he is present in their midst and you will grant their request.  Grant us a new heart to presume the goodness of every brother and sister, and a spirit sensitive to the burdens each of them bears, that by loving our neighbor as ourselves we may bear witness to that love which is the fulfilling of the law. 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 18:15-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This passage is a passage about God's kindness; the fact that so many of us will read and preach on the difficult measure this passage offers as a rule may indicate more our own boundry-less and unaccountable culture that God's graceful intent.

The sinner is offered repeatedly opportunities to repent. The one who is transgressed against too must forgive the offender.  The hardness of Jesus' rule, you see, is that those who follow him must be known as those who forgive - beyond all measure.

It is clear in the passage that the reason for such a boundless grace is the grace of God himself.  We are to forgive as we are forgiven by God. We are to love as God has loved us.

Perhaps the problem is that as we have become less accountable for our actions to others, our hostile words, our uncaring for our neighbors, our lack of generosity, our lack of forgiveness, our lack of love for our enemies...we feel like we ourselves really don't need too much forgiving.

When we are righteous all on our own, not by action but by hiding our action and true natures, we really don't need much forgiveness or love from God.

The reality is that Jesus offers us a vision of the kingdom which seeks continuously to re-reincorporate the lost.  The mission of God is clear, in forgiveness and in all things, to bring back into the fold those who are lost.  Restoration, recreation, and transformation of all people is the ultimate work of the mission of Jesus Christ.

We are challenged as a church to make this our primary work.  What would the world be like if every church in the Episcopal Church understood that it existed for those who were not there on Sunday morning and that their work was so to present the love and forgiveness of God that individuals would be drawn into relationship with Jesus and Jesus' church?

For Matthew excommunication, removal from the community, is not a communal action but is the result of self-imposed actions.

Life in community is to be organized by those who are the "meek and merciful" and "who know that they themselves are the unworthy recipients of God's constant mercy and forgiveness." (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 804)
So it is that ultimate removal from the community is a tragic event and that those who bind such actions will be bound themselves.  Are we able to lose ourselves into heaven by living lives of forgiveness?

I think the real challenge this week is to preach on this passage.  The rules and boundaries of community and the community rule of forgiveness is one not often preached. The idea that we walk by the grace of God and therefore we should rest upon such grace before seeking to hold resentments against others is a message many need to hear.

This 12 step process of Alanon and AA are a process that provides a tremendous sense of God's grace. As a reconciliation tool, the steps work to help the disciple or follower of Jesus to understand that most of the resentments we carry around in our hearts are caused not by others but by our own behaviors.  What we loose and bind is always dependant upon us - not someone else.

I am struck by the idea that what Jesus seems so easily to seize upon in this passage is that if a community is completely focused upon the sins of others it will rarely be a community of integrity because it lacks the ability to see the sin rampant within and this will frustrate the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


"In this brief but extremely rich passage, Paul tells us that as Christians we are all 'morning people.' The time is just before dawn, the sky is brightening, the alarm is ringing, day is at hand. It is time to rouse our minds from slumber, to be alert to what God is doing in the world, and to live in accordance with God's coming salvation."
Commentary, Romans 13:11-14 (Advent 1A), Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2007.

"Love is bigger than all the observances and bigger than all the commandments."
First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Advent 1, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"For preachers, this text is significant. It lifts up the importance of love as the law's fulfilment. Yet at the same time it refuses to set up love as a big, shadowy "ought." Instead, it sets love firmly in the light, that is, God's dawning light of the new aeon. In other words, we don't love cause weshould love. Rather, we love because God's ever-lovin' day is about to dawn."
Advent 1A and Proper 18A, David S. Jacobsen, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, inPreaching Apocalyptic Texts: Year A, Resources for Pastors Who Want to 'Preach in the New Creation'.

This passage appears also in Advent year A and there is takes on a theme of preparation.  In this passage Paul continues his focus upon love.  Followers of Jesus love others, in so doing they mimic the ministry of Jesus and the work of God.  In loving others they also fulfill God's law.

Paul offers a very clear view that not loving another will in fact lead to adultery, murder, theft, and covetousness.

Love others - this is the highest rule and the highest goal.

Adeptly he has moved from a discussion on what is owed to the authorities to what is owed to one another - which is love. (Joseph Fitzmeyer, Romans, 677)  Deeds are the way that a Pauline faith is lived.  Love lived creates the framework for all other questions about the law and quickly moves Paul from legality to grace in future discussions (Fitzmeyer, 677; Gal 5:6)

To understand Paul's full treatment of love you must go to 1 Corinthians 13.  In Paul's economic discourse of love we discover the following.  All other gifts are worthless without love.  Love is: patient and kind, not jealous, not arrogant, not rude, it does not seek its own interest, is not irritated, does not reckon things wrong, does not delight in wrong doing, rejoices in truth, puts up with all things, believes all things, and never fails.  Love lasts and is superior to all other things.  All of which is summed up in vs 13:  Faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Paul then ends concludes his reflection on love in Romans with urgency.  Now that you have become believers you can see that this is true.  There is urgency and we need to be about this work now and immediately.  Let us live in the light, and love in the light putting away the behaviors that will cloud and deform this love: drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy.

Let us instead do what Jesus Christ does and love.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Proper 17A/Ordinary 22A/Pentecost +12 August 31, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"The kingdom is becoming present in that resurrected life of the Messiah in each of our communities where this confession and life are bound together in the responsible exercise of love and mercy for the world."
Commentary, Matthew 16:21-28, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Peter rebukes Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter. Calls Peter - or at least Peter's rebuke - Satan. That is, Tempter, Snake in the Garden, Introducer of Hesitation, Mixer of Motivations, Flaunter of Red Herrings, Side-Tracker of Mission, Setter of One's Mind on Human Things. Well, fear of pain and death will do that to most people, and Peter was no exception."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 16:21-28, David Ewart, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Transform us, O God, by the renewal of our minds, that we may not be conformed to this world or seduced by human standards of success.  But as true disciples may we discern how good and pleasing it is to you for us to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow in the footsteps of Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. 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 16:21-28

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As we read through the Gospel of Matthew we might remember that everything is read through the lens of the concluding passion tide.  This passage is the first of the passion predictions. It comes to us following the miracle of loaves and fishes, the stilling of the storm, and Peter's Gospel proclamation that Jesus is indeed the Messiah the Son of the Living God.

It is not a surprise to us because we know the rest of the story, and it is not a surprise if we have been reading along in Matthew's Gospel for throughout the narrative we have received images, metaphors, road signs that we are heading towards Jerusalem. Jesus has set his face like a flint to Jerusalem and there we know his message of a continuing revelation of God and the new kingdom will be rejected by the religious establishment.  And, that he is to die and rise again.

So the first revelation of this Gospel is one that we as Christians have come to understand and that is that Jesus is willing to do this. Jesus is willing to go to Jerusalem and to die there on behalf of the vision of the kingdom and on behalf of the new restored creation he is proclaiming.

Jesus does this work as a free man, choosing to be faithful to his very nature and faithful to his vocation as prophet.  He willingly chooses for himself this destiny as the divine rite of the King of Heaven.  It seems important for us to understand that Matthew's Gospel does not offer a God who requires Jesus' death, or a society that demands it, but rather that the death of Jesus is determined by Jesus himself as an offering for the cause of the kingdom of God.  Jesus believes, in my opinion, that if he will go to Jerusalem he will intentionally fan the flames of the religious authorities, they will kill him, and he will then usher in the reign of God in this world and the next.

For the author of Matthew, for the apostolic generation and every successive faith generation that has followed, Jesus' will and the divine will are one.  His intention therefore is God's intention.  A new order, the creation itself, is being re-made.

We cannot miss in this passage the very important and theologically pieces. I refer again to Allison and Davies who I very much depend upon for their scholarship to help us remember and think through the deep meanings intertwined in this passage regarding Peter's witness and Peter's relationship with the Christ:

To begin with , Peter's pre-eminence makes his misunderstanding in effect universal: if even the favored Simon, rock of the church and recipient of divine revelation, did not grasp the truth, then, we may assume, that truth was hid from all. God's intentions for Jesus were so dark and mysterious that they simply could not, before the event, be comprehended.  This in large part explains why Jesus is such a lonely figure in Matthew and why he is trailed throughout the gospel by misapprehension and even opposition.  God's was are inscrutable.  At the same time, one no doubt demanding unprecedented responsibilities (cf. Chrysostom as quote on p 664).  Another lesson is to be found in this, that Peter's fall from the heights shows him to be anything but an idealized figure.  Like David and so many other biblical heroes, the apostle serves as warning that privileges and even divine election will not keep a body from evil mischief.  Finally, Peter must also, again like David and so many others, be intended to stand as a symbol of God's ever-ready willingness to bestow forgiveness on the imperfect.  For as soon as Peter has been quickly dismissed for words better left unsaid, Jesus selects him, along with two others, to be witnesses of the transfiguration.  Thus Peter, so far from being punished for his misguided though, is immediately granted a glimpse of the glorified Christ.  Is the reader not expected to see in this a triumph of grace?
Heavenly Father help our unbelief!  One of the beautiful things that has always intrigued me about the Gospel and about God's willingness to be in relationship with us is God's ability to commitment no matter how often we get it wrong.  Certainly we as individual followers and as a Church have not always gotten it right. We don't have to meditate long upon our personal and corporate sinfulness where in we have attempted to create a kingdom and a revelation that supports our power and authority over and against the divine wishes of the Godhead or the clear revelation of scripture to create a new order.

This passage challenges the preacher and church to look careful at itself and question where do we believe we have it so very correct and how are we possibly frustrating the will and mission of God and Jesus Christ?

And, can we celebrate together as the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion the reality that God's will is done despite our best and our worst efforts!  The beauty of the passage is Peter's complete obstruction that is overcome by the grace and single minded vision and actions of Jesus Christ.  Can we trust that we are buoyed up by the grace of God and that somehow our efforts work into the greater work of the Godhead.

Are we able to accept grace for ourselves and more importantly can we claim enough grace to withstand the reality that those who disagree with us may also receive the vision of Christ glorified.  We must read the whole Gospel and claim its revelation of truth for the whole body of faithful people.  We must be the community of life and love where the fallen are invited into the greater celebration of the triumph of Grace. There is in the end the truth that grace allows you and I and all those who agree and disagree with us the opportunity to see the Christ lifted high upon the cross, delivered into the depths of Hades, and rise on the third day transfiguring not only his own body but the whole creation into the kingdom and reign of God!


"Without reconciliation or acknowledged difference there can be no balance. Paul is also realistic. Peace is not always possible (12:18). We need to bear that in mind when Paul urges submission to the structures of authority in society in the next chapter. Sometimes it is not possible."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 11, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

"The Good News that you heard included an invitation: right now, as you are, you can be a part of something -- specifically, a member of the Body of Christ...The tricky part is that the Body of Christ includes an awful lot of people who are every bit as difficult as we are."
Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Proper 18. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

In our passage today Paul reminds us of the conversation thus far. We understand God's love, our response is gratitude, and that we are to give up ourselves and our lives to the Spirit and that in so doing we are transformed as is the world by God's efforts through us. We are the very members incorporate in the body of Christ - as the Eucharistic prayer reminds us.

In order for this all to be of true and lasting value we must understand that just as God's saving work is rooted in his love for us so our work in the world must also be genuinely set upon the foundation of love.  We are to be about the work of loving others as Christ loves us.  We to be as Christ was to us. Therefore we are to love our fellow Christians, to deal with them with honor.  In so doing we are serving God.  We are to practice hospitality even to those who test us; even to strangers.  Paul here literally means to let them into your home.

If we are to pursue what is good out of love then that will make of us, demand of us, a hospitality beyond the boundaries of the hospitality which is prevalent in the world around us.  This is the meaning of the Good News. Those who know the teachings of Jesus know that Jesus challenged us to bless those who persecute us or cause us suffering.  We are to honor even them because we are to be like Christ.  We are to live peaceably no matter what comes.  We are not to desire revenge upon them or deal with them as we think God should judge them! What! This completely undoes the church's role throughout much of its history. That is correct. Paul says we are not to be in charge of God's judgement but rather to love and be hospitable to all people...even those who don't agree with us, even those who we don't like, even those who seek to undermine us...EVERYONE! No exceptions.  Moreover, we are to leave the handling of sin to God. We are always to do good.

The thing I often wonder about those who decide to judge on God's behalf and who have decided to take an inherent stance on scripture never seem to take this part out and hold it up as God's word. It is a constant reminder to myself and to the church that we are to read the whole text and not just the parts of the text that give us power over others or the ability to shame and judge others.  It seems to me that we would do far better be hospitable and welcoming one another as a church than our current way of being with each other and the those desperately seeking this amazing loving and profoundly giving God.

As funny as it is...we might say that putting away the judgement seat and taking on the servant's mantle of hospitality may be the cross most of us need to take up in order to find our life in Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Proper 16A/Ordinary 21A/Pentecost +11 August 24, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think
The road to Caesarea Philippi


"From fisher of fish to fisher of people to keeper of the keys to shepherd. It was the Rock's final promotion, and from that day forward he never let the head office down again."
"Peter," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"La predicación de la confesión de Pedro (Mateo 16.13-20) es una oportunidad de retornar al principio de la fe cristiana vis a vis la opinión post moderna sobre el cristianismo en general y quien Jesús es en particular."
Comentario del Evangelio por Alvin Padilla, San Mateo 16:13-20, Working Preacher, 2011.

"For Matthew the location is also Caesarea Philippi and perhaps the same shadows of imperial power or power through its local Jewish proteges of Herod's family are in mind. But in Matthew the passage is not such a turning point as it is in Mark."
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 10, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

God, well-spring of all wisdom and font of every insight, you inspired Simon Peter to confess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and on the rock of this faith you built your church.  Pour out your Spirit in abundance, that all may join in this profession, and so become living stones built up into your church, standing firm upon the one foundation, which is our Lord Jesus Christ. 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 16:13-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The passage for this Sunday's Gospel is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Messiah and Son of the Living God. It is Peter's proclamation on the road to Caesarea Philippi.  It is an important theological passage for Christianity and is an important passage within the Gospel of Matthew.

We begin the passage with Jesus' question to his disciples. This then reveals that Jesus is a great prophet. It isn't simply that he is compared to the great heroes of the Jewish faith.  He is on par with, he is equal to, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist.  He is not simply a great prophet he is the greatest of prophets.  He is the Christ, Son of the Living God.  The message of Jesus is the continuation of the ancient faith of Israel.  He is the fulfillment of all the hope of Israel.  He is the omega of salvation-history. At the same time he is doing something radically new - he is birthing (through word and spirit) the Church.

Jesus in Matthew's Gospel is the one who is laying the foundation of a living Word that will withstand the powers and principalities of both this world and the world to come.  He is building up living stones and a kingdom of priests to expand the reign of the kingdom of God - this "eschatalogical temple." (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 642)

There is a great debate among scholars as to Matthew's own Christology. Did he think of Jesus as God in the same way as John and his Gospel? In point of fact no direct statement is made.  Yet, in my opinion the author of this Gospel indeed understands Jesus as God.  For in my reading of Matthew Jesus not only is the continuum of messianic hope he is the culmination as well.  He is here on this road proclaimed as the Son of the Living God.  Matthew's Gospel is clear about its revelation - Jesus is one with God and therefore transcends the simple relationship of follower or prophet of the most high God.

Furthermore, this Jesus is the one who has been given the power and authority to call forth the new community of faithful followers into the kingdom.  In this section of the narrative of Jesus, in this moment, on the road to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus is seen as Lord of this new kingdom. He is in the miracle of loaves and fishes, in the stilling of the storm, he is bringing together a new people of God. This new people of God is made up of those who unlike many of the religious powers of his day have not rejected him and those who are on the fringes of religious society - to include Gentiles.  This is the God made man who in sitting and eating with sinners and tax collectors is binding together a new family of God.

Jesus in his ministry, and from this point on in Matthew's Gospel, is passing along the inheritance of the kingdom of God. Jesus is gathering in and multiplying the numbers of Abraham's descendants. He is through the power of the Holy Spirit taking the spirit that has been under the custodial leadership of the religious authorities of his day and is placing that spirit upon a new people, a growing people, a diverse people - the ecclesia - The People of God.

The image of this new people of God is not the perfected disciple but the disciple Peter, the one whose faith led him to step out of the boat, the one whose faith has revealed the true nature of Jesus, the one who also will struggle with his faith and deny him during the passion tide.  This imperfect human is the one upon whom the church, the new ecclesia, is built.

Allison and Davies write this beautiful passage about the revelation of Jesus as Son of the Living God and spiritual architect of the new people of God:

Jesus is the Son promised in 2 Sam 7.4-16, the king who builds the eschatological temple. This temple is the church.  Like the old temple, it is founded on a rock.  But unlike the old temple, it has no geographical location.  It is not in Jerusalem.  The new, eschatological temple is a spiritual temple.  It stands under the rule: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (18:20; cf. Jn 4:21).  Mathew is thus at one with the rest of the NT in substituting for the Holiness of place the holiness of a person: holy space has been Christified. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 642)
Allison and Davies contend, and I think it is a great image, that just as Jesus is himself the New Covenant so Peter is then the New Abraham.  They write:

The parallels between 16:13-20 and Genesis 17:1-8 indicate that Peter functions as a new Abraham.  He is the first of his kind, and he stands at the head of a new people. Peter is, like Abraham, a rock (cf. Isa 51:1-2), and the change in his name denotes his function.  What follows?  Peter is not just a representative disciple, as so many Protestant exegetes have been anxious to maintain.  Nor is he obviously the first holder of an office others will someday hold, as Roman Catholic tradition has so steadfastly maintained.  Rather, he is a man with a unique role in salvation history.  The eschatological revelation vouchsafed to him opens a new era.  His person marks a change in the times.  His significance is the significance of Abraham, which is to say: his faith is the means by which God brings a new people into being. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 642ff)
This week's Gospel lesson is as much about Jesus as it is about Peter.  We need leaders in each Episcopal congregation (clergy and lay) who are ready to give voice to the proclamation of Jesus as Son of the Living God and Lord of all; and to incarnate their faith in living a living Word that is Gospel. We need leadership who will also see themselves not simply as disciples of a particular kind but in the tradition of Peter and Abraham; ready to take steps out into the world. We need leadership who are ready to be the stones upon which new churches are designed and built.  We need leaders who are through their ministry ushering in a new era of Gospel proclamation and mission.  We need leaders who by means of their faith God is bringing a new people, a new ecclesia, into being.


" To be enslaved to sin is to have one's body commandeered every bit as much as one's soul."Commentary, Romans 12:1-8, Mary Hinkle Shore,, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Paul's main point about spiritual gifts, mentioned in verse 6, is that God has given us these as members of the body of Christ. So we are to use the particular gift God has given us to help the body function, not to promote ourselves or show how we as one body part are better than others who are another body part."
Commentary, Romans 12:1-8, Mark Reasoner, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

Romans is about God's unconditional one way love that in the end will conquer all powers and principalities and make us heirs and family members with God. 

Paul invites the members of the community at Rome then to make an offering in response to God's action on our behalf.  We are invited to present ourselves and our very life as a sacrifice. Not like those sacrifices made in the Temple on our behalf but to be the sacrifice and offering to God - because in so doing we will experience transformation.  

Our grateful response to God is to discern our life and its patterns as a reflection of the God who loves us.  We can easily go back to the way of the world. We can try to live by the law. We can try and purchase or buy our sacrifice but nothing will lead to the same life that God is freely offering to each of us.  So we have to begin again. We must realize that we must daily start anew. We respond to God's never failing love for us by each day committing ourselves to a grateful response.

Our bodies, our gifts, our very life is given to us as a part of the whole life of God on earth. We are members of a great cloud of witnesses, a great body of Christ. Each of us is given part of the work of carrying out God's mercy in the world. The Holy Spirit which makes us part of the one body of  Christ also enlivens us to be an active member in our community and out in the world.  We are all given unique qualities which reflect the God we believe in and the God who animates all creation.  Yet we are not independent but interdependent members. We depend upon one another and are part of one another's life and livelihood.

This interdependence is for the building up of the kingdom of God and the manifestation of grace in the world around us.  Our uniqueness and our unique gifts are part of the wider community and its overall functioning. Gifts are each dependent upon the others.  So Paul continues...As one body in Christ the gift of prophecy (inspired preaching) is dependent upon the gift of ministry - the administration of aid and distribution of alms.  Teaching is dependent upon exhortation (the urging of others to have faith).[see Chris Haslaam's site on the breakdown]  All of these are gifts that work together in harmony and unity.
4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
As one body there are many members and we are all in need of the other.  

I think the challenge here is that we don't truly engage in this notion that all have gifts. We don't really have time to figure this out with people. We are typically only interested in the gifts that help run the church. Any gift that might take more time or cause a disruption in the gentle order of things is a gift discarded.  We have decided that the only gifts of preaching, teaching, church planting, and leadership belong to those with advanced training and three years of masters study.  

Paul points out the truth of Jesus and his call to those first fishermen. Paul points out the truth of the call to the first apostles appointed by the Holy Spirit - none of them had an MDiv.  They were all kinds and sorts of people. They were poor and wealthy. They were wise and simple. Yet all received their gifts from the Holy Spirit. They gave their lives to the health and vitality of the kingdom of God.  

So I wonder...do we dare preach the truth this Sunday? Even though it will cause a fair bit of trouble for those in power and enmeshed in the hierarchy... courage is probably the right tactic here. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Proper 15A/Ordinary 20A/Pentecost +10 August 17, 2014

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.

"Like the story of the woman who as an outsider experiences God's mercy and so challenges a too-narrow tradition that would want to restrict God's mercies to a chosen few, so these sayings invite a reexamination of our hearts and call us to a new appraisal of the expansive reach of God's mercies."
Commentary, Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

God of all the nations, in the outstretched arms of Jesus the Crucified you gather the people of earth, diverse and divided, into a single embrace of salvation and peace.  Stir up within us the longing for unity that filled the heart of Jesus your Son, and let our every word and deed serve your design of universal salvation, until all are gathered into your one family to be perfectly one in your covenant of love. 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 15:10-28

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Wow. Now this Sunday we have an interesting passage! In order to engage this passage we must realize that it comes after a confrontation scene with the religious leaders. Jesus has just been confronted by the authorities who are challenging him that he is not following the tradition of his faith ancestors.  They are acting somewhat like inspectors who are pretty sure the disciples have not been washing their hands before they sit down and eat.  The passage is a direct engagement with the rules of the day which understand the tradition of the religious authorities to be outside the tradition of scripture; and therefore Jesus in our passage today teaches the crowd around him.

Scholars tend to look upon this text as trying to deal with the difference between the Matthean communal rule of life and that of their forebears.

At the same time we must recognize that while this may be true, we also know that this engagement with the religious authorities was one of the key mitigating factors that led to Jesus' crucifixion.

Jesus is proclaiming a message that connects the new emerging communities with the ancient law of the Israel and their prophets.  The new communities that Jesus is speaking to are certainly continuing Jewish communities.  But the Gentile mission too was quickly to engage as a full member of the evolving understanding of God's widening kingdom.  Jesus is preserving the good news of a God who is in relationship with his people and who makes promises to be with them always even to the end of the ages; a God who promises the abundance of creation.  So there is a sense that Jesus is continuing and reforming. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 537)

Jesus' teaching is essential to a global mission.  Jesus' teaching is the pre-cursor to the Apostolic Decree from Acts 15.20, 29; 21.45.  Wherein the first community of followers of Jesus quickly laid out the boundaries that would enable the Jew and the Gentile to worship God through the particular revelation of Jesus Christ without getting in one an other's way.  The rule prohibited four things: eating meat sacrificed to idols, eating blood, eating strangled animals, and intercourse with near kin. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 538)  These were the rules.

The real focus I think for this passage has to be the text: What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and that defiles a man (15.18).  This is a key component to Matthew's Gospel; indeed the whole of the Gospels. It is mentioned throughout the Gospel narrative.  Too often religion gets overly focused upon ritual and in so doing looses sight of the key component of faith - the direction through the heart of one's life and work.

It is one's intention and attitudes that is a chief characteristic of Jesus' words to his followers.  It is perhaps the center of Jesus' own moral teachings.  Integrity is the result of harmony between thought and act.  Integrity is the result of an action based upon the living word of God brought into being through the vessel of one's heart and delivered by mouth and hands.

In the end Jesus' own teaching is why he must accept the challenge by the woman.  He too much act in accordance with his own teaching and in so doing shows the integrity of his words and his actions.  All too many preachers will get hung up on the woman's challenge. Do not miss the challenge Jesus is offering to us who craft many rules for the segregating of our own communities.

This is not particularly new teaching that Jesus is offering his followers. In fact most religious reform is not new.  It is rather a rereading, reinterpreting, and re vocalizing of the ancient words of psalms, prophets, and rabbis.  It is to say that keeping the commandment was good, but that interiorizing the commandment was essential religious work.

Allison and Davies in their work on Matthew write this:

The Psalms, the prophets, and the rabbis all attest the necessity of cleansing the heart and purifying interior disposition.  In the First Gospel, however, there is a regular and emphatic dwelling on the them, so that Matthew remains a constant reminder that Jesus laid an extraordinary emphasis on the real inner religious significance of the commandments.

We are challenged by this passage a great deal.  As a Church we are working through divisions on the different ways of acting out our faith - liturgy, sacrament, and polity. Yet I think we are being judged by those who do not come to church but seek God. We are being looked upon by those who love Jesus and believe he would have similar criticisms of today's church.

I think we are challenged to hold up today's scripture and ask ourselves as individuals and as preachers and teachers what are the things we are most concerned about? What are the items from the last meeting we went to and did not go our way and so now we are harboring as essential to the life of our church? What are the items we hold most dear and most important: budget, altar guild, ritual, grounds, coffee hour?  What are they and how are they connected to the religious heart of our church? How are the things we hold as most important connected to the religious heart of Jesus' Gospel?

This is a good exercise.  Perhaps we should do the work corporately and then offer ourselves to God and be reconciled to God, our neighbor and the world.  Then perhaps we can take genuine step forward in mission reconnecting our words and actions with our own heart and with the heart of Jesus and his Word.

"God will not give up on us. His promise of life is centered in the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the Deliverer from sin, death, and the power of the devil for Jew and Gentile alike."
Commentary, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"What a wonderful vision: God wants to have compassion towards all people - and will!"
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 9, William Loader, Murdoch University 



Paul has made his case, one that I do not agree with, that Israel will not be saved at the last day.  My view is in fact a generous view given the fact that most Jews today do not believe as I do that reconciliation with God is possible by God's doing and through God's love.  Some may be saved he says, but not many.  

Paul then explains how like him both Jews and Gentiles may come to believe and that he is a chief example of how God is working his purpose out with his people the Israelites.  God is faithful and God intends to save his people. The Israelites are still his chosen people.  God will lead the Israelites to this new understanding by means of the Gentile Christians and their faithfulness he says.

Gentile Christians, who were once unfaithful/disobedient are now part of the family of God. They are and can be examples to the Jews ans show them how to respond to the grace and mercy and love of God.  They are to be examples to the world, to Jew and Gentile alike, of how to live with God.  I think this is the part of the passage that will preach.

As a follower of Jesus, who receives grace and the spirit, I have an opportunity to live a life worthy of my saving. I have an opportunity out of gratitude to reflect the love of God to all people.  In so doing they will be drawn towards God and God's love.  

I am not to spend a lot of time worrying about who is save and who is not.  Instead my work as a God fearer and Jesus follower is to live a life of grace. I am to be as C. S. Lewis said, a little Christ.  In so doing others will become as I am and in turn be Christs out in the world.  This is our work. Freed from the law and forever united by the love of God I am to respond out of gratitude and live a life of the Spirit for all the world to see...never boasting in my own saving work but in the work of may savior Jesus Christ.






Monday, August 4, 2014

Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +9 August 10, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"How can we preach this tired story in a way that people can hear it?"
"Salvation and Fear and Jesus' Ghost," Russell Rathbun, The Hardest Question, 2011.

"...faith is about doing. A faithful person eventually gets to the point at which s/he can say to God, 'I don't know where you're going, but I know that wherever it is, I'd rather be drowning with you than be crowned by somebody else.'"
Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Proper 14. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Strong and faithful God, your outstretched arm governs the mighty forces of creation, and your gentle hand cradles event he smallest of creatures.  Strengthen our "little faith," and open our eyes to your presence at every moment of history and in every circumstance of life, that we may face with serenity times of testing and turmoil, and walk with Christ through every storm toward safe haven and true 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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 14:22-33

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

There is a lot occurring in this passage from Matthew.  Not unlike the work of Jesus Christ as co-creator shining through the miracle of the loaves and fishes we now continue on to see God's hand at work as the lord of the seas.

At first glance we see here in this passage the miraculous acts of Jesus holding up Peter's faith walk, walking on the sea himself, and stilling the storm.  While miraculous in their own right we must also pay close attention to the notion that these are acts reserved for God; these are literally acts which throughout the narrative of the Old Testament are work reserved for God alone.  So, the story is on the one hand a story of miracles but as preachers we must not loose the notion that the story also reveals the holiness, the other-ness, the God-ness of Jesus Christ.  These acts reveal Jesus as the divine Christ.

Not unlike the creedal faith soon proclaimed by the church we see in this story that the Godhead shares with the divine Jesus his nature as creator.

Allison and Davies (the Matthean scholars) point out that Matthew is quick to address the theological for evangelism purposes while at the same time delivering a teaching on the nature of following Jesus.  The Gospel for this Sunday is as much about who Jesus is as it is about whom we are to become if we choose to follow Jesus.

Christians must have faith in the face of difficulties.  As Christians try and follow Jesus and try to enact or make real his commands we know we will have difficulties.  Get out and come to me....is not as easy as it may sound.  The idea that when we step out in faith we step out upon the deep water itself.  The metaphorical teaching of the Gospel lesson is clear: Jesus will not abandon his church (those in the boat) and will come to our aid when we tread the deep water for Jesus sake.  Jesus does not promise there will not be storms but does promise to be there in the midst of the storm.

There is still something more here though. We cannot forget that the Gospel voice of Matthew is one born out of a continuing Jewish context of Jesus followers.  Here in this passage we move from a general understanding of the kingdom to the specific building upon the shoulders of Peter a new community ( a specific Matthean community) of faithful followers.  The insight offered is not one of perfection (after all Peter sinks and will fail again at the passion).  The insight rather is one of understanding the difficulty of faithful following itself.  The apostolic witness of Peter is one upon whom the community will be built. He represents the continuation and tie with the ancient faith ancestors of Israel, and also the willingness to step out and bring the revelation of God in Jesus Christ into the messianic age of community.  A community of continuing Israel's faith in a Messiah who does not leave us but continues to engage the storm of community life and faithful attempts to bear witness to his divine nature and kingdom.

I have to admit that I fail.  That is not something we aspire to in the United States. Failure is not an American option.  It has led us to hold leaders up to a perfection unattainable. At the same time our aspiration for success has also led us to be unwilling to bend or fail; in turn this has led us to not even try.  It is the not trying that is the greater sin. As I reflect upon Peter's walk I think that the reality is that the greater sin is not found in his faith as it falters for there is enough grace for all.  The greater sin would have been not to have tried.  The greater sin would have to not believed in the grace of Christ such that we would have stayed in the boat.

I believe the issue with the church isn't so much that we don't believe in Jesus Christ, but that our real sin is that of perfection.  If it can't be perfect then we should not try.  The Episcopal Church (and my guess is all churches) today is being challenged to get out of the boat. We are being challenged to take a faithful step out into the world. We are being invited and challenged to step out upon deep waters and we are being challenged to fail gloriously.  When an institution and a culture no longer has the ability to tolerate failure the organization is dead.

I hope you will challenge people to get out of the boat.  I hope you will challenge the church to leave the building.  Most of all I pray for you and for me the gift of toleration to allow people to fail gloriously for the sake of the kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus.  In such grace we can hear Jesus' words to us:  “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”


"Paul seeks to work out a theology which is consistently informed by the being and nature of God as caring. Where it poses problems, even for the new Christianity, Paul refuses to surrender it as a starting point."
"First Thoughts on Passages on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Lent 1, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"This is the word of salvation that God has ordained from before time. Jesus Christ is the word in whom all are called to rejoice, Jew and Gentile. This is the word that calls for heralds of God's promise today."
Commentary, Romans 10:5-15, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.


In our passage from Romans today we continue with Paul's attempts to understand and explain why the Jews have some how failed to grasp the truth about God in Christ Jesus.

The primary reason Paul says is that their faith and relationship with God the Father is based upon their covenant at Sinai.  They are in relationship with God through the law and the law alone. They are focused upon works and not faith.  Paul then does, what I think is an unfortunate thing, he twists a passage from Isaiah and offers a vision that God intended the Jews to fail.  I don't think this is true.  I think Paul has confused the passage completely.

The Jews still await a messiah but they have missed out on the Messiah that God has chosen Christ Jesus.  They remain focused upon the law and their own path to God's bosom.  Paul sees it clearly and says they ave essentially missed the messiah and Christ's redemption from the law so they remain imprisoned.

Paul points out that even Moses offered a faith of the heart and lips and not one solely based upon the law. Paul says they have gotten off track and that in missing Jesus they have missed salvation.  They have instead chosen the harder way to God and that the way of the law is ultimately going to lead to death.

Paul then uses Isaiah and Joel again to point towards Christ. He reinterprets the passage to mean Jesus and that Jesus is the bearer of the good news.  All people have the opportunity to understand it.  Yet many still do not believe.  

The problem I think for the preacher is how not to become anti-Semitic here in this teaching. I believe that God saves the Jews and the Muslims through and by their Abrahamic covenants.  That is theirs to sort out and to keep.  The three faiths are different.  So I would steer clear even though Paul has a very clear view of their predicament.

That being said I think this passage holds a great deal of prophetic teaching and preaching for those who choose to undertake the difficult work of parsing it out.  The reality is that humans in human communities all reject the grace and messianic truth of Jesus - even Christians. We too easily fall into the way of the law and begin to use the law as a means of salvation. 
1. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.
2. I worship him in the spirit.
3. I am baptized.
4. I believe the scripture and fulfill it.
AND you (whoever the you is) don't...
We do well to remember the powerful place Romans plays in the reformation. The reformers read this and saw clearly that the Christian Church itself had become a place of the law and not a place of grace.

In this moment of great awakening let us preach and offer a Gospel message of grace and salvation. Let us focus upon our own saving, our gratitude and our response. And, let us make way within our community for God's grace to gather others in - especially those who do not follow the laws we have created to keep them out.



Monday, July 28, 2014

Proper 13A/Ordinary 18A/Pentecost +8 August 3, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Dostoevsky, in the magnificent "The Grand Inquisitor" chapter of The Brothers Karamazov, ties the matter of bread and hunger to the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11."
Commentary, Matthew 14:13-21, (Pentecost 7), Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The last supper makes sense in the light of all the other meals including this one and they make sense in the light of the vision of liberation and reconciliation which inspired them. To receive him in bread and wine is also to participate in the vision and nourishment which makes it possible."
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Loving God as a mother tenderly gathers her children and as a father joyfully welcomes his own, so in the compassion of Jesus you nurture and nourish us, feed us and heal us.  Let the bread Jesus multiplied then in the wilderness be broken and shared among us now.  May the communion we experience with each other in this holy meal, compel us to seek communion with everyone in loving service toward all. 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 14:13-21

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Not unlike the grace imparted in the Eucharistic meal the feeding of the five thousand connects Jesus' ministry of feeding people with God's continuous outpouring of love.

Certainly, the Gospel author tells his story in such a way that the feeding events in the Matthean narrative are linked.  They give shape and image to the final feast.  Matthew's vision of Jesus as Christ and as provider shapes the story even in the telling.

This passage comes in the midst of the fourth largest section of the Gospel. It echoes the abundance of the previous passages on the kingdom of God and not unlike a sacrament it puts flesh on the images of parables that Jesus has been offering those who have ears. In a way, the feeding of the five thousand is an incarnation of the kingdom parables.  Jesus is showing that the kingdom is all around and that God's grace abounds in the fields and on the hill tops not only in the sanctuaries.  He is showing that the mandate to care and love and feed one another is a commandment that will not be confined to the rules of the religiously powerful.

He is also manifesting a very real kingdom community.  The signs and stories, the symbols and the miracles, are now embracing an ever expanding vision and reality which is the growing kingdom.

The New Testament scholar Gerhardsson comments:

In Matthew's time the Eucharist had probably not yet been made fully distinct from the satiating common meals in the early Christian communities.  Thus Eucharistic symbolism does not exclude the possibility that the story is concerned with the satisfaction of elementary bodily hunger -- and vice versa."(Allison/Davies, Matthew, p 492)

The Davies and Allison Commentary continues the theme:

In other words, the spiritualizing of 14:13-21 on Matthew's part does not discount the equal emphasis upon Jesus as the one who can meet mundane, physical needs.  Our pericope therefore both shows Jesus' concern for such 'non-religous' needs and likewise demonstrates his ability to act in accord with that concern.  So the christological assertion that Jesus is  Lord of all seems implicit. (Ibid)
In the miracle of the multiplication of fish and loaves the Christian Church as a vision of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, through whom all things were made.  We have a vision of Jesus modeling a stewardship of abundance that insures that the world is not simply a place of consumption ("This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away"); but rather that all creation is seen as bountiful for a sustainable kingdom of God ("They need not go away.")

The miracle challenges us to see the possibilities of a church at work in the world.  It challenges us to move out as missionaries into our culture of scarcity and seek to transform the world by bringing real food to all those who are hungry.  Instead of sending them away to other agencies or expecting the government to care we, the Episcopal Church and the Church, must take our rightful place as the hands of God.  We must feed the world and make real the kingdom. We must make the Gospel story of our bible, the one of parable and miracle, a reality.  Only when we re-engage the world as the incarnational body of Christ at work (meeting the very real needs) will the world listen to the Good News we also offer.

For far too long the Church has squabbled over the idea that it is either evangelism or outreach. This Gospel lesson reminds us that service to the poor, with whom Jesus identified himself, and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God go hand in hand.


"People these days ask God to damn lots of things. I have, too; but I've never had the nerve to include myself on the list. Paul did, offering to surrender his own salvation in Christ if it could make a difference."
Commentary, Romans 9:1-5, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The identity of the Messiah is the greatest of God's gifts to Paul's kindred according to the flesh. This brings Paul to the only words that can express the focus of all that he has said in these introductory words?a doxology of praise to God?'God blessed forever. Amen!'"
Commentary, Romans 9:1-5, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

Romans is a magnificent text by Paul.  We have covered a great deal of theological breadth.  He has offered an understanding of how God is at work in the world even now and making it new. He has given us an understanding of the life of the disciple who follows Jesus, is baptized, and forever adopted into union with God.  He has given us hope in our suffering and an understanding nothing can separate us from the love of God.

In this part of Romans he deals with the issue that the Jews have rejected Christ and the Good News of Salvation.  Paul, a Jew himself, wishes this was not so.  Paul would do anything to help the Jews come to Christ.  Then Paul offers these insights. They are insights worth pondering as we seek a healthy relationship with our brothers and sisters with whom we share the Abrahamic faith.

  • The Jews also called the Israelites are inheritors of God's promise to Abraham.  They are adopted like us and children of God.
  • God has been present with them in the desert and in the Temple and continues his presence among them.
  • God is faithful to his promises and so will keep his covenants made with their forefathers - Adam, Noah, Moses, and David of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • God has given them the law to follow and it expresses his will at Sinai and his desire for them to worship.
  • Their continual and faithful worship is essential in their life with God.

Paul though also believes that Jesus is their gift as well.  God is the one who chooses and not the Jews. This is where Paul believes they have gone wrong. God has chosen Jesus to fulfill the law and to unite all humanity to God.  So, while they have so much they lack the one thing.

I think the challenge this passage presents to us is the reality that God is continuing to move and work in the world around us. We like the Jews of Paul's time may be too assured in our certainty and may in fact - like them - be missing the work the Holy Spirit is undertaking outside our churches. Just as the Jews could not see a religion freed to the masses beyond the confines of the Temple so too we may have a difficult time seeing God at work in the world around us.  We may count upon our lineage and adoption too much.  Paul is willing to give it all up to participate in the emerging faith around him. What are we willing to give up so that others may have life and have it abundantly?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Proper 12A/Ordinary 17A/Pentecost +7 July 27, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Jesus’ parables, the words of St. Paul, and much of the Bible should serve as a reminder that when it comes to the enormity of God, God’s Kingdom, God’s Salvation, etc. we are not only merely privy to dim reflection—silhouettes—but a silhouette is all we can handle."
"Splashing Water on the Floor," Fr. Rick Morley, a garden path, 2011.


"In the Treasure parable, one's "treasure" (thesaurus in Greek) is an important metaphor in Matthew indicating where one's allegiance ultimately lies and its nature."
Commentary, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Good and generous God, fountain of all wisdom, in Christ you have revealed your kingdom to us, a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price.  Grant us your Spirit's gift of discernment, that we may learn to distinguish aright between the passing wealth of this present world and the enduring value of your kingdom.  Then make us swift to renounce all else to acquire the treasure you alone can bestow. 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 13:31-52

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We continue with our parable teaching of Jesus this week.  It it good to remember that Matthew's Gospel account tells us of a number of Jesus' parables.

13.24-30 The weeds and wheat
13.44-6 The hidden treasure and the pearl of great price
13.47-50 The net
13.23-35 The unfaithful servant
20.1-16 The workers in the vineyard
21.29-32 The two sons
22.1-14 The marriage supper
25.1-13 The ten virgins
25.31-46 The last judgment
Together these are about the kingdom of God, and they helps us understand the urgency of following, the cost of following, the importance of not being divided along the way, and the need for preparedness.  The kingdom of God is at hand. We must be ready and we must be willing to make our journey not concerned about the cost nor our traveling partners!

This Sunday we read three of these: Hidden Treasure; Pearl of Great Price; and The Drag Net

Each begins in a similar manner: “The kingdom of Heaven is like.…” One of the interesting things is that none of this Sunday's material appears in any of the other Gospels; so this is a special Sunday that gives the preacher an opportunity to really grasp the Matthean Gospel message of kingdom and kingdom community.

The first image that Jesus gives us is that finding the kingdom of Heaven is like finding a treasure hidden in a field, for the sake of which one will sell everything. Treasure was often hidden in fields.  We might remember the find in England called the Staffordshire Hoard. Found in 2009 you can read and watch the story by following the link above.  The treasure included 1500 pieces of Anglo Saxon treasure.  Unlike treasure buried in a tomb the scholars believe this treasure was buried for safe keeping.

We note that this parable presupposes that the kingdom is hidden, that it is not yet revealed to everyone.  This fits well with the thrust of the rest of the chapter. The Kingdom of God is breaking forth and not everyone either sees it or is able to live within it yet.  Not unlike previous parables the revelation of Jesus and God's kingdom is not perfectly clear to all…it can only be perceived by those with ears to hear and eyes to see.  We think immediately of Jesus as he returns to his home town:
54 He came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?55Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?56And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’57And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.’58And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
The next parable is the one most often called the Pearl of Great Price.  The rawness of these three parable is so very like what most scholars believe would have been Jesus' teaching style.  Many presuppose that this is exactly how Jesus would have talked and would have taught those who followed him.  Not unlike the the parable of the treasure hidden in a field the meaning is similar.
Unlike the previous parable though we are challenged to ask the question: why does a merchant purchase a pearl?  Merchants purchase items to resell them.  So we have a spin on the hidden treasure. The hidden treasure is for the pleasure of the finder. The pearl’s pleasure is in its sale.  We might say that the pearl becomes symbolically connected with the Gospel itself and the discipleship of giving away the grace received.

The last parable in our teaching is The Parable of The Drag-Net.  Perhaps like the wheat and the weeds we are being reminded once again that in the end the wicked and the righteous will be separated out.  I don't think that the preacher can get around the message here that Jesus, and likely his followers, saw a very tragic end of those who reject the Messiah.  This was rooted in their history and in the prophetic teachings they received.  This too is our understanding.  We believe as a church that there will be judgment in the end. The argument about who is saved and who is not is as old as the scriptures themselves.  Recently this argument has been ignited by the writings of N. T. Wright and Rob Bell.  Certainly we have our catholic faith which tells us there is judgement.  We have our own desire that tells us that we hope everyone is saved; in part because we worry about our own salvation and life lived.

It seems to me though that not unlike the message of the sower and the weeds we must ask ourselves about the net itself. Is our mission work like the drag net? Are we so working and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we are encircling and bringing in such a bounty that there will be many saints and sinners caught by the kingdom of God and the Gospel we proclaim.  Certainly Jesus will do the sorting out (not us!) but is our net big enough? Are we strong enough to live as saints and sinners, as sinners and saints, shoulder to shoulder with a diverse community.  We might remember the other stories of nets in the Gospel...  Is our mission broad enough so that our net is about to break?

You see the parable of the drag net includes a Greek word: genos.  Before the parable is explained Jesus says: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind." (Every KIND, every genos.)  This word was most often used to mean race, nation, or tribe.  I would offer that before you spend a lot of time preaching about judgement the church as a whole could use a good dose of preaching on mission and that the parable of the drag net challenges us to be a church in mission.  Let us as a church mirror the culture around us in our diversity of race and language. Let each church represent the people in the neighborhoods around them.  Let each diocese be challenged to represent the people (in all their diversity) of the geography in which they have been planted.


"Without the future hope, God's present involvement in the lives of the suffering might amount to little more than a feeble expression of the company that misery loves."
Commentary, Romans 8:26-39, Mary Hinkle Shore, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"And how long was the whole great circus to last? Paul said, why, until we all become human beings at last, until we all 'come to maturity,' as he put it; and then, since there had been only one really human being since the world began, until we all make it to where we're like him, he said - 'to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that."
"Paul," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

God loves us and reconciles himself to us. He sets aside the result of the law in order to have us be together eternally.  We can see and hope in this very real adoption received by Christ's death and resurrection and marked upon us in baptism.  We know death is not final and that we will live with God eternally and that nothing can separate us from God's love. This has been the theme of Romans.  In our passage today Paul reminds us that we need help from the Spirit in order to navigate and live in the mean time.

We are limited both by our vision and because of our sinful broken nature.  We just can't seem to do the things we want to do and are forever doing the things we do not want to do.  For this reason the Spirit helps us.  God created us to love and respond to him.  God knew we would do this and and that we would need help.  Paul says this is part of the plan to which creation is following.  We are struggling and so the Spirit is sent to us to help us.

When we open ourselves up to God and God's love the Spirit intercedes where we are weak and gives us strength.  We are recreated in this world as preparation for the next. God is remaking us.  God is enabling us to be faithful...though we will surely fail again.  

So how do we know? How are we certain God will be successful?  Paul says God is for us, God has decided not to condemn us, and God has and is justifying us.  Christ Jesus who knows us in now with God. He himself is preparing a place for us. Christ Jesus is advocating for us and pleading our case.  God has come into the world and has returned and so knows us intimately and knows our struggles and our faithfulness.  

It is this reason, this presence of Christ Jesus with God, that assures our triumph and the certain hope of those things promised - our eternal adoption. Then Paul gives that wonderful few words that are some of the most comforting in all of scripture - especially for a sinner like me...
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No matter what we may suffer in this life we will have victory because of God in Christ Jesus.  Nothing can separate us from God's love.