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.

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Liturgy of the Passion Year C, April 14, 2019


Richard Rohr, Roman Catholic Priest invites us
Archive picture shows statue of Christ on cross
on tree in Fricourt, France, during World War I
to consider the cross and Jesus' invitation. He 
suggests we hear these words from Jesus and 
his cross:
"My beloved, I am your self. I am your beauty. I am your goodness, which you are destroying. I am what you do to what you should love. I am what you are afraid of: your deepest and best and most naked self—your soul. Your sin largely consists in what you do to harm goodness—your own and others’. You are afraid of the good; you are afraid of me. You kill what you should love; you hate what could transform you. I am Jesus crucified. I am yourself, and I am all of humanity."
You might sit quietly and listen. 
Then Rohr invites us to pray these words -
responding to Christ crucified. He invites to pray them as we see Christ Jesus hanging at the center of the world, at the center of human history, at the "turning" of God's creation. Pray:
"Jesus, Crucified, you are my life and you are also my death. You are my beauty, you are my possibility, and you are my full self. You are everything I want, and you are everything I am afraid of. You are everything I desire, and you are everything I deny. You are my outrageously ignored and neglected soul.
Jesus, your love is what I most fear. I can’t let anybody love me for nothing. Intimacy with you or anyone terrifies me. 
I am beginning to see that I, in my own body, am an image of what is happening everywhere, and I want it to stop today. I want to stop the violence toward myself, toward the world, toward you. I don’t need ever again to create any victim, even in my mind. 
You alone, Jesus, refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified. You never asked for sympathy. You never played the victim or asked for vengeance. You breathed forgiveness. 
We humans mistrust, murder, attack. Now I see that it is not you that humanity hates. We hate ourselves, but we mistakenly kill you. I must stop crucifying your blessed flesh on this earth and in my brothers and sisters. 
Now I see that you live in me and I live in you. You are inviting me out of this endless cycle of illusion and violence. You are Jesus crucified. You are saving me. In your perfect love, you have chosen to enter into union with me, and I am slowly learning to trust that this could be true.
This is taken from Richard Rohr's "Jesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior." [Transformation: Collected Talks, vol. 1, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 1997).]

Some Thoughts on Luke 22:14 - 23:56 

"Our Lord passed most of the time on the cross in silence: yet seven sentences which he spoke thereon are recorded by the four evangelists, though no one evangelist has recorded them all. Hence it appears that the four Gospels are, as it were, four parts, which, joined together, make one symphony. Sometimes one of these only, sometimes two or three, sometimes all sound together."
From Wesley's NotesJohn Wesley (1703-1791).

"Crucifixion was torture intended to teach a political lesson: Rome can crush the humanity out of you. Remember that. But this crucifixion scene is loaded with Jews who cannot be crushed. This is trouble for oppressors. Rome should worry. The centurion who observes the death seems to have figured this out."
Commentary, Luke 23:33-43, Richard Swanson, Christ the King, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"Which makes we wonder, Working Preacher, if perhaps on this day we might invite people to call to mind one of those things for which they long to have a second chance so that they might take seriously whatever regret or disappointment they harbor and then take just as seriously the second chance and new life Jesus offers us from the cross."
"The King of Second Chances," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

"What kind of king is this that we honor on this Reign of Christ Sunday? Not one we've ever seen before on this earth, but one who was, and is, and is to come."
"What Kind of King Is This?" Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

"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.

Let us first begin with God's story and narrative. We shall come to the theology soon enough.

The narrative itself is one that as a whole fits within the wider scripture. We can neither read the crucifixion as an isolated text or as a story within a story. It is in fact THE story and it reaches back to the beginning of creation and reaches forward through Pauline letters and out towards us.

The last supper is part of our Holy Week Triduum and it is also tied (especially in Luke) to the event of crucifixion itself. Fleming Rutledge in her magnum opus makes it clear that all of the Christian Gospels make an explicit link between the meal and the crucifixion. (The Crucifixion, 2017, p. 68.)

She points out that the Last Supper narrative begins in both the Gospels and in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, "On the night that he was to be betrayed..." That the meal and the cross are linked further not by betrayal but by the next words Jesus speaks, "My body and my blood given for you."(Ibid.)
The garden scene begins to reveal Jesus' own preparation for the crucifixion and trial. Here in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus suggests that he is girding himself for the battle. The first battle begun in the desert the last battle waged at the cross. Here then there is complete victory over the powers. What was promised in the desert is fulfilled on the cross. Jesus through submission and powerlessness undoes the hold the powers, principalities and evil hold over the world. (Ibid, 373.)

Let us turn to the crucifixion itself for a moment as it relates to Luke's account. Luke omits the cry, "My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?" This is present not only in each of the other gospels but also in Paul's letters and in the Letter to the Hebrews. Why is it not present? Surely Luke has his own traditions around the crucifixion, but given its presence elsewhere it appears to be an intentional omission. Rutledge helps with our question suggesting that it is perhaps Luke's own desire to show Jesus' commitment to the crucifixion and the sacrifice he promised above. He is being faithful and ready to return to God: "Into thy hands I commit my spirit."(Ibid, 104.)

Here in the crucifixion tradition (though Luke reveals the least of it) is the suffering Christ. Suffering is itself not dignified. It is not to be shown or revealed. For the philosopher, the king, the soldier, even in the narrative of the Maccabean martyrs there is a stoic approach to suffering. But not in the crucifixion narrative. Instead there is anguish, pain, suffering, tears, and a shuddering horror. (Ibid, 374.) Luke does not say this is not true, he simply seems interested in other motivations...ones that I think are linked intimately to faithfulness and the table fellowship.

Now, let us for a moment stop and dwell on what is happening. There is much to do about the word substitution that is well worth a moment of our time. There is great distaste for the word. And, there is most definitely some terrible theology out there. 

For instance...God does not ask for Jesus, his son, to sacrifice himself. God does not sacrifice his son. This is poor theology and goes against the teachings of sacrificial offerings - especially in the story of Abraham and Isaac. So, such ways of thinking should be avoided. They are really bad theology and they are bad for mission! What a terrible god that would be. In fact it would be a different god...a god much more in line with Greek gods and goddesses. It is much more in line with national theologies and mythic tales of heroes. No, this is not what we are talking about here when we talk about substitution. Like Fleming Rutledge I would like to redeem the word. Now, she suggests you can find other words like "exchange", etc... Nevertheless, we must for a moment talk about what is happening in the work of substitution.

When we make the substitutionary theory of the atonement synonymous with a god that demands that the son sacrifice himself, this understanding of atonement can be used to sanction the commission of religious violence against others in many varying and inhumane forms for the sake of peace. By contrast, the gospel of peace reveals God as both a victim of human violence and as a human whose dignity was violated by the shame of the cross. As such, I do not advocate for throwing out the substitutionary model of atonement altogether, but only that we hold this particular model in conversation alongside other models of atonement and always in the context of a Trinitarian theology. 

Outside of a Trinitarian theology, penal substitution becomes a god demanding the sacrifice of his son. However, an orthodox perspective always sees God in Christ acting together to save the world. Our belief in the Trinity will always lead to a mature understanding of any theory of atonement. To illustrate, let us turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2. Here we see that the second person of the trinity, the Christ, the incarnation becomes lower than the angels in the unique person of Jesus. It is not enough to leave Jesus as a victim. This is not the whole of the story. God becomes fully incarnate in Jesus. 

The very God who in the form of Jesus is willing to set the power of God aside to become a victim on the cross is revealed. It is not that a better version of a Greek god requires his demigod son to sacrifice himself, but that God himself makes the substitutionary sacrifice. Paul writes, Christ "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” 

The God through whom all things, all flesh, was made is the one who voluntarily becomes powerless even unto death. All of our sinfulness, brokenness, victimhood, violence and scapegoating hang on the cross with Christ, in Christ, and for Christ. Thus, the atonement reveals that we are connected to the Incarnation itself, in our innermost parts. We stand in the middle of God’s narrative, and thus we find fresh power to make our life a substitutionary sacrifice for others so that the borders of God’s Garden expand in and through our life and the quality of our community. (Doyle, Citizen, 2020.)

In the end, Jesus became a scapegoat. He would hear the hailing voices worthy of an emperor. He would wear a robe and crown that mocked him. (Myers, 380.) He took on all of the might of the empire in vestige, abuse, and political torture. The people and the powers condemned him to death because of his subversive teaching and actions; such as healing the sick and eating with the unclean and unholy.  His engagement of powers calling them to accountability made many enemies. His rejection of violence for rebels who wanted Rome gone allied the rebels with the enemy.
Stanley Hauerwas wrote in his exposition of Matthew’s telling of the crucifixion: 
“Jesus must be killed because Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus must be killed because Jesus has called into existence a new people who constitute a challenge to the world order based on lies and deceit. Jesus must be killed because he is a threat to all who rule in the name of safety and comfort. Jesus must be killed because we do not desire to have our deepest desires exposed. Jesus must be killed because we do not believe in a God who creates us and who would come among us after our likeness. So we have learned from Matthew.” 
Jesus’s is sacrificed on the altar of violence and power. He was killed by humanity as a reenactment of ancient religious and political sacrifice. Jesus’ death is the world’s rejection of God’s narrative that no sons and daughters shall be sacrificed. Instead of sparing him like Issac, the powers demand his death. Jesus participated totally in the mimetic sacrifice that God wants no part of. If that were the end of it, then we would be invested in just another community with a scapegoat theology that repeated the violence of mythic gods. 

Instead, God took our violence and broke it open. Jesus was raised from the dead by God and in so doing, Girard says, God “refutes the whole principle of violence and sacrifice. God is revealed as the ‘arch-scapegoat,’ the completely innocent one who dies in order to give life. And his way of giving life is to overthrow the religion of scapegoating and sacrifice—which is the essence of myth.”  God does not let the world’s demand of sacrifice have the last word. (Doyle, Citizen, 2020.)

As we come to the end we return to the reclamation of the crucifixion as a key to our understanding of the whole narrative. Let me for a bit riff on Rutledge but with the whole scope of God's narrative in mind. What we must see that God in Christ Jesus has the ultimate end of the narrative in mind. The whole of the story of the crucifixion fits within not simply a context of apocolyptic writing of the age, but that the end is the setting for the actions that take place. Here the cross is planted firmly between the alpha and the omega. Christ is firmly planted here in tree form. And, that the perfect image of the incarnation - Jesus - arrives in the midst of a fallen world that stretches between the beginning with Cain and Abel and the end's engathering of God. 

The second theme powerfully woven here is that the way in which the Christ becomes victorious is substitution. By becoming the scapegoat and total victim God in Christ Jesus has taken our place. Remember the words of Deuteronomy form Lent 2. God has removed our slavery to sin. Rutledge is at her best here, and encapsulates Luke's own unique telling of this part of God's narrative. In a few sentences she captures the nature of Christ's substitution. I offer it here in its poetic beauty. (It is probably the paragraph that should be read first before reading the rest of the book!) She writes:
...the way in which Christ became the apocalyptic victor was through the substitution. The Kurios could have achieved his victory in some other way, but God chose this way. The incarnate One exchanged his glory for the shame of the cross (Heb 12:2) from the beginning of his life, being born in shameful circumstances, his infancy mortally threatened by a tyrant, branded an impostor by the religious authorities form the first (Luke 4:28-29), being without a place to lay his head through his ministry (Luke 9:58), meeting with hostility everywhere he went. The shame he endured is often expressed in terms of exchange, closely related to substitution: being in the form of God , he exchanged his glory for the form of a slave, exchanging his riches for our poverty, his righteousness for our unrighteousness, even to death on a cross. That is the manner in which he won the victory - "therefore God has highly exalted him"(Phil 2:9; cf. II Cor 8:9; I Pet 3:18). (Rutledge, Crucifixion, 531.)
The final piece is that this crucifixion undoes some of what humans do regarding the law. Humans turn the law into a means of control, of hoarding power and wealth, and for rejecting the hard work of community. Jesus came and died at the hands of this law...which was supported by both the powers of politics and religion. This is the great exclamation point on the death of religion and all those who seek to use it as a stick to keep others down. While we have law within our scripture, this law was transformed by Jesus' ministry to higher virtues and the rest buried in his tomb with his lifeless body. 

Again, Rutledge...
The accursed, Godforsaken death suffered by Jesus was, in some way that we cannot fully articulate, the death that should have been ours, a death under the cursing voice of the Law wielded as a weapon by the Power of Sin. The incarnate Son took our place under the sentence of Death....(Ibid.) 
The death of Jesus on the cross is God in three persons acting together, with one will, for one purpose - to deliver all humanity from the curse of Sin and its not-so-secret weapon, the Law. Jesus, the representative man, our substitute, not only shows us how human will can align itself with the will of God, but also makes it happen in his own incarnate person; and then, in the greatest act of love that has ever taken place , he gives his own person back to us, crucified and raised form the dead, the first fruits of all who belong to him. (Ibid, 534.)
Here then we finish our meditation as we turn to Richard Rohr for a bit of help. What has happened is that our culture has taken one idea of the crucifixion (and a bad theological one at that) and used it to dismiss deep Christian theology. In fact we helped the whole world to do so. Our congregations are filled with people who believe that God asked Jesus, his son, to sacrifice himself. 

This has been combined with the notion that this is a contextual story that can be lifted out of the whole of the God's narrative. That it happened once and for all. The effect is good at the end.  Rohr reminds us that this is not true. . This is instead, he suggests, 
an ongoing transformational lesson for the human soul and for all of history. Christianity’s vision of God was a radical departure from most ancient religions. Instead of having God “eat” humans, animals, or crops, which were sacrificed on altars, Christianity made the bold claim that God’s very body was given for us to eat! This turned everything around and undid the seeming logic of quid pro quo thinking. A view of God as punitive and retributive nullifies any in-depth spiritual journey: Why would you love or trust or desire to be with such a God? The Franciscan School of theology claimed that the cross was a freely chosen revelation of Love on God’s part, meant to utterly shock the mind and heart and turn it back toward trust and love of the Creator. The Divine Mind transforms all human suffering by identifying completely with the human predicament and standing in full solidarity with it from beginning to end. This is the real meaning of the crucifixion. Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie. This is taken from Richard Rohr's "Jesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior." [Transformation: Collected Talks, vol. 1, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 1997).]

Some Thoughts on Philippians 2:5-11 

"There is nothing better, there is nothing more affectionate, than a spiritual teacher; such an one surpasses the kindness of any natural father."
Commentary by St John Chrysostom: Homily V

"...what works are chiefly to be done? I reply: Especially those which promote chief righteousness and decrease original sin: thus to each and every one is the appropriate examination necessary of his own thing, because original sin expresses itself in one person so, and in another thus."
"Sermon on Three-fold Righteousness" by Martin Luther, c. 1525.

"This revision of a hallowed text throws a monkey wrench into the inner workings of Christian theology. So, let's do it."
Commentary, Philippians 2:1-13 (Pentecost 20), David E. Fredrickson, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Paul reads his own life constantly in the light of the story of Jesus (1:20-26). He wants them to read theirs similarly. The great treasure of this passage is that it challenges us to do the same. It is, however, easily subverted into an opposite attitude, a paradigm for success and power."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 16, William Loader, Murdoch University

"Like Timothy and like Paul's audience, leaders and members of our own congregations are called to imitate Jesus by refusing to insist on their own prerogatives or status, whatever they may be, and serving others in humility."
Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11, Elisabeth Shively, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"What's in a name? From a biblical perspective -- everything!"
Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

Paul in this passage uses a first century Christian hymn (possibly even one they would have known) to urge the members of the community at Philippi to have the same mind as Christ. That means that they are to seek to not insist on their own way or their own rights (determined by their social status) but they are to become lower than their stations. Like God in Christ Jesus they are to seek to become power-less and to serve.

Paul invites them to not be better than the other - this is not after all a quality that Christ illustrated.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here as in above, there is physical and spiritual connection between all humanity and the Incarnaiton, between all human labor and the cross, and all human suffering and the crucifixion. Just as God delivers us from sin and the law so does God reveal to us how we are to live and move and have our being. Paul's letter invites just such alignment. Paul desires not simply that we understand the physical and spiritual length but the alignment of life and community.

It is in serving that one is great. It is in taking the lower seat that you shall be known. It is in washing feet and loving each other regardless of station. It is feeding the poor who have no right to be fed and healing the sick who have not fulfilled the law. It is in eating with those who are not worthy to be eaten with. It is in loving those whom you would not dare to love.  These are the qualities by which you will be known as a follower of Jesus.

This is the work of Christ that they are to continue in the world.  

People will talk about a lot of reasons why our church is failing.  They will ponder the reasons why we are shrinking in numbers.  I think in the end it is because we don't do these things very well.  

We do not have the same mind as Christ Jesus and are unwilling to become low. We actually regard equality with God as something to be exploited and lorded over those to whom we do not believe deserve such equality.  We are unwilling to empty ourselves. We will not serve God or his mission over our own needs and desires.  We are quick to take the highest seat. We are not eager to wash each other's feet - especially not the feet of the poor. We are unwilling to hold back or deny ourselves. We will not sit with those unlike us.  We will not dine with those we don't agree with. We will not be seen with those who are not like us. We are wholly unwilling to do the hard and difficult work of following Jesus as Jesus has invited us to follow.

Perhaps this is why Paul has us squarely figured out.  The truth is like the Philippians what is so bad about our church. It is a comfortable place, for comfortable people, comfortable in our going out and our coming in.  Yet Paul may have us figured out...comfortable is not a whole lot like the ministry and character of God in Christ Jesus.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 50:4-9a 

"The Lenten color of violet hints at the violence sometimes suffered by faithfulness in the short-term, and also sends shivers down the spine. This Sunday the color of a bruise is replaced by that of blood-red, lethal wounds. The full impact of faithfulness is not yet accounted for."
Commentary, Isaiah 50:4-9a, James Matthew Price, A Plain Account, 2016.

"The servant's confidence springs from past actions of God in calling the servant and bestowing gifts up him as well as God's present helping actions in the face of confrontation by enemies."
Commentary, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Tyler Mayfield, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

"What will it mean for us to preach the word of God with the tongue of students, listen like students do, and still stand up to testify confident in God's help?"
Commentary, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

The prophet suggests that God has invited him to be a teacher, to offer a word to the people, to instruct them in God's ways. This is a for a particular purpose though. It is to bring hope and strength to the is to sustain the weary.  God invites the prophet to awaken to the work at hand - to bring comfort and hope.

The prophet listens and does not rebel against the message. This of course implies that the prophet would in fact like to rebel against the message of hope. Perhaps the the notion here for the preacher is that it is easy to become one of the people. But the work of the prophet is to rise above the people's anxiety and weariness in order to offer a vision of God's hope and care.

Moreover, that when we do this as prophets, teachers, and preachers we may not always be liked. People might rather live within their misery. They might rather live within the world of political conflict and power manipulation. They may wish that the preacher parrot the media source of their choosing. In this way the people may not always like the prophet's message.

There is on the one hand sacrifice here ad on the other there is a sense that God works to be the redeemer of both preacher and people. There is support and power in knowing that we are standing, preaching, teaching, and prophesying in the midst of God's narrative.

Sometimes the preacher is tempted to simply mimic the words of the world and the power plays that are all around us. To pick up the narrative of humanity instead of the narrative of God. Let me confess I fall prey to this. All the more reason to take time to listen and ponder God's story of hope and help for the weary soul. All the more reason to offer a true word instead of the word of the world disguised in gospel mimicry.

This is the work that Jesus undertakes in his own preaching and reorienting relationship with God from a temple/church oriented faith to a direct relationship with God. In so doing, he receives the same treatment as Isaiah describes. See especially Mark14:65 and Matthew 26:67. In this way Isaiah's passage here offers a future vision of the suffering servant of Israel. Like all prophets before him, and many prophets after, Jesus receives the prophet's welcome.

The world of human affairs is eager to maintain sibling rivalry, mimetic desire and violence, and scapegoating. We do this to secure our own place and powers. The message of a God who intends that you understand you are invited into God's story and not the other ay around will always be a difficult thing for people to come to grips with. Everything in our lives, from relationships, workplaces, and our technology leads us to believe we are the center of the world/cosmos. God however, through the work of Jesus, the prophet, the teacher, and preacher would like us to understand this is not the situation.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Liturgy of the Palms C April 14, 2019


You Servant, Lord our God, speak the word that all the weary long to hear. Your Son humbles himself to carry the cross that your people long to embrace. As we enter this holy week, let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. Empty us of ourselves, and draw us close to his cross, that, comforted by his word of forgiveness and gladdened by his promise of Paradise, into your hands we may commend our spirits. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 19:28-40

"...what the authors of the Bible take for granted and fail to mention is that while Jesus is parading in on a colt through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle hardened Roman soldiers."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 13:1-9, David Ewart, 2013.

"When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he did so as a king, but his royalty was not pomp and power but humble obedience. Thus, he entered the city to make peace with the offering of his own life."
"Season's Greetings," Thomas G. Long, The Christian Century, 2001. Religion Online.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday. We are tempted to preach on the passion reading. I have always struggled with this ancient tradition as in our culture I often find that it excuses people from coming to the services on Good Friday. Moreover, it clouds and complicates the wonderful readings we have in our Gospel for the day.

I would go so far as to say that we should only do the liturgy of the palms and the eucharist; it is heresy I know.  Preach the moment...let the week unfold in liturgy...don't run to crucify our Lord just yet! 

We are given for our lesson in year C the passage from Luke 19, beginning at the 28th verse. This passage is reaching towards the culmination of Jesus’ ministry and is often referred to as the prophet’s entry into Jerusalem. Here in this moment we see all of Jesus’ followers hoping for something new, more than likely a return to Davidic rule…meanwhile the prophetic mission of Jesus is unraveling before them and revealing quite a different mystery to behold.

We begin in the first verse with the narrator telling us that Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem. This very first verse is intimately connected with the parable that directly precedes our text today. Neither Luke 19:11-27 or our passage for this Sunday, Luke 19:28-40, can be read alone. Here is the parable Jesus tells before his entry:

12So [Jesus] said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ 14But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ 15When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. 16The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ 17He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ 18Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ 20Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ 24He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ 25(And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”

As we read this passage we see that Jesus is teaching that indeed he is the one who has the authority, he will exercise it, and he will give it away. As we project this forward we can easily recognize that the great prophet’s entry into Jerusalem will be messianic and kingly. We can imagine that he will soon and very soon give authority to his followers. He will even grant entrance into the kingdom to a thief. This exercise of authority and power will continue to be handed down through the apostles. So we look and see as he enters Jerusalem he is himself entering the distant country, where he will receive from God and claim as his own the rightful place as ruler in the reign of God. He is prepared for his death and to give away the authority to heal and reconcile the world to his followers. As we gather with Jesus on the hilltop, on the Mount of Olives, are we ready to receive the authority given to us? Are we ready to follow Jesus into Jerusalem? Are we ready to faithfully walk with him all the way to his cross and then to Easter morning?

The ancient pilgrim tales from Egeria recalls centuries of Christian practice on this palm day of rehearsing, re-imagining, and re-enacting Jesus’ entry. You can read more about this here:

We are reminded of Zechariah 9.9 with the colt which is sent for by Jesus and retrieved by his disciples. Again, a simple prophecy but one characteristic of Luke’s writings, reminding us of the power this particular king lords over all.

Jesus then begins to make his way into the city riding the colt, as people throw their garments down before him. Each of us may remember any number of movie portrayals of this image or re-enactments at church or summer camp, in these reenactments and films we are touched in our heart with the true sense of wonderment at participation with Christ in this moment of triumphal entry. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven! Glory in highest heaven!.” We are here connected to the kingship parable. The crowd is rejoicing in the presence of the visitation of God in Jesus.

[A brief footnote:  While in Canterbury there was more than one discussion about the lessons before us and the liturgy of the palms.  Interesting notes here brought back memories of seminary studies worth a thought on this Sunday.  Key to the reality is that in the front of Jerusalem Pilate who is entering, enters with palm leaves (also on the emperor's coin) a sign of the royal office he represents.  In Luke we have very little pomp...clothes....  The synoptics tell us of branches being placed on the ground.  The branches would have been olive branches...signs of peace, reminders of the deliverance through the storm and voyage of the arch.  Only in John do we get the movement to compare Jesus' entry with that of Pilate's.  The image that I bring home with me from Canterbury then is an image of deliverance, peace, a new time...a different time.  This is the image for every Christian traveling the pilgrim way this Holy Week.  This is a time of transformation and renewal.  It is a time to claim our difference in the world by following the pauper king with his images of healing, love, and peace.  This is the God I believe the world is looking for; this God does not need to compete with worldly power or authority.  This is our God and we are richly blessed by his coming.]
As we reenact this event Sunday I will be thinking not of doing something that was done long ago but rather my own celebration of Christ’s eternal presence with us. Christ is with us this week. Christ has been with us through Lent. Christ is present in the life of the church. Christ is known to us and before us. Our Lenten journey is almost fulfilled and thanks to the presence of the risen Christ we may walk with Jesus into the last days of his life, his trial, and his crucifixion.

The Pharisees call out and rebuke the crowd. They even tell Jesus that he is to silence the people. They are objecting to the cry that Jesus is king. As Luke Timothy Johnson points out, that this shows us clearly that they are the ones from the parable “who would not have him rule over them.”

Jesus retorts that even if they were silenced the stones would cry out. He is the king and nothing and no silence will make it different. We may remember God’s promise on the plain to Abraham that the children of God will be raised up from these stones. For more on this please refer to the following passages in Luke’s Gospel: 19.44; 20.17,18; 21:5-6; 24:2 and Acts 4:11. Furthermore, Luke Timothy Johnson continues the exegesis of this passage bring to life more fully the kingdom parable on pages 298 and following in his text Luke.

From this triumphal entry Jesus is making his way to the Temple where he will claim in, cleaning it out, and make it the seat of his prophetic Word. The prophet king has come to claim his people and to offer to them a place in the reign of God.#



Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Lent 5C April 7, 2019


Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet by Frank Wesley
Infinite is your compassion, O God, and gracious the pardon that Jesus, the Teacher, offers to every sinner who stands before him. Gladden our hearts at the word that sends us on our way in peace; and grant that we, who have been forgiven so much, may embrace as brothers and sisters every sinner who joins us at this feast of forgiveness. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on John 12:1-11
"I know, on the narrative level Jesus is talking to Judas, both reprimanding him as well as interpreting Mary’s gift. But given my own strong reaction both to the cost of Mary’s gift and the intimacy with which she gives it – washing his feet with her hair? really? – I wonder if Jesus is not also addressing himself to me and perhaps to all of us who shrink back from such unconventional and excessive outpourings of faith, love, and service."
"Questions about Discipleship," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2013.

"And so the hardest question for me becomes, how do we preach the love of Christ, who fed and healed people, in the light of Jesus saying, 'The poor will always be with us?'"
"The Poor Will Always Be With You," Carol Howard Merrit, The Hardest Question, 2013.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

We take a break from the Lukan journey to the cross this week in Lent as we pause for special material out of the Johannine chronicle of Jesus’ last days. Here we have a meal; probably Saturday evening after the Sabbath has ended (as in John’s Gospel that is from Friday to Saturday). It could in fact be the traditional meal to end Sabbath – the Habdalah. Furthermore, we are told the meal is taking place in the town of Bethany identified with the raising of Lazarus.

Following the meal something crazy happens: "Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

This is what I found out about this particular and costly perfume. The perfume is myron which is a generic form made from nard rather than from myrrh. Nard is mixed with oil from the storax shrub to create an ointment. This is not the kind of perfume the Magi brought with them but it is nothing less than a kings fortune to obtain it. Judas points this out.

Judas is identified in scripture as the son of Simon. A little family tree from the New Testament scholar J. N. Sanders places Jesus in the house of Simon the leper. Simon the leper is father to his eldest son Judas Iscarot, Lazarus whom Jesus raised, and then Mary and Martha. Sanders describes Judas as a “masculine Martha gone wrong!” (As quoted in Raymond Browne, Anchor Bible, v 29, p 448) Judas is then a brother of Mary, and the rest.

Judas is not happy and says, “'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)"

If we remember that one denarri was a day’s wage. We then can do a little biblical math to understand that 300 silver pieces or denarri is indeed a great sum. This means that we have a lot of money being spent on the anointing. As Browne puts it, “this was a pound of expensive perfume indeed.” (448) It is fascinating to think about the amount of bread this could really have purchased. Interesting comparisons on the amount can be found here: It would be like a minimum wage employee going out and spending $18,000 on perfume.

Jesus then weighs in, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial."

(Just as an aside there is some debate about this piece of scripture as Mary has no role in the embalming of Jesus. So, it doesn't make much sense.)

Jesus then says something even more unexpected, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” We are then told, "When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus."

This is of course a quote from scripture, a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land”.

So what do we make of the passage? Certainly John is leaning on a synoptic tradition that many scholars believe he had some access to, specifically Mark’s Gospel.  I think you are liable to miss the point by focusing your attention on whether John and the synoptics are describing the same scene.  John seems to have a unique message. 

It is my belief that we have here THE anointing for his burial in John's Gospel. That the tender moment described, and completely missed by Judas and so many of us on our first reading, is that this is in fact Jesus’ anointing and preparation for death. This is happening at this moment at Simon’s house where his children, raised from the dead, the doers, the prayers, and the rebels all gather together for a meal. All nature of follower of Jesus is here and they are all witnessing a most powerful and incredibly intimate moment. This is as Raymond Browne writes, “the culminating expression of loving faith.”

I am always moved by this story when we reach this moment in our Lenten journey. In part because I find my senses have been tuned to a great devotion of our Lord, and so I am truly touched and begin to prepare myself for Holy Week and the veneration of the glorious cross; not out of a sense of rehearsing the past but out of a truly contrite heart’s desire to give thanks for the grace and love Jesus expresses for us.

The moment of anointing stands in stark contrast to the backdrop of a Gospel very rarely focused on Jesus. 

In John’s Gospel we are constantly being reminded that all of this is for us and for the Glory of God. His goal is the restoration of creation. His work is to reorient our eyes upon God and to direct our prayers to his father who is in heaven. So here in this moment is John and the synoptics giving us a glimpse into what our glorious and venerable worship of Jesus might indeed be like were we to observe it with the faith of Mary.

Let us not forget Judas though; it is as he points out an extravagant moment when tremendous amounts of wealth are being literally poured upon a man’s feet. But let us take a few steps back theologically and look at the whole testimony of scripture. We must remember Jesus’ connection of himself with the poor from the Gospel of Matthew, 25.31ff:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

We are then tempted to mix the two passages and be reminded that Jesus is with us always in the poor. And that we have an opportunity to anoint the poor with service in such an extravagant manner, not unlike Mary in the anointing of Jesus. How would our towns and cities be changed if we through our great devotion to Jesus Christ, anointed the poor with fine oil?

Some Thoughts on Philippians 3:4-14

"Paul pictures himself as a man in the middle, a man who has literally changed his pursuits almost in midstride, and is jubilant."
Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,, 2016.

"Just as Christ did not regard his high position and stature as something to be exploited but humbled himself and became obedient to death, so too, Paul takes on this cruciform identity and cruciform way of being in the world."
Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14, Rev. Rob Fringer, A Plain Account, 2016.

"Pursuit and flight are a topos of Greek erotic poetry and iconography from the archaic period onward. It is noteworthy that, within such conventional scenes, the moment of ideal desire on which the vase-painters as well as poets are inclined to focus is not the moment of the coup de foudre, not the moment when the beloved's arms open to the lover, not the moment when the two unite in happiness. What is pictured is the moment when the beloved turns and runs."
Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14, David E. Fredrickson, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

We switch from Paul's focus on the Corinthians (who are having all kinds of trouble) to his letter addressed to the emerging church in Philippi.  

Just before this passage he has been speaking of how Jesus is the example of servanthood and in the most recent passages from this letter Paul has been warning that some Christian traditions will try and make you follow the Jewish law.  Circumcision is only one item, but the the issue is that Paul believes the new tradition is different from the old.  I believe Paul is saying we are not simply Jews with Jesus; this is a greater revelation.  Our relationship with the law has changed because of the ministry of Jesus.  Paul turns this religious law on its head and says: true circumcision is of the heart – and not of the “flesh”.

As an example of the need to circumcise the heart Paul speaks of his own experience.  He speaks from his own experience as a good and religious Jew.  He was circumcised and he was from the tribe of Benjamin.  I love how he describes this, he was "a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless".  He even was a persecutor of the Christians who he thought were lawless!  

Yet, through knowing Christ he has come to understand that when you follow the law you lose.  The law itself obstructs God's love.  If you believe that you are saved or special because you are following the law and being religious then you are engaging in what he calls "rubbish".

The obverse is true.  Christ chooses us. Christ loves us.  Christ suffers under the law so that we do not need to suffer.  We are redeemed and we live anew because of his resurrection.  Our faith in Christ, not godly law abiding citizenship in accordance with legal precepts, is what brings righteousness.  He writes that he, "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith."

This confession of faith begins the work of transformation.  It bears fruit but the confession itself cannot turn into some new way of doing the work.  We are being transformed from within.  We are, through the power of his resurrection being made new.  Our understanding of life following Christ is our response to this love.  Our Christ like life is our response to God making us his own.  

Paul leaves us with this:  "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."

It reminds me of Paul's words from Ephesians 3: God's "power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine"

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 43:16-21

"We are all called to take our faith in God from the past and bring it into the present, regardless of how hopeless or desperate the situation may seem."
"Present-Tense Faith," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2016.

"This is a wonderful and very necessary word for the Church to hear in this current age when there is so much change and upheaval. The character of our god has not changed. God's grace and power have sustained us in the past, will see us through the present and guide us into the future."
Commentary, Isaiah 43:16-21, Callie Plunket-Brewton, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"Lost in Our Own Exiles, We Forget God's Gifts and Promises."
"Remember to Forget," John C. Holbert, Opening the Old Testament, 2013.

"This year can be our turn around time because we serve a God who continually does new things in our lives when we are willing to let go of the past and lay hold upon the future with faith in God who continues to do all things well."
Commentary, Isaiah 43:18-21, William Watley, The African American Lectionary, 2010.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

God is doing a new thing. God is about to free the people from their captivity in Babylon. Who is this God? The prophet reminds the people this is a word from the God who made the sea and those who dwell in it. Isaiah reminds them of how God brought the people out of Israel and tells them God will do the same for those in Babylon.

The prophet says that even though the people do not yet see the results of God's providence, God is in fact already setting things in motion. God will "make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." God is doing this because the people are part of God's story and there is a relationship between them.

God through the prophets invites the people to have hope, offers the people guidance out of love, and suggests the work of the people is not a geographic or ethnic particularity but a message for the whole world. (See the uniqueness of the prophets in Rabbi Jonathan Sacks essay on Leadership.)

The words from this passage are themselves repeated within the Christian tradition. God invites the people through Christ Jesus to hear the words in a new way - expanding the message to all people. The words of Isaiah are a clarion call and can be found in the words of the prophet John the Baptist who makes the same call to the people alienated from God and who are enslaved and imprisoned in their own land, in their own homes, and persecuted in their own towns. The words of Isaiah are echoed in his invitations to take heart and do not be afraid; as when Jesus comes across the sea.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Lent 4C March 31, 2019

Is this the prodigal son? Or is it the good son? Both seem so
alone but are in such need of the other.
Forsaking your embrace, O good and gracious God, we have wandered far from you and squandered the inheritance of our baptism… Restore us now with the embrace of your compassion, and grant that we who have been found by your grace may gladly welcome to the table of your family all who long to find their way home. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
"It is in the present day quite fashionable for everybody to lie against what he believes, and to say he is a sinner, even when he believes himself to be a very respectable, well-to-do man, and does not conceive that he ever did anything very amiss in his life."
"An Appeal to Sinners: Luke 15:2," Charles H. Spurgeon, 1856.

"The parable leaves two themes in tension. On the one hand, Jesus illustrates the love of God that is beyond human love as commonly understood and practiced, for no typical father would act as this father does in the parable. On the other hand, Jesus addresses the parable against his critics, vindicating his message and ministry, by which he consorted with the outcast. His critics are illustrated by the behavior of the elder brother, who cannot join in the rejoicing over the lost being found."
Commentary, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Arland J. Hultgren, at, Luther Seminary, 2013.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

We begin with the reality that tax collectors and sinners are coming to listen, to hear, Jesus.  If we look at the previous chapter we see this is in direct response to the words “let the one with ears to hear listen.”  What follows is a complaint from those having a difficult time hearing, the Pharisees.  They are complaining that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners.  It is to these accusations that Jesus offers us a parable; and without this focus we loose a good portion of the parable's meaning.  I have a friend who believes that it is their charge that he ate with sinners which ultimately brought about Jesus’ death.

There are many factors which contributed to Jesus’ death; Raymond Brown’s treatment of the texts in his book The Death of the Messiah seems an important resource on this topic.  Nevertheless, I believe most will say that this action of hospitality was one of the most serious and perhaps inflammatory actions undertaken by the Son of God; made all the more scurrilous by the growing popularity of the his prophetic teaching and works of miraculous grace.

In this season of Lent one may very well be led by meditations to ask, “Who is this Messiah who stoops to choose me?”  The answer is that it is exactly this Lord that we proclaim.  And so we turn to the parable to better understand the meaning of this profound gesture.

I would note first that this is the first of three parables on the topic of those who cannot hear what God is doing in the reign of God. The next one is the parable of the shepherd with the one lost sheep and the third is the parable of the woman with the lost coin.  While we cannot take them together; surely they are pieces of a whole.  And, they are worth a nod here.

So we have the wayward sheep first.  The shepherd leaves all his sheep to find the one.  He puts the lamb on his shoulders thereby insuring work for Tiffany stained glass manufactures for decades. Actually, most people may remember that first year bible class or the History Channel’s explanation of this very ancient connection to the shepherd Hermes.  Regardless of the historical birth of the image it is a powerful one of our theology of redemption and works deep on our mind and hearts as we think of our own lost selves and the good shepherd seeking after us. What is miraculous is that any good shepherd would actually, pragmatically, leave the rest for the one.  I think this taps deeply into the real time imagery Jesus is offering his listeners.  Were the religious leaders of the day, the people of Israel themselves, not of enough value to the shepherd? Why wouldn't the shepherd be satisfied with the sacrifices and faithful people so very focused on the Temple worship?  The parable though puts an explanation point on the words of Jesus, “I have come to gather up the lost sheep of Israel.”  Jesus is in fact illustrating his mission and our own.  We are to be like Jesus more concerned with those outside of our safe pasture.  Who are those in need?

We can easily echo Jesus’ mission to the poor, the oppressed, and the captives.  Here is an example of how God is concerned and we are to be concerned, so concerned that we reach out and find the lost sheep.  How often do we come to worship to receive?  What would it be like to turn our gaze outward and seek the lost?  How might this change our ministry concerns?  What will it take for us to truly go out and find them?

Before Jesus moves to the next parable he teaches those who are listening, “In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven at one sinner’s repentance that at ninety-nine righteous people who do not need repentance.”  The structure of the second parable of the woman and the lost coin is the same as the first parable.  It expands the theme.  The invitation to rejoice accentuates the celebration of the work of our woman and her found drachma.  It isn't really very much money, but read what she had to do to find it: she had to light a lamp, and sweep the house.  That is a lot of work for a coin that might have been sowed to your wedding garment!  It is a great search for something so little.  Is it its meaning? Is its tie to the wedding day?  Regardless, it is precious and a great celebration is had after much work is done to find just such a little thing.

It is then at this point in the narrative that we arrive at the story of the man who had two sons. We commonly call this the story of the prodigal son, but this means we are too easily focused on one and not the other. I have often wondered if the more interesting story isn't the part hardly ever spoken about: what the faithful son does and says.  After all, as a full member of the body of Christ, a faithful servant, I am much more like the insider in this story than the outsider. What would it be like to engage in preaching and teaching that focused the church’s attention on the “good son?”  Most everyone likes to be the good guy, the one with the white hat in the old westerns, the savior, and the best man.  When it comes to bible stories we like to be the bad guy, the outlaw, the outcast, and the last man.  When we, the corporate we, do this as the church I think we may miss the better half of Jesus’ point.

So, let’s lean into this parable.  We have two sons, one of them asks for a share of the property.  He is of course asking for an early share in the inheritance.  If interested you may wish to look at Leviticus 27:8-11.  He receives it and goes off to a foreign land.  He certainly squanders his share, living without control.  However, there is no suggestion of sexual excess.  He literally scattered his wealth.

Then there is a famine.  Our bad son ends up tending the pigs.  This is really bad.  Luke Timothy Johnson writes:
“Not eating pork becomes a test of fidelity to Torah in the time of the Maccabees.  To tend the pigs of a Gentile is about as alienated as a Jew could imagine being.  In the Mishnah, raising pigs is forbidden to Jews.  The attitude toward Samaritans and pigs alike is captured by the saying of Eliezar, ‘He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.’  One rabbi, at least, considered the craft of shepherding to be equivalent to the ‘craft of robbers.’” (LTJ, Luke, 237)

Well, after being filled with enough corn husks, he comes to his senses and decides to return to his father and tell him how wrong he was.  He has sinned against God and he will only ask for work, like one of the fieldworkers.  Interesting though that even though he requests menial work he addresses the head of the house as father.  All he wants is his daily bread.  All he wants from the father who is connected to heaven is a small apportionment of bread.

When the father sees him, he runs, hugs, and kisses his son.  Now we have extravagant gestures being offered.  He doesn’t even have the opportunity to pray and ask to be treated as a daily worker.  Let’s have the fatted calf and a robe for this celebratory return.

The son was lost but now found, dead but now alive.  Here the son reflects the story of Jesus as a child found in the temple, he reflects Jesus after his resurrection.  Today, like the past, those who have been lost resonate with this moment.

But while you and I may have indeed had moments of being lost, and will surely have plenty more moments of being lost in our future…we must recognize today we are listening as one who is found.  So, it is our story which comes next.  Some days we are like the tax collector and the sinner in the beginning of the story, most days we are like the Pharisees and the good son. 

It is this good son who is so angry he cannot even go into the feast he is so angry. Notice here the similarity to the other son.  He does not come in, but is out on the roadside. The father runs out to meet him as well. He comes out and he comforts him.  He feels compassion and pleads with him to enter, this is the meaning of the Greek in this instance (LTJ, Luke, 238).

Here comes the comparison.  The good son wastes not a minute in telling father of how he has been mistreated. He feels a sense of injustice and resents being treated like a slave.  He has been bound to his father with no freedom.  He has played by the rules.  And, they never even killed a goat for him.  Then he does something interesting, the good son says that the bad son has been about sexual immorality.  It seems important that the son supplies something of his brother’s story not supplied by the narrator - Jesus.  The good son is quick to show how the bad son is completely unlike him and should not be here at all.  Here is the parabolic twist for the Pharisee who is complaining that Jesus is eating with sinners.

Here again are the words of compassion equally given to both sons.  The elder son is friend and companion who have shared everything in a community of possessions.  Not unlike Luke’s Book of Acts where the community of faithful followers of Jesus share everything in common with one another.

So we hear the final teaching of Jesus in the mouth of the father: we must celebrate the lost who are found and the dead who are alive.

I quote from Luke Timothy Johnson’s conclusion here:

“If the first part of the story is pure gospel – the lost are being found, the dead rising, and sinners are repenting because of the call of the prophet – then the last part of the story is a sad commentary on the Pharissaic refusal out of envy and resentment to accept this good news extended to the outcast.  The allegorical level of meaning is irresistible:  they, like the elder son, had stayed within covenant and had not wandered off; they had never broken any of the commandments.  But (the story suggests) they regarded themselves not as sons so much as slaves.  And they resented others being allowed into the people without cost.  The son refusing to come into the house of singing and rejoicing is exactly like those who stand outside the heavenly banquet while many others enter in (13:28-30).  And if this all were not obvious from the wording of the final scene, then Luke’s compositional frame makes it unmistakable: he told these stories to righteous ones who complained about the prophet accepting sinners. (15:1-2)” (LTJ, Luke, 242)

The son requires great suffering from his lost brother than he himself is willing to provide.

Are we ready for the banquet? Are we ready to rejoice with those who are found today? Are we facing inward looking at the party or outward like Jesus and the Father and welcoming people in?  Are we more ready to make up stories about how others can’t possibly be part of us? Or, are we more ready to greet them, clothe them, and feed them?

This is a powerful message for the institutional church considering mission and ministry outside of its walls.  This is a powerful message for the institutional church seeking to understand its work of welcoming the stranger.

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

"God's righteousness is on the loose. God's kingdom has dawned. There are glimpses of God's new creation even in the struggling church at Corinth."
Commentary, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Carla Works, at, Luther Seminary, 2013.

"Read 2 Corinthians 5:19 (very slowly) and wonder whether forgiveness might be bearing the sin of the other in one's own life and in so doing never forgetting it but living on in any case in the delight of the other's righteousness that your forgiving/not forgetting gives the other."
Commentary, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, David Fredrickson, at, Luther Seminary, 2016.

"To be "in Christ" has to do with both being 'in personal union with the risen Christ" and "in the body of Christ.'"
Commentary, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Gift Mtukwa, A Plain Account, 2016.

In this section of Paul's letter to the Corinthians he is reflecting upon his own ministry. It is truly one of his great passages.

God has decidedly taken action on our behalf and in so doing our vision is transformed and transfixed upon his mission.

We are truly made new.  We are recreated as the whole of creation is now being recreated by God's re-genesis action.  God has, through the death and resurrection of Christ, reconciled us. He has remade us through his own efforts - not our own.  And, we (like God) have been given a ministry of reconciliation.  Indeed, Paul is saying, this is his ministry as well.  

God has chosen to not count the trespasses against us, but instead to draw us close; and bring us near.

If we are to be ambassadors of Christ we must also be about this work. We must be reconciled to the fact that God has not counted our trespasses, nor the trespasses of the world, against them.  We are to be reconciled to the notion that we are to offer this good news of salvation to the world - in word and in action.

How often do we, out of our own feelings of not being forgiven, chose to not forgive others? How often do we, out of feelings of not being loved, chose to not love others?  How often do we, out of feelings of God counting our EVERY trespass, count the trespasses of our brothers and sisters?  To me, to us, Paul speaks over the ages of grace, love, and mercy.  He reminds us of our own forgiveness and how our response to God's work on our behalf is to take up the cause of forgiveness, reconciliation, and love!  There is no greater task; and in fact it is what we have been made for.

Some Thoughts on Joshua 5:9-12

"So one problem is figuring out what the disgrace/reproach or even trauma of Egypt meant in antiquity, however, the bigger challenge for those preaching in North America, is how we can translate the notion of the disgrace of Egypt for a nation who does not know Egypt, a community who does not have a long history in shame of national and theological defeat."
The Truett Pulpit, Dr. Stephen B. Reid, 2016.

"God is faithful in His promises, yet, not always in ways known to humanity. The Israelites may have desired the fast lane to Canaan, yet, what was learned in the middle?"
Commentary, Joshua 5:9-12, Hannah Beers, A Plain Account, 2016.

"Every Sunday God offers up a Eucharistic banquet for a bunch of ever-returning sinners, as if it was the first real meal after a barren week. Is not our deliverance at the table so real that we can taste it?"
Commentary, Joshua 5:9-12, Ralph W. Klein., at, Luther Seminary, 2013.

The people have entered the land God promised. Many have died along the way and a new people is now in relationship with God. Generations have passed. Their slavery is a long ago nightmare that has slipped into history. Now they are free people in a covenant relationship with God.

God has provided food from the land - "unleavened cakes and parched grain". Now they are to live on the land.

What is happening here is that the people are now free. This is the key element of what is being said. You are no longer slaves. Those generations have past. You are now a people who are free. You are no longer even dependent upon God for your manna. No, now you are are free in the land. You have something that is sacred - your freedom.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, "that if we genuinely lack freewill, our entire sense of what it is to be human will crumble into dust." (Covenant and Conversation: Free Will, Use it or Lose It. Jan, 2017.) He writes further:
...Freedom is not a given, nor is it an absolute. We have to work for it. We acquire it slowly in stages, and we can lose it, as Pharaoh lost his, and as drug addicts, workaholics, and people addicted to computer games lose theirs. In one of the most famous opening lines in all literature, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, at the beginning of The Social Contract, that "Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains." In fact, the opposite is true. Our early character is determined partly by DNA - the genetic heritage of our parents and theirs - partly by our home and upbringing, partly by our friends,[9] and partly by the surrounding culture. We are not born free. We have to work hard to achieve freedom. (Ibid.)
Remembering is an essential part of the story. Telling the story. Retelling the story. Enacting the story in liturgies and keeping routines of a disciplined prayer life are all part of reminding ourselves of our journey out of Egypt and slavery. What is true for the Egyptians is true for Christians today about our own story of slavery to sin, redemption and release. Again, Rabbi Sacks writes:
Freedom is less a gift than an achievement. Even a Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the ancient world, could lose it. Even a nation of slaves could, with the help of God, acquire it. Never take freedom for granted. (Ibid.)
We are meant to remember God, God's action, and God's story.  

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Lent 3C March 24, 2019

Rubble near the pool of Saloa


God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, you revealed your name to Moses in the burning bush and your mercy to every generation in the teaching of Jesus. Tend us patiently as the tree you have planted, and do not let us perish. Cultivate us with compassion, and nurture us with forbearance, until, by your grace, we bear at last the abundant fruit of conversion. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 13:1-9

"The word translated as 'repent' is, at its root, about thinking and perception. It refers to a wholesale change in how a person understands something. It implies an utter reconfiguration of your perspective on reality and meaning, including (in the New Testament) a reorientation of yourself toward God."

"How to Survive the Sequester, Syria, and Other Threatening Headlines,"Matthew L. Skinner, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2013.

"Faith understood as an ongoing relation on engagement in God and with God in the world can never sit back in distraction or religious self-preoccupation or self indulgence, because the God we know in Jesus keeps opening our eyes to both joy and pain, to wonder and to need, and inviting us to see them and not withdraw from them, which is the wont of religion."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Lent 3, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

When last we dealt with this passage it came to us after a series of natural disasters and in the midst of war.  Today, we can look around us and see that much is unchanged. People remain concerned about the economy, jobs, natural disasters, and intentional gun violence.  Death is a perennial companion with life but in recent months we have discovered the pain of death that seems to victimize us.  Whether it is the Sandy Hook shooting, the monsoon floods in Malawi, or the meteor strike we are left wondering as did the ancients do these deaths mean anything about the faithfulness of those who lost their lives. Trying to figure out the meaning of these things often comes after considering the feeling of being blessed by being granted life in the midst of such tragedy. Chris Haslam, a Canadian priest and blogger, reminds us in his commentary for this reading that both Jews and the Hellenists of Jesus time believed that pain and premature death were signs of God’s “adverse judgment.” We see this not only in Luke’s Gospel but Jesus addresses this idea in John’s Gospel 9:2-3.

It is important, essential, to point out that Jesus rejects the idea that a man was born blind because of his or his parents’ sinful ways. 

This then is the context in which we pick up our first verse of today’s passage where a few who had gathered around  Jesus talk about how Pilate mingled the blood of Galileans with the blood of the sacrifices they were making in the Temple. While we do not have a historical account of such events, the story does match in theme and tone other accounts of Pilate’s cruelty to the Jews. It is an awful and tragic notion.

Jesus responds by asking, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? This response is what I like to think of as a Jesus twist. Here we have a group who thinks that there is a hierarchy of sin and punishment dealt out accordingly, Jesus points out to them that they think this in all likelihood because they are safe and therefore more holy. 

He seems to recognize that they are arguing that the violence of one’s death relates to the darkness of one’s sins – an idea that is misused and popular throughout the Christendom of the middle ages and continues even today in some circles of believers. Jesus goes right to the point and is unwilling for his listeners to believe they are greater than or that they sin less or that their sins are lesser so he says: “Everyone must repent. Everyone is called to repent, repent early, repent often, repent now, and repent.” He tells them they are going to die too and suddenly and unprepared.

Jesus tells us of the story of the tower in Siloam, a city tower connected with the wall. Perhaps Jesus is speaking about one of the towers near the pool mentioned in John 9:7. Josephus mentions such a wall near the pool (LTJ, Luke, 211). And, Jesus drives his point home asking, were these people more in debt to God than others?

Next, Jesus moves into teaching mode and offers a parable about the fig tree planted in a vineyard. Notice that while Mark in 11:12ff and Matthew in 21:18ff both offer a story about Jesus and a fig tree, here we are told about how Jesus uses the fig tree image as part of a parable for the explanation of his words regarding the Galileans and those washing in the pool of Siloam. (LTJ, Luke, 211)

Jesus is drawing on very powerful images from Micah 4:4 and Joel 2:22 where it is used as a sign of God’s blessing.

So we have a man who is coming regularly to his fig tree. He was a blessed man, but he comes out one day to find that there was no fruit on it. So, he says “cut it down now.” The vine dresser, the garden helper, says “please don’t. Let’s see if it will bear next year. It needs for the soil to be aerated and it needs fertilizer. Then we can see, then we can cut it down.”

So, we see hear that Jesus is teaching those who will listen that they must repent. They must repent because they do not know what may happen and death may come at any moment. They must all repent. No one has more or less sin than someone else. Repentance is the daily work of the follower of Jesus. It is important and key as a daily exercise not because it prepares you for death but because it aerates the soil and provides fertilizer like the fig tree. A daily diet of repentance provides room in one’s life for the following of Jesus and eventually bears fruit in the work with Jesus bringing forth the reign of God.

How is repentance something that bears fruit? Repentance is the act of bring the ego into alignment with the soul and the Holy Spirit of God. Repentance is the taking of a fearless inventory that helps one to understand what the individual’s role is in brokenness and dysfunction. Repentance helps us understand the individual acts we take or do not take that have affects on the wider community. How do my habits of consumption affect others? How do my wants and desires get bruised when I don’t get my way? How do I lash out and blame others when I am at fault? How do I seek to have others give me esteem so I feel good about myself instead of understanding that God esteems me and loves me?

When we as Christians seek to get things in a healthy frame of living we discover that we are bringing in the reign of God. When we change our habits we change the world in which we live.

Luke Timothy Johnson’s words resonate with me as I read and ponder the meaning of this passage. He writes in his commentary on this passage, “…Jesus respond[s] to these reports of death in the city in classic prophetic style: they are turned to warning examples for his listeners. The people who died were not more deserving of death than others. One cannot argue from sudden and violent death to the enormity of sin. Indeed, Jesus himself will suffer a death that appears to be as much a punishment for sin. But the prophet’s point is that death itself, with the judgment of God, are always so close. It can happen when engaged in ritual. It can happen standing under a wall. And when it happens so suddenly, there is no time to repent…The repentance called for by the prophet Jesus, of course, is not simply a turning from sin but an acceptance of the visitation of God in the proclamation of God’s kingdom.”

Luke Timothy Johnson continues regarding the fig tree parable: “…it is a parable that clearly has the function of interpreting this section of his narrative. The fig tree is not summarily cut down. It is allowed to have time; indeed, it has already had time to bear fruit. The comfort to Jesus’ listeners is that the Prophet is still on his way to the city; there is still time to respond.”

This is an important week to be preaching. This is an opportunity to tell about Jesus’ teaching on tragedy and death brought on by disaster. It is an opportunity to speak about the importance and ritual of repentance which is an ancient and essential practice of Christianity. And, it is also an opportunity to speak about how repentance bears fruit.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 10:1-17

"Verse 7 holds the key: it is behavior, faux spiritual and otherwise, which is idolatry."Commentary, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, (Lent 3C), Susan Hedahl, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"Faith understood as an ongoing relation on engagement in God and with God in the world can never sit back in distraction or religious self-preoccupation or self indulgence, because the God we know in Jesus keeps opening our eyes to both joy and pain, to wonder and to need, and inviting us to see them and not withdraw from them, which is the wont of religion."
"First Thoughts on Passages on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Lent 3, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Paul includes a rather bizarre retelling of Israel's exodus to illustrate for the Corinthians their own precarious position as a church living in a wilderness time -- a limbo of sorts between their newfound freedom in Christ and the waited fruition of God's kingdom."
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, (Lent 3C), Carla Works, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

So this week I have been trying to comprehend the intentions of Paul in this part of his first letter to the Corinthians.  Let us simply begin by saying that Paul is using the well known Exodus story as a instructive tale. He is saying that some of these people were idolaters and some were immoral. 

Paul is inviting the readers to compare themselves with these people, who were their ancestors. 

You cannot read this passage without the whole intention of the Corinthian problem in front of you.  One of the biggest issues is can you eat meat that was given as a sacrifice to idols.  Paul says it in a much more stark manner and warns that transgressions against God will end up with an avenging angel taking you to task.

The New Testament scholar J. Paul Sampley (Emeritus Professor at Boston University) writes:

"The gist of the account is clear: God's people - being chosen by God, being baptized, eating special food and drink - are accountable for their behavior.  Neither baptism nor special edibles and potables ensure against God's judgment if the chosen ones stray or fall.  And, there can be no mistake about it: God cannot be blamed for any falling because God never tests believers by one what they can bear; God always graciously provides a way out, an exodus."

Paul writes: "judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."  We are all the same. We are all in need of saving.  We are all in need of reflection and repentance.  We can chose to live life as one of the faithful Exodus ancestor.  We can live differently and can be different.  This is God's expectation and it is our gift.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 55:1-13

"Lent is an invitation and a reminder that this surprising work of God is open to us all -- wicked and unrighteous alike -- if we will return to the God who abundantly pardons..."
Commentary, Isaiah 55:1-9, W. Dennis Tucker, Preaching This Week,, 2016.

To return to YHWH is to depart the Babylonian calculus and reengage the covenantal values of a neighborly kind....The ground for such a radical reengagement with faith is the elemental contrast between the anxious assumption of deported Jews who thought they were on their own in Babylon and the intention of YHWH who has indeed left God’s people on their own for time (see Isaiah 54:7-8), but who will now provide what they need. The poem makes a vigorous and emphatic contrast between “your ways and thoughts” and God’s “ways and thoughts.”
"A Covenant of Neighborly Justice: Break the Chains of Quid Pro Quo," Walter Brueggemann, ON Scripture, 2016.

"Nothing in life is free. Particularly if one has grown accustomed to the harsh policies of the empire that is set to exploit the peasants by means of heavy taxation."
Commentary, Isaiah 55:1-5 (Pentecost 12), Juliana Claassens, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Think of it, Antonio--this thing I've been dreaming about come true at last. I threw out the life-line, and the one caught it was Herman Redpath in all his wealth and power. And now the lock-up. But my ways are not thy ways, saith the Lord. Antonio, you take a man's been in prison a couple years, and he's ready for Jesus like he's never been ready any place else."
"My Ways Are Not Thy Ways," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

This text comes around in year 10A, and in Epiphany 8C (though that is rare indeed), and on the Easter Vigil. In case you have not preached on the text it is a good opportunity as it is new in our Episcopal rota. 

The text is part of a section often called the second book of Isaiah. It is part of the prophetic school that rose up during the exile in Babylon. It comes after the great passage where the prophet and God call out, "Comfort, comfort my people." God is giving hope to the people in exile. Our passage recalls all the other times that God did not forget God's suffering people and suggests this time will not be any different. 

The prophet then gives a vision of God living word and covenant. The prophet reminds them of God's eternal commitment to be with them, to dwell with them, and to provide for them. He proclaims, 
I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
I love the next passages. They make up the Second Song of Isaiah we sing or pray in the daily office.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Then we are reminded:
For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
God in Christ Jesus pulls these themes forward in John's Gospel chapter 6. Here is the feeding of the five thousand. This alone is the promise of Isaiah's banquet. But there is more. Jesus continues:
6:63 The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.65And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’
Jesus is here playing directly upon the Isaiah prophecy. God does not speak, nor does God act, nor does God deliver upon God's promises in the way of humans. We might think well of the fulfillment of Abraham in the mission to the Gentiles. All this is to say that Jesus himself is playing on the images of Isaiah. He sees a people without a shepherd and lost who are exiles in their own land. To them he brings a living word and food to eat. In the end he will deliver them out of exile but not in they way they hope.