Finding the Lessons

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

You will want to scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday.

The blog will be labeled with proper, liturgical date, and calendar date.

You can open the monthly calendar to the left and find the readings in order.

You can also search below by entering the liturgical date, scripture, or proper. This will pull up all previous posts.

Enjoy.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Christ the King/Reign of Christ A November 26, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"In church on Sunday, or at the cricket, we will be a motley bunch. There’ll be folk like my grandma
who always worried, a little bit, that grandpa might not make it into heaven. And some of us will worry that perhaps we will not be among the sheep."


"Love Changes Everything," Andrew Prior, First Impressions, 2011.


So, like Paul and Dylan, my leaning these days is to refrain from reading violent kings or masters in parables as referring to God. My bias is to associate the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven with that which is rejected, persecuted, killed, banished, tortured ... as Jesus was.

Exegeting Matthew 25, Brian D. McLaren.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
How wonderful a king, Lord God, you have given us in Jesus your Son: neither a monarch throned in splendor nor a warrior bent on revenge, but a shepherd who seeks and rescues the flock, bringing them back, binding them up, strengthening them and feeding them with justice.  Prepare us for the day of Christ's coming glory by shaping our lives according to his teaching that what we have done for the least of his brothers and sister we have done for him, the Christ who was, who is, and who is to come, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 25:31-46

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This is Christ the King Sunday. The last Sunday of the Christian Year; it is the Sunday before Advent 1.  We have been reading from Matthew's Gospel and we are about to segue into Mark's for the second of our three year reading cycle called the Lectionary.

So in this last passage for the year we have an image of Christ as King, at the end time we have a great judgement going on and a division of the sheep and the goats. I love the quote above because of the incredible anxiety and weird things this passage does to us as Christians.

Andrew Prior is right.  There will be a great number of people in Church this Sunday discomforted by this passage.  And the few that are comfortable probably shouldn't be.  Let's be honest: we do worry about getting into heaven and it is typically such a disquieting notion that we don't pay any attention to it at all and so dismiss all accountability for our actions. Or we lord this over others. We say things like we must save all those goats. Or, we should do mission and just let God do the sorting out.  We worry about parents and family members and ourselves. we have lists of things we have done that are bad and really bad. All in all I think we read this passage and we miss the whole point.

Do I think there is going to be a judgement? Yes, I say so every week in the creed and I believe it. I sure hope the meager life of service and a full measure of God's grace and love will help me make the cut.  But that is not what this text is really saying to me and to us as a church. At least I don't think it is. I don't think God wants us to worry about that stuff; the end times and what will happen when we die. We all die and it will eventually happen and we hope that when it happens we may pass from life to everlasting life. That is our hope and upon such hope to I have faith.

But I think the purpose of the passages which urge vigilance and seek to encourage action on our part have three basic points to offer us as Christians trying to live a Christian life, as Episcopalians trying to live out that particularly difficult baptismal covenant that we are continuously promising to keep.

First, I think the intention of Jesus' ministry has been to tell people that God does love them and God cares for them. God cares so much that he wants to gather them in and that God wants for us to be one unified family.  I think as part of that message Jesus also conveys in his teaching the reality that God cares what we do and how we treat one another.

In a society where most people believe in God, believe God is distant (except when they need something), and believes God wants them to be a good person and be happy this is a very difficult passage to read. It says quite the opposite in point of fact. The passage says that God is near, God cares, God hopes we will live a life completely oriented on God and not our happiness, and that God wishes us to act and make the world sustainable for all people.

The second, point that I think this passage is clear about is that God wants us to act now and not wait.  This is a Gospel shift from the inherited Jewish tradition that understood it was good to confess on your death bed assuring your amendment of life.  Rather the Gospel of Jesus seeks amendment of life - this reorientation to God and action on God's behalf daily.  The sense of urgency, the idea the kingdom is now, it isn't just coming, but that we have an opportunity to live in the reign of God today is an ancient Gospel truth.

The last thing point of this passage is that God wishes for us to understand that one of the primary ways we amend life is by serving others who have no value to society but who have value to God.  The poor, the hungry, the naked, and those in prison are of such value to God that in our passage today they are the incarnational (little I) presence of Jesus in the world.

If we are serious about placing God in Jesus Christ at the center or our lives, upon the throne of our hearts, we cannot separate this trifold reality of his reign from our spiritual pilgrimage on this earth.  The king of our spiritual life cares how his subjects treat one another.  The king expects actions to be taken on his behalf now and in this world; the kingdom is not about what happens to us when we die.  And, the king himself is incarnationally present in pauper's robes, with a hungry outstretched hand,  and with legs shackled.

We live out our life towards our passing and towards the final judgment by making God first, and making neighbor second.


This notion is not simply a discipleship rule but it is the rule that Jesus lives out in his own life. Remembering the model for Christian fellowship, mission, and discipleship in Matthew's Gospel is a reflection of Jesus own life we cannot help but hear the last words of this Sunday's Gospel as fulfillment of Jesus' own princely rule lived out in this world. He will love God whom he calls Father to the very end, he will love us (event forgiving us from the cross) and he will love us as neighbors and friends.  In the end Jesus himself comes to us and gives us his very self, sacrificially, for his fellow men; though we be bound by the shackles of sin, have the outstretched hand for grace, and a heart clothed in the robes of earthly pretenders to the throne. Goats we are, in Jesus sheep we become.

Some Thoughts on Ephesians 1:11-23


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


"What meaning is communicated by the language of prayer not otherwise made available?"

Commentary, Ephesians 1:15-23 (Christ the King A), Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"...what happened with Christ was the beginning of something which reaches out and encompasses others and brings together into a network of people who share the same source of energy."

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

Paul offers in this passage a vision of a Godly community that is unified by God in Jesus Christ and unified beyond the worldly religious divisions of his day. Christianity was to become a new thing as it embraced both the Gentile and Jewish traditions. 

He holds up as an example of this work the mission of the Church at Ephesus. In correspondence that we do not see we can imagine that they have shared the success in bringing together many around a unifying faith linked by fraternal love.

In this mission work, in this unified relational community, God is doing something. God is revealing ultimately God's love for all people. God is, through their interactions, moving and making known his true purposes. They will continue to grow in hope and in spiritual depth as they grow together in community beyond their differences. What is happening is that God's love for all humanity is being born out of their common life together. They are becoming more and more aware of the reality that God is creator of all and maker of all.

As they come into this new community, as they struggle and make their way together, they indeed experience and may see and speak to the reality that God is making all things new. The reconciling work of God is in their midst and is in fact bringing not only differing groups together but is bringing them together as a sign of the bringing together of all creation into God.

Often times I think that we settle for simple reconciliation which is life lived in the protection of like minded clusters. This is not Paul's experience of God or God's work in the world. It is not the experience of the Ephesians. It is in fact the very nature of God to reconcile to himself that which is utterly different. So too we find our mission and ministry to be reconciled across our differences as a very real incarnation of God's reconciling act.


Some Thoughts: Ezekiel 34:11-24

"The connection between justice and care is often lost in contemporary Christian practice." Commentary, Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Margaret Odell, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

"In a word, good leadership consists in the restoration of the common good so that all members of the community, strong and weak, rich and poor, may live together in a common shalom of shared resources." "Failed Kings and the Good Shepherd," Walter Brueggemann, ON Scripture, 2011.

"The heavy focus the justice role of the leaders is very interesting. There is no indictment in regards to their religious leadership only the condemnation based on their unjust behaviour." Ezekiel 34:11-24, Christ the King, Commentary, Background, Insights fromLiterary Structure, Theological Message, Ways to Present the Text. Anna Grant-Henderson, Uniting Church in Australia.


Oremus Online NRSV Text


We cannot read the New Testament imagery of Jesus as the Good Shepherd without understanding the Old Testament understanding of the same. Jesus’ critique of the hired hand, his understanding of sheep among wolves, his comments about sheep without a shepherd, and his lost sheep metaphors all depend upon the Old Testament understanding of shepherds and sheep. There is a historic arc that Jesus is playing with and is important if we are to understand the deep meaning for Christian community and leadership.

Ezekiel prophesies a new and different shepherd. But first, let us parse out the imagery here. Shepherds were leaders of Israel. They were religious and political leaders. Sometimes they were both. The prophet is naming that the leaders of Israel are not taking care of the people. They are not feeding the poor, caring for the orphan and widow. There is a long notion that God’s people are to be different and be in relationship with such people so as to care for them. In the great history of the story in the Old Testament – when they do not do this they cease to be the blessing God intends them to be.

The Christian community understood that the prophetic Good Shepherd is Jesus. He will bring about a different kind of world. Walter Brueggemann writes, “God is going to reconstitute the public order that will be in contrast to the old, failed order.” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/walter-brueggemann/ezekiel-34-christ-the-king-sunday-on-scripture_b_1097125.html)

The Christian community, the church, and Christians are to be about becoming the blessed community of shalom that works to be a blessing to the world in which it lives. It is to be the body of the Good Shepherd today. It is within itself to set about the reversal of power, authority, and wealth dynamics of greed that infect the world. And, it is to work against the powers and authorities by setting about to be a different kind of community.

We are sometimes happier to shout at the man and tell them they are bad shepherd, without looking at how our communities might model good shepherding themselves.









Thursday, November 9, 2017

Proper 28A/Ordinary 33A/Pentecost +24 November 19, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think


"The parable of the talents is among the most abused texts in the New Testament."

Commentary, Matthew 25:14-30, Carla Works, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Into the hands of each of us, O God, you have entrusted all the blessings of nature and grace.  Give us the will and wisdom to multiply the gifts your providence has bestowed, and make us industrious and vigilant as we await your Son's return, so that we may rejoice to hear him call us "good and faithful servants" and be blest to enter into the joy of your kingdom.

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


Some Thoughts on Matthew 25:14-30

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We are so fixated on money that we are always sure there is about to be a global financial crisis from which we cannot recover. In this anxious time comes Matthew and Jesus with a parable about who God is and the value of investing.

A master goes away, leaves funds to be managed, and returns to find one steward has not been a steward at all but has buried the masters treasure.  The scene is ugly but the message is clear: risking for the kingdom of God and being prepared for the masters return is a task to be embarked upon at this very moment.

In this passage Jesus is teaching about the end times. Are we waiting for the Kingdom of God? If so when is it coming.  Jesus' intent appears to be to say the Kingdom of God is now.  Yes there will come  a time of judgement but now is the our of work.

The goal is to be clear that those who follow Jesus are to see life as the place in which they are to be tillers in the garden, soil tenders for God, and harvesters.  Those who recognize their value in God and choose the Way of Jesus are choosing to work now and not to wait.

According to scholars Allison and Davies there could be many reasons for the importance of the story for Matthew's community. Perhaps because rabbis at the time taught people to insure confession just before their death, or maybe it is important because there is some waning enthusiasm in the community as years pass between Jesus' ascension and his return.  We do not know.

If we take this whole section of teaching between 24:36 and 25:30 there is a stark contrast that emerges between the work of every day life and the end time.  We have people feasting, and marrying, we have people working and serving.  It is contrasted with images of fire and earthquakes, famine and disaster. (Allison & Davies, Matthew, 412)

N. T. Wright (author and theologian) in his innaugural address recently at St. Mary's College wrote this:

It was, as Acts 17 (already quoted) indicates, the royal announcement, right under Caesar’s nose, that there was ‘another king, namely Jesus’. And Paul believed that this royal announcement, like that of Caesar, was not a take-it-or-leave-it affair. It was a powerful summons through which the living God worked by his Spirit in hearts and minds, to transform human character and motivation, producing the tell-tale signs of faith, hope and love which Paul regarded as the biblically prophesied marks of God’s true people.[1]
N. T. Wright's lecture has been sticking with me recently and as I think of it and in connection with the every day life Jesus speaks about in this section I am struck by the importance to Paul, to the early Gospel writers, to the first followers of Jesus, indeed to Jesus himself this notion that our work as creatures of God and followers of Jesus is to be about our master's work; and to do so with a sense of urgency.

When we fear the end and are paralyzed into inaction or conversely when we place the end so far in front of us we need not pay attention to it, we are likely to be burying the possibility of living now in the reign of God - the Kingdom of God.

When however we choose God as our master, and Jesus as our Lord, we bring accountability close at hand and in so doing may in fact be encouraged to risk for the sake of the Gospel.  If we over turn the cry at the pretorium "We have no King but Caesar" and claim instead that Jesus is the ruler of our lives we may indeed begin to (through the power of the Holy Spirit) live out our life in faith, hope, and love.

What greater investment can there be?  What better time to invest than now?

Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11



"These days the idols have major corporate sponsorship and represent powerful vested interests, but from much of Christianity there is little about which they need to be warned. Paul believes Christians should not be so drowsy and drunk, but be asserting the radical new way of faith and love and hope. His world needed it and so does ours."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 23, William Loader, Murdoch University

"Paul's letter to the Thessalonians suggests that as much as faith, love, and hope are observable characteristics of a Christian community, so is encouragement."

Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

Again we return to a conversation with Paul about the end time and when we might expect the coming of the Lord.  Paul is clear - we do not know when.  We might remember Matthew's teaching that we won't know when it will happen. We do not know when the thief will come, when the householder returns, or upon the hour of the bridegroom's arrival.  Paul then says that if we are working our God's purposes in our life and trying to live a goodly and Godly life we will not be surprised but we will always be ready. We may not know but when we are living as followers of God in Christ Jesus then we are always ready for the master's return.

Why is that? Because we know that we are saved by God and not by our own attempts at trying to work the kingdom of God into some kind of economic relationship that always benefits us. No, failure, sin, and brownness are always and everywhere overcome by the grace of God. 

But living a willful and intentionally sinful life isn't good for me - so I respond to God's grace by trying to do my best. Paul encourages me to do my best. Be attentive he says, rest in God, don't get drunk, live a sober and loving life. Have hope he says. And, encourage one another and build each other up - because when we do that we build up the kingdom of God.

How often do we get encouragement mixed up with "helpful criticism" which is never really helpful. There is a significant difference between encouraging us to be the people that God intends and discouraging one another with criticism and being in one another's business. These are two significantly different things. 

We are encouraged by Paul - live hopefully, live lovingly, live faithfully, and live soberly. This should and must be our message to our neighbors too. So we might offer to them: Have hope for God is a forgiving, loving and graceful God who wants to be in relationship with you. You can do nothing to separate you from God. In response to this grace live a life of thanksgiving which is a life of hope, love, and faith. Let us do that together. That is a Gospel worth extending into the world around us.


Some Thoughts on Judges 4:1-7

"One of the slogans floating about our churches these days is 'God's work, our hands.' These stories remind us that those hands carrying out the work of a mighty and merciful God are women's hands, too." Commentary, Judges 4:1-7, James Limburg, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The gospel lesson for today is the parable of the talents, in Matthew, where Jesus warns against burying a gift that God has given. Deborah is an example of someone who seems to put her gifts to work in surprising, creative, and inspiring ways." Commentary, Judges 4:1-7, Sara Koenig, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

Deborah clearly speaks for God, as is indicated by the direct quote in verses 6-7. She is one of the seven great female prophets of Israel, and one of the great 23 women of Israel. Her words on living a life worthy of the blessed community of shalom would influence Torah scholars even to this day. She is seen as a model of faithfulness and part of her influence is upon her call to worship regularly. (Tamar Kadari at https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/deborah-2-midrash-and-aggadah) Like other great prophets before her (including Moses) one midrashic tradition (probably written by men!) says she was guilty of the sin of pride and her gifts were removed from her. (Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [ed. Eisenstein], 474).

Deborah was a gift to Israel who God had not saved but allowed them into the hands of Sisera because of their worship of idols. The story is also entwined with the story of Ruth and the famine. (See Jud. 4:3; The Tanhuma [ed. Buber], Behar 7; and Ruth Rbbah 1:1; from Kadari article sited above.)

The Jewish tradition is that Deborah sat under a Palm tree and taught the Torah. She is responsible for uniting Israel in faith and turning them from idols through her teaching. (see Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, Chap. 10, 50; Kadari.)

Our passage reveals the story in pretty blunt terms unlike the poetry of chapter 5. Note that the working of God comes through Deborah, Barak, and Jael. It takes a group to deliver God’s people out of their trial.

What stands out is how Deborah, the main character, puts her gifts to work. Sara Koenig writes, “Deborah is the only female judge, and she is also a prophet. She hears and speaks for God…Deborah is an example of someone who seems to put her gifts to work in surprising, creative, and inspiring ways.”(from Preaching This Week, see above link)

Deborah as a woman stands out as part of the community of leadership. She shares in an equal way as men in her time. With others she gives shape to life with God. She is a guardian of Israel’s highest values and offers them over and against corrupt living oriented around idols.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of this type of leadership writes:
“The essential lesson of the Torah is that leadership can never be confined to one class or role. It must always be distributed and divided. In ancient Israel, kings dealt with power, priests with holiness, and prophets with the integrity and faithfulness of society as a whole. In Judaism, leadership is less a function than a field of tensions between different roles, each with its own perspective and voice…Leadership in Judaism is counterpoint, a musical form defined as ‘the technique of combining two or more melodic lines in such a way that they establish a harmonic relationship while retaining their linear individuality.’ It is this internal complexity that gives Jewish leadership its vigour, saving it from entropy, the loss of energy over time.”
The Song of Deborah is one of ten songs: the song of Israel in Egypt, the Song at the Sea, the song at the well, the song of Moses, the song of Joshua, the Song of Deborah, the Song of David, the Song of Solomon, the song of Jehoshaphat, and a new song for the future (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Masekhta de-Shirah, Beshalah 1. This list varies in different sources; see J. L. Kugel, “Is There But One Song,” Biblica 63 [1982], 329–350).

I will leave you with Frederick Buechner’s take, which I find a bit cheeky. It is worth a read thou and reminds of both the power of Deborah’s witness and the reality that God calls real people…

"It is a wonderful song, full of blood and thunder with a lot of hair-raisingly bitter jibes at the end of it about how Sisera's old mother sits waiting at the window for her son to come home, not knowing that Jael has already made mincemeat of him. Deborah composed it, but she got Barak to sing it with her. Barak looked like Moshe Dayan, and it must have been quite a duet. The song brushes by Barak's role rather hastily, but it describes Jael's in lavish detail and must have gotten her all the glory a girl could possibly want. Yahweh himself gets a plug at the end"So perish all thine enemies, O Lord!" (Judges 5:31)but by and large the real hero of Deborah's song is herself. 
Everything was going to pot, the lyrics say, "until you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel" (5:7), and you can't help feeling that Deborah's basic message was that Mother was the one who really saved the day. And of course, with Yahweh's help, she was.
It's hard not to bridle a little at the idea of her standing under the palm tree belting out her own praises like that, but after all, she had a country to run and a war to fight, and she knew that without good press she was licked from the start. Besides maybe the more self-congratulatory parts of her song were the ones that she assigned to Barak. (Frederick Buechner, originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words http://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2016/11/6/deborah?rq=deborah)

[1] The Right Reverend Professor N. T. Wright ‘Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity’ St Mary’s College October 26 2011.


Proper 27A/Ordinary 32A/Pentecost +23 November 12, 2017

Prayer

Drive from our hearts the idols this world worships, money, and power, privilege and prestige, that we may be free to serve you alone, and, by loving our neighbor as ourselves, may make your Son's new commandment of love the law that governs every aspect of our lives. 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: Matthew 25:1-13

"When all is said and done—when we have scared ourselves silly with the now-or-never urgency of faith and the once-and-always finality of judgment—we need to take a deep breath and let it out with a laugh. Because what we are watching for is a party. (Capon)" "Pity the Fools," D Mark Davis, Left Behind and Loving It, 2017.

"Unpredictability is an important theological category, for the God of the Bible has always chosen to be a God associated with calling people, sending people, encountering people, incarnating as human, and pouring out the Holy Spirit on communities who are on the margins, all of this happening in the fullness of God’s own time." "The Politics of Representation," Raj Bharat Patta, Political Theology Today, 2017.


Jesus is again teaching a parable about the kingdom of heaven. He then offers ten bridesmaids, lambs, a bridegroom, not enough oil and trouble. The problem with preaching these parables is that we are preaching against the story tide. People have heard them so many times they have already made up their minds about what they say. And, typically what they know, or think they know, is based upon a surface reading at best or a childhood memory. Frederick Buechner, theologian and author, remarks that we “suck” these dry with old stories and thoughts about what we think we know. (Frederick Buechner, excerpt from "The Truth of Stories" was originally published in The Clown in the Belfry and later in Secrets in the Dark.)

The parable itself falls within the last parables of judgment in Robert Farrar Capon’s view (See Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, 512.) He offers the idea that human beings think in a way that there is always an opportunity for a second chance. The parables of judgment offer a sense of urgency in that God in Christ Jesus is a disruptor, and disruption in history. He is a disruption in our history and there is immediacy to going with the bridegroom when he comes. There is no time for dilly-dallying. There is the now and present Christ. 

God is saving right now and in our moment.

God is, in Capon’s view saving history. And, in a moment that history will have an end and even in that moment faith will come to an end. Yet, God is saving if you will but have a little faith.

Our parable starts out as his parables began when he first taught and his journey to the cross was but in its infancy. Now he nears his work and so the parables have taken on an urgency as does his final days with his followers.

In order to catch Jesus’ joke and understand the parable in its kingdom meaning lets call the maidens with a little bit of oil maidens #1. And, lets call the maidens with a ton of oil maidens #2.

Maidens #1 take just enough oil to make it through the night. The first hearers would say, “Ah, these are wise maidens.” They are prudent, they take just enough. They are following the rules of not wasting anything. They are so wise.” Jesus then makes a joke! He calls them “foolish”. The maidens bring just enough to make it to the feast and no more. Once again the parable seems to be about prudence and preparedness when it is actually about plenty and extravagance.

Then there are maidens #2. By the world’s standards the maidens #2 are foolish. They take WAY too much oil. Jesus then calls these #2 maidens “wise”. You see the party is to go on and on. The Bridegroom is making his way from party to party and we are to go with him…when he arrives. In faith we must be ready and willing to be held up as the Bridegroom makes his way.

The kingdom is not run in a respectable way!



Some Thoughts: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

"We all long to hear a good word: a word that brings good news, a word that can sustain us, a word that can give us the vision and courage to make it through another day, a word that tells us God is with us."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"At the same time that Paul offers this extraordinary vision of consolation, he locates the act of consolation within the community as an ongoing (present imperative) expression of hope."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.



Paul is clearly in didactic mode! He is trying to convey to his readers that there is a god word here. That there is hope in God's promise to be with them always even to the end of the ages - as Matthew says. And, there is hope in God's promise that he will return. While those who sleep wait, those who live have one another for comfort and to inspire hope in one another.

In a world of strife, injustice, fear, and anxiety about the future, Paul's good word for his readers in the first century can be a good word for us. It can provide for us a sense that we too are not alone. We have one another, the community, and in fact we have God. A God who will not in the end leave things the way they are but is even now working God's purposes out. God will return and we will return into God.

When I think of this passage I am reminded of this piece from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who said during a lecture at Lincoln Cathedral where he looked at how modern day society looks at understanding, remembering and wanting things, and how the Church can turn this outwards into faith, hope and love.

Hope, when it comes to birth, is not just a confidence that there is a future for us, it's also a confidence that there's a continuity so that the future is related to the same truth and living reality as the past and the present. Hope is again hope in relation; relation to that which does not go away and abandon, relation to a reality which knows and sees and holds who we are. You have an identity because you have a witness of who you are. What you don't understand or see, the bits of yourself you can't pull together in a convincing story are all held in a single gaze of love. You don't have to work out and finalise who you are and who you have been; you don't have to settle the absolute truth of your history or story; because in the eyes of the presence which does not go away, all that you have been and are is still present and real; it is held together in that unifying gaze as if you were to see a pile of apparently disparate, disconnected bits suddenly revealed as being held together by a string, twitched by the divine observer, the divine witness.

That's very abstract but it's put much more vividly and personally in an extraordinary poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian and martyr. It's a poem written when he was in prison for his share in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer writes, '... they tell me I step out into the prison yard like a squire going to walk around his estate'. (Bonhoeffer was a man of rather aristocratic background and bearing.) And the poem is about the great gulf between what 'they' see – a confident, adult, rational, prayerful, faithful, courageous person – and what he knows is going on inside; the weakness and the loss and the inner whimpering and dread. 'So which is me?' Bonhoeffer asks. Is it the person that they see or the person that I know when I'm on my own with myself? And his answer is surprising and blunt: 'I haven't got a clue; God has got to settle that. I don't have to decide if I'm really brave or really cowardly, whether I'm really confident or really frightened, or both. Who I am, is in the hands of God.' And that, I would say is the hope that St John of the Cross might be talking about. It goes beyond the assumption that I am only what I see or know. It tells me that I am more than I realize, in the eyes of God, for good or ill. It tells me to hope in 'what is unseen' (a good biblical phrase) and to hope in the one who doesn't need to be told about how human beings work because he knows the human heart (John 2.25). (Williams, Rowan. “Article.” Faith, Hope and Charity in Tomorrow's World, Lambeth Palace, 6 Mar. 2010, http://www.rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/584/faith-hope-and-charity-in-tomorrows-world)


Some Thoughts: Joshua 24:1-25

"Bondage to a lie, or freedom's integrity."
Commentary, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"The verb 'serve' is evocative in these verses. 'Serve' can mean 'worship' or it can mean 'show loyalty toward,' or, as v. 24 notes, it can also mean 'obey.'"
Commentary, Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, Ralph W. Klein, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.




God, the Holy and undivided Trinity, is at work throughout the sacred history of the old and the New Testaments. This is something that I have learned. The hermeneutical principle of mission combined with the belief that the same God is working through the people of Israel and their story as is working in the life of the disciples and fellowship of Jesus - is the only footing for the Christian preacher.

The Gospel evangelists themselves believe this and in so doing tie the very words of Joshua 24:1-25 into our understanding of the vocation of God and the call of Jesus.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaks of this passage as the great transition between Moses and Joshua. Moses has set his eye on the furthest horizon and concludes the Torah with both prophecy and the last commandments. Sacks writes:

It would not be easy. With his prophetic eye turned to the furthermost horizon of the future, Moses had been warning the people throughout Devarim that the real dangers would be the ones they least suspected. They would not be war or famine or poverty or natural disaster. They would be ease and affluence and freedom and prosperity.

That is when a nation is in danger of forgetting its past and its mission. It becomes complacent; it may become corrupt. The rich neglect the poor. Those in power afflict the powerless. The people begin to think that what they have achieved, they achieved for and by themselves. They forget their dependence on G-d. At the very height of its powers, Israelite society would develop fault-lines that would eventually lead to disaster. (Deut. 31: 10-13) (Sacks, Jonathan. “Nitzavim-Vayelich (5770) - Covenantal Politics.” Rabbi Sacks, Office of Rabbi Sacks, 4 Apr. 2016, rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5770-nitzavim-vayelich-covenantal-politics/)

Joshua in this moment, in chapter 24, is doing exactly what Moses did and is calling the people to remember both their purpose, their mission, and their commitment. He is reminding them that the God to whom they are yoked in love is a God who freed them. A God who freed them to be a blessing to the whole of creation. They are to be a different kind of people. A people who serve God by being and enacting a different kind of society.

In effect, Joshua is offering them freedom to walk away from God and their covenant with God.

It is the same with the evangelists of the New Testament. They, like Joshua, narrate God's mighty acts in the person of Jesus. They enumerate God's grace. And, like all the history of Israel, the Evangelists remind us who chose to follow this Christ that we are called to remember that we too are to be a blessing of peace - a blessing of shalom to the world. We are called into a particular community that is to remember the poor, to raise up the powerless, to share what they have achieved, and to never forget the God who loves and offers freedom so that all may be united in one living body. It is not so much that the Gospel reflects or copies the speech of Joshua in this chapter, or the speech of Moses before him. No. It is that the speeches of Moses and Joshua are given by the power of the Holy Spirit and they are a living word to be incarnated in the people who have a relationship with God.

Walter Brueggemann writes:
What this God requires is a life-commitment that will impinge upon every dimension of public life — social, political and economic. This God, so says Joshua, is uncompromising. With YHWH it is “all or nothing,” no casual allowance for accommodation. What is at issue is a jealous God who is committed to neighborly justice and the organization of the economy for the sake of the weak and vulnerable (thus the testimony of the book of Deuteronomy that stands behind this narrative chapter). But the other gods, the totems of agricultural self-sufficiency, do not require such neighborly passion. The either/or that Joshua presents has immediate practical social consequences. A decision for YHWH entails socio-economic justice. A decision for the “other gods” leads inevitably to socio-economic exploitation, the accumulation of wealth at the expense of neighbors. Such a “religion” without commitment to social justice will eventuate in communities of economic failure, such as we now witness in Reading. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/walter-brueggemann/joshua-2413a-1425_b_1070263.html)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Proper 26A/Ordinary 31A/Pentecost +22 November 5, 2017

Prayer
#growrule     ssje.org/growrule

Reveal to us the beauty of your image in each of our brothers and sisters, so that, respecting every person as our equal in your sight, we may show not only in words but in deeds that we are disciples of one Master, Jesus Christ, your Son.

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

Some Thoughts: Matthew 22:34-46

"To what extent their positions were shaped by the social and economic status of their members, and to what extent those positions stem from particular readings of Torah, we can never know for certain. Suffice it to say that we heirs of Matthew's community soon adopted the culturally more comfortable view that this text is opposing."
Commentary, Matthew 23:1-12, Sharon H. Ringe, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"...focus on the core issue of waiting and admit, quite frankly, that the kind of waiting Matthew is encouraging through this parable is hard. Waiting for something way over due, waiting for something you're not sure will even come, waiting that involves active preparation when you're not even sure what you should be preparing for. That kind of waiting is challenging."
"Hope and Help for Foolish Bridesmaids," David Lose, ...in the meantime, 2014.


Oremus Online NRSV Text

We continue our "dialogue" with the religious authorities of Jesus' day in this passage.  I pause here again to warn the preacher to be careful to remember our Abrahamic family and our healthy relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Words can easily be used to create a division between us and can even more easily lead to continued hatred.  Furthermore, historically we need to recognize that while Jesus is speaking to these groups; these groups really are the leaders and religious authorities of Matthew's time - some 40 years later.  

Leaning into the text we tease out Jesus' important teaching.  Honoring the role of the religious teacher he tells the people to clearly hear the words and teachings about God.  One can imagine these teaching are about the importance of life lived in God and how the body itself, animated by the soul, is for encountering God as is all of domestic life.  Teachings that would have been normative in the tradition of the day.  That being said though Jesus then offers a very clear distinction between listening and acting.  

A rule for Christian community is being laid out before us; so don't get hung up on the foil of leadership being used.  The message is clearly for us.  The message is for those who hear Jesus' teaching. The message is for those who wish to follow Jesus and live in a community of disciples. 

Disciples of Jesus are to listen and follow the Gospel imperatives.  We are not to be a people who are more interested in getting others to follow while we remain hypocrites of our own teaching.  It is this very real piece that seems to me to be of the utmost to Matthew as it is certainly repeated in different ways throughout the Gospel.  Transformation begins with the individual in relationship to God in Christ and it is the transformed life lived (not hypocritically avoided) that is the most powerful witness to the Gospel -the Good News of Jesus.


4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
We cannot read this passage without understanding that we are to be transformed by our relationship with God. Our bodily, physical, spiritual, soulful encounter with God. That we are to have as intimate a relationship with God as Jesus did; who called him Father.  That we are to have only one teacher and that is the Messiah - Jesus Christ. And, we are to act out his teaching. We are in the words of C.S. Lewis to become little Christ's in the world - so intimately tied are we to the Godhead. Our wills and our lives are to be shaped and informed by our relationship with God in Christ.

In Lauren F. Winner's book Mudhouse Sabbath she talks about the ancient sabbath rule that a blind man is not to light a candle on the sabbath.  One wonders, she muses, why a blind man would need to light a candle.  She then goes on to relate a story about a rabbi who walking down the street in the evening comes upon a blind man making his way with a torch through the night. He stops and asks him why he is doing this (with the assumption perhaps we all make which is he needs no light).  The blind man says, it is so that others will see me.

It is funny how what you are reading engages a conversation in your heart and mind with the scripture for the week. As I read that I thought of this Sunday's passage and the reality that the light of Christ so burns inside of us that when we are attentive to our own transformation; when we polish the lens of our own spiritually disciplined life the light of God shines more brightly about us. 


Chris Webb of Renovare reminded us at a clergy conference long ago that outreach and service always flows out of our relationship with God and it's health and vitality.  So too does Jesus caution. It will not be the phylacteries and fringes we wear, it will not be where we sit, or our titles of ministry that will reveal the Son of Man to the world. Rather it will be our deep relationship to him which in turn creates in us a servants heart enacting Christ's work in the world around us.

What a brightly burning torch would burn should our episcopal church family take up the challenge for renewed relationship with Jesus. 


Some Thoughts: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


"We all long to hear a good word: a word that brings good news, a word that can sustain us, a word that can give us the vision and courage to make it through another day, a word that tells us God is with us."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"At the same time that Paul offers this extraordinary vision of consolation, he locates the act of consolation within the community as an ongoing (present imperative) expression of hope."
Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.


Paul is clearly in didactic mode! He is trying to convey to his readers that there is a god word here. That there is hope in God's promise to be with them always even to the end of the ages - as Matthew says. And, there is hope in God's promise that he will return. While those who sleep wait, those who live have one another for comfort and to inspire hope in one another.

In a world of strife, injustice, fear, and anxiety about the future, Paul's good word for his readers in the first century can be a good word for us. It can provide for us a sense that we too are not alone. We have one another, the community, and in fact we have God. A God who will not in the end leave things the way they are but is even now working God's purposes out. God will return and we will return into God. 

When I think of this passage I am reminded of this piece from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who said during a lecture at Lincoln Cathedral where he looked at how modern day society looks at understanding, remembering and wanting things, and how the Church can turn this outwards into faith, hope and love.

Hope, when it comes to birth, is not just a confidence that there is a future for us, it's also a confidence that there's a continuity so that the future is related to the same truth and living reality as the past and the present. Hope is again hope in relation; relation to that which does not go away and abandon, relation to a reality which knows and sees and holds who we are. You have an identity because you have a witness of who you are. What you don't understand or see, the bits of yourself you can't pull together in a convincing story are all held in a single gaze of love. You don't have to work out and finalise who you are and who you have been; you don't have to settle the absolute truth of your history or story; because in the eyes of the presence which does not go away, all that you have been and are is still present and real; it is held together in that unifying gaze as if you were to see a pile of apparently disparate, disconnected bits suddenly revealed as being held together by a string, twitched by the divine observer, the divine witness.
That's very abstract but it's put much more vividly and personally in an extraordinary poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian and martyr. It's a poem written when he was in prison for his share in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer writes, '... they tell me I step out into the prison yard like a squire going to walk around his estate'. (Bonhoeffer was a man of rather aristocratic background and bearing.) And the poem is about the great gulf between what 'they' see – a confident, adult, rational, prayerful, faithful, courageous person – and what he knows is going on inside; the weakness and the loss and the inner whimpering and dread. 'So which is me?' Bonhoeffer asks. Is it the person that they see or the person that I know when I'm on my own with myself? And his answer is surprising and blunt: 'I haven't got a clue; God has got to settle that. I don't have to decide if I'm really brave or really cowardly, whether I'm really confident or really frightened, or both. Who I am, is in the hands of God.' And that, I would say is the hope that St John of the Cross might be talking about. It goes beyond the assumption that I am only what I see or know. It tells me that I am more than I realize, in the eyes of God, for good or ill. It tells me to hope in 'what is unseen' (a good biblical phrase) and to hope in the one who doesn't need to be told about how human beings work because he knows the human heart (John 2.25). (Williams, Rowan. “Article.” Faith, Hope and Charity in Tomorrow's World, Lambeth Palace, 6 Mar. 2010, rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/584/faith-hope-and-charity-in-tomorrows-world.)


Some Thoughts: Joshua 24:1-25


"Bondage to a lie, or freedom's integrity."
Commentary, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"The verb 'serve' is evocative in these verses. 'Serve' can mean 'worship' or it can mean 'show loyalty toward,' or, as v. 24 notes, it can also mean 'obey.'"
Commentary, Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, Ralph W. Klein, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.


Oremus Online NRSV Text

God, the Holy and undivided Trinity, is at work throughout the sacred history of the old and the New Testaments. This is something that I have learned. The hermeneutical principle of mission combined with the belief that the same God is working through the people of Israel and their story as is working in the life of the disciples and fellowship of Jesus - is the only footing for the Christian preacher.

The Gospel evangelists themselves believe this and in so doing tie the very words of Joshua 24:1-25 into our understanding of the vocation of God and the call of Jesus.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaks of this passage as the great transition between Moses and Joshua. Moses has set his eye on the furthest horizon and concludes the Torah with both prophecy and the last commandments. Sacks writes:
It would not be easy. With his prophetic eye turned to the furthermost horizon of the future, Moses had been warning the people throughout Devarim that the real dangers would be the ones they least suspected. They would not be war or famine or poverty or natural disaster. They would be ease and affluence and freedom and prosperity.

That is when a nation is in danger of forgetting its past and its mission. It becomes complacent; it may become corrupt. The rich neglect the poor. Those in power afflict the powerless. The people begin to think that what they have achieved, they achieved for and by themselves. They forget their dependence on G-d. At the very height of its powers, Israelite society would develop fault-lines that would eventually lead to disaster. (Deut. 31: 10-13) (Sacks, Jonathan. “Nitzavim-Vayelich (5770) - Covenantal Politics.” Rabbi Sacks, Office of Rabbi Sacks, 4 Apr. 2016, rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5770-nitzavim-vayelich-covenantal-politics/)
Joshua in this moment, in chapter 24, is doing exactly what Moses did and is calling the people to remember both their purpose, their mission, and their commitment. He is reminding them that the God to whom they are yoked in love is a God who freed them. A God who freed them to be a blessing to the whole of creation. They are to be a different kind of people. A people who serve God by being and enacting a different kind of society.

In effect, Joshua is offering them freedom to walk away from God and their covenant with God.

It is the same with the evangelists of the New Testament. They, like Joshua, narrate God's mighty acts in the person of Jesus. They enumerate God's grace. And, like all the history of Israel, the Evangelists remind us who chose to follow this Christ that we are called to remember that we too are to be a blessing of peace - a blessing of shalom to the world. We are called into a particular community that is to remember the poor, to raise up the powerless, to share what they have achieved, and to never forget the God who loves and offers freedom so that all may be united in one living body. It is not so much that the Gospel reflects or copies the speech of Joshua in this chapter, or the speech of Moses before him. No. It is that the speeches of Moses and Joshua are given by the power of the Holy Spirit and they are a living word to be incarnated in the people who have a relationship with God. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

All Saints A November 1


Prayer


Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Great is the multitude, God of all holiness, countless the throng you have assembled from the rich diversity of all earth's children.  With your church in glory, your church in this generation lifts up our hands in prayer, our hearts in thanksgiving and praise.  Pattern our lives on the blessedness Jesus taught, and gather us with all the saints into your kigndom's harvest, that we may stand with them and, clothed in glory, join our voices to their hymn of thanksgiving and praise.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and riegns 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

"What would it mean if we honored those whom God honors? What would happen if we stopped playing all of our culture's games for status and power and privilege? What would it cost us if we lived more deeply into justice, and mercy, and humility?"

Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Epiphany 4, 2005. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.


Jesus saved for last the ones who side with heaven even when any fool can see it's the losing side and all you get for your pains is pain. Looking into the faces of his listeners, he speaks to them directly for the first time. "Blessed are you," he says.

You can see them looking back at him. They're not what you'd call a high-class crowd—peasants and fisherfolk for the most part, on the shabby side, not all that bright. It doesn't look as if there's a hero among them. They have their jaws set. Their brows are furrowed with concentration.


"Beatitudes," Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words.


Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text


This week most congregations will be celebrating All Saint's Day.  Yet, as we we do so we attempt to weave a major Feast of the Church into the Scripture from Matthew.

I want to step back and take a look at Matthew first; then see how we might allow the scripture to speak to our Feast.

As we look at Jesus’ ministry, it is important to see that there is a framework at work in Matthew.
In the first chapters of the Gospel of Matthew we see that the individuals who come in contact with Jesus do not have to do anything, Jesus is not teaching about discipleship, he is not charging them to reform the religion of the time -- he is simply giving of himself.

Jesus is intentionally offering himself to those around him. The people in the first chapters of Matthew and in the Sermon on the Mount receive Jesus; this is the primary interaction taking place between those following and the Messiah himself.

Jesus is giving of himself to others.

The Sermon On the Mount begins in Chapter 4.25 and the introduction runs through 5.1. We are given the scenery, which is the mountain beyond the Jordan (previous verse). This continues to develop an Exodus typology which is the foundation of Matthew’s interpretive themes in these early chapters. It follows clearly when one thinks of the passages leading up to this moment: the flight from Egypt, baptism and now the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew’s Gospel the first five chapters parallel the Exodus story. So, Jesus now arrives at the mountain where the law was given.

The structure of the following verses are beautiful and I offer them here so you can see how they play themselves out in a literary fashion (5.3-5.10).
5.3 Inclusive Voice: Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

5.10 Inclusive Voice: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven

5.4 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be comforted

5.9 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be called sons of God

5.5 Future Active Voice with Object: They shall inherit the earth

5.8 Future Middle Voice with Object: They shall see God

5.6 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be satisfied

5.7 Divine Passive Voice: They shall have mercy
Matthew uses these formulas and structures throughout the Gospel.
Scholars tell us that the classical Greek translation illustrates the pains that Matthew took as he rewrote Luke’s and Q’s Beatitudes to create the parallels we see. Matthew also writes so carefully that when he is finished, there are exactly 36 words in each section of the Beatitudes (5.3-5.6 and 5.7-510). This combined with the parallels highlight the two sections that must have been meaningful to the church at Antioch (comprised of those who have fled persecution).
5.3ff describes the persecuted state of the followers of Jesus

5.7ff describes the ethical qualities of the followers of Jesus that will lead to persecution

This view is taken from the work of Allison and Davies in their hallmark text on Matthew's Gospel, volume 1.

It is easy to see here in the Beatitudes offered by Jesus that these words are blessings, not requirements. The teachings therefore are words of grace.

In the initial teachings of Jesus’ ministry, healing comes before imperative statements, here Jesus preaches that grace comes before requirements and commandments. This is a perennial Christian teaching: one must receive first before service.

The difficulties required of followers of Jesus presuppose God’s mercy and prior saving activity.

The Beatitudes are clear that the kingdom of God brings comfort, a permanent inheritance, true satisfaction and mercy, a vision of God and divine son-ship. This may be Matthew’s most important foundation stone within the salvation story. We are given, through grace, our freedom to follow.

We are like the Israelites and sons and daughters of Abraham, delivered so we may follow and work on behalf of God.

The Beatitudes also are prophetic as in the passage from Isaiah 61.1. Jesus is clearly the anointed one. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah, bringing Good News to those in need. Furthermore, the words of Jesus are the result of the prophecy and so they set him apart from all other teachers.

The beatitudes then are also words which not only promise Grace to the follower, they fulfill the prophetic words of the old message from Isaiah: Jesus was meek (11.29; 21.5), Jesus mourned (26.36-46), Jesus was righteous and fulfilled all righteousness (3.15; 27.4, 19), Jesus showed mercy (9.27; 15.22; 17.15; 20.30-1), Jesus was persecuted and reproached (26-7). The beatitudes are illustrated and brought to life in Jesus’ ministry, they are signs that he stands in a long line of prophets offering comfort to God’s people, and he is also clearly the suffering servant who epitomizes the beatitudes themselves. Origen wrote that Jesus is offering this grace he fulfills and embodies his own words and thereby becomes the model to be imitated.

The Beatitudes are words of proclamation. Are we in a place where we can articulate Jesus’ story and life as a fulfillment of God’s promises to his people? God's promise to me personally?

The Beatitudes are words of mercy. Are we in a place where we can hear Jesus’ words for us? Have we allowed ourselves to be saved before we begin to work on Jesus’ behalf?

The Beatitudes are words of care for the poor. Are we in a place where we can hear Jesus’ special concern for those who are oppressed in the system of life? Are we ready to follow him into the world to deliver his people imitating the work of Moses and Jesus?

As we reflect then on the Feast of All Saints it is more clear how this passage might speak to the church. We understand the saints of the past (holy and common) and the saints of today, along with the saints of tomorrow to be those who in their lives offer us a vision of this grace, mercy, and vision for God's special friends - the poor.  Who are the ones we look up to from the past?  Who are the one's in our life today?

Can we see the potential of saints yet unknown to us already out int he world working and serving? Can we be open to the next saint who is yet to cross our path and offer us a vision of the kingdom of God?

Excerpt from Holy Women Holy Men

In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.

Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day—as a sort of extension of All Saints—on which the Church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church. It was also a day for particular remembrance of family members and friends.

Though the observance of the day was abolished at the Reformation because of abuses connected with Masses for the dead, a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.  (page 664)

Some Thoughts on 1 John 3:1-8

"It may be significant that this text is full of indicative verbs, not imperative."
Commentary, 1 John 3:1-7, Brian Peterson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"The church's integrity wells up from, and is channeled by, God's calling (3:1b; 3:3). To be a saint is to live in the same love by which God has loved us (3:16-18; 4:7-12)."
Commentary, 1 John 3:1-3 (All Saints A), C. Clifton Black, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"We get Christian hope confused when we think that our hope is based on now nice we are, or how well we behave, or on some hidden piece of us called 'the soul' that will survive through death and destruction."
Commentary, 1 John 3:1-7, David Bartlett, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

In this letter from the Johannine community we understand that they take seriously their familial ties with God. they are the followers of God and are to be called the "children of God”. God loves them and Christ as Savior of the world has unleashed that love and it now claims them. They are God's children.  

New Testament scholar David Bartlet writes:
...John's Gospel points to a future hope. Sometimes that is a kind of individual future hope: "In my Father's house are many dwelling places... I will come and take you to myself" (John 14:2-3). At other times, there seems to be hope more like what we find in 1 Thessalonians, i.e., hope for a general resurrection at the end of time. "Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29).

The author reminds the readers that Jesus was not listened to in his own lifetime and so it is unlikely that his children will be listed to... nevertheless, they are his children now and in the future. There is an understanding that what they experience now is only in part what they will experience once they are unified with God in his kingdom.  They do not know what that will be like but as his children they have a sure and certain hope.

So, the author tells the reader, live a virtuous life.  Live an ethical life.  Be like God - good and pure.  Now what is important here is that we are not simply talking about a set of words that we interpret through our own lens. We must, we must, understand that for John and his readers in the community to be good and pure is to be like God who loves.  We are to love. Love love love love - Christians this is your call...as the old song goes.  I like how Loader (one of my faves) says it:
It is not about how many morality boxes we can tick to qualify ourselves as righteous or as a child of God. It is about whether love flows. Here, too, it is not about how many acts of love we summon up our energies to perform - ticking the goodness boxes, but how much we open ourselves to receive the love which God gives, which in turn flows through us to others. Love gives birth to love. Later the writer will speak of our loving because we were first of all loved by God (4:19). The author might say today: no amount of doing good deeds and no amount of having impressive spiritual experiences will count for anything if it is not connected to a real change that is relational. It may be cosmetic goodness and religion, but without that love it is nothing much. Paul made much the same point in 1 Corinthians 13.
We are saints and children of God because God makes us so...we are loved. We are the be-loved of God.  And our response to this be-lovedness is to in turn love others.  This is the chief if not the primary work.  How we doing with that I wonder? I wonder how God thinks we are doing with that?

I think rather than pointing a finger at our people and telling them to love more. Giving them new boxes to check and new tasks to fulfill...perhaps we might simply begin by loving them and by telling them that they are loved. Tell them you love them. Tell them they are loved. By all means, please, tell them God loves them. 


Some Thoughts on Revelation 7:9-17


"Led by their Shepherd-Lamb, God’s redeemed people will come through the tribulation into God's new Promised Land.”
Commentary, Revelation 7:9-17 (Easter 4C), Barbara Rossing, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"So much of the imagery is strange if not, perhaps, even estranging. Yet it is a way of asserting hope for people who faced hopelessness. It is a way of making God central and keeping the vulnerability of God in our vision."
"First Thoughts on Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


All that is needed is faith in God through Jesus Christ that the great abyss has already been traversed and an eternal bridge erected. 

In the New Testament, this is the idea that it is only through God’s work upon the cross – that is the death of Jesus that one enters the reign of God on the last day. Today’s lesson from Revelation describes that day and completes the prophetic words of Jesus.

Our great sightseer into the dream of Revelation sees the many who are saved. When wondering who the people are he is told, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The sign of Jonah offered by Jesus, that in the last days the wedding feast will be consummated by his own death. Not by miracles at Cana nor by telling parables or working miracles. No all who enter, enter by his grace and work on the cross. It is only for us to believe that it is so. No amount of our work or repentance gets us in – only the blood of the lamb.

It is a macabre image rooted deeply in the psyche of the first century mind. Nevertheless, it is an image that reminds us of our power-less-ness in the face of death.

This second vision though is one that is to bring us hope. The passage has been paid. All is needed is faith. For those who come to believe, who come to turn over their lives in this world, the next, even in the last moment as they are faced with the reign of God their way is afforded to them. Even in the Divine Comedy all is never lost and hope has the last word. So the clothes are washed in blood that is already spilt.

So, for everyone then comes the promise: “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This is comforting apocalyptic imagery for the believer. But there are many who are living in their own personal apocalyptic world today. People who are the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and many more…the lost, the lame, the least, and the lonely… They face death today. Will there be food on the table and a roof over their heads. For those Christians who have found the depths of Sheol paved for them, then it is their work in turn to do some washing in this world. It is for the faithful to make the paths straight, the valleys high, and the mountains low for the poor who in this world have no way out of Sheol. For the faithful they are to carry their own cross and lay down their own lives and sacrificially provide for the other who faces death as a daily companion. In this way then the promise of relief is not something to be received in death only but may be received by being given in life now.

I believe the author of the Book of Revelation was writing about his own present time. It may provide hope today as well and it may even provide transformation of community life. But we will have to get over the idea of being afraid of death. It is such a trivial thing if we but believe and then act out our belief.