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.

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Proper 25B/Ordinary 30B/Pentecost 23 (Reformation Day) October 28, 2018



Prayer
God our Savior, from the ends of the earth you gather the weak and the lowly.  You make them a great and glad multitude, refreshed and renewed at your hand.  Throwing off the burden of sin, they run to the Teacher for healing.  Let the faith Christ bestows restore to the church this vision of the gathering that embraces the weary and wounded of this world.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Some Thoughts on Mark 10:46-52


"...what would you do if failure didn't matter? What would you endeavor, dare, or try? What mission would you attempt, what venture would you risk, what great deed would you undertake?"


"Bartimaeus, Luther, and the Failed Reformation," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.


"How do we retell the story without sidelining blind people today? That is easier said than done. If we play up the miraculous we heighten the pain where healing is not happening and may be impossible. Piety can easily race by in the euphoria of symbolism and the only abiding message is; we are irrelevant and you are irrelevant."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 22, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"If your prayer isn't answered, this may tell you more about you and your prayer than it does about God. If God doesn't seem to be giving you what you ask, maybe he's giving you something else."

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





Jesus has been teaching that the society of the kingdom of God is one marked by servanthood rather than rank or power.  He has prophesied that his own life will end as the suffering servant and that he will be raised.  He has offered a vision of a new world; a recreated world. 

Jesus has also offered an understanding of discipleship which is one in which the follower leaves the comfort of life in order to help the lives of those who are comfortless.

So it is that we come to the road side outside Jericho.  This passage is filled with drama and symbolism. 

Jesus makes his way in the business of a crowd towards Jerusalem; always with his face set like a flint to the cross.  And from the margins, from the edge of this mission, comes the cry of the blind man.  He is at first hushed by those around Jesus.  This is a reminder of how easy it is while trying to be faithful to be deaf to those on the edge who faith is intended to help.   How blind the crowd of Jesus followers is to the cries from the edge.  And, I imagine them hushing him again, and saying, "We are too busy following Jesus."  So it is the blindness of the followers of Jesus that is revealed as Bartimaeus' sight ever sharpens.

Bartimaeus knows all that is happening and in the story and he cries out.  Sometimes I think in the midst of life we are unaware of just how aware those on the margin are - prophetically aware. This hit me squarely as I read through Joel Marcus' textual exegesis and he offered this from a boot entitle Memory; about the holocaust: 
The uncanny effect of this sort of blind sight is evoked by Douglas' description of a Holocaust survivor who wore dark glasses during her testimony at Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem:  "She appeared, then, to be blind (though she was not), an impression made all the more striking as the dramatic force of her testimony found focus in the words 'I saw everything.'" (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 763)
As the passing diorama makes its way, Bartimaeus shouts ever louder.  Jesus stops, invites his petition, and then heals him.  The response to this event is the throwing off of his clothes, the clarity of sight about the world around him, and then Bartimaeus follows.

Joel Marcus and others remind us that the passage is very much linked to early baptismal rites.  For example this one from Marcus' commentary.

Baptizand: "Have mercy on me!"
Deacon, in the role of Jesus to the congregation: "Call him."
Congregation: "Be brave, get up, he's calling you."
Baptizand removes his clothes and approaches the deacon.
Deacon to Baptizand: "What do you want me to do?"
Baptizand: "I want to be illuminated."
Deacon, baptizing him: "Your faith has saved you."
(Mark, vol 2, 765)
So in our passage today we are given wonderful new ways of seeing ourselves and our following.  We are able to see the world of servanthood to the comfortless.  We are to interpret our own faith journey in light of being given sight to see and to follow.  We are given an encouraging word to cast off our clothes, to move from the edge into the center of the stage, and to participate in the new ways of this strange emerging kingdom of God.

We should be careful first not to punish our own crowd that will sit before us as preachers this weekend.  We should remember they too are there like Bartimaeus, on the fringe of society, doing something most people will not do this week's end - go to church. They are there calling out for a bit of grace and mercy and kindness. They are calling out for love. 

The preacher has a dual task this week's end, both to stop as Jesus did, and remind the blind of his love for them. To stop and pause for a moment so that their sight might be restored and so they can follow along the way.  That they might cast off their clothes that bind them, so that they may enter the crowd of life and along the way help others to see as well. 

The passage reminds me that the Christian Church is not a society of the wealthy who redistribute their wealth for the sake of the poor, but a community of blind people seeking clarity of sight so that we might in turn help our brothers and sisters see.


Epistle Hebrews 7:23-28

"While of major interest in the first century, most Christians today do not think much about the nature of the priesthood. Amidst this comparison, however, the author makes some very important statements about how Jesus accomplished human salvation."

Commentary, Hebrews 7:23-28, Scott Shauf, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"He died once; he intercedes perpetually."


"One reason that Jesus the High Priest can offer this eternal salvation is that he can focus his priestly work on intercession because he has already taken care of the problem of sin. Other priests are daily occupied with sin removal (Hebrews 7:27)."

Commentary, Hebrews 7:23-28, Amy L B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.




Jesus is the new high priest and the author here reiterates this work in case the reader/hearer did not understand the first time.  So it is that we are told (as if from a different vantage point) that Jesus is able to provide this once for all intercession on our behalf. The cross of Christ is a one time victory for all sin and not a rehearsal each time there is sin. Christ is not continually offering Christ's self for humanity but instead this one time defeat and victory over sin and death is a "sufficient sacrifice once offered" as our prayer book liturgy reminds us.

This one time offering is therefore also a better offering than human priesthood and a new and better covenant than the many old ones. For here in this new covenant we are redeemed forever and marked as Christ's own.

Furthermore, this offering is perfect(ed) in that it is God's offering instead of our own human offering. It is God's offering and of such a quality that it is everlasting. 

Sometimes, I think our faith is tested not by our belief that God reached across the cosmos to embrace us and has forever mended the gulf between us but that such an occurrence and work of Jesus is forever. I think we sometimes lack the belief that Christ is victorious. So we might say that we know that Christ is our intermediary, our great high priest, but we should get to work saving ourselves just in case.

In this lack of faith in Christ's sufficient work on our behalf we return to an old law. In this old law we are the priest who is completely imprisoned by our sin, brokenness, and fallen-shortness of the kingdom. Here we must continually offer new sacrifices trying to live into some ideal. Here we attempt to acquire a list of qualities that we might repeatedly purify ourselves. Each of our sacrifices, like the sacrifices of the religious priesthood of Jesus' own day, made over and over again for the sake of salvation. 

The high priesthood of Christ is once and for all, there is no more sinful economic exchange required on our part.




Some Thoughts on




Links for Reformation Day lessons from Textweek.com



Sermons Preached on these Passages

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Proper 24B/Ordinary 29B/Pentecost 22 October 21, 2018

Prayer
Maker and author of life, in Jesus we have found the path to wisdom.  Let us, therefore, be bold to approach you, not seeking privilege but asking mercy.  Let us live among on another, not seeking to be served but to serve.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Mark 10:35-45


"Within our hearts are both humility and arrogance, respect for others and a desire to outshine them, a desire to serve and a craving to be served. The one you feed wins."

"Stupid Disciple Tricks," Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2012.

"Maybe Jesus 'buys us back' by showing us a way out of the devastating cycle of looking for glory, joy, and peace on the world's terms by teaching and showing us how to receive by giving, how to lead by serving, and how to find our lives by losing them for the sake of the people around us that God loves so much."


"Glory, Glory," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"As his disciples flee into the darkness with their swords, he is dragged away by Caesar?s men who come after him with the sword. The sacrificial victim of "civilization as we know it," he bids us to let go."

"On Being a Survivor," William Willimon, The Christian Century, 1986. At Religion Online.





So we begin our text with a wonderful interchange between James, John, and Jesus.  I imagine that their response is due to their excitement about his resurrection and the prospect of a new dominion that is about to burst forth from the empty tomb; humans always personalizing the possibilities as they relate to themselves.  Jesus answers twice: what they ask is not his to grant; moreover, the way of discipleship in the new dominion of God is a way of service.

I am so grateful to Joel Marcus for drawing my attention to Daniel 4:17; 7:9ff; 12:2; and Isaiah 53:11ff.  The Gospel theme of sharing the Good News is one always tempered, not by majesty, but by service.  God gives power to the lowliest, and they serve like the Son of Man.  Just as he gives his life for many, bearing their iniquities, so too they are to be like him and serve.  (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 752ff)

Henri Nouwen wrote: 

Can you drink the cup? Can you empty it to the dregs? Can you taste all the sorrows and joys? Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring? I realized these were our questions. 
But why should we drink this cup?  There is so much pain, so mcuh anguish, so much violence, Why should we drink the cup?  Wouldn't it be a lot easier to live normal lives with a minimum of pain and a maximum of pleasure? 
After the reading, I spontaneously grabbed one of the large glass cups standing on the table in front of me and looking at those around me -- some of whom could hardly walk, speak, hear, or see -- I said: 'Can we hold the cup of life in our hands? Can we lift it up for others to see, and can we drink it to the full?  Drinking the cup is much more than gulping down whatever happens to be in there, jsut as breaking the bread is much more than tearing a loaf apart. Drinking the cup of life involves holding, lifting, and drinking.  It is the full celebration of being human. 
...Just letting that question sink in made me feel very uncomfortable.  But I knew I had to start living with it. (Can you Drink The Cup, Ave Maria Press, 1996)




For Jesus, this cup is one marked not by the empty power of worldly leaders but is marked by the service of others: the holding of others in one's arm like the children; the lifting of others like those  who brought the sick to Jesus; and the drinking with others who no one would dare to drink with because of their uncleanness.  Jesus "radicalizes" his statement, he makes is a horrific idea by using the word "slave".  He offers this radical work of being bound to another as the image of servitude.  Jesus is bound to humanity, he is bound to serve, we are (if we are to be measured and counted followers of Jesus) to be bound to the neighbor and other in our life.

And, in his last words Jesus reminds them that he is bound to them and gives his life as a ransom.  He gives of himself to hostile powers in order that others may be freed from death.  I the dominion of God, in the kingdom of heaven,  life is given to the other and service is the mark of discipleship.  Citizenship is marked by service to others, Jesus teaches. 

So it is that our tradition embraces the understanding that it is important to share the Good News of God's service to his people, his love, and his grace.  It is essential to impart to others the reality of our belief that God in Christ Jesus gives completely of himself for the world and in so doing frees us.  AND, while we share the good news of new life we are also committed to giving people new life through our own service and mission.


Hebrews 5:1-10

"In actuality, the history of the high priesthood was an inglorious one, the office having become highly politicized, especially in the Maccabean and Roman periods that led into the time of Jesus. Opposition to the corrupt priesthood was one of the factors that led to the formation of the dissident Qumran community, locus of the Dead Sea Scrolls."

Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Susan Hedahl, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Why does salvation depend on a high priest who is subject to weakness, who prays in crisis, who learns what the human lot is like? Why does Jesus' service as high priest require his identification with us?"

Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Pentecost 21, Bryan J. Whitfield, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.



The author of hebrews continues in this passage with his metaphor of the high priest of Israel and Temple being supplanted by the high priest we have in Jesus.

It is Christ Jesus who is appointed by God to be the one who enters in the gulf between humans and God, he is the bridge, the gate, the shepherd to lead us from our earthly habitation into God's habitation.  Jesus is for the author the one appointed to help us in our weakness. Not unlike the priest of the Temple in Jesus' own day where the priest was the intermediary for the people to God, the author of Hebrews sees Jesus in a similar role.

Rooted in the author's own tradition we inherit in Hebrews the understanding that Jesus in his baptism is appointed for this work of reconciliation.  Like Melchizedek he is a priest forever. Interesting because Melchizedek was an ancient but faithful high priest of the the Canaanite people who comes and blesses Abram.

I would say that knowing what humans do to other humans, and especially to prophets, God in Christ Jesus is faithful even unto the death which is given him. Out of our sin, our greed, our human desire to have us stand in God's place (to be our own high priest) we execute the other - in this case the Son of God. God though uses this and does not allow death and sin to have the last word but instead is faithful to his own cause which is the binding of heaven and earth together - so it is that God redeems us and redeems our actions. In so doing then Christ is raised as a new high priest. 

I think it is important for the author of Hebrews to note that Christ becomes lower than God and the angels to undertake this work; moreover, that Christ is humble and lowly. All of this is in contrast to the priesthood of humans. 




Some Thoughts on


Sermons Preached on these Passages

Monday, September 24, 2018

Proper 23B/Ordinary 28B/Pentecost 21 October 14, 2018


Prayer
More precious than gold or silver, O God, more enduring than health and beauty, is the spirit of your wisdom: in her hands, uncounted wealth, in her company, all good gifts!  Send this wisdom from your holy heaven that we may hear and follow the Good Teacher, Jesus, who looks on us with love, and gladly forsake all lesser wealth for the unrivaled treasure of your kingdom.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Some Thoughts on Mark 10:17-31

"If we imagine Jesus looking at and loving us, I wonder what is the 'one thing missing' he would see. And what is it that he would ask us to do in order to finally be fully following him?"

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 10:17-31, David Ewart, 2012.

"The deceit of wealth is almost inescapable; the burden of guilt, both individual and corporate, impossible."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 20, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Jesus says that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Maybe the reason is not that the rich are so wicked they're kept out of the place but that they're so out of touch with reality they can't see it's a place worth getting into."

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


Oremus Online NRSV Text


In the last passage we read that Jesus invited us to embrace children and to invite children into our midst. We were told to be like the child as well.  All of these are passages wherein Jesus takes a powerless, voiceless, person without authority and shows how central they are to the dominion of God which is spreading throughout the community as he teaches, preaches, and heals people.  We are confronted then in this weeks passage with the opposite of the child (who has nothing) with a young man who has much.

The language used to describe the man is well off physically, financially, socially, and within the religious power structure of the day. He is a good man who is following all the rules set out before him and he benefits from his position.  Again, he is the opposite of the child. 
What many preachers will do this week (because I have routinely done this as well) is use this to speak about how the man does not give enough.   Jesus tells him to give it all and the man cannot so he walks away.

The reality is that the kingdom of God is a gift, it is grace.  The man simply receives it.  He cannot earn it.  Better stewardship will not earn the kingdom.  Meeting the budget will not earn the congregation a dream year of abundance, not will it provide assurance for heavenly gate entry.  The kingdom is something that is given freely.

It is with this that Jesus seems to confront the man.  It is his wealth and self assurance of perfection that is in the way of the grace God offers.  The man does not rely upon anyone or anything outside of himself and his wealth.  He is the one who fulfills the law.  Unlike the child who has nothing and is completely dependant upon God's grace and the kingdom mission; the young man has trouble coming to this place of acceptance because of his successes and abilities.

We find this sown up in the conversation between the young man and Jesus. What must he do to inherit if he has done everything?  Jesus moves from the fulfillment of the law the notion of receiving the kingdom as grace.  Human beings are alienated from God, we are different from God, we are not God.  God is good, God is graceful, and God gives and invites.  Elsewhere in scripture Jesus does speak of people as good. But it is here, for the point of reminding the young man that he is not able to enter into the kingdom without the grace of God, that Jesus uses the words from the Shema so effectively.

Jesus then speaks of the reality that wanting, coveting, desiring, and craving things just leads down a path which will ultimately distance us from God.  Jesus then speaks again of the new family being formed in the kingdom and I believe he truly hopes for the young man to follow.
The man of course walks away because, I think, he just can't trust God enough.

This it seems to me is the core of the passage and the core of Jesus' teaching in this section.  To be a little one, a follower of God in Christ Jesus, you have to trust God.  The man's inability is what saddens Jesus as he walks away.  Jesus then turns and begins to teach on how this trust in God and in the family of God is always eroded by not having enough.

Jesus says, it is just hard for people dependent upon money to receive freely the grace and dominion of God.  Wealth gets in the way.  As soon as you live as one of the "firsts," or order your life as a "first," and make your needs "first" one is in trouble and will continue to have trouble following Jesus.

Jesus again brings into the conversation talk about the new family and children - it is a family that is marked by discipleship and dependence upon grace freely given.  It will be those who lose it all in the service of the kingdom who will gain the most.  Jesus himself will model this as he descends to the cross and the valley of death. 

I think as we think and ponder what to say on Sunday we must be prepared to offer a glimpse of those things which keep us from receiving God's grace.  The passage is ultimately about discipleship. We have an intimate view of the teacher attempting to help the disciple see what it is that is holding him back from receiving grace or living in the new family of God. 
How will we help our congregations see what holds them back from faithfully walking the way of the cross?  How will we lose the binding cultural ties of being "first" in order to follow the one who is last?

Hebrews 4:12-16

"There should be no greater encouragement to us as Christians than that of the mercy and grace God promises to us, mercy and grace that are based on Christ having loved us enough to identify with us to the point of suffering and death."

Commentary, Hebrews 4:12-16, Scott Shauf, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Compassion and kindness, grace and mercy, are there when we face our times of need. This is not so much about when we fail, as it is when we face hard times and are confronted with temptations which threaten to overwhelm us."

"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 20, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.
Remember that for the author of Hebrews Christ is our great high priest. He has come to be with humanity, lower than the angels, and in both his incarnation and in his suffering, death and resurrection he has freed humanity from the power of evil forces which insure death and separation from God. Christ is the reconciling agent which bridges God and humanity and the chasm below. 

The word, the logos, is that from which all life flows. Through Christ, we proclaim, all things were made. It is through this very living word that we are known to God. It is important then that we lean into this relationship with Christ because it is this very relationship in which we are found, discovered, sympathized with us, and discovered by God. 

So it is that our great high priest, God in Christ Jesus, is our mediator and our advocate before the throne of grace.




Some Thoughts on


Sermons Preached on these Passages

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Proper 22B/Ordinary 27B/Pentecost 20, October 7, 2018

Prayer
Beyond all human boundaries, O God, your deeds of power take place, and your healing mercy is at work. Ours is not to restrict the wonders of your saving grace but to give joyful thanks for your compassion wherever we may find it. Teach us to use well the riches of nature and grace to care generously for those in need and to look carefully to our own conduct. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Mark 10:2-16

No longer running interference for Jesus--or creating interference for ourselves--we, like Abraham, know ourselves to be blessed in order to be a blessing to others, embraced by our Lord so that we may embrace others.


"Tuned Out, Tuned In," Chris Repp, Sabbatheology, The Crossings Community, 2009.

The anecdote on divorce may well derive from an historical encounter between Jesus and Pharisees busied with the issue of divorce, wanting his view. If this was anything like the earlier forms which most of Mark’s anecdotes took, it probably had as its punch line a typical two-liner quip on the part of Jesus: ‘What God has yoked let no human being separate.’ We have already found such quips in 2:9; 2:17; 2:27; 3:4; and 7:15. It is clever: of course it is outrageous for human beings to undo what God has done up, to un-join what God has joined. The effect was to shift the focus from what might justify divorce to the more fundamental issue: breaking apart what God has joined must be seen as departure from God’s intention.
"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 18, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


"A text like this already has taken, and will continue to take on, a life of its own given the current circumstances surrounding and challenges to definitions of marriage. A sermon, whether explicitly or implicitly, needs to acknowledge these assumptions."
Commentary, Mark 10:2-16, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.



We begin our lesson today with a conflict between the religious leaders of Jesus day and himself.  Perhaps they are hoping to catch him in debate; perhaps to make him look foolish. They are engaging in a discussion on marriage and divorce.

Jesus switches the conversation which begins focused upon human beings and reorients it towards a focus upon the nature of God to bring people together and build up communities.  Jesus is clear that God draws us together and that we often defile this drawing together. 

We could spend quite a bit of time on the nature of marriage as offered in the Gospels.  I think Joel Marcus on Mark, vol 2, does a good job of taking a part Jesus and Paul's teaching on marriage.  I want to focus on the broader theme which appears when we attach the second part of the lesson. 

If we take a step back what we see is that God is constantly drawing people together.  Mark's Gospel is a gospel of the new creation a recreation of drawing people together.  God is drawing people who are different together and Jesus is clear that we are the ones who defile these relationships. We defile marriage relationships and we defile communal relationships. We do this by turning away from the "other".  We are drawn away from the "other" into relationships that boost our power, our voice, and our authority.  We engage in relationships that diminish the "other" with whom we are bound. 

God is remaking a new community. God in Christ Jesus as bridegroom is recreating the world and his bride the community of "little ones" (the term Mark uses for the first followers of Jesus).  So as we look and we read we must remember that the defilement of this wedding garment will take place with Peter at the cock's crow. It will be the crowd who shouts "crucify him." 

Jesus knows all too well perhaps the fickle nature of God's people. Perhaps he is already aware of how easily they will be drawn to save themselves while he makes his way to the cross.  Regardless what we see as he offers this message is that God is working in the world. God is bring and joining and knitting the fabric of creation and disparate lives together in Christ.  God is joining many together and how easily we will chose another spouse and let loose the one who troubles us.

So it is that Jesus then offers an icon of this joining together.  Jesus chooses the weakest, the poorest, the most powerless as an example of God's faithfulness.  While the crowds and even followers will chose another lover of convenience, God will be faithful and will reach out and continue to love and embrace God's friends the poor and those in need.

Jesus embraces a child and in so doing he is offering us a view that God embraces the lowly. The children have no voice, no cultural value, an no political or religious worth.  As Jesus embraces them he offers a vision of the kingdom of God that exists for those who are outside of the world's systems of power and authority. Just as Jesus is continuously clear with his followers that he has come for the sinner and not the righteous, so too here at the end of our reading he shows us through this physical embrace, through access to himself, that God is present in the world for just such as these.  He blesses, he touches, and he embraces those wholly other.

God is faithful. God will not chose a marriage of convenience with the righteous, but the God we believe in will chose a marriage of trial with the very ones most in need.

As I reflect on both of these pieces, here combined into one reading, I realize that I am blessed by God. I am the other. I am one who is loved and upon whom God's grace falls.  For my sins, for those things done and left undone, and so I am sure that God loves me and God embraces me. I am beloved of God and I trust that God will be faithful no matter how often I stray into convenience and ego satisfaction.

And, at the same time I am keenly aware that in my powerful, loud voice of authority, and influence I must be challenged to look around me and see those to whom Jesus is embracing.  I must own my own unfaithfulness.  I think this lesson always reminds me that our lord will always be about embracing those who live and move and have their being in my blind spots.  God have mercy on my soul for not seeing my own infidelity to the join the wedding feast of our Lord - the kingdom of God, the dominion and mission of God.


Some Thoughts on Hebrews 1:1 - 2:12


"In the city of Macon, Georgia, the Harriet Tubman African-American Museum honors the memory of the 'Black Moses,' the best-known conductor on the Underground Railroad..."
Commentary, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Pentecost 18, Bryan J. Whitfield, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.


"...Hebrews holds together a profound image of Jesus as God's very reflection with a very earthy and human figure just like us. That reinforces also our understanding of God and of the spiritual life not as something from or in another world, but as something which fully enters the here and now of flesh and blood."
"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 18, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


"The concept of incarnation is an affirmation that Jesus really and truly does show us what God is like. When we look at Jesus, we see him embracing the ones nobody else would embrace. We see him confronting the religious people with the falseness of their self-righteousness. We see him forgiving sinners and restoring people to their right mind. And we see him freely and joyfully playing with children!"
"We See Jesus," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2009.




In seminary we were taught that there is no such thing as a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament. Yet, Christians have struggled to always put into context the reality of violence throughout the scripture including in the New Testament. Somehow we have never really quite figured out how to deal with the various rules, covenants, demands, and variety of things God wants or doesn't want for us. Even Walter Brueggeman when asked about such things says something like, "I like to think God is getting over his use of violence."

The author of Hebrews is certainly trying to figure out how to speak of these things and to parse clearly the trajectory of a God who is both alpha and omega while at the same time exhibiting different behaviors and desires.

God communicates to Israel and God communicates to us. We believe as theologian Ben Johnson once remarked, a God who raised Jesus out of death and raised Israel out of Egypt.

What is clear for the author of Hebrews and for Christians there is a clarity that all is to be defined now through the words and actions of God through Christ Jesus. It is his work and words that are to define and radically focus our attention across the great expanse of God's communication with his creatures.

The Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus is a particular vision of God - revealing to us God's intent to be with us and to bridge the chasm between heaven and earth.  Sin and death will not be victorious over this divide. Moreover, that this person of Jesus is a forerunner of our humanity.

We are in some miraculous and mysterious way to become like Jesus in this world making here heaven on earth - just like we pray in the Lord's Prayer. We are to make here God's neighborhood.

What is an interesting part of this passage is the unique and important reality that the author offers a special place for humanity within the cosmos. Using the words of the psalmist (Psalm 8:4-6), the author reminds us, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor..." I once mentioned that the angels are jealous of humanity for what we have in Jesus and in the holy communion and how special this is for us in the order of things. We are blessed as humans to experience God in and through Jesus in this world and through the inbreaking of God in the incarnation and in the bread and wine. I really got skewered online when I said this. People thought it was heresy. I am of course in good company with the psalmist, the author of Hebrews
and the polish Roman Catholic St. Maximilian Kolbe who once said, "If Angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion."

We are to see who God is and how God is moving in the world through Christ Jesus as is present in scripture and in the communion itself. And what do we see? We see a God who lowers God's self and breaks God's self open for the sake of those other than God or even godlike. God becomes one with the other and so raises the other up into community. Here is the Gospel.


Some Thoughts on Job 1:1; 2:1-10 (Under Construction)

"The first two chapters of Job are the curtain raiser of the drama, the opening act of the play, designed to present to us the old God, the God whom Israel so often claimed to know and worship. A new God is set to emerge later in the play."
"Just Who Is God, Anyway?" John Holbert, Patheos, 2015.


"Perhaps the biggest question for people of faith is this: How can a God whom we believe to be good and just allow or even instigate what we see and experience as evil?"
Commentary, Job 1:1, 2:1-10, Karla Suomala, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.


"We enter this week into one of the most difficult and theologically sophisticated books of the Old Testament: the book of Job."
Commentary, Job 1:1, 2:1-10, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"The idea that God blesses the faithful, rewarding the righteous with what they deserve, and that the opposite, trials and tribulation, are signs of being out of sync with God?apparently the prosperity gospel is nothing new under the sun?is rejected outright by Job."
Commentary, Job 1:1; 2:1-10, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.


Oremus Online NRSV Text

So let us talk about Job the devil and me. 


We have a precious few weeks to talk about Job as it is rare that the book comes up in our reading. This is a very important biblical text, almost always misunderstood, and avoided because of its odd nature. Job is God's suffering servant. Quotes about Job fill our cultural vocabulary like "suffering like Job" or the "patience of Job". 


The text is a really a tale, a story, a narrative with characters of virtue. It is one meant to be told and listened to. I find it loses a bit when it is read. There is some biblical criticism that seems to prefer the unity of the soliloquies of Job to his friend's speeches. Moreover, there is some critical argument about the integrity of the text. There is a popular theological view that winds its way from the discourse that invites us to think that Job is God's suffering, patient, and faithful servant. 

We in church have a kind of popular sentimentality towards Job's cause. We recognize his complaining in our own complaints. We make Job into a modern man with modern sensibilities and philosophies. His internal angst is appealing and his speaking out against God gives voice to our own hostility towards transcendence. In Job we project all of our post modern anxiety. Out of his mouth we hear our own frustration with our adopted therapeutic moral deism. In Job we see our frustration with God's distance and our fractured narratives.

We enjoy the friends' taunts and their holding him accountable. We allow him to be our psychological scapegoat for our feelings of theological discomfort with a God who allows evil in the world. Job is a book that allows us to in a sense put God, the Bible, theology, and religion on trial for the horrors we find in the world around us.

When we do this, and this is how we so often read and talk about job, we engage, as René Girard the religious philosopher explains, 
"a naive theodicy that would serve as a paradoxical pretext to its contrary, the questioning of this theodicy, and from there the shaking up of religion, which modern interpreters consider the necessary goal of all sincere reflection on the misfortune of human beings... So concerning what is essential in the book of Job, there are two responses. The first is the patience of Job, his obedience to the will of God. The second, the modern response, is Job the rebel, Job the protester en route toward the virulent atheism of the contemporary Western world."
There is a second reading here as well. Perhaps it is a subtext to the first. This reading proposes that Job is actually poorly treated by God. This may appear like the same argument. It is but from a slightly different angle. But the angle is important. The first reading allows us to focus on God and God's seeming injustice. This second subtext is about how evil and bad things are completely exterior to human control. In other words, evil in the world is divorced from humanity. It is independent. Such a reading verges on the ancient heresy of dualism where God and the Devil have equal power and humanity is caught in the middle. You can read about dualism here or here.

[Before we go much further, I want to be transparent and say that the most influential writing that has both enlivened a rereading of Job and challenged me is the work of René Girard. If you are not new to the blog you know that I like his writing a great deal. As we parse out this passage I am going to lean heavily on Girard here - shall we say exclusively? I am going to paraphrase Girard's argument in part to continue to deepen my own understanding and in part to connect it to our present day work. I am writing with with the following in mind: Chapter 12 - Job as a Failed Scapegoat, by René Girard found in Excerpt from The Voice from the Whirlwind: Interpreting the Book of Job, edited by Leo G. Perdue and W. Clark Gilpin, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992, pages 185-207. You can read this chapter here.]

The problem as Girard points out is that both readings don't actually go with the book/story. Satan is not equal to God and must get God's approval to act. This leads us down the road that God takes our parents and our children from us. "God needs them in heaven" we suggest poorly. Or, "God is punishing us", we tell ourselves. This of course is hogwash theology and really bad pastoral and self care!

There is another problem as well. We are tempted to put Job in the part of a character in a Greek tragedy. He was happy, now he suffers. Job was a good and faithful man. Job had friends, family, and wealth. He was looked to as a leader and a man of honor. All of this is lost. In his lostness he must be being punished. The friends who taunt, cajole, and practically celebrate his demise are those who appear to speak for God. What is interesting though...is that in the Greek tragedy the hero who falls quickly understands his place in the drama. He agrees with the voices of the God's. Girard exegetes Oedipus as an example of a Greek character who "quickly agrees with his persecutors."

Job on the other hand does not do this. Job takes the role of living out the psalmist's cries to God. In this way the place of Job and his suffering in the world rejects the notion that God is the one who is making the suffering happen. The psalmist, like Job, defends himself against the "collective" voices and ideas of those who surround him like dogs surround carrion.

What do we have left? Who is this Job? How are we to interpret the texts over the next few weeks? How do we do so with integrity to the tale as a whole steering clear of poor dualistic theology and even worse pastoral approaches to evil?

What the friends mimic an perpetuate is the misinformed notion that religious violence is acceptable. In this way the friends see Job as the scapegoat. He protests his innocence, which is not a lie. Yet his friends offer a theology of violence where God punishes the deserving. But this is not at all what is happening in the story! Not at all.

What the friends do is what people do when they perpetuate mimetic violence in religion, they side with and justify the idea of a violent God. They have a false piety that places them with the lesser mythological gods of violence that demand sacrifice. Girard writes, "
"...The theology of the four friends is nothing but an expression, a little more refined and evolved, of the theology of violence and the sacred. Any sufferer could not suffer except for a good reason in a universe governed by divine justice. He is therefore punished by God, and pious conduct for those surrounding him consists in their conformity with the divine judgment, treating him as guilty and so multiplying further his sufferings. This is indeed the theology of the hidden scapegoat. Every sufferer must finally be guilty because every guilty person ends up by falling into misfortune, and if God delays a little too long in executing his justice, human beings will take it upon themselves to speed up the process. Everything is thus for the best in the best of worlds."
The poor, the migrant, the homeless, the hungry, and the abused (sexually, violently, and psychologically) must in the end deserve what they get. This is how pervasive violence is in the subtext of our religion and how it misinforms the subtext of politics and societal norms. Again, Girard,
"The evil one is cursed by God, and the worst disasters will certainly befall him. And when the friends of Job speak to him, they evoke plague, the sword, fire, flood, famine, and poison (see 20:22-29)."
Why is Job so difficult? Because we in our own time perpetuate mimetic desire, that leads to violence, and scapegoating. In this way our society and culture informs the narrative of Job instead of the other way around. 

But the theology is clear once the enmeshed culture of violence and its hermeneutical lens is removed. In this way we cannot preach this first passage without first removing the lens of religious and cultural violence; and secondly, without reading the whole passage. 

As you do so you will no doubt see at the climax Job is surrounded by his frenemies and begins to echo their own words. Here is the high point of the false God proclaimed, here is the climax of religious violence sanctioned, and here is the worst of prehistoric violent religion. See 19 when Job himself echoes the words of his friends: "Pity me, pity me, you, my friends,for the hand of God has struck me.Why do you hound me down like God, will you never have enough of my flesh?" (19:21-22)

Yet this is when things change radically. As if waking from a dream Job realizes that this theology, his religious understanding of suffering and who God is, is quite different. Here then is the God of the Bible. Here is the God of peace. Here is the God of love. Here what was hidden by our human blindness, our own self orientation, is now seen clearly. Job, as if having his eyes open, rejects the hermeneutic lens of religious violence that his friends have suggested. Job instead sees the situation that he is in as that which is perpetrated by humanity. He sees that his suffering is not condemnation by God but instead a deep theology of shalom. Job sees clearly he has been a pawn all along in the game of religious violence. Here then he takes up this theology over and against those that surround him. Job reveals, what Jesus reveals, and that is that God and God's ways are stumbling block for humanity.

Job says that the people have made him a dung heap, a burning pitch, a burnt offering. (17:6) Job has become, he suggests, their scapegoat. he has become their example. Societal violence, political violence, justifies itself by suggesting the guilt of the innocent. Here is an important precursor to Jesus...is it not? 

Job has been the sacrificial offering to help purify his community, he has been the exemplar of what happens when you do not behave, for surely this man is guilty say his friends. This is of course the opposite of the servant girl's words at the thought of Jesus unjust death, where at the same moment Peter (Jesus' friend) denies him, and should these not be the words of the reader of Job, surely this man was innocent!

Girard picks up Aristotle here and points out that we need, like his friends, for Job to be guilty. There is a lesser god mythology played out in our religious violence when we read the text. That is one of greek katharsis. This of course is not at all what is going on. Yet, so pervasive is our own civil myth and cultural religious and societal violence that we must read see Job as God's victim so that we might live just lives. Job himself points out the truth of his friends' theology, and the truth of our own when he says,
As for you, you are only charlatans,
physicians in your own estimation. (13:4)
And in a passage of closely related meaning he says:
You would even cast lots over the fatherless,
and bargain over your friend. (6:27)
The friends themselves are the ones who perpetuate the myth. Read now again, as for the first time, their words:
Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. (4:7-9)
In this theology, as we have said above, only the wicked suffer. God punishes the wicked and Job must be wicked for he is suffering. This is the lie that unravels the Gospel paradox: in death one gains life, in suffering one is Christ like, in being lost one is found. What becomes ever more clear then as we read our passage for this week and over the next few Sundays, is that Job sees clearly that humanity relishes violent religion. Moreover, the lesser violent gods of society, politics, and religions are not the God he worships. In this way Job suggests (13:7-8) that humans are taking the role of the satan - of the accuser.

Girard is brilliant in framing what happens next. He writes,
"Unable to find a defender among human beings, Job has no choice but to address himself to God. It is there that the Judaic religious genius shows through so brilliantly: Job addresses God against every probability, so it seems, for everyone agrees in saying that God himself punishes him, that God himself puts him on trial. Very often he bends before it, and the appeal that he launches is so contrary to good sense (even he himself thinks) that it sounds almost ridiculous:
Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven,
and he that vouches for me is on high.
My friends scorn me;
my eye pours out tears to God,
that he would maintain the right of a mortal with God,
as one does for a neighbor. (16:19-21)
Here is what is so beautiful. The God that Job begins to speak about is the God of the victims. This is a God who takes up for the victims. This is the God who heard people crying out in slavery. This is a God who looks for the lost. This is a God who cares about the widow and the orphan. This is a God who is interested, very interested, in the victims of political, social, and religious violence. This is a God who weeps at the religious sacrifice of Abel by Cain who is jealous. It is the same God who rejects the religious sacrifice of Isaac.

Ahhhh...and here enters the Incarnation. Here enters the Christ! Job suggests that if God could be go'el (19:25), the redeemer, the defender of the oppressed, the advocate, then this god would be truly the messianic God.

I, like Girard, recognize conflicting material here. It is the same in the story of Isaac and elsewhere. Girard generously says, "the text hesitates." It is, Girard, suggests the Holy Spirit, that supports Job in this moment over and against his friends who so clearly want to see this as religious violence. It is the living word I believe that bolsters Job in this moment.





Sermons Preached on these Passages

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Proper 21B/Ordinary 26B/Pentecost 19 September 30, 2018


Prayer
Beyond all human boundaries, O God, your deeds of power take place, and your healing mercy is at work.  Ours is not to restrict the wonders of your saving grace but to give joyful thanks for your compassion wherever we may find it.  Teach us to use well the riches of nature and grace to care generously for those in need and to look carefully to our own conduct.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 9:30-37

"As a sermon preparation strategy, use your social media platform this week to ask 'What stumbling blocks do you put in the way of others?' or 'What stumbling blocks do Christians put up that hurt the cause of the gospel in the world?'"

Commentary, Mark 9:38-50, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"It is not so much that salt ceases to be salt but it becomes contaminated by additions over time, dirt, stones, etc, so that it becomes useless. He links salt with peace. In the context salt is an image of integrity and wholeness."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 17, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.




In the first section of the narrative we are reminded by Jesus that just as creation is working God's purposes out, so too are our actions; along with the actions of others. We are involved in minor and major ways in building up the kingdom of God.  Notice that the statement from Jesus is not, "You are either with us or against us." But rather, Jesus offers a positive statement that if someone is working with us this is good.  Here we have the key positive message that frames the rest of our reading today.  Jesus is saying that we are to be working with one another and that we are to see that when others work with us (regardless of their place in or outside our community) they are working towards a positive end.  They are working towards and in concert with the laborers in the vineyard who are building God's dominion.

I think this is a very difficult piece of Gospel wisdom. Perhaps it is difficult because we are so rooted in our ancient reformation war, I don't know.  The reality is that we are being called to spend time focusing on building up the basileia - the dominion of God.  And, we are to not spend time talking about how they (over there) do it wrong.  Even though as humans we would rather, by our nature, spend most days pointing towards other Christians in our own denomination and outside, take their inventory, and help them see that they are doing it wrong.  Moreover, we are sure they are appreciative of this help.

It is as if Jesus is lifting up our eyes and saying, "Now stay with me.  Stay with me.  Stay focused on our work."

As soon as he does this we receive from him some more teaching. Remember, as in last week's lesson, Jesus is teaching, and teaching, and teaching. So, in the next verses we see Jesus taking up this notion of focused attention on the kingdom of God, and like a jeweler reviewing a stone, he turns his subject in the light and offers us a vision of our work.

These special sayings are in Jesus' time not meant literally but allegorically. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 690)  Even Philo, the Jewish philosopher and biblical scholar living circa Jesus, understood these sayings as images or symbols and necessary for teaching.  Key to this understanding seems also to be the underlying notion that those who are lame in life are made whole in the afterlife. I don't particularly want to go down this road of discussing the afterlife. My intention though is to point out that Jesus is proposing that it is better to live life wholly supportive of the Gospel.

First we have the person who offers the cup of water.  This person's tiny action, Jesus points out, will have a momentous impact on the kingdom of God.  Jesus' words about the "little ones" is a reference not to children but the emerging Christian community.  It is a reminder, as in the passage before, that we are to work together and towards the kingdom in our small and big actions.  We are not to get in the way of people. Certainly, Jesus is clear that those who get in the way of the kingdom will suffer for it.  Like the cup of water, getting in the way of the kingdom in small and big ways will also manifest itself in the future. 

Then Jesus turns to the Christian community.  He says to the "little ones" themselves: life is better with all your parts and a lot less sinning.  Like in Matthew's gospel (18:6-35) he first offers a vision of a kingdom in this world with all the parts of the body of Christ working in concert.  Don't be looking at how others are doing it; Christian communal discord itself is not helpful in the kingdom of God. 

Furthermore, Jesus asks his followers, while paying less attention to others, pay more attention to themselves.  Jesus is saying if your own hand offends you don't commit sin, if your foot offends you don't put it anywhere you may commit sin, if your eye offends you don't think about committing sin.
And, like in Matthew's gospel we see some metaphorical connections with sexual sin being one of Jesus' concerns.  I'll let you read Joel Marcus for a more in depth study of the metaphors.  (Marcus, 697)

Just as we are dissuaded in the beginning of the passage from a notion that the kingdom of God will only be for a particular sect of Jesus followers doing it right, in this passage we are not left believing that simple communal division or sin is the goal of his teaching.  Then, Jesus continues by speaking about salt.

Jesus says we will be salted with fire.  In my opinion (choosing one of the scholastic sides in this debate) Jesus is saying that fire will refine in a positive way.  Furthermore, that we are to be careful and keep our salt flavorful. Finally, Jesus says that this flavorful salt is a metaphor or sign of our inner harmony with God and God's kingdom and our eternal harmony with our neighbor.  Salt, a metaphor for wisdom, is part of living life with Jesus.  Jesus says, "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”    Be wise, and live in harmony with one another.  Be wise and work together.  Be wise, and build the kingdom together.

So we end where we left off.  Selfish behavior, sectarianism, disunity, intolerance, creating conflict, and the rest of basic human behavior will lead us away from the kingdom of God.  We find ourselves creating community that is out of sync with God's Garden Social Imaginary. Such action, Jesus is clear, will derail the work of the community that even now is seeking to build up the kingdom of God through God's mission.

Yet, Jesus invites us to share, be one with our brothers and sisters, to stop and step away from the things that draw us from the love of God, and to be filled with God's wisdom.  God in Jesus Christ is offering us a communal love instead of a religion which is focused on individual loneliness.  We are being shown the wisdom of God in living together and for one another; as opposed to living for ourselves alone.

So this week as you and I take the pulpit perhaps we might all think about offering a message of communal tolerance, sharing, virtue, and peace.  After all, everyone already knows how millstones work and what if feels like to have one around your neck.


Some Thoughts On James 5:13-20


"The words about faith and works are dotted with examples about how others are to be treated. The plight of the sick, then, is not that they simply pray by themselves and have an individual faith. The community is to gather; this seems to be a central dynamic of the understanding of the healing."

Commentary, James 5:13-20, Micah D. Kiel, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

"Not only are the prayers of the righteous powerful, James reminds us that the prayers of the righteous are effective. Prayer still changes things and it changes people."

Commentary, James 5:13-16, Christopher Michael Jones, The African American Lectionary, 2008.



We continue to make our troubling way through James.  Some scholars think that this last bit of James is actually a sermon, regardless we come to the conclusion with an eye to the work of prayer. We have already been speaking about our response to God's grace and the work we must be about if we are to immolate the Christ we claim to follow. Now we are to bathe that work in prayer.

Pray in and out of season, whether we are happy or sad, in good health  or bad. We are to call upon God and make our petitions known.

Using the image of anointing oil for healing we are to anoint all that ails us with prayer.

We are to pray for the leaders of the church, for each other, pray for the righteous and pray for the sinner. Confess your sins and I will confess mine.

When praying we might be mindful of Luke 18:9-14: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The truth is that we are all sinners and we have all fallen short. We are saved by grace alone to be sure. We should always be wary of praying for others and what we might pray for them. We might be wise to take James' prayers and pray them fervently always eager to confess our sins rather than to pray for the others' sinfulness.

Prayer is a powerful tool. We know it helps with healing, it helps with community, it enables us to come into the nearer presence of God. If we pray for our enemies we will learn to love them. If we pray for brokenness we may find a way of peace. If we pray for healing we may obtain it.

Typically the prayer of the religious leader mentioned by Jesus doesn't go very far except to make the person praying more distant and separate from God.

So with humility, gentleness, and honesty approach the altar of God and pray to him asking for mercy, forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, grace, and love.


Some Thoughts On Esther 4:1-17; 7:1-10; 9:20-22

"If you haven't ever read the book of Esther, read it now. It's not long, and you will need the whole story to preach this text. You will immediately notice that the book of Esther reads almost as a stand-alone text within the biblical canon. "
Commentary, Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.


"Not content with having saved their people and taken care of Haman, Esther and Mordecai used their new power to orchestrate the slaughter of seventy five thousand of their old enemies. The whole unpleasant account is contained in The Book of Esther, which has the distinction of being the only book in the Bible where the name of God isn't even mentioned. There seems every reason to believe that he considered himself well out of it."
"Xerxes, Esther, Haman, and Mordecai," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.


"The Book of Esther understands well the challenges of living in a world where one might have to juggle and negotiate different, even conflicting, identities and loyalties– one political, one ethnic and religious."
"Esther and the Politics of Identity," Amy Merrill Willis, Political Theology, 2012.


The humor of the book of Esther is reflected in Purim celebrations (the annual Jewish festival that commemorates the story of Esther). At Purim, participants dress up in costumes, put on Purim shpiels (humorous plays), and generally have a raucous celebration. When the name of Haman comes up in the reading of the scroll of Esther, it is drowned out by booing and noisemakers. When the names of Esther or Mordecai are read, they are cheered. There is even an ancient tradition from the Talmud instructing Purim celebrants to drink until they are “unable to differentiate between the phrases ‘bless Mordecai’ and ‘curse Haman’” (Megillah 7a).2

... Here, then, is one place where this humorous, raucous story of Esther might lead us: to the understanding that in the ordinary events of life, and sometimes in the not-so-ordinary events, in the coincidences and chance encounters of our days, we are called and claimed by God. And we may even, like Esther, find the courage to answer that call.

Commentary, Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

Oremus Online NRSV Text


After being persuaded by God through Mordecai, Esther goes to king Ahasuerus. When he asks what her request is, she replies that she wishes him to save her people from death. Part of the bloodshed of this parable like story is the continued violence that is rooted in desire and played out scapegoating all in its path.

While a fun story of evil, deception, and heroes played out at Purim, it is nothing less than the same age old tale of jealousy, hate, revenge.

Yet the story is about call and vocation too. It is about the ordinary person of God who seeks to live within God's narrative. We are found. We are invited. We are part of God's saving act. Moreover, this saving act is happening in our daily lives. 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes:
This, for me, is the ultimate statement of hashgacha pratit, that wherever we are, sometimes Hashem is asking us to realize why He put us here, with these gifts, at this time, with these dangers, in this place. Hashgacha pratit is our fundamental belief that God never abandons us, the He puts us here with something to do. Even in the worst hiding of God, if you listen hard enough, you can hear Him calling to us as individuals, saying U’mi yodeia im l’et kazot higa’at lamalchut? “Was is not for this very challenge that you are here in this place at this time?”
You don’t have to change the world to change the world. Let me explain. If we really believe, as the Mishna in Sandedrin, says Nefesh achat k’olam malei, that “A life is like a universe” then if you change one life, you can begin to change the universe the only way any of us can, one life at a time, one day at a time, one act at a time. 
We must always ask ourselves, what does Hashem want of me in this place, at this time? Because there is always something Hashem wants of us, and we don’t have to be anyone special to have a sacred task. We can just be a Jewish woman called Esther, or a Jewish man called Eddie, and yet, somehow or another, our acts might have consequences that we cannot even begin to imagine. Even though you may feel sometimes that this is a world and an age in which there is hester panim, where you look for Hashem and you can’t find him, He is still saying to us U’mi yodeia im l’et kazot higa’at lamalchut?, “Was it not for this moment that I placed you here on Earth?”
The reality is that we often think our biblical story of call and vocation begins with the disciples. Then we mix it all up in a big blender of church history, and the growth of professionalism and what we end up with is a discourse about vocation that leads to priesthood. This is not at all what our sacred texts tell us. They tell us instead that we are part of God's narrative and we are invited in our daily lives to work for good and to transformation of life for others - to the good. In this we are recreating a world that more closely resembles the garden narrative of God. 

We are in our daily lives making a difference, in a very real way, one person at a time. 

We are unaware of where our actions will lead or what they will bring. We have so created an understanding of vocation that it is about our job and money. The ancient notion was that our vocation themselves would bring about good and goods in and of themselves.

Wendell Berry in his book of essays Our Only World takes on this a bit. In his essay towards the end of the book a book “Our Deserted Country,” Berry reflects about how machines have transformed the rural landscape. This in connection with corporate farming has played a role in both capitalism and professions. The mass migration to cities is tied here clearly. Here is what Berry writes about when he reflects on work and vocation:
The idea of vocation attaches to work a cluster of other ideas, including devotion, skill, pride, pleasure, the good stewardship of means and materials. Here we have returned to intangibles of economic value. When they are subtracted, what remains is ‘a job,’ always implying that work is something good only to escape.
From an essay The Loss of the Future published in Manas, volume 21, 1968, Berry writes about how this idea of vocation and livelihood and work is connected deeply into the life of a community. He writes:
 A community is not merely a condition of physical proximity, no matter how admirable the layout of the shopping center and the streets, no matter if we demolish the horizontal slums and replace them with vertical ones.  A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.
Berry also wrote in a bit contributed to the UTNE reader in 2010 On Work the following:
The old and honorable idea of 'vocation' is simply that we each are called, by God, or by our gifts, or by our preference, to a kind of good work for which we are particularly fitted.
These thoughts resonate as we ponder the vocation of Esther. Her work of courage saves many lives and while perhaps the king has some sense of economic value in it...God does not. It is the living of life itself that has value. Her prophetic work is deeply part of the mental and spiritual condition of sharing life and space with others. It is Esther's vocation that she understands the connectedness of her own life with those of Mordecai and others. She knows that she and they have each other. And, that in her relationship to those of the court (the king included) that they are woven together too. She embodies a concern for others. She is called, she has a vocation, she is invited to a good work, it is hers to do, it is her moment. She is called for just such a time as this. Finally, it is this particularity that we share with her. We are called in our lives, in each of our lives, for just such a time as this.




Sermons Previously Preached on This Week's Texts

The Audacity of God Oct 2, 2015 Sermon preached at baptism and confirmation service at St. Mark's Bay City, Texas; Proper 21B, 2015



Thoughts on Esther and vocation from my book: Vocātiō: Imaging a Visible Church. You can order your copy here.


Esther, the queen of Persia, was called by God and given work to do. In a departure from how God dealt with Moses and Abraham, God did not come to Esther directly, but spoke to her through others. While the means may be different, God’s invitation was the same. Haman had a plan for King Xerxes to annihilate all of the Jews in the kingdom, and Esther was the agent of protection for God’s people. It was Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, who first spoke to Esther about the plight of her people in Esther 2:7, and she was immediately brought into the conflict.

Through Mordecai, God invited Esther to “go” and plead with Xerxes not to carry out Haman’s plan (Esther 4:8). Esther resisted God’s invitation delivered through Mordecai. Mordecai then said, “For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Mordecai reframed Esther’s royal standing as an opportunity, an invitation into the greater story of God and God’s people. Despite her fearful preoccupations about safety, God invited Esther to enter the plight of her people. She was to be a blessing to the world by stopping the king’s violence and saving her people.

In connection with Isaiah's call...In the midst of this sea change, Isaiah was called. Abraham heard God’s voice, Moses heard God speak from a bush, and Esther heard God speak through Mordecai. Isaiah’s calling was inaugurated by a great vision.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.” 
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. (Isa. 6:1–4)
Esther was afraid to honor God’s call because it put her at risk. Moses had other plans and believed he could not speak well enough to accomplish what God wished. Isaiah suffered no such ambivalence. He humbly accepted God’s invitation, believing that he was not worthy to go for God because he was unclean. God sent one of the creatures down and touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal taken from the altar. Then God asked, “Whom shall I send? Who will be my messenger?” God invited Isaiah to respond. Isaiah answered, “I will go! Send me!” (Isa. 6:6–8). Again, it was an invitation to go—an invitation that overwhelmed misgivings about worthiness, personal plans for the future, or bodily safety.

...We are part of this history. We are part of God’s call to Moses. We bear witness to a God who raised Jesus Christ after first raising the people of Israel out of Egypt. We are to be “a sign that God has not abandoned the world.”  God’s “work”—God’s “vocation”—is outside of the world’s powers, and different from the way these powers work. Moreover, God’s shalom can only be enacted in person, in community between human beings. Our society stands against this notion of God’s “sending” work—this community of shalom. We reject God’s invitation and refuse to go. We prefer to articulate God’s shalom as a form of sanctified political activism instead. The invitation to Moses, as with Esther, Isaiah, and Jonah, was no mere political activism. God invites us into a real community where political modes of speech have no purchase. There are political implications to shalom, but for those who accept God’s invitation, the journey quickly becomes about a community and a narrative that resonate far more deeply than any political tribalism. God’s typology, God’s paradigmatic way of inviting and sending, cannot be about clericalism alone, nor can it be about any singular social theory.

...God invites and God sends all of God’s people. This is not a professional or clerical invitation. God’s call to ordinary people undergirds all other work done in God’s name. The core of everything else the Church does is peaceful human interconnectivity. Decisions about who will do what are marginal. The most important thing the Church does is hear God’s voice of shalom. This calling finds its first home in ordinary people living ordinary lives. After all, Moses and Esther were not trained to speak to the rulers of their world. Creating the community of shalom is not a professional exercise. There is no financial or economic benefit to any of those whom God calls. God calls the ordinary, unprepared, and often tentative to be God’s voice and to create a new world in God’s name. There is certainly no safety guaranteed in this work. We must take care not to read back into these call stories the credentialed authority of the modern professional, or the erratic genius of the postmodern technological revolutionary. Heeding God’s call is not an economic exchange. There is no room for the prosperity gospel here. Looking back into these stories and making them into a legitimization of the priesthood or a defense of clericalism perverts these texts by reading them through the lens of modern religious systems. Such systems are not implicit in these narratives. The God of Sinai invites the Church to share the burden of this new shalom society equally amongst all her members (Exod. 18:13–27). Everyone has a share in the peaceable kingdom.

The powers and authorities of this world are “alien” to God’s desired kingdom of shalom.  We are invited to risk the walk with God, and to relate to each other in ways that transform the present moments we experience. The faithful who say yes to God’s invitation set aside their plans and die to self so God can undertake mighty works through our relationships. The words to Isaiah echo for us, “Whom will I send? Who will go on my behalf? Who will be my messenger?” It is a not a call to professionals or specialists. God calls all brothers and sisters into new relationships, and a new kingdom of shalom. Who will answer the invitation to go? Who will be willing to be the one sent?