Finding the Lessons

The latest blog post will be the bible study for the next week. Scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday. The blog will be labeled with proper, liturgical date, and calendar date. Enjoy.

Search This Blog by Proper and Year


Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Eve B

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Ask any parent or grandparent about the birth of a new baby and they typically can describe the event in great detail."

Commentary, Luke 2:1-14 [15-20], Karyn Wiseman, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"This holiday familiarity is a particular problem for preachers. We must keep in mind that for some, the Christmas story has been regularly heard since childhood. And yet, these annual rehearsals have failed to reveal to contemporary audiences the jarring display of ancient culture the episode describes."

Commentary, Luke 2:1-14 [15-20] / Luke 2[1-7] 8-20, Joy Moore, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"In moments of our own deeper truth we can also find ourselves facing our raw humanity, facing our own poverty, stripped of our shining garments and clad in just the basics. Then the angels are there for us."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Shaped by your hand, O God of all the generations we are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem, a land you marry and a people in whom you delight.  With Sarah and Tamar, with Rahab and Ruth, with all of our ancestors, sinners and saints, from Abraham and David to Joseph and Mary, we praise your steadfast Love and sing your faithful covenant.  make us a people firm to trust in your promises and quick to do your will.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 2:1-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Across the world on Christmas Eve and Day we shall sit huddled shoulder to shoulder singing carols and Hymns to God. Our children will be eager for gift-giving and sweets; all the while learning the enduring quality of patience. Adults will be gathered, filled with memories and hope for what might be. In the midst of messy family lives and longing for salvation, we shall gather. What I know is that on Christmas when our voices are united in praise of a God who chooses us, regardless of our circumstance, our hearts will be warmed.

We shall gather and we shall retell our sacred Christmas story in which God chooses Mary and Joseph. They were two homeless and poor individuals, forced to wander far from home because of an authority whose rule controlled their lives. With children and parents gathered around we tell the story that Jesus was brought into the world in a manger; in the midst of shepherds. All of this we remind ourselves foreshadows his inheritance to live among the poor and have no place for his head.

Yet it is neither his surroundings nor his lot in life as the son of a poor carpenter that makes our Christmas story special. On the contrary, we speak an ancient and holy truth: Jesus is God with us, Emmanuel, Lord, and Messiah. It is the angel’s words proclaimed to the shepherds that we ourselves echo on this holy of holy days.

We celebrate a living Word birthed into a particularly difficult and hard world. We celebrate light birthed into darkness. We proclaim wisdom birthed into longing. We proclaim glory in the mundane.

It is true that we will all come together as a Christian family celebrating in our own ways the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. We will find him in the midst of our holy worship. However, the Christmas message is clear, the incarnation of God is more than likely best experienced in the world around us.

“Let us go and see” is the shepherd’s cry. So let us, like them, leave our hallowed service and go and see the Christ Child present in the lives of families and friends. May we be buoyed by our mutual joy and hope. Let us with confidence proclaim that God has chosen us, his lowly people, in which to be seen and discovered.

May this season move us to realize the opportunity we have to witness to the Christ Child in the world. Let us offer hope where there is despair, faith where there is doubt, pardon where there is injury, and joy where there is sadness. Let us give food to those who hunger and warmth to those who are cold. Let us love the world into a just society. And let us redefine our neighbor as our family.

My hope for you and your family is a blessed and Holy Christmas. I wish you the greatest measure of peace and joy in the company of friends. May we with one united voice proclaim God in Christ Jesus to a world that even still groans with a longing heart for a savior. Merry Christmas.

Some Thoughts on Titus 2:11-14

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Living zealously, wisely, righteously, godly, and expectantly may, in some situations, appear as gentleness and align with the general mores of the wider society. At other times, however, that way of life may manifest as boldness and challenge to the narrative of the good life the present culture embraces."

Commentary, Titus 2:11-14, Amy L.B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Our gift back to God is an expression of our distinctive character as individuals located in a particular time and place. Drawing upon the best we have to offer, we live a new world into being."

Commentary, Titus 2:11-14, Michael Joseph Brown, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

The pastoral letters, of which Titus is one, are encouraging notes which help us to ponder the life lived as Christians. This is has been their use for many ages and is still true today. 

God comes into the world in order to enable us to live not to ourselves but to God. We are redirected by the incarnation to work and be at work on God's behalf in the world. As Jesus came to glorify God and to do so through the work of reconciliation - we too then are called to glorify God through the work of reconciliation brought about by living a life of grace. 

The letter to Titus calls us to look away from the values of culture and to find our direction and life in the work of God and God's hope. 

Just as God has given himself to us we are to, in-turn, give ourselves to God.

On this high holy Christmas day we should be mindful that the incarnation itself is this act of giving and the invitation is not only to receive the gift but to return the gift. 

I recently came across this poem/prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson for saying on Christmas Day. It is on my mind as I think of the encouragement and invitation to respond found in Titus. It is worth repeating here: 

"Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake, Amen!"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent 4B

Quotes That Make Me Think

"It is no small thing to be regarded, to be favored, especially when you are exceedingly aware that you should not be."

Commentary, Luke 1:26-38, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"It's an incredible thing to be noticed, to be called favored, to be invited into meaning work. This is the gift we can give our people this week, Working Preacher."

"Favored Ones," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

We may call the Annunciation a “joyful” mystery, but surely the experience was a mixed one for Mary herself. I believe that saying “yes” to God did indeed bring joy to Mary, but that “yes” was also the beginning of terrible responsibility and heartache for her, heartache that would extend all the way to Calvary. In the meantime, she had all of the usual anxieties of the unexpectedly pregnant (and then some). Through all the uncertainty, in the face of every overwhelming obstacle, she was able to trust that God loved and guided her, whether she sensed God’s presence or not.

Certainly this isn’t the only or the best way to interpret the Annunciation. Nevertheless, it was the version I needed that day.

Waiting For God by Elizabeth Desimone

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Great and merciful God, from among this world's lowly and humble you choose your servants and call them to work with you to fulfill your loving plan of salvation.  By the power of your Spirit, make your church fertile and fruitful, that, imitating the obedient faith of Mary, the church may welcome your word of life and so become the joyful mother of countless offspring, a great and holy posterity of children destined for undying life.  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.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 1:26-38

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Are we confused? So what is the meaning of Advent and Christmas? As we wait we might ponder and think about the meaning of our life and the life of those closest to us. If we stop for a moment we might look and around and ask what are we doing and for what are we making this great effort? If the bumper sticker wisdom is true and Jesus is the reason for the season we might pause on this Sunday and ask ourselves do our actions tell that story or a different story?

For many people life is simply moving along. We are getting by. We are making our way towards another Christmas. The anxieties about family and being together are growing. Perhaps financial stress and strain is pulling on our souls. We are ramping up and we are wondering is this or that really important?

We are going to Christmas parties and making the rounds and something in the midst of those conversations and relationships may actually seem more real, more worthwhile, than the rest of the business of the season. More people are in church and more people are thinking and wondering as well as wandering quietly about life.

We are confused. It is in fact a confusing time of year with competing messages. It is a confusing time economically. It is a confusing time as people look to the past and then forward into the future. We are a bit confused and we are hoping someone might offer some good news.

I think that is what we are waiting for...a little bit of good news. We are waiting for a little direction. On this Sunday as the fervor is building I believe people are hoping our preachers will some how give us some wisdom, some direction, perhaps interpret what we are experiencing and what it all means.

Mary was confused to be sure. Luke Timothy Johnson translates Mary's response to the angel's words as "utterly confused." (Luke, p 38) At the same time it is likely that all those who heard this story were not confused but rather expected it to be so; this is the way great births happen. This is true in other parts of scripture and it was true in the writings and story telling of Jesus' own day. We might look at the birth of Samson in Judges 13:2-7 as an example of such writings. (38)

Mary is a woman with no special position within the body of faithful people like most of us. Mary is not a particularly righteous person (according to Luke); she is not known and a pious woman but rather an ordinary citizen like most of us. "She is young in a world that values age; female in a world ruled by men; poor in a stratified economy. Furthermore, she has neither husband nor child to validate her existence." (Luke Timothy Johnson; Luke, 39) She actually is of very little value at all. I think that is actually how most people feel about themselves.

In a society which has more, spends more, consumes more, and prides itself on liberty, freedom, and happiness, we are today a body of individuals who feel pretty miserable, imprisoned by our stuff, and of very little value. I think that is why there is so much unrest in our culture. We are confused about our place in the world; our place in relationship to one another. In this world there are those who are poor in spirit and poor in individual wealth. While most Americans may not be the latter we are more often than not poor in spirit. And, in that recognition we discover how much we need one another and how much we are bonded to those who in this holiday season will go without.

It is to Mary, and to humanity, that God comes and gives grace. God gives grace and favor to all people in this moment of annunciation. God conceives in the world grace and love incarnate.

Unlike Zechariah who demands proof of this coming Christ, Mary simply wants to be less confused. She just wants to know, in a simple way, how can this be? How is it that such a simple person with no seeming value can be a bearer of God's grace and favor in the world?

After all that may be the question for which we are all seeking the answer.

Such a simple question and we seem so adrift. I think this is the great travesty in our church, that we may have forgotten the answer to this question. We in our church have forgotten that everyone, ALL people, those like us, those unlike us, those we agree with, those we don't agree with, those who worship like us, those who do not worship like us, those with money and those without money...ALL people are created in such a way that through God's power (and God's power alone) we are vessels of grace in the world.

In a world where reputations, wealth, and personal identity are more often than not built upon tearing others down we desperately need to be reminded of this simple truth - god chooses Mary particularly and in so doing God chooses all of us.

We in the mainline denominations in this world have spent a lot of time making clear who the righteous and who the righteous are not. We have chosen to use our pulpits publicly to require proof of people's righteousness. And, we have chastised used our power to make others feel bad about themselves. I believe that preachers (both liberal and conservative) do this. And, in so doing what has happened is that the rest of the plebes sancti dei (the sacred people of God) have born witness and are left wondering if they too may not be good enough. Who is? We have echoed consumerism's maxim that we are not worthy enough alone we must need something else to make us special. We have translated right belief (whatever you define that as) to be the status criteria for all believers; and in the end we have preached the leaving out of one another from God's embrace.

When we make Mary out to be anything other than the poor, culturally worthless, outsider she is - we distill a message that is not good news at all.

This Sunday, across the globe, Episcopalian and Anglican preachers will stand in pulpits and in front of their congregations and look into the eyes of virtually every kind of person that God has created. And, we have a moment. Sure some will preach for 8 minutes others longer, but in that sermon there will be but one moment in which we have an opportunity to offer God's people an answer to the questions and concerns they bring with them and set before God and God's church. They are asking, they are wondering, is it it just possible... that God's grace and favor if meant for the likes of Mary is meant for me? Overwhelmingly the answer must be a loud cry of "YES."

May we have the courage to look our people in the eye and see their hearts and speak to them and to say: "Yes, you are chosen like Mary, and God's Holy Spirit is upon you, and you are of value to God, for in you and through you God has chosen to make his Grace, favor, and love known in this world. Yes, you are the one. You have been chosen."

Some Thoughts on Romans 16:25-27

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"The image of God has been restored and believers now live in that image, witnessing and inviting all into this covenantal relationship."

Commentary, Romans 16:25-27, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"This passage places the incarnation, which we will shortly celebrate, in the broad arena of God's never ending, always existent desire for humanity to live in peace. The reconciliation that is offered in the gospel is the reconciliation to what humanity was created to be."

Commentary, Romans 16:25-27, L. Ann Jervis, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"... 'obedience of faith' ... suggests rather an ongoing relationship which includes involvement in God's life and compassion reaching out into the world."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Advent 4," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

The passage for today is the doxology for the letter to the Romans and is a routine way Paul brings his correspondence to an end - in accordance with the custom of the day.

It is a blessing and a kind of proclamation from which we have insight into Paul's understanding of his work - and perhaps our own. Paul believes that God is the one strengthening him to proclaim Jesus. Paul himself is dependent upon the Gospel itself. The living word empowers him as it has empowered the work of God on earth since the very beginning.  He is making it clear that the letter is not simply Paul writing - but God speaking through Paul to the church. God is in Paul's own ministry and writing expanding the kingdom of God on God's behalf and through the power of God.

Paul is clear that his mission is God's mission. God's mission is the inclusion of the gentile into the kingdom and it is this inclusion and expansion which is obedience.

Moreover, the God who is involved in this expansive vision of the kingdom of God is the God of the Hebrew bible - the creator God who is wise and has set all things into motion.

As we think and ponder it is wise to remind ourselves that for the Christian the incarnation is not some add on to an ancient tradition. The incarnation is itself the reconciliation moment of God's historical movement to embrace and fulfill his covenant with creation.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent 3B December 14, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"If last week we met the camel hair wearing, locust and honey eating John the Baptist, this week we do a 180 degree turn and meet a whole different John."

Commentary, John 1:6-8, 19-28, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Much of the pain and suffering around us comes from people imagining that they are the light themselves. In psychological terms, my mind turns to Carl Jung when thinking about light and darkness within us. Jung warned of the dangers of trying to live only in our light. The shadow within is dangerous when ignored."

John 1:6-8, 19-28, Rev. Todd Weir, bloomingcactus.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


God of peace, whose word is good news to the oppressed, healing for the brokenhearted and freedom for all who are held bound, gladden our hearts and fashion the earth into a garden of righteousness and praise! Sanctify us entirely, in spirit, soul and body, for the coming of the One who even now is among us, your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was, who is and who is to come, your Son, who lives and riens 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 John 1:6-28

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As I walked out on the streets of Laredo,As I walked out in Laredo one day, I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay. I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy; I see by your outfit you are a cowboy, too; We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys. If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too. (listen to it here)
I grew up listening to the Smothers Brothers and this was their version of The Streets of Laredo.  I have always loved it.

Who are you?  I can tell you who I am by telling you my life story. Ultimately, you will guess it by my clothes and by my car and by my house...the rings on my fingers and bells on my toes.  Today's Gospel lesson asks, who are you?

To get to the bottom of this we must take a good look at what is going on this week in the Gospel Text; especially since we have taken a dog leg into John's Gospel from Mark!

This week's Gospel reading is really in two parts. Those of you preparing a sermon (if doing so on this text) will find that it is really two different parts of John's introduction.  The text for Sunday is 1:6-8 and 19-28.

The first piece falls well within what many scholars believe to be the greatest part of the New Testament.  Raymond Brown in his first volume writes this about the prologue which stretches from 1:1-18.
"If John has been described as the pearl of great price among the NT writings, then one may say that the Prologue is the pearl within this Gospel.  In her ccomparisonof Augustine's and Chrysostom's exegesis of the Prologue, M. A. Aucoin points out that both held that it is beyond the power of man to speak as John does in the Prologue." (18)
I think it is important to think of these first verses well within this first piece of writing which has both a form and a purpose. Brown breaks it up this way...  The first section is 1:1-2, This is the Word of God section which offers a poetic vision of God very being.  The second section vss 3-5, reveals the Word's work in creation.  It is the light shining in darkness, shining through man's sinfulness, shining in the birth that flows from the fallen woman Eve in Jesus.  Then, and only then, do we arrive at our piece which is nestled quite nicely here.  The third portion is vss 6-9 and is John the Baptist's witness.  As Brown points out the second part is about the Word's work throughout creation, here that comes to fruition in the proclamation of God's incarnate Word Jesus. (Brown, John, vol 1, 18-17)  Many bloggers this week noted the difference between the John of Mark and the John of this Gospel.  I think the reason for the striking difference is primarily this Gospels tightly focused presentation of God in Christ Jesus. The only reason to even have John in this section is to make clear he is preparing the hearts of humankind for the incarnation, and proclamation of the Word made man.  Brown tells us that following this proclamation we return to the fourth section (continuing the ancient hymn outlined in the text) which is about the Christ of God working his mission in the world.  This is followed by the community's response.   The last of the five sections is another few words by John the Baptist but here in 14, 17-18, is John's proclamation that the Word spoken before time is this Jesus.  He is the pre-existant one.  A radical, revolutionary, and prophetic revelation is being offered in this last section for in this time the common person would have understood that God is invisible; so it makes sense that the Word spoken, the Son, is the only one who has seen this God.  The unique relation between Son and God not only helps with the contemporary thought of the day but it gives rise to our common uunderstandingof who Jesus is: God's only Son.  (For my theological followers, there is a great discussion in Brown's vol 1 on page 35 and 36 about this last section; and it is well worth reading.)

To summarize then, we have in the first two verses of our reading a very clear focus on God in Christ. Jesus is the Word, Jesus is the Word made manifest, and the word at work in the world.  As if marching to a drum we hear for the first time in these very first words what we have faithfully memorized as Christians and Episcopalians who have a Common Prayer Book and that is that the only Son of God has come into the world to save the world.  Such comfortable and hopeful words. Everything in this first section of our reading verbally illustrates that John the baptist is someone they knew but now is so transparent to the Gospel that all they see now is the coming of Christ.

On the first day of John's ministry in the Gospel he disappears as the living Word and Jesus take center stage. On the second day he offers a vision of who Jesus us; he is the transparent vessel of a living Christ - of light in the world.

In this third week of Advent a number of things are going on in our context here in the U.S.  One is what I would call the holiday breather.  We began the holiday with a thanksgiving mad dash to fill our bellies and our shopping carts.  We redoubled our efforts to get to church. And, we are now in the slump; it is the week long wWednesdaybetween Holiday and Christmas day.  Unfortunately, preachers are in the same predicament.

Into this slump we re-read a passage about John the baptist. Now, you and I both know that is not precisely true. This Sunday's passage is very different from the last.  Brown and practically all modern scholarship recognizes that John the Baptist in John's Gospel is completely different than the one portrayed in the synoptics.  He looks different that the previous version we preached on last week.  This week he is the transparent vessel of God's grace - Jesus Christ. He points only to God and to Jesus.

Just as John the Baptist in John's Gospel, you and I are as Christians intimately tied to who we say God is.

You might remember Stephen Colbert's radical statement that caused so much attention recently:

"If [America] is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it."
I will tell you that not being who we say we are is a crippling missionary stumbling block in a world that is seeking some kind of authentic view of God and Grace and hoping someone will be a true voice of transformation and life in a world of gifts and purchases whose shimmer and shine will fade a few weeks after their delivery.

The truth is that as Christians we proclaim and reaffirm that the pre-existant Word of God is Jesus Christ who is God's only son.  And that we are as a people and as individuals (as is proclaimed in the Isaiah passage for this Sunday) inheritors of a divine relationship with the unseen God through the waters of baptism.  And, that we DO believe we are related as brothers of sisters of God's family.  And, therefore we are to treat people in a certain way with special attention to God's most intimate friends - the poor.

We say and affirm as a defining part of who we are that we as Christians believe we meet God in the text of scripture and in the faces of our neighbor.

We meet God in John's proclamation. We meet this unseen God in the very speaking and retelling of the story of the incarnation of God offered here on the other side of the Jordan just as it is offered from the ambo's and pulpits of our churches.

Moreover, like John we meet God by venturing out across the doorway of our church onto the other side of the side walk where we have the opportunity to meet the living Word in the storied lives of the people we find out in the world.  We encounter God and his Son in the words of scripture which helps us to hear the same living incarnate God spoken in the story of our neighbor.

This week we did a bible study with this passage at our meeting of the governing board of the diocese.  A friend and fellow clergyman said he had been praying and thinking about this passage. He realized and offered to the group that quite frankly we were simply to be at work being witnesses to Christ (like John the Baptist and John the Gospeller); and if we were not then we were being witnesses for something or someone else.  In the latter he had in mind those folks who traveled all that way to meet John the Baptist in the desert and to shut him down for not bearing witness to what they stood for.

This religious stuff is a dangerous thing.  The world right now is taking a breather from its holiday consumption. It is quiet before the holiday storm.  We have an opportunity to tell the truth.  The truth is that how we live out our holiday will reveal if we are bearing witness to God in Christ Jesus, or if we are representing something else.  Yes, what we say and what we do are incarnational symbols of the living God or something else entirely.

Religion on a Sunday like this is dangerous because when we don't tell the truth about the world we live in (the addictions we have, the way we attempt to purchase our belonging, and how we are stewards of God's things) we sell a little piece of our corporate soul to the secular world; creating a consumer faith.

How will the church, how will you the preacher, how will the people answer the essential question asked on the shore of the Jordan river so many years ago, and which is still relevant today: "Who are you; because you look like someone I once knew?"

Some Thoughts on I Thessalonians 5:12-28

"Once again, on this Third Sunday of Advent, we have an appeal, now from Paul, to a community of faith about the way it is to live in the world."

Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (Advent 3), Dirk G Lange, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Closely associated with the ability to rejoice always is a constant prayerfulness. As mentioned, these imperatives are each in the present tense."

The Conduct of the Assembly and The Concluding Remarks from An Exegetical and Devotional Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, by J. Hampton Keathley III at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

In this part of the Thessalonians passage he is focused most of all upon the relationships of the community members. We are to work for one another's best behalf and we are to comfort those who are suffering. He offers himself as a model and gives some basic advice:

1. Respect one another.
2. Esteem one another.
3. Admonish the fainthearted by encouraging them.
4. Help the weak.
5. When evil is done to you do not repay it with evil.
6. Always seek the good and to do good in one another and to all.
7. Rejoice and pray.
8. Be grateful.
9. Be patient.
10. Do not quench the spirit.
11. Hold fast to what is good.
12. Abstain from evil.

This is a good list. The other night a woman came up to me and was complaining and upset about the church and other people and our culture and our loss of what is important. It was sad. I truly felt for her.

It was hard to do these 12 things for her. It was difficult to invite her to do these 12 things. Yet, this is the Gospel in action. Isn't it?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent 2B December 7, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"This is the kind of change that stops us in our tracks and makes it impossible for us to live the same way anymore."

"The Change Within and the Change Without," John van de Laar, Sacredise, 2011.

"To be at a beginning is to find that we are not prisoners of the past. John the Baptist announced as much. We and our blessed and foolish land need not be bound to our idolatries or regrets, our greeds or fears. We can begin again."

"On Your Mark," John Stendahl, The Christian Century, 2002.

"So…is it actually possible amidst our abject familiarity with the Christmas story to again hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ Son of God as Good and as News and as that which only just Began with the birth of Jesus and is yet to end?"

"Go Ahead, Judge a Book By Its Title," Nadia Bolz-Weber, The Hardest Question, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

O God of all consolation, to us who journey as pilgrims through time you have promised new heavens and a new earth. Speak today to the inmost heart of your people, that leading lives of holiness and godliness, and with a faith free from spot or blemish, we may hasten toward that day on which you will manifest in the fullness of its splendor the glory of your holy name.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:1-8

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

A tale of Thanksgiving: Good news, as it had been forecasted by news media who sent out word well in advance, people made their way from their Thanksgiving tables (some at midnight) to the malls and stores and worldwide web. They cried out in the wilderness for deals. The way was cleared and stores made ready, the paths for savings and deals galore were opened so that all could find the perfect gifts for loved ones. It was a wilderness out there! Commercials, advertisements, and emails proclaimed savings and people from the whole countryside, in fact the developed world over came out and bought and charged. You should have seen some of the people, in all kinds of clothing, ragged by the days end. They looked and they looked so the story goes until at the close of the day Black Friday (the shopping day after Christmas) and Cyber Monday (the online shopping day after the thanksgiving weekend) saw the sale of over 53 billion in merchandise goodness.

As I reflect on the week that is past I have several topical thoughts rumbling around in my head.
Global desires and hopes for spending to help our economy.
Football games galore.
A ton of food.
The poor and the hungry on a wet and cold weekend.
Advent wreath making.
Time with family.
People dealing with the complexities of family.
Reflections on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Thanksgiving Day parade.
Political election anxiety and hope.
The readings of Advent 1 regarding the coming of the Messiah.
It was a great holiday in so many respects. Yet it was a holiday of extremes as well; was it not? I wondered first: what is it that we are looking for? As a culture and as individuals what is it that we are hoping to have in all these things? With all these gifts?

I have decided that the truth in such spending, chaotic action and wild divergent events is actually not best described by analyzing what we sought through our actions but in what drives us in the search.

I think the real thing we must deal with is "human desire." Humanity is made to desire and long for that which is outside of itself. Certainly we are seeking to purchase and make real our own some kind of imagined normal life. We are trying to attach ourselves by virtue of our needs to something meaningful. We are hoping that somehow we will fill the emptiness that is inside with something that is outside of us.

It is as if the desire for our constitutional right of "happiness" has become confused. One might even say that for a people who have the right of happiness, consume most of the world's resources, we are some of the most unhappy people.

I offer all of this because the Christian understands that human desire is created within so that we will long for that which is outside of our selves - in particular God in Christ Jesus. We are created to be in relationship with God. We are created to long for God. And, we are created to long for one another.

What we do though is that we fill that longing with all kinds of other things. This is an age old axiom and is explored in the first autobiography by Augustine of Hippo: Confessions.

Today we fill that longing by purchasing massive amounts of gifts to show we care. We fill that longing with goods and products that promise beauty and normalcy. We fill that longing with media. We fill that longing by consuming food. We fill that longing by hoarding. We fill that longing by not dealing with family dynamics or by not facing up to our own shortcomings. We fill that longing by scapegoating others in our lives, in our workplaces, in our governments for problems we ourselves are intimately involved in.

I say all of this not to be some Christmas (or Advent) scrooge. Quite the contrary. I say this because the message of Mark's Gospel this Sunday it turns out is really good news (and quite inexpensive). The message is that God is the one we are longing for and his incarnation Jesus Christ came into the world so as to fill that missing piece of our own soul for the sake of the relationship God himself desires.

As Ireneaus once described, the reality of God's creative act is the ultimate outpouring into creation of God's own longing to walk with his creation in the garden at the eve of the day. The incarnation of Jesus helps to mend that hole. He has paid the ultimate price and we may find our longing transformed into fulfillment in the community of friends called the church.

It is a wilderness out there! It is our wilderness. We live in the wilds of consumer goods, aging parents, and complex lives, poverty, and longing. It is a wilderness and the voice is crying out and proclaiming, "Stop! Listen! Here is some good news!" This voice is important and one to be listened to.

The wilderness is a refuge it turns out in Mark's gospel. It is a place tied to the fleeing slaves from Egypt. It is the place of good things, and good happenings.

Tied intimately to Isaiah's proclamation of freedom to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 40.3) this passage refers to the same promise of freedom to those who now choose to live a different life in the wilderness of our time and culture.
Unlike many apocalyptic communities in Israel at the time of John's proclamation, his was not a proclamation of sectarian private life or private faith; that certainly was present but it is not a Gospel notion. In point of fact it was quite the opposite of what most people will experience as church this coming Sunday. The proclamation was public, it was in the wilderness of the world, the confession was public, the washing was public, and it was all focussed on living life in the world.

As we lean into the Gospel of Mark we must be aware of the central motif of "The Way." This is a Gospel of The Way. And, the way leads to the cross and to resurrection. John proclaims, Jesus shall lead us, and as disciples Mark intends us to follow.

As we read John's charge to us today the message is much the same. We are leading a particular life, in a particular world, making our communal way with Jesus.
We are to make room in our lives for the God who chooses to make us companions. Notice the passage does not say that God makes the paths straight and the valleys low. It i is we who are to do the work of making room in our lives for God. We are the ones, not unlike the inn keeper, who in Advent remind ourselves and so create space in our calendars, at our tables, and in our lives (privately and publicly) for God.

John the Baptist like a new Elisha or Elijah is offering us a moment of change. A moment to see the world differently and to be differently in the world. Most scholars believe there is a scriptural link. At the same time for those gathered at the waters edge and those hearing Mark's Gospel for the first time would have actually recognized John as a vision of the great prophet because of the word pictures used to describe his clothing and eating habits.

John himself, in his words, and in his actions, is making way in the wilderness. He is both prophetically offering a word of transformation and the vision of his ministry also offers an understanding that now is the time!
The understanding was that the waters themselves remade the body right and that this was an event of urgency. They prepared it for the mission ahead. Furthermore, important is the proclamation that a public confession and a singular baptism given by another, as opposed to daily ritual cleansing administered by yourself privately, was enough.

John's unique baptism for sins, for repentance is a message of incredible grace. It is one where in we understand that the waters of baptism are themselves the powerful waters of grace and freedom to live in relationship to this God. We are freed to live without the great consumptive game being played out all around us. We are freed to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ alone, and for our neighbor. We are given in the words of Isaiah and in the proclamation of John the Baptist an opportunity to turn and repent from lives lived for ourselves alone and not for God or others. We are invited to walk a path, a road, with Jesus allowing our desire for other things other than God to be crucified and our false selves as well.
And what we discover is that in the end, though we are not worthy to embrace our savior Jesus or to stoop to untie the thong of his sandal as if a servant, this God calls us friends most of all.

Some Thoughts on 2 Peter 3:8-15

"The believers to whom Peter writes have, in his view, two interrelated problems: they doubt the coming of Christ and they are drawn to immoral living."

Commentary, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, L. Ann Jervis, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Part of our task is to transpose the eagerness and urgency from the cosmological speculation to the register of human need and the state of the present world and its future."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Advent 2, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

We begin this portion of the letter from Peter with a reminder that just because God in Christ Jesus has not yet returned he will return. Using images that remind us of Jesus' own teachings, Peter reminds us that we do not know when the thief or the master comes. The author then goes on to say that this time of waiting should be used to work on walking The Way of Jesus. 

The work of the follower of Jesus is to live lives of holiness and godliness.  We are seeking after, hungry for righteousness, and should long for and wait patiently for the coming of God. 

The description of the end time is cataclysmic and is unique in its vision within the rest of the New Testament. Anne Jarvis writes:
This is the only place in the New Testament where the day of the Lord is described in this manner. The New Testament writings agree, by and large, that a cataclysmic event is in the offing when God, with the agency of Christ, will set everything right. They disagree on whether there will be intelligible signs of the impending day (for instance, 1 Thessalonians [5:4], like 2 Peter, claims the day will come like a thief in the night, whereas 2 Thessalonians [2:1-4] argues that there will be a visible signal that the end is near). They also disagree on whether what is will be destroyed (2 Peter) or will 'pass away' (Revelation 21:1) or whether it will be renewed (e.g., Romans 8:18-23), perhaps in light of the revelation of the true and eternal heaven (Hebrews 9:24).
Jarvis continues:
Peter's proof for this is that it will not be the first time the world will have been destroyed (3:5); and that both his scriptures, our Old Testament and the inspired word of the apostles (3:2), have said it would be so. There is no doubt in Peter's mind; and he takes it as essential to faith to believe this. Moreover, he warns his readers that doubt about the day of the Lord leads directly to what he calls "licentiousness" (2:2).

Peter is clear that this is a time of repentance and a time to take seriously not only God's judgement but an opportunity for us to take seriously God's invitation to change.

Scholar William Loader writes
The purity and godliness espoused in this letter may have a strongly moral quality and focus on piety. For us such purity and godliness has to be transposed into singleness of endeavour and solidarity with God's action and promise that there can be peace and there can be justice in this world - within people and among them. Part of our task is to transpose the eagerness and urgency from the cosmological speculation to the register of human need and the state of the present world and its future.
The question for us is what are we to do with this time?  We are to work for God and God's kingdom. We must set about the co-creating of God's reign. If we are to take seriously the urgency and the work then we must not delay in addressing those issues that plague our reality and context today.

We must not delay in feeding the hungry; and, setting about to build a community where people do not go hungry. We must not delay in providing clothes and shelter for the naked; and, setting about to insure that all people have a safe place in which to dwell. We must not delay in caring for the sick; and, we must set about the work of transforming a culture where all those who are ill may find health care. We must visit those in prison; and, we must set about to create a just system of government.  Moreover, we must examine carefully what the social determinants of these failures to be a goodly and Godly society may be and we must act today to stem their power tomorrow.

Every act of goodness and righteousness that we undertake in this life will be taken into the kingdom to come and will in fact be the living stones upon which Jesus will build his reign.

So do not wait. Do not joke and jest as if the coming of the Lord is just an old idea. Do not pretend as if the end will not come. But in everything and in every way let us transform the society in which we live and move. This is the invitation of Peter and Jesus alike.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Advent 1B November 30, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent is certainly not anticipated and most likely not welcome."

Commentary, Mark 13:24-37, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"So remember how you answered that question about what you would do if the world were to end tomorrow? Well, guess what? You don't need to wait. You can do those things now!"

"If the World Were to End," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Through all generations, O God, your faithfulness endures, and your fidelity to the covenant can never fail. Since you are the potter and we are the work of your hands, remember us and strengthen us to the end by your grace; that with a love beyond reproach, we may faithfully keep watch for the glorious coming of our Redeemer, and be found blameless on the day of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, 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 B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 13:24-37

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The lesson for this Sunday describes the coming of the Son of Man. In Mark's Gospel this is a prophetic vision of the apocalyptic judgement. It is a passage filled with first century understandings about the end time and it places Mark firmly in the tradition of apocalyptic writers.

I remember teaching my first adult forum class at my field work site. The class was on the Nicene Creed. When we got to the part about judgement I was asked by a leader in the congregation if I believed that Christ was going to come back and judge the world. It was a question that caught me off guard as I had never really thought of it in that pronounced a fashion. Did I believe this to be true? Will our Lord, Jesus Christ, come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and will his kingdom have no end.?

The man's point was that he didn't believe it and he didn't think most people believed it. There it was in the middle of my Sunday morning class - a non-believer, confronting all of us in the room with the very words we say every Sunday but don't think about and he was certain we didn't believe.

Let me tell you first that I have hope. My normal human mind begins to dance this way and that and I think honestly that first (if I am honest) I don't want a judgement. Second, if I am wrong, then I want for the judgement to have already occurred and having been found guilty have now had the price of my guilt paid for by Jesus Christ on the Cross. Thirdly, just for safety, I want to believe that Jesus' Christ's mission is already complete. (For the theologians among the crowd we do well to remember the Brunner and Barth debate on this issue as a perfect example of the divide and impasse of the varying views on this topic.) Yes, that is what I hope, that is what my human mind wants to believe. That is indeed what my heart longs for: Jesus to be ultimately and perfectly victorious and to save the whole world.

And, having said that I want to believe in the great capacity of goodness in all human beings to live in that grace and give freely of themselves for the work of the kingdom of God and of his righteousness.

Having said all of that, some interesting things begin to happen in terms of our lives with God and our lives with one another.

Over the years as I have reflected about his passage and others like it. I think something interesting seems to slip away as we deal with it - or don't as the case may be. Sure we all want this great salvation to be true. And, being the humans that we are, we then let ourselves off the hook. Yep! That's right. What happens is that we let ourselves off the hook because the mission is successful, there is no urgency to act, and after all what does it really matter?

In Mark's Gospel, and in point of fact, in all of the Gospels - it matters. It matters a whole lot. Over time the emerging church of the first century had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus did not return as quickly as they thought - but they believed that evangelism, virtuous citizenship, mission, and service to others was essential. We can even see the change in Paul's own letters preserved in our New Testament. Paul wrestled with the time it was taking for the second coming. Even still, Paul inspired and encouraged people because it mattered how people treated one another and what they did or did not do. Even the Gospels written in the later part of the first and early part of the second centuries have a different tone regarding the urgency - but Matthew's Gospel which is focused on this emerging church of the centuries offers a vision of a community that is waiting but where it matters.

Over the years there have been blossoming apocalyptic movements. Some have even birthed churches. Still others have ended in disaster. Probably all of them have created a general public sense that thinking apocalyptically is silly at its most innocent and dangerous if taken to its natural conclusion.

Dismissal seems to let us off the hook somehow.
Over the years I have come to understand that I think it really does matter to God how we live our life on this earth. I think it really does matter how we treat one another. I do think that to the God we believe in it matters how the poor are cared for and it matters how we take care of the earth we have some measure of control over. I think it matters to God. Moreover, based upon our current global societal troubles (the economic turbulence of recent years, the great divide between the rich and the poor, the lack of good education, the comoditization of a person's health leaving millions without care, and the destruction of the housing market where in others make money off of what is one of the most important human needs - shelter) we should all be concerned.

Regardless of if you or I will live out our whole lives and pass into the arms of Abraham (God willing) before the end time, or we together only have a few moments left on this earth, we are measured by how we treat and take care of others. This is and continues to be one of the central themes of scripture.

Those who go without have an urgent need today and our actions matter to them as well.

In the immortal words of Bishop John Hines (IV Texas, and TEC Presiding Bishop) "the Kingdom of Heaven is for all people." Some of those people are still waiting for the Good News and transformed lives and God is waiting for us to do something about it.

In this season of Advent, I hope you won't excuse Jesus' message in Mark's Gospel. I hope you won't pretend like it doesn't matter or that it isn't urgent. I hope you won't dismiss the judgement. Rather, I hope you will challenge your people to think about: well how is their report card with God going? If God came back today what would he say to them? You might invite them to think about the Advent Conspiracy and how we might change how we do things in our lives, beginning with today and this season.

I hope you will challenge them to see if they have lost a sense of urgent work on the part of God in Christ Jesus and his Gospel. I hope you will inspire them to see that God is hoping in us and that we are being judged by our actions. And, by the way the people of this world are also judging us by our actions.

I can say today, "I believe." I have come to believe the words I speak and I pray: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom have no end. Let me work to the end of days on behalf of God and on behalf of his kingdom and his special friends the poor and those in need. Let me hope eternally for grace enough for me a sinner of his flock. And, finally let my work in word and action see no rest; after all, who knows when the master of the house will return?

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 1:1-9

"It is perhaps not surprising that Paul, as he addresses the church in Corinth, speaks of the gift given, God's grace shared, as "speech and knowledge of every kind" and wealth (i.e., being enriched in Christ Jesus)."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Private faith of a personal future is more comforting and marketable, but has little to do with the hope Jesus came to bring and doesn't really spell good news for the poor except in another life."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 2,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

In this passage we have a typical Greek greeting and form for a letter. Paul emphasizes his call to ministry and his apostleship and addresses the letter to the community at Corinth. 

He reminds them that they are to be at work in the world, as saints, on behalf of Jesus Christ. He also reminds them that they are unified beyond Corinth with other followers of Christ Jesus. 

He blesses them with grace and peace. And he gives thanks for their ministry on God's behalf. He reminds them, finally, that God has given them the gifts needed for this ministry. They are lacking in nothing spiritually to undertake the work of God in Corinth and within their community. 

So what is this all for? Certainly we know that Paul is writing because their is conflict. Here though is something more than just a letter about bringing peace out of division. Paul tells them that they have these gifts and that the purpose of the gifts is this "fellowship of his Son." Fellowship here could also mean companionship of Christ according to scholar Joseph Fitzmayer (First Corinthians, Anchor Yale Bible, 2008, 134). Paul is referring to the community quality of unity around the Lord's table - koinonia. (Ibid) Paul is in some way reminding them that they are, the people of Corinth, united by Christ for the purpose of salvation and the kingdom. (Ibid) 

Fitzmayer points out this is particularly Pauline - the idea that Christ is the unifying agent and Christianity is the living companionship with Christ. It is also, as we will see as we read his letter, a companionship of peace and unity at the table to be brought about by his followers one to another. 

In other words, those who follow Jesus are to be united. This is a very real icon of their unity in Christ. If they are not one in companionship with one another - then this reveals that they are not one in Christ. For Paul, our inability to be together, work collaboratively, work peacefully, and be united is not a revelation about us but a revelation about our individual dependence upon the koinonia created by Jesus Christ on his cross. 

I would go a step forward to say that the way we frame the relationship between God and the world attempts to sever the unity of this koinonia - meaning:

  • that companionship and fellowship with God yes 
  • companionship and fellowship with one another maybe if you agree with me 
  • and companionship and fellowship with the world - no
We so separate the world so that we are not accountable to these values and way of being. We separate our own life within Christian community so as not to be accountable with the companionship and fellowship of Christ. This particular predicament would have been completely foreign to Paul and his theology.

Paul sees the world as one cosmos - united by God as creator and Christ as the bringer of salvation and reconciliation of the world with God. So there is no disunity - but only unity. God is unified with his creatures and his creation. The whole world is re-united - united - with God. We are to be a goodly and Godly community. Paul imagines a seamless unity between God and the individual, the individual follower of Christ and the other followers of Christ, and the followers of Christ and the people of the world - our neighbors. So it is that we offer a witness of a church community unified by God's reconciling love and at work in the world building a unified peaceable kingdom for all people. 

As William Loader reminds us - 
"Even 1:8 which focuses on the day of the Lord most likely contains some hint of another problem to be faced: some Corinthians were denying a future resurrection. Their understanding of the future was so much bound up with the notions of eternal souls, it seems, that they saw no need for anything beyond the salvation of individual souls. Who needs embodiedness? Who needs a community? Who needs a day of the Lord, which would establish a kingdom of justice and peace? Isn't it enough to know that my soul will go to heaven? Here in 1:8 and in 1:9 Paul celebrates the future with Christ and the future in community (koinonia).
Some Corinthians had difficulties with such images of the future and any literal interpretation is likely to meet similar hesitations today, not without ground, but Paul's logic is driven by an understanding that salvation has to mean something bigger than the individual. Many Christians still have difficulty making it to this level of understanding. It opens up too many questions about the social and political implications of the gospel. Private faith of a personal future is more comforting and marketable, but has little to do with the hope Jesus came to bring and doesn't really spell good news for the poor except in another life."

God's companionship, fellowship, and koinonia is about a unity of purpose and calling where all our gifts, given by God, are put use in transforming the world and lives of those around us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christ the King/Reign of Christ A November 23, 2014

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

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,, 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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Proper 28A/Ordinary 33A/Pentecost +23 November 16, 2014

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,, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

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?

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

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,, 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.