Finding the Lessons

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

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent 3.C, December 13, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Caught between eschatological judgment and messianic consummation, the crowds hear John speak of a role in the coming kingdom they can play. It demands neither renunciation nor asceticism, neither pilgrimage nor sacrifice. Rather, participating in God's new kingdom is available to them where they are, requiring only the modicum of faith necessary to perceive the sacred in the ordinary."

Commentary, Luke 3:7-18, David Lose, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"Do we need to be told that it is a good thing to be elated, to be glad and happy? Some, who see Christianity as something dour and serious, need to hear it."

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Lord our God, already in our midst and yet to come, your presence delights us even now as we long for your peace.  Winnow from our lives the chaff of selfishness and sin.  Sow in us a harvest of gentleness and generosity, for we rejoice in you, even as you exult and sing for joy over us. 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 3:7-18
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We continue this week the story of John the Baptist's proclamation of baptism; and we are aware that the Word of God comes in the wilderness. We remember the uniqueness of this baptism as a metanoia or turning that is essential bedrock within the catholic tradition and universal expression of our church. While there were many prophets in that time and scholars recognize that baptism was not unusual, we see in the Gospel a self differentiation for the follower of Jesus in the Lukan community that sees baptism as a primary way a Christian marks their choice to follow Jesus. We can easily imagine in this unique combination of accepting an ordered life in the manner of Jesus and the water of baptism as a cleansing ritual the growth of our understanding that our sins are forgiven and life is forever changed.

John the Baptizer is not offering us an opportunity to adopt his way of life where home is the desert, clothes are skins, foods are grasshoppers and wild honey, there are no alcoholic beverages, and prayer with fasting mark the hours of the day. John is offering us in his proclamation and act of baptism an opportunity to turn away from our previous life to a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are being offered an opportunity to follow God in Christ Jesus.

It is very possible that some of these words, which make up the synoptic tradition, are deeply rooted in the earliest Christian documents of sayings and traditions. Sometimes this document is called Q.

We know in the Gospel of Luke that the religious leaders of the day will reject John's baptisms (7.30 and 20.5). Nevertheless, crowds of people looking for a savior come out to the Jordan to hear the message and receive the baptism. They come out to a wild place where a wild man resides in order to take a sacramental journey into the wild places of life.  They come to wash as a pilgrimage mile marker towards ever new and transformed life.

They are met there by the wild John the Baptist calling them vipers! Jesus also will call those who live questionable lives with alternative and destructive intentions vipers (23.33). The people who come to John are recognized by him as people who are in need of change. They are in fact creatures of the desert place and the washing may prepare them for the coming kingdom, and deliverance from the wildness of this world into the grace of the coming reign of Christ.

We might well remember Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians 1:10 where Paul says, "you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming”.  In baptism we are choosing to follow a particular God with a particular way of life.

In verse 8 we see the word “repentance," metanoia. The word in Greek literally means returning, or coming back to the way of life charted by the covenant between God and Israel. See also Exodus 19:3-6 (where God commands Moses to tell the Israelites “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation”); 24:3-8; Jeremiah 31:31-34 (“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. ... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts ... they shall all know me ... I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more”).  This baptism is a mark that the person is choosing to live a changed life.

John the baptizer is demanding right living based on a sincere search for God’s will (Matthew 7:15-20; Galatians 5:22-23) and suited to the promise of repentance. We see this ancient covenant connection and the life of our faith ancestors throughout Luke's Gospel and Jesus teaching as we are reminded of “Abraham our ancestor”. See also Luke: 1:54-55, 72-73; 3:34; 13:16, 28-29; 19:9; 20:37; Acts 3:13, 25; 7:17, 32; 13:26; 26:6; 28:20; John 8:33, 39; Romans 2:28, 29. We are then named a desert people who have found our life and our faith in the bosom of God and deep within the well of his heart. For those who choose to live a life oriented on the Christ and his reign we see the promise and potential of a life lived not in scarcity but the bounty of grace which promised manna from heaven, that the lilies be clothed, that the poor would have good things and the hungry fed.

Verses 10 - 14 are unique to Luke's Gospel. Here we see the Gospel's proclamation that right living has to do with sharing what we are given, and that it is characterized by a special concern, sensitivity and action on behalf of the poor. Jesus in Luke's Gospel will speak clearly about stewardship of possessions and so central was this to Jesus' teachings that we see it mirrored throughout the Acts, see Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35.  It is a funny thing in my mind that righteous living today has taken on new meaning.  Here it is clear that such a life lived post baptism is a life lived in service to neighbor and the least of these - God's friends.

We get a sense of the rich and the poor being unified in this proclamation of change and baptism, and in their ministry one to another. We cannot read verse 12ff without remembering here we are to hear of the story in Luke's Gospel of Zacchaeus the tax collector who gives half of his possessions to the poor.

So powerful was John's message and such a figure of hope and transformation was he that others believe he may be the messiah. John the baptist was far more a messenger of hope than one of judgement to be sure.   So it is the last verses of this passage that we see him continue to refocus our attention, beginning in verse 15, on the coming of Christ who ultimately will provide the Holy Spirit to the baptism of water.

How often do we move into positions of power or authority or ministry and the glory which rightly belongs to Christ comes to us? In this advent season we are challenged to remember the humility of the Christ family as described in the Gospels and be challenged to do as John the baptizer does and point forward to the Christ who is truly working in us and our life together greater things than we can ask for imagine.

As I think about these verses and the opportunity to preach this weekend, I am wondering how the season of Advent can serve to reorient our lives to our baptismal promises? How can our time, in the midst of preparations for Christmas celebrations, help us to see that we are to change, take a step back into the life of Christ? That we are called and challenged to live a particular life of continuous returning to the desert and waters of baptism for refreshment in a life's long journey. When we come to this place of Advent, we are to realize our place within the faith family of Abraham and seek not only to be reconciled with our Jesus but also to be reconciled with the notion of right living which is plainly: to give to the poor, and to aid those who go without.

Americans spent over 8 billion dollars on Halloween.  Americans will spend some $504 billion (2009 retail amount) to celebrate Christmas according to Gallup (see chart here).  The in breaking of God in the person of Christ might just cause us to pause and realize that only $10 billion would ensure clean water for every human being in the world, and $13 billion to keep folks from going hungry. Yet today I heard that safety net agencies that do just this work have seen a 10% decrease in funding.  Certainly these are numbers to make one pause in the face of Zaccheaus who gives away half of what he possesses to the poor. What if we lived out the charge and hope of living for our neighbor.  John the Baptist offers us not only a vision of a Christmastide incarnation but a transformed world of a new community - the kingdom of God.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 4:4-7

This week we continue with Paul's letter to the Philippians.  Paul's message is one of clarity: the second coming of the Lord is near, so be at peace rather than be divided.  Not unlike our own congregations or our own church, the church community at Philippi was concerned that perhaps the coming of Christ was not so near.  Perhaps they would die before its coming.  Paul himself finds himself in the midst of being mediator with other congregations who are in conflict.  Here in Philippi he finds a peaceful community and I believe he intends to capitalize on their faith and care for one another in order to persuade them to fear not and stay united as they work and wait for the Lord.
The idea that the "lord is near" is not a new one is scripture.  Paul here writes:
"5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you."
Yet as we think about the whole of scripture we might remember that Adam and Eve knew the Lord was near and they hid.  Abraham was told that the Lord was near, so he prepared himself.  Moses found out that the Lord was near, and was told to free God's people.  Ruth heard that the Lord was near, so she was faithful.  Kind David found that the Lord was near, so he built a temple.  Mary was told the Lord was near, and she named him Jesus. Andrew was called and found that the Lord was near so he became a fisher of men and brought others to Jesus.  Peter was near to the Lord, and became the Lord's rock.  Mary Magdalene and Joanna were told that the Lord is nearby in Jerusalem, and they rejoiced.  Paul himself came upon the Lord in a flashing light and became the Lord's messenger.  Indeed the whole of scripture is a narrative which describes for us the response of human beings to the nearness of God, the nearness of the Lord. 

Paul says, if you believe the Lord is near, then act with gentleness to everyone.  When we believe that our God is present we should not worry or be anxious for anything.  Instead when we believe God is present we are to pray, be thankful, and speak to God.  Only then, I believe, do the lions of life seem not of so great a concern.

God's presence in the Lord Christ brings the follower peace, a peace that at times does not make sense given our surroundings and context.  It will not be the most obvious response given our culture or our economy.  But when the Christian believes and acts out of their belief that the Lord is indeed near then the world is changed. We are changed.  We are part of the change in the lives of other people.  Out of habit the Christian is to believe and wait upon the Lord and his presence. 
For the Christian Church, now living in the several centuries from the community at Philippi, we are to be ready to greet our lord in the pew at church and in our lives and workplaces. We are to be ready to greet the presence of the Lord in our neighbor and in our enemy.  We are to seek out the presence of the Lord in every human we encounter.  In so doing we are at peace and we bring a peace which makes no sense into the world. 

How will we respond to the presence of the Lord? This seems to be the question our text offers us this week.  How will we respond (not to a God of a far off place or a God who is not yet here) to a God who is present now. 

In this passage I am challenged not so much to focus upon the waiting of Advent for a Christmas return of Christ, but rather to be challenged to see that what I am waiting for, the one I seek, the peace I crave, the reality of very-God is already present in my life.  The waiting isn't over so much as a Christian I don't have to wait any longer to respond to the Good News of God in Christ Jesus that is present in the here and in the now. Moreover, I have the opportunity to shift my life lens from seeing not enough to being thankful for all I am and have.  Surely, these are the thoughts that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.

Some Thoughts on Zephaniah 3:14-20

Resources for Sunday's Old Testament Lesson

"This reading from Zephaniah is marked by hope, rejoicing, and reprieve, but it comes from the end of a three-chapter book in which the first two chapters consist of horrific warnings."

Commentary, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"This Sunday, we speak of joy, the joy of a people redeemed and restored, but also the joy of a God who is deeply invested in the life of the world."

Commentary, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Our selections for Advent for the Old Testament readings are taken, as you have now discovered, from passages that remind Israel of God's hope for them. A number of reflections on line focus on the idea that "joy" is a particular part of the present circumstances for Zephaniah and his people. 
14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 
However, I think that the first several chapters indicate the difficult challenges and fears of the people. We only get to the joy in the midst of the warnings and through redemption.

As a culture we are continually attempting to find and purchase joy somehow. Even now our culture is in the midst of a great buying frenzy. Yet these purchases and actions will bring little fulfillment in the end. So we, like those who receive Zephania's message are in need of a little redemption. The church is in need of redemption.

Melinda Quivik, liturgics and homiletics scholar writes:
Zephaniah's announcement of the Lord's resolve to save the people carries line-by-line descriptions of why this renewal is necessary. The promise rests on the need for rescue. The flip side of the joy that is to happen on the Day of the Lord is present as each phrase of promise is coupled with the negative it implies, reminding the hearer that disaster has come as reproach for failings, oppression exists, the lame and the outcast suffer alone, shame needs to be changed into praise, an in-gathering is required because the people are scattered and fortunes have been taken away. This is an accounting of the inevitable inability of human life to follow the commands of the Lord. This is an accurate depiction of our need for God. Law is not just command but reality.
What is difficult is to believe, I think, as the church or as individuals that our salvation truly lies outside of ourselves. I believe it is so hard to think that God might really have a hand in it all. So it is that this passage reminds us. On that day when all that you purchased fails you... On that day when all your plans come to nothing...On that day when your machinations for self preservation and self reward are found lacking... On that day when you, if you can get to the bottom, on that day then you can hear for the first time:

"Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
Part of the power of the readings and their combination together is that we are not only receiving the hope of God in the incarnation and salvation birthed into the world, but we are understanding that none of our efforts have brought us to any sense of betterment, none of our work has had the end results planned. No, in fact only in having a good look at our present circumstances do we see that God is with us and there to save. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent 2C, December 6, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

 "There’s an audacity to today’s Gospel reading that’s easy to miss. But if you listen closely and read between the lines just a little, you’ll hear a promise that at first is easy to overlook but ultimately is as transformative as it is outrageous."

"A Promise That's Easy to Overlook," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

"[Paul] shows what thing we ought to chiefly desire, that is, first of all that we may increase in the true knowledge of God (so that we may be able to discern things that differ from one another), and also in charity, that even to the end we may give ourselves to truly good works, to the glory of God by Jesus Christ."

From John Calvin's the Geneva Notes.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

God of everlasting glory and eternal love, from west and east you gather the humble, leading them withjoy to the glorious light of your kingdom.  Make straight your path in our hearts; bring low the heights of our pride; and prepare us to celebrate with ardent faith the coming of our savior.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke  3:1-6
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

The opening words of our Gospel for Sunday give us  a reminder that Christ comes in the midst of the authority of the world: vs 1 "Fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius".  At the same time Luke is keen to show us that what is coming is nothing less than a divine rebelous God - the very word of God. This new authority is one inaugurated in very real time and is measured by grace and not power.  His teachings will challenge the historical peopel of God and the authority of the world.  It is a time of renewed salvation history deeply linked to the past and intimately connected with readers, and our own, present.

It is all enough to unnerve us if we take John the Baptist's words to be words for us and not only for a people long ago.

Who cannot relate to the feeling of "wilderness." While we might know of John's possible connection to Qumran and other wilderness communities it is not this that connects us but rather the feeling of being followers of Jesus in a strange land with competing stories about the nature and values of culture. We relate to the ancient Hebrews in Israel, we relate to the occupied Israelites of Jesus' own time. We relate to the gentile mission and what it will mean to struggle to have a place in God's kingdom.  We relate because we too struggle with a captivity which is hallmarked by consumerism and debt and recession; not to mention the stress and strains of family and relationships. We struggle perhaps wondering of the church is for me? And for many who have not church we struggle with the idea of not being welcomed to rest despite our desert wonderings.  The world is a wild place and we find our home in it as foreigners in a strange land, longing for the Kingdom of God present, and not yet fully realized. We long in that wilderness to hear the voice crying out.  We long to hear that we are welcomed.

We as Christians understand John the Baptist as the agent to fulfill the ancient prophesies: Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; 4:5 (“Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes”).  He is the one who comes and baptizes but it is not the batism by water that Luke offers that God is most interested in. No, Luke is clearly setting the stage even in these early chapters for the Pentecost baptism that is to come.

Baptism we are shown in Luke's Gospel is at once seen as the ancient and present way of deliverance and entrance into the kingdom of grace with a prophet king and rebel named Jesus. To the Jews of the time and to Luke's reader John is proclaiming and acting out a preparation for the coming of Jesus. It made them all very uncomfortable to be sure; a discomfort that will be played out in Acts and the Epistle letters in the first Christian communities. John's is a proclamation being made to the whole world - a proclamation we know as the Gospel.  This preparation will lead to the greater manifest of God in the resurrection.  We will see that in the baptism of fire and spirit the whole of creation will be remade.  The world of authority will be turned upside down.  The word of salvation will raise up new children of God and even the stones will shout as the kingdom message becomes (post resurrection and Pentecost) not one of preparation but a message of embrace and love.  Rebelling against the order of the ruler and embracing a new order of family and kinship.

The expansion of the kingdom, the growing fruit tree which will bear great fruit, is to include not only the prepared historical people of God but the greater gentile world.

I will be thinking this week of how the time and the season of Advent offer us a time to connect with the real world wilderness of the people in and outside of our congregations. How do we as people already baptized, already living within a kingdom without walls, take a Gospel of grace into the world around us, proclaiming Jesus and proclaiming the opportunity of hope and joy and transformation that awaits those who choose to follow him and work under his Lordship? What are the real world differences we as Christians can make?  How is our rebellion to be staged and offered to a world hungry for good news.

Perhaps I will ponder the reality of what it means to prepare myself; having already received the good news.  I want to think about how my eyes and ears need to be opened to see God's ever broadening family of God.  God help me to see the oppression and the way in which the ways of authority and power pervert the intended kingdom.  The missionary church may even begin to see that God is already pouring his spirit out into the world and upon the "gentiles" of our day.  And, we might have cause to ask ourselves what are the things that keep us from embracing the other and the spirit work that is already underway.  We have a faith opportunity to see not a withering church tree in the midst of Egypt or a Babylonian captivity but a church that is being rebirthed and disturbed.

We are reminded in the words of John the Baptist, this Jesus is a rebel and is going to turn our world upside down.   It is a sobering notion to think that the babe we worship brings a ministry that will by a living word bring transformation and change.

A friend once reminded me of Jackson Browne's song Rebel Jesus. Find it on YouTube here. That has me thinking of the challenge we face. It has me thinking of how the mission field can really challenge us to be better at our work as a church.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 1:1-11
Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text

This Sunday we read from Paul's letter to the church community at Philippi.  The letter itself is one of the most positive and encouraging letters of all the Pauline epistles. 

Paul's opening words to the letter are more formal than any Emily Post required introduction, yet there is something more here than simply a Helenistic introduction.  In fact Paul's words are powerful and visionary.

In the beginning Paul simply is saying, "I know who you are."  He is telling his readers, and those of us who read some centuries later, that as baptized members of God's church we are marked as Christ's own forever. We belong to God. God has claimed us. Paul is reminding us we are "the saints of God."

With his blessing (Grace to you and peace) Paul reminds us who he is.  he tells us that he is someone passionately in love with Jesus Christ. He is someone who enters community by means of the name of God.  And, it is as if out of the reaches of history he is calling to us as well. 

Who does not want to hear such words?  Who does not yearn to hear we are beloved of God and saints of God?  This is the formative vision of the community of the baptized.  It is a reminder that for Christians the hallmark of our community is to be grace and peace.  This is one of the unique monicers of Christian community rooted in the Gospel of Good News of Salvation.

We are inheritors of this Godly vision for community.  While we might all agree that we are nothing like the church in Philippi; for certainly we might all say the times have changed. Nevertheless, it is this eternal grace, this eternal peace, which binds us to our ancient faith ancestors and Paul. 

Philippi was Paul's first mission on the continent of Europe.  It would become an important satilite of the Gospel and of the emerging Christian community in a world that did not yet know the Christ or the message of salvation.  Not unlike a seed sown whose roots would spread, like a great maple or oak, our congregations today are the offspring and shoots of the grace and peace offered so long ago.  As the Philippians themselves turned to neighbors and offered the good news of belovedness so we recognize we are the individual inheritors of this Gospel. 

Paul writes, "this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God."

Paul, in his letter, offers us a vision of what church is to be - the very kingdom of God on earth. He believes in a world transformed and reordered by love and grace; in response to love and grace.  He believes that in Christ our love will overflow ourselves to one another. Paul reminds us that God is the one who bring plenteous redemption. God is the one who is watering and nurturing his offspring.  God is mulching and fertilizing his vineyard. This began with the incarnation and as baptized followers of this Jesus we are marked as his.  Paul encourages us to live in response to this beloved nature for in our response we will find the harvest.

It is less about us chosing and more about us recognizing we have been chosen.  Churches do not bring people into their community but rather recognize in people that they belong to God and they are saints of God.  Paul's vision of church is one wherein we the church recognize that Jesus is doing good work in the lives of the other.

Baptism is certainly a mark of membership in Christian community and fellowship.  But it is more than saying, "you are one of us now". It is the public recognition by the community that this person is God's.  How different would our baptismal instruction be if it were about the embrace of one of God's people? How different it would be if it were an act of grace for the person being baptized and an act of remembrance for the people gathered?

Some Thoughts on Baruch 5:1-9
Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text

The book of Baruch is written during the time of the exile to Babylon. It is often believed that the author was the companion/secretary to the prophet Jeremiah. Baruch is crying out to Jerusalem in exile.

We might pause and think about the passage from our perspective of a church in exile. We are a church separated out disbursed across a culture not our own and we are also turned inwardly not unlike a people holding on to what they have left from the past.

Here Baruch has some words for us.  It is time he says to end the mourning. Reaching back into his own tradition Baruch speaks to the people and invites them to consider putting on their best. 

Would this not be true for us? Would we not profit from truly putting on our best within our congregations? Our worship and ministry, all to the glory of God, would be infused with energy. Our work would begin to shine out as work that was holy, that was just, and as work of reconciliation - brought about peace. 

Baruch is then prophesying a return to the city of Jerusalem. He uses words that harken to Isaiah's prophesies.

Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look towards the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot,
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
The woods and every fragrant tree
have shaded Israel at God’s command.
Here then we might wonder what would we see if we rose up? What would we see if we stopped looking back and began to look forward? What pain and sorrow might be cast down while joy and life are raised up. We might indeed, in our work, in our renewal of mission, discover and find that God is in fact leading us. We might discover, if we were to look into the future and see - that God is even now with us, preparing a way, and eagerly awaiting our reimaginings. We might understand that God has forgiven us for our backward looking, God has raised us out of sorrow, and God has offered us a path of life.

In putting on our best, in the engagement of our context and mission, we would discover that, like the Israelites in Babylon:
For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Advent 1C November 29, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...this week’s passage is peculiar and hard and odd and wonderful because it announces to us a promise that itself is peculiar and hard and odd and wonderful, a promise, that is, that is big enough to save us."

"A Promise Big Enough to Save Us," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"We turn the page to start the new calendar of our church year, whisper a prayer of thanks and hope, roll up our sleeves and get back to work."

"Raise up your heads," Melissa Bane Sevier, Contemplative Viewfinder, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Eternal God, ever faithful to your promises, hasten that long-awaited day when you will establish justice in the land.  LIft from our hearts the weight of self-indulgence, and strengthen us for holiness. Amid chaos and confusion, let your people stand secure. Raise our heads to greet the redemption that is drawing near, the coming of our Lord Jesus Chrsit with all his saints.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 21:25-36
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Moreton Bay Fig Tree
Stay awake and be alert. This is the message of Advent, and this is Jesus' message to his followers in Luke's Gospel reading this Sunday.  This week we begin Advent a season of preparation wherein Christians globally make themselves ready for the coming of the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus. We also begin a new year of new readings and this year we will be focusing upon Luke's Gospel; as always peppered intermitantly with Acts and John.

So we might begin in the beginning.  Luke begins his story in the first chapter telling us he is writing to help the reader understand the life and work of Jesus and what it will mean to follow him. In the first part of the Gospel Luke tells the story of Jesus in relationship to those things that have already happened. They have been foretold, and come true in the incarnation and in the events of Jesus’ life.

But here, this week, we move to the latter part of Luke to a time of speaking about the signs. Luke draws our attention in the words of Jesus to understand how the past shows us the reality of Jesus Christ in the present - to the reader. Just as the Jews received signs before their deliverance so the Gentiles receive signs for their inclusion. We know that Jesus’ kingdom became a partial reality in his ministry as it was expanding and growing, it is about to become a full reality and as his followers we should be looking for the signs.  This is the point of this section of Luke's Gospel.

For example the fig tree comes as a sign and is offered as a witness that those who follow Jesus will know by looking at the sings around them.  He says, "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near."  So, see for yourselves.  As they, and we, wait and watch we must be diligent and careful so as to be prepared.

If they are prepared, both in watchfulness, prayerfulness, and in their work on behalf of others then they will have nothing to fear in the presence of the Son of Man. In fact they will be able to stand up straight, unbound from dwelling in this world, and for they are fully participate in the kingdom of God.

“Those who endure, who bear witness, who remain alert in prayer, have nothing to fear from the coming of the Son of Man. For them there is not distress or confusion or dread. For them it is the time of ‘liberation.’ And they can therefore stand up straight, hold their heads high in happy anticipation before the Son of Man.” (LTJ, Luke, 330)

“Be awake in every season, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” V 36.

So it is that we in this season begin to think of a new kingdom conspiracy.  As Christians we dare to do a counter cultural thing - to prepare not for a passing season - but for the coming of an eternal season of God.  In Advent we are to be watchful.  See the moments of the kingdom and see the face of Jesus present in our midst.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in one of his Advent sermons would say to us: see the poor the humbled and the oppressed and there you will see Jesus.

Christians challenge themselves to wait and be prayerful instead of scurrying around.  This is an important time to be contemplative. To whisper the words of Jesus and his followers in the quiet time of prayer.  "God is with us."  "Christ the savior is here." 

Christians in their seeing and in their praying in Advent chose to conspire against the powers and so we are attentive to our ministry wherein we act on behalf of others. As we recognize Christ in our brothers and sisters, the poor and those in need, we chose to act on their behalf.  This is the diligent work of Advent, this is the work that Jesus says brings us liberation from the coming of God.

Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

"Paul's letters have a way of engaging us and inviting to be part of sensitive and transformative relationships, full of joy and pain. When we hear his letters as part of his human story, they are never just words; and they are never just his story."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Advent 1, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text

Paul's visit to Thessalonica proves to be a long one (much longer than the short preaching tour described in Acts).  Moreover, he seems from his letters to spend a great deal of time with the gentile community there.

This is important and perhaps Paul's excitement about this new evolving community of God's people (where Gentiles are included) is part of what we hear in his voice as we read today's Epistle.

In the letter that we read this Sunday Paul is offering a vision of hope to those who are still waiting the Lord's return.  What seems essential here are several points which Leander Keck makes plain in his text on Paul and his letters.  That Christ is still working in the world.  Christ our Lord is directing us, and directing our ways; even in the meantime as we wait for his return.  That our life together is marked with love for one another and for all as an outpouring of the love God has for the world.  And finally, that we are to be focused upon our work and not worried about what will come.  (This is an interesting correlation with the Gospel for Sunday.)  Paul offers the Thessalonians this notion that they are to be marked by holiness, by their work which flows out of love received from God and which encapsulates their love for the others.  This is the obedience, the vulnerability, and weakness that marked Jesus' life and is to mark our own as disciples and followers of the Christ. (47,48)

So we might ask the preacher, as you stare out into the congregation from the high and lofty perch, are you looking upon them with joy?  Does that joy pour out of the prayers for each whose face you have kept before you?  Do you see in them the way God looks upon them?  Do you see how they have tried to be faithful? Do you love them?

As we read and think about our place in the midst of our office, our family, our friendship circle - is our place marked by joy and love?  Are we holding one another up in prayer and seeking to see them face to face?  Are we at work in the world? Are we vulnerable to Christ's presence? to Christ's presence in the other?  Are we weak and making way for the other?

This Advent One Epistle selection offers an opportunity for the Christian community to begin a season of Advent where we start with a pause.  In that pause we look and we see the beloved in the other and we see our own beloved nature.  In that pause we see the face of Christ in our brother and sister.  In that pause we give way for the other.  For it is there that the Lord Jesus comes with all his saints.  IT is in that meeting where the divine and the human become one - a community bound in love.

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 33:14-16

"The same proclamation is given today to us, inheritors of Jeremiah's task. We are called to speak a word of hope and promise in a world often filled with fear and uncertainty, even despair."

Commentary, Jeremiah 33:14-16, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Oremus NRSV online Text

One would do well to remember that the majority of Jeremiah is not particularly good news if you are in Judah or Jerusalem. The powers of the empires of north and south are taken to task by this troubled prophet. The book itself is a collection of oracles and prophecies against the mishandling of God's community.

However, the passage we have today is good news. In the midst of how bad everything is, there is good news for the people of God. Despite the poor conditions God does dream again of a land redeemed. God dreams for the wastelands of Israel that one day they will be green again, pastures, and sheep and shepherds will walk the land. There will be a rebirth of the land and of the people - for these are intimately tied.

And, the prophet goes on to say, God will bring forth new shoots from the tree of David. Not only will there be a successor there will be a succession! God will bring about justice and peace - and the house of Israel will be restored.

Christian's read this prophecy as not only meaning the fruit of God's blessing will fall upon the ancient people of Israel but that the successor is himself Jesus the Christ. God in Christ Jesus will bring about, and is bringing about, this new restoration of a kingdom. This reign of God is quite different from the Christian perspective as it is the ultimate building up of a kingdom of priests and people who will themselves take their places as a reborn Israel.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Christ the King B November 22, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"In the end, Pilate attempts to crucify the Truth. He places a placard nearby mockingly announcing Jesus as The King of the Jews. The irony is thick, of course, because Pilate has unwittingly announced the truth."

Commentary, John 18:33-37, Jaime Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Jesus spoke unashamedly of the impending reign of God and embodied its reality in his ministry through his behaviour. Visionaries, particularly those who let their visions be the agenda for their lives here and now, inevitably confront the forces which want to control the present and mostly resist change."

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

Lord God almighty, you have anointed Jesus as the Christ not to rule a kingdom won by violence but to bear witness to the truth, not to reign in arrogance but to serve in humility and love, not to mirror this world's powers but to inherit a dominion that will not pass away.  Freed from our sins by the blood of this faithful witness, shape our service of others after the pattern of Christ' self-sacrificing love.  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 John 18:33-37

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

As we come to the last Sunday of year B's cycle of preaching we arrive with Jesus before Pilate.  On this Christ the King Sunday we are given an opportunity to proclaim faithfully what we believe and to be challenged by what we say.  We hover on the edge of a season of expectation.  Who is it we await and prepare for?  This is the purpose of this Sunday's lessons.

Jesus arrives at the praetorium and is immediately confronted with the question regarding his reign.  This title is at once connected in context with a liberator; someone who has arrived to set the Jews free from Roman rule.  Jesus responds asking where does this questions come from, and Pilate tells him from the people and religious leaders of the day.  Jesus then answers the first question by saying that the kingdom he has been preaching about, teaching about, and leading people into is not of this world.  We are reminded immediately of last week's prophecy that the kingdoms of this world are passing away as the kingdom and dominion of God takes root.

In the end Pilate will call him king and Jesus will say, "You have said so" or "You say that I am" depending upon your translation.  The reality we face in John's Gospel is one where we see Jesus again and again testifying to the truth.  In these final words and throughout this brief conversation, regardless of translation, we see that what is taking place is the revelation of Jesus as Christ the King.  It is a prophetic and revelationary moment brought by the Pilate (a ruler of this world).  Even the kingdoms of the world will end up confessing the faith of God in Christ Jesus. 

In John's Gospel we remember that the trial itself is a statement that brings forth the truth of John's theology.  In the beginning of this conversation Jesus differentiates between worldly kingdoms and the religious implications of the kingdom of God.  Then we discover what is the kingdom like. Jesus' kingdom, according to John's Gospel, is a kingdom which affects the world.  The kingdoms of the world will fall away as those who follow Jesus transform the world through their faith and proclamation of the truth.  (Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol 2, 869) This kingdom of God will not be of this world but will be from above.  It is a kingdom of the spirit rather than one of the body.  It shall be a kingdom ruled by love and truth.

Pilate misses the point.

But the point is not missed on those who sit in our pews this Sunday nor by those who will dare and proclaim this fact.  We are Christians and we proclaim a unique Jesus and a unique kingdom. This is our work this Sunday: to clearly state the faith of the church in a God who is God of all, his son, and the Holy Spirit.

We are called to preach the gospel of good news of salvation: that the kingdom of this world is passing away and that a kingdom of God based upon love and truth with one another and God is taking root. We do this in all places and in all times. Sometimes our church has done it well, sometimes we have not.  We are to positively engage and dialogue beyond a tolerance of others.  We offer a view of the social and human condition that locates all humanity in the embrace of a loving and caring God.  A God who is revealed corporeally in the person of Jesus; and so incarnationally in ourselves and neighbors.

We are to, on Christ the King Sunday  especially  (and all the rest of the time as a matter of fact) to offer a vision of a new familial order which is rooted in our faith in a Trinitarian God, the outward sign of baptism, and discipleship based upon what we believe - our catechism.  We are Christian and unabashedly Episcopalian on this matter. 

Does this mean we do not have questions? Of course not. Who has not found themselves in Pilate's seat trying to understand?  No, we are to engage in a society of friendship and build a community of relationships where by the wealth of our common searching AND our common faith helps us to understand the singularity of message: God loves the world, so much so that it is not judged, but embraced and drawn closer into God's bosom by the ministry of Jesus and his followers.

This is a great Sunday to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, particularly through the reality of this new dominion not of this world, but of heaven and the holy spirit, which is even now taking root.  This is a most important Sunday in which the preachers of faith may stand up and proclaim boldly the reign of Christ and at the same time show that this truth engages with the world and all its Pilate like questions.  This is the community of faith which is uniquely Anglican and Episcopalian. This is a dominion where all questions are welcome and truth is proclaimed.

Revelation 1:4-8

"These are living words of great theological depth too often neglected by some Christians or poorly interpreted by others."

Commentary, Revelation 1:4b-8, Eric Barreto, Preaching This Week,, 2013.
"Charis recalls the patronage system of the early Roman world, in which a patron displayed generosity to his clients, and expected loyalty in return.Eirene reminds one of the Hebrew shalom, the notion of wholeness and peace that is often associated with a deep and meaningful relationship to God."

Commentary, Revelation 1:4b-8, Valerie Nicolet-Anderson, Preaching This Week,, 2012.
"The elaborate imagery about Jesus comes from the world of courts and kings, and the rituals which accompanied them. It was a way of saying: God has underlined that this Jesus really was the valid exponent of what God's being and doing, his going and his coming, is about."

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

Oremus Online NRSV Text

Here is what is about to happen: we are about to have a series of lessons from the Book of revelation. This is it; there is nothing this long or this sequential at any other time in our preaching cycle. I am not yet sure I am brave enough to make it the topic of my preaching for the next couple of weeks but I am beginning to think it is worth it.  

The background is the tradition that this is written by John on Patmos and it is addressed to the "7 churches".  Of course this means that it is written to all churches (as he is at the time writing to all the churches).  A number of good commentaries will make this and other observations about the context.  
In the introductory verses we have a words quoted from Isaiah 44.6, "who is and who was and who is to come." This God is the Alpha and the Omega.  The seven spirits are from Isaiah 11.2ff.  The author bears witness to the fact that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead and ruler over all the earth.

Then there is the witness that Jesus loves us, that he frees us from sin, that we are made into a new community, and that we are (like priests) to serve him.  We are being, even now, drawn into a worshiping community which eventually will move from the world of time to everlasting glory forever and ever. 

These are the very themes of the whole text.  They make the mission of Jesus upon his return the event which will bring all of this to pass.  Upon his return all shall be transformed. "Amen.  Amen." This is the way it is going to be folks.  It reminds me of that Duck Dynasty picture I saw last week.

God is God and he has come, he is coming back, and he intends to bring about the recreation of the world.  

Walter Taylor, of Lutheran Seminary, writes:
"The Revelation lesson gives us an opening to talk about Christology in ways we may not have had on Easter. All or any one of the many titles of verse 5 could be explored. Taken together they outline a full Christology that includes life, death, resurrection, and present lordship. The Christological emphasis continues with the love of Christ and his freeing action by means of his death (verses 5b-6), and in verse 7 we look forward to the coming of Jesus as the final judge."

This is a great opportunity to think about with the congregation who this Christ is that we worship and what does he have to do with our living of lives in this particular world.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Proper 28B/Ordinary 33B/Pentecost 25, November 15, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Apocalyptic eschatology is essentially about God working on behalf of humanity, and that is what is introduced in the beginning of this discourse. It leaves God alarmingly free and open to the future."

Commentary, Mark 13:1-8, Micah D. Kiel, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

You keep vigil, O God, over the fortunes of your people, guiding their destiny in safety as the history of the world unfolds.  Increase our faith that those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall rise again and give us your Spirit to bring forth in our lives the fruit of charity, so that we may look forward every day to the glorious manifestation of your Son, who will come to gather the us into 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 13:1-8

God makes me nervous. Can I just be honest about that for a moment. When I sit quietly and think about the nature of God, God's unfolding work, my human place within his cosmos, I am aware that I am very nervous about God and how "alarmingly free" the God I believe in actually is.

In our passage today we begin a series of teachings by Jesus which make clear that God's purpose is both great and forever.  At the center of the events unfolding is Jesus in relationship to the Temple.

Not unlike the prophets who offered a vision of Jerusalem's future, or the future of the kingdoms, Jesus offers in our passage today a clarity about nature of the Temple and the downfall which is part of the cosmic plan. 

For our comfort we might easily want to remove the power of these words from taking hold of our hearts by locating the passage historically within the writing of the Markan Gospel following the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 a.d.  Though I agree with this scholastic and critical view, we must always caution ourselves to keep from removing the prophetic voice from our own ears by making this passage simply about the past. Jesus has spoken but the living word also offers us a challenging word today.

The purpose here in Mark is to clearly not speak about the Temple. That is not the point of the text at all! The point of the text is to reveal that the old world is passing away.  Not unlike the passage from Revelation we read last week where in it is clear that a new heaven is already rooting itself in the world and upon taking root is forcing out the world of man.  The point of Jesus' words and the prophecy is to show the reality that this is the new age of God and this is an age that is to be marked by faithfulness and following the living God and Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells us: be careful though because humans will always build new temples and new religions and new teachings.  People will come and they will be false prophets and false leaders. They will tell you a truth that you will want to hear - the church is ruined.  They will seek to lead you - follow me for I know the truth. They will offer a vision that the things of the past are not fading away in the midst of a new future.  What is rooted in Jesus' warnings is not so much that there will be these false teachers but humans out of their desire to be comfortable will seek after them hoping to extinguish the discomfort of God's unfolding destruction of the age of man. 

When human beings get uncomfortable we follow instead of disciple.  When we are feeling the very foundations turn into ashes below us we want a new stronger foundation; and we rarely look forward but look to those who will comfort us with the past. We look for false teachers who offer us a shelter from the storm, the safety of a castle keep, and the island home.  We look for teachers and prophets who will lie to us and tell us that God is safe and predictable and not free.

I am reminded of the Grand Inquisitor in Doestoevsky's Brothers Karamazov as he questions the Messiah upon his return. The Inquisitor is a cardinal and promises that the world the church is creating is better than the world Jesus promises.  He says to the Lord, "So we have done. We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority.  And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep, and that the terrible gift that had brought them such suffering, [your gift of freedom] was, at last, lifted form their hearts.  Were we right teaching them this? Speak!  Did we not love mankind, so meekly acknowledging their feebleness, lovingly lightening their burden, and permitting their weak nature even sin with our sanction? " The temple is passing away even as we speak and it shall be rebuilt as the new heave takes root in our midst.

Nostalgia is after all the idea that we look back at a time that never really existed and make it into a reality which can be compared to the reality we experience in the here and now. It is a way of looking back to a time and place that keeps us from facing the time and place we inhabit today.

Christians have always lived in between the earth which is falling away and the heaven which is not yet fully revealed.  We live in a time which calls not for seeking shelter in the storm but rather for being the shelter in the storm for the world's fearful.  We are the ones, like Jesus, to see the times and the seasons, to know that the what we cling to as humans is passing, that heaven is coming and that safety is not guaranteed but adventure is promised.  This God we worship is free and alarmingly so. This God we worship has a plan and the plans of men are falling in the wake of its eternal progression.

We are as a Christian people invited to cling to Jesus and his love and to counteract the seasons of change.  We are invited to counteract the seasons of change, not by clinging to the temple which is crumbling, or by following every fad that promises a return to a golden age - but rather to counteract the world with love.  So let us endure the birth pangs for the kingdom that is to come requires disciples and apostles to midwife its labors through a mission and proclamation of love.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25

"What is new about the New Covenant, therefore, is not the idea that God loves the world enough to bleed for it, but the claim that here he is actually putting his money where his mouth is."

"Covenant," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.
"As the author grounds his goal for church participation in the eschatology of Christ's session, he grounds the guarantee of Christ's session in the character of God. They can hold their confession without wavering, because the one who promised is faithful."

Commentary, Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] (Pentecost 25B), Amy L.B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,, 2012.
"An intimate and frank relationship with God, openness with one another, and bold public witness that perseveres in the fact of opposition these are the characteristics of the confident community portrayed in today's lesson."

Commentary, Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] (Pentecost 24B), Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

So it is that we come to the end of our readings in Hebrews. We understand now clearly from the author all that is meant by Jesus as our great high priest. We understand that he has transformed the ritual sacrifice of other religions of the day by making a one time offer.

And, we are given a revelation of Christ as king of heaven. That he is seated at the heavenly throne. He has completed his work.  He has completed his faithful work. 

Here the author then turns to make it clear that this image he offers is none other than the suffering servant image of the old testament. The author is doing a quite remarkable job of weaving the story together. We get a sense here then not simply of the continuation of ancient ritual and sacrifice but a greater theme of a creative trajectory. 

The author then invites us to respond to the eternal movement of God and the high priestly sacrifice. We are invited to respond with a clarity of purpose and livelihood crafted as a gift in response to God's work. We are also invited to hold fast to our faith. We are marked as Christ's own forever in baptism and our reciprocity is to express this faith through love and good deeds. We are no longer to be bound by other sacrifices, but instead a response to God's mercy and love with mercy and love. 

And, in case you were wondering if the author of Hebrews was an are correct. This work is always to be yoked to a worshiping community! 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Proper 27B/Ordinary 32B/Pentecost 24, November 8, 2015

Quotes That Make Me Think

"...if we remember that we are called to be stewards of each other – each member committed to the welfare and wellbeing of the rest of the community – maybe we can experience again and anew God’s blessing of us in and through the family of faith."

"Rethinking Stewardship," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"God?s way is the way of self giving love and God?s community needs to be a place where love has freed people to be like that and that includes its leadership, which can often become an instrument of violence."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 24, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Robed in glory before all time, O God, your Son was stripped and mocked.  Enthroned in glory at your side, Christ was lifted up on the cross. Equal to you in the splendor of divinity, Jesus emptied himself for our salvation.  Fix our eyes on this self-surrender, stir up our hearts to give freely and generously all that we are and all that we have for the coming 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 12:38-44

This Sunday we have two pericopes or passages linked together.  Perhaps we typically look at this story as a question of piety - the religious leaders of the day vs. the widow.  We also may be tempted to make this about pledging as it falls in the cycle of stewardship season.  As I approach it this year I am thinking a little differently. 

We are given an image of religious leaders who enjoy walking about in long robes, they prefer titles for address, sit in the best seats and always have the first place at dinner.  It is an image of endowed special privilege.

We add to the gospel painting a knowledge that the first century widow herself was not allowed to own property or to self-direct and manager her own wealth makes this an even more interested vision.  Moreover, that the religious leaders of the day were the caretakers of the wealth of such widows makes an even more convoluted picture of the relationship between these leaders and the widow.  She brings her last coin; in part because the offering being made by the religious leaders is also her own offering.  She is giving twice, once from the managed resources held out of her control, and once for the little bit she has in her care.

The picture we get is one of oppression and also one of an intertwined life.

Jesus is very clear that this is not the way of the follower of God and it is not the way of the new kingdom recreating the world.  This is quite simply not how God's home is ordered.

This is clear if we take into consideration Jesus' teaching previously of how we are to be kind to one another and to offer one another help and aid and consolation.  The small acts of human love require great courage in a world and system that typically takes advantage of the weak and those on the boundary of life. Therefore, in some sense what is before us is a commentary by Jesus on how those who follow him are to give their all to God.

The thing is that we cannot also take this as purely as a teaching on human righteousness.  First of all, as one dear friend says: righteousness is not a very good motivating factor for humans.  When I read the passage I am also mindful, as the scholars, that the widow is an image of God and of Jesus in particular. 

So, we might once again approach the passage with this question: what does it tell us about God? 

I think when we do this we see that humanity has received from God all that we are and all that we have.  It is from God's generosity and God's bounty that we make our offering.  Who doesn't love the best food, best clothes, and best seats?  All of us - of course.  But what we are reminded of is that these things (the things we normally think of sacrificial offerings) are all God's.  We have taken them and we use them.  God, like the widow though, continues to give and to give out of his love.

Jesus, like the widow, will give of his all; even his life.  This is the nature of God's love.  That though we take and misuse and use God continues to give and pour out his love upon us.  This was true in the crucifixion and it is true in the resurrection; as it is true in the outpouring of God's perfect love - the Holy Spirit.

So, as I go to my desk to prepare words for this day I am mindful not only in the manner in which we might misuse our power and make subject those who enable our lifestyle...I am rather mindful that of God's love and God's faith, like a widow, who gives us his all.

It makes me think that rather than offering a "try harder" to give of everything sermon I might simply remind myself and the congregation of God's faithfulness and love; and wonder with them about how we are to respond as or God makes his way down the aisle carrying the cross, as if he were a widow who give all.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 9:24-28

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

"The cycle of sin and atonement ends in Christ."

Commentary, Hebrews 9:24-28, Pentecost 24B, Amy L.B. Peeler, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"We also encounter the contrast between imitation and reality in relationship to matters of faith."

Commentary, Hebrews 9:24-28, Pentecost 23B, Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

We draw closer to the end to our reading of Hebrews. The author too wishes now to put a very fine point on his argument. Let there be no misunderstanding, regardless of your tradition, Christ has passed through the gap and entered into heaven on our behalf. This has happened and it need not happen again. Our sin has been taken away by the one who has gone before us to prepare a place for us. There is no rebreaking of the bread, or Christ's body, there is no sacrifice necessary, no work to be done on our behalf, no matter how early or late you come to the party, the blood has been shed and the sins of many are forgiven. And, just as he came into the world to do this work, to save the sinner, so when he returns he will be about his father's business again. Not to judge, for that judgement has been made, and the price has been settled, and so we - in that time - shall be gathered in. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Proper 26B/Ordinary 31B/Pentecost 23 & All Saints - November 1, 2015

Proper 26 B (All Saints Thoughts below)

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Sacrifices and outward worship never pleased God unless we first did the things which we owe to God and our neighbours."

From the Geneva Notes.

"All of us who spend our days swimming in the fickle currents of the church, at war with things both petty and impossible -- tired, sometimes, before the meeting begins -- that we are not far from the kingdom."

"Extra Credit," Robin R. Meyers, The Christian Century, 2000. At Religion Online.

You are one God, O Lord, and beside you there is no other.  You alone are we to love with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.  Sharpen our ears to hear this great commandment.  Arouse our hearts to offer this twofold love.  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 12:28-34

Oremus Online NRSV Text

The passage is one set with a narrative of confrontation between the religious leaders of Jesus' day and the message that he brings to the world.  The re-genesis of the world is now and the kingdom and dominion of God is now.

God is one, not a static one, but one forever.  God is unity and unifying.  God is working the unity of the world with God and has been doing so from the beginning of time.  The world above and the world below are being unified in the work of Jesus and the work of God. (Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 845)

In a time when God seems distant and when all seems lost, both for the first followers of Jesus and for the Jewish empire itself, this is a radical message.  God is even now joining heaven and earth.

And even more radical is the message it entails: Love God and love neighbor and we shall be connected.  Part of the very work from the creations time is the work of becoming a loving community focused upon God and the neighbor.

I am rereading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and remember now the Elder's words in the section entitled "An Unfortunate Gathering," chapter 4.  Here the Elder speaks of active love.

"By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbour actively and indefatigably.  In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul.  If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbour, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul.  This has been tried. This is certain." (1912 trans by Constance Garnett, p53)

This is love which Jesus speaks about is a "one way love" as my friend the Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl talks about it. God has one way unifying love for the creation and for the creature wherein the two dominions are to be joined together beyond any one man's ability to try and put it asunder.  Jesus tells us that we are to be about this one way love as well.  Our one way love is to be directed towards God and towards others.

On this occasion when I read the passage I enjoyed most Jesus last words to his dear inquisitor: "You are not far from the kingdom of God."  This one way active love is greater than all burnt offerings and sacrifices to be sure; and yet it is so very hard to do!!!

As the Elder offers consolation to the young woman seeking to communicate how hard this active love is he comforts her and then offers:

"I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.  Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sigh to fall.  Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage.  But active love is labour and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps a complete science.  But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting further from your goal instead of nearer to it -- at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you."  (Ibid, 55)

How easy is the dream of doing Jesus' guiding commandment, how hard to be constantly about active love. So you see we are all so very near the kingdom of God.  Just in the moment when all is lost we may in fact clearly recognize the one way love of God and so be redeemed.  And, in the moments when we offer such love on way to the other we are near.

That is good news it seems to me.  We are being joined and knit together in a new creation by God through God's love.  And, we in life, as we draw close we automatically begin to give that love to others.

I doubt this Sunday that a "work harder on loving God and neighbor" sermon will produce the desired results.  But a sermon of God's one way, uniting love, may in fact be just the medicine for the wounded heart and just the thing to knit our own fractured lives together.

Hebrews 9:11-15

"We might even seek to emulate the level of creativity our author has shown when we face the challenge of speaking this same message to people in our day who live in a different symbolic world but face substantially the same needs."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 23, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

God first came to Jesus' people in the wild places. The message in this week's lesson from Hebrews is a great missionary encouragement. It reminds us that the Gospel took place out in the wild in the midst of a tent. The author also reminds us that the old ways were ways that were repeated on a seasonal and regular basis.

Jesus is our great high priest, and while we are called to remember his sacrifice - this is not a repeat of it. We are invited to ponder instead the perfection of Jesus' sacrifice and to worship a living God who has broken open the temple, mended the gulf between heaven and earth, and who invites us once again out into the world, into the wildness for we are free and a redeemed people.

Thoughts for All Saints Sunday

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The epiphany is that we are to see ourselves in Lazarus and see the miracle of his restoration of physical life as the beginning of our entry into eternal life that begins the moment we accept Jesus' offer of relationship with us."

"Lazarus Is Us," Reflections on John 11:1-45, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2011.

"This story about Lazarus shares much in common with that of the Samaritan woman at the well. With the Samaritan woman the issue was seeing Jesus as the source of living water as compared to ordinary water. Here the issue is to see Jesus as the source of living life as compared to ordinary life."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 11:1-45, David Ewart, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

is the multitude, God of all holiness, countless the throng you have assembled from the rich diversity of all earth's children.  With your church in glory, your church in this on lifts up our hands in prayer, our hearts in thanksgiving and praise.  Pattern our lives on the blessedness Jesus taught, and gather us with all the saints into your kingdom's harvest, that we may stand with them and, clothed in glory, join our voices to their hymn of thanksgiving and praise.  We ask this through 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 John 11:32-44

Some congregations will move All Saints to this Sunday, so it seemed appropriate to also spend a few minutes reflecting on the Gospel appointed in this year's cycle for All Saints.  This is also our reading in Year A, Lent 5.  I begin with one of my favorite prayers:

O my all-merciful God and Lord,
Jesus Christ, full of pity:
Through Your great love You came down
and became incarnate in order to save everyone.
O Savior, I ask You to save me by Your grace!
If You save anyone because of their works,
that would not be grace but only reward of duty,
but You are compassionate and full of mercy!
You said, O my Christ,
"Whoever believes in Me shall live and never die."
If then, faith in You saves the lost, then save me,
O my God and Creator, for I believe.
Let faith and not my unworthy works be counted to me, O my God,
for You will find no works which could account me righteous.
O Lord, from now on let me love You as intensely as I have loved sin,
and work for You as hard as I once worked for the evil one.
I promise that I will work to do Your will,
my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life and forever more.

Prayer of St. John Chrysostom

"The point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever." writes William Loader.

John's Gospel is a wonderful proclamation of the power, divinity, and transformation that is available to every person through Jesus Christ. The author has written, among the four Gospels, a compelling witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, as the giver of light, breath, and life from the very creation of the earth.

The story of the raising of Lazarus has never ceased to inspire and enliven both my imagination and my heart for the work of the Gospel. Our Gospel this week is the highest of revelationary narratives in the Gospel in both form and in content.

Jesus' raising of Lazarus is a reason why so many follow him and is clear in 12:17-18. He is as we know and have been experiencing throughout the Lenten readings the giver of life. (see 5:25-29), and precipitating his death (see 11:53). If we were reading along we would see that this is the last of a second set of miracle stories in John's Gospel that follow and highlight Jesus' teaching and conversation with his followers.

The passage begins with Jesus away and teaching, he is not present for his friend or his friends family. They come to get him and tell him that Lazarus has died. The words used to describe Jesus reaction to this are words that tell us he was affected greatly by the news. Again Jesus speaks of the work that must be done while he is with them, and that the work must be done in the light. Certainly these are like the other sayings that we have seen apocalyptic forecasts. Nevertheless, the very real human loss and desire for life is ever present as Jesus leaves to go to where Lazarus is buried.

He is of course returning to a place where he has shown power before and a place of danger. You might remember that he was almost stoned though he passed through them. 10:31, 39.

Jesus states that Lazarus has fallen asleep. This is a common reference to death in the time of Jesus and after. Chris Haslaam has done some very good research and provides links for other parts of the New Testament that say the same thing: "A common New Testament description of death: see Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 5:10. (In several of these verses, the NRSV has died; however, the Greek can also be translated fell asleep.) [NOAB]"

Jesus words of peace and comfort are kind and simple....things will be better...they will be all right. Yet we must also realize that the word used here is one that means "to be saved." Sosthesetai is translated into "be saved." It is the word for salvation. Our witness to the raising of Lazarus is not simply a witness then to healing story, or an act of kindness, or a hopeful act, but a transformational act of restoration of health - of true salvation. It is a miracle, which like the other miracles in John's Gospel, clearly represent the work of glorifying God through the ministry of Jesus.

We are told that Lazarus had been in the grave for three days. There is a lot written around the idea of the Jewish burial services and the timeliness of such activities once the person has died. But I do not wish to get into this though it is interesting. I believe that the real meat of the text is in the conversation about salvation and resurrection.

As we continue the discourse on the resurrection we note that the Pharisees believed, along with other popular movements of the day, that all the Jews would be raised. Gentiles too if their integrity was judged by God to be suitable. I like how Chris Haslaam has written about these next two verses.

Verse 25: Jesus modifies Pharisaic doctrine. His words are not only about resurrection but also about the fate of those faithful to him. Jesus is not only the agent of final resurrection but also gives life now: see also Romans 6:4-5; Colossians 2:12; 3:1. Mere physical death can have no hold over the believer. [NOAB]
Verse 26: The believer has passed from the death of sin into life: see also Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8. [BlkJn]
Jesus then gives life now and in the age to come. Immediately Martha offers the same statement as the blind man in last weeks lesson. Her words, while a question refer to previous affirmations in the Gospel. She is convinced...convinced that the proclamation of Andrew on the Galilean shore was true 1:41. She is convinced that Nathanael's proclamation is true. 1:49. She is convinced that the good news revealed int he feeding of the 5 thousand is true. 6:14.

Jesus approaches the tomb and calls Lazarus forth. It is not a resurrection story. But we cannot miss the connections as Jesus calls forth the dead from the tomb as he will most certainly do in the Easter miracle bringing all of the saints into light.

I also am struck by the reality that Lazarus must be unbound and that many participate with Jesus in this work of freeing him from death into life, from darkness into light.

The Gospel tells us that this miracle of reviving Lazarus is for the glory of God. It is also brings many more into the Jesus movement. We cannot see the disturbing events that lay ahead of Jesus without seeing the impact of this great miracle on the movement itself. For surely, as the Gospel testifies, the leaders of the day were worried and concerned.

This is a great miracle story. It is one that is rich with inter-textual meaning and connections. It highlights Jesus' as the one who gives life and breath. As Jesus says in the beginning of the text day is becoming night, and yet as we read we see that it will be Jesus who brings us out of the shadow of the darkness of the tomb into the light of day.

The witness of this passage is an evangelical one pointing us to the truth of the person of Jesus Christ so that we might believe and then raise the dead ourselves!

We are here at the precipice of our readings of Jesus' ministry.  On this day we remember the saints of God who have gone before us, we are mindful then of our own tomb and our own death yet to come.  We hope in God and Christ Jesus that this death will not be an end but a passing.  We hoep with sure and certain faith that God has raised Lazarus and in his work to bridge the kingdom of God with the world that we shall be scooped up into his harms, unbound from our eathly ego and all that binds us.

We continue the longest series of readings from the book of Revelation this week.  In today's passage the vision is of a new heaven and new earth.  The first things have passed away.

As a number of theologians point out the book of Revelation squarely places the kingdom of God's work on earth.  Rather than the heavens consuming the earth as in many other apocalyptic tradition the image and theme of Revelation is that heaven comes to earth; the fulfillment of the incarnation and the work of Jesus.

At the wedding at Cana of Galilee one can imagine the bride and groom and the many attendees gathered around enjoying the company of one another.  The image though of the bride of Christ given in the previous chapter is not a wedding feast where earth is brought into heaven and all rejoice.  It is instead an image of a beautiful and wondrous earthly city.  It is a place of hospitality to the stranger and  a place of rest for the weary pilgrim, and peace for God's people.  Tears are wiped away in this place and the world itself is transformed.

Such a city has been on the hearts and minds of Christians from Augustine to the slave, from the missionary to the persecuted.  It is found in the writings of William Blake and is present in the abolitionist and civil rights leader's voice.

In revelation we are not offered a future hope of heavenly bliss but a transformed earth.  The resurrection happens on earth and so to will the reign of God.  We can all think of the Armageddon images and films which promise some form of escapism from the world.  This is not quite the image we find in Revelation.  The earth is made new.  Not unlike the Christ after resurrection where he is more present, more real, than he was before the same may be said for the new earth.  The reign of God on earth will be more present and more real.  What has been seen only in part will be revealed in an even greater way.

The earth which has been sowed for power and ruled by authorities other than God will be changed.  It isn't so much that the earth or seas will be no more as they will no longer be used and corrupted by powers outside of the reign of God.  The earth that is made new is sustainable and God will provide for his people.  This will be a new world, remade, and reordered such that the power of Rome or Babylon cannot keep the waters of life from those who seek it.  This vision is transformative and promises a different world which will provide all that is needed for its population. The hungry and thirsty will receive good things to eat and drink.  The powers that have ruled the world and corrupted the creation and the creatures will no longer have dominion.

The city which John envisions comes down from heaven to earth is a sight for us all.  It is a revelation of a new earth; and the promise of a creation which supports bounteous life under the reign of a loving and providing God.