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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Epiphany 6A February 16, 2020


As we come to offer our gift at your altar, make us eager in seeking reconciliation, so that e may live the gospel of your kingdom with single-hearted devotion, our every thought filled with respect for one another an our every deed with reverence.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:13-20

"As far as I know, there is only one good reason for believing that he was who he said he was. One of
the crooks he was strung up with put it this way: 'If you are the Christ, save yourself and us' (Luke 23:39). Save us from whatever we need most to be saved from. Save us from each other. Save us from ourselves. Save us from death both beyond the grave and before. If he is, he can. If he isn't, he can't. It may be that the only way in the world to find out is to give him the chance, whatever that involves. It may be just as simple and just as complicated as that." 
"Messiah," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"The season of Ephipany proclaims the good news of God's presence with us. Our response to that proclamation, our recognition of God's life and work here and now, is more than going through the motions of church. Jesus calls us to a whole new life in God."
Commentary, Matthew 5:21-37, Amy Oden, Epiphany 6, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

This part of the Gospel has a number of sections. Our reading today has four of these "antithetical" style teachings. "You have heard that it was said, but I say to you," are the introduction for each one. In each Jesus recalls a teaching and then presses his followers to go deeper. We might remember that in the previous introduction to Jesus' teaching on the mountain he reminds us that he is the one to fulfill the law and not to abolish the law.

A quick read of Daniel J. Harrington's thoughts on the idea of law can help us better place this teaching in context. (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 91) The English term "Law" can distort the Jewish understanding of Torah. The word "Torah" derives from the Hebrew verb "instruct" (yrh) and refers to the teaching or instruction presented in the Scriptures, especially the Pentateuch. For Jews the Torah was (and is) the revelation of God's will, a kind of divine blueprint for action. It is a gift and privilege given to Israel, not a burden. Acting upon the Torah is the privileged way of responding to the Creator God who has entered into covenant relationship with Israel. It presupposes the prior manifestation of God's love.

The Greek translation of Torah (nomos) is not incorrect since the Torah is concrete and demands action. But the theological context of covenant can never be forgotten if distortion is to be avoided.If we begin then with this understanding we can read these antithesis in a very different way.

If we think of the prerequisite of God's love and covenant, then the baptismal affirmation of that covenant, we arrive at these understanding that these then are a manner of Christian life. When we work on these higher ways of being we engage in the fulfillment of the covenant relationship we have with God. When we do not we turn our backs on the covenant relationship God wishes to have with us.

In the first antithesis Jesus teaches us that when we live and dwell in anger, when we use anger, and lash out or treat others out of our anger we are destroying the creatures of God. Anger leads to death. The higher way of following Jesus is to acknowledge this death and to seek reconciliation. Both illustrations make clear that not only is anger a destructive force in the life of Christian community but that it is an unacceptable manner of leadership. One cannot offer gifts and talents at God's altar unless one is reconciled with ones enemies.

Somehow in our culture we have decided it is okay to be angry and to treat others (service providers and enemies) with scorn, discontent, and hostility. Jesus teaches us that we destroy the creatures of God and one another when we do this. Yes, we live in a country where we honor a person's right to free speech. That does not mean that such manners of speech build up our country or the communities in which we live.

Jesus teaches us another way. Jesus teaches us (and many of his followers need to hear this clearly) that such behavior is unacceptable, destructive, and we are held accountable to a higher standard. Our bodies and person reflect the glory of God and in his second teaching Jesus explains that lust destroys the higher purpose of our flesh. Christianity and the Episcopal Church is uniquely a very incarnational faith. We understand that the beauty of God is reflected in all creation and in one another. When we look on one another with the eyes of Jesus Christ we cannot help but see God's glory revealed.

 Jesus calls us to this higher understanding and tells us that lust leads to adultery. These are two charged words. But if we remember the understanding of the Torah above we have a better and much more clear understanding of the teaching here. Certainly what he says is true. However, there is a higher code being offered here. Lust is a form of viewing individuals as objects of desire. It turns the flesh from being a revelation of God and God's creative and covenantal acts to something that can be possessed by another human being. In this teaching we see the role of dominance and power abusing the creatures of God. Bodies and people are works of Godly art when we treat them otherwise we change them. When we use sex to sell something or when we abuse people sexually we are defaming God's handiwork -- that which he called very good. In our culture we use lust, sex, and images of humans as commodities to be bought and sold for the purpose of individual enrichment or for power gain. Not unlike free speech, our country provides an environment where this is seen as normative. However, for the Christian we must as individuals live a higher standard. Lust destroys that upon which it fixes its gaze. It will also eventually destroy the person who lives a life fed by it.

I would add that divorce enters into the picture here because it is the death of the covenant relationship illustrated in the man and woman's brokenness. While Jesus speaks of lust leading to adultery, we live in world where divorce happens for many different reasons. Jesus is clear about what happens in divorce and how it is rooted in brokenness. When humans have so destroyed the image of the union of God with humanity that in their relationship they can no longer see the love God has for them the relationship is itself broken. When they cannot see the beauty they reflect or the goodness out of which God created them -- the relationship is over.

The Episcopal Church has responded by allowing for divorce and for remarriage. It has done this as a pastoral and caring approach to members of the community who find themselves in this very sad place. The church has more that it can do to help people shoulder the pain of divorce; regardless of its cause. An individual who lives with the false belief that they are no longer good, somehow failed, or that God does not love them can be an incredible mill stone around an individual spiritual life.

The last of the antithetical styled teachings in this Sunday's lesson is about oaths. Here Jesus offers the very simply reminder that yes and no are perfectly good answers. The Torah permits oaths in every day speech as long as they are neither irreverent or false (Allison/Davies, Matthew, vol 1, p. 532). Again, one must be careful in speech to not do damage to that which is God's.

I am struck here by thoughts provided by the Anglican theologian John Milbank offers in a number of his texts that our words have meaning and they have being. They have substance. We believe in a God who created with the and through the Word. We believe in the Word which becomes flesh, the living Word of God. Not unlike how feelings change the world in Jesus' teaching about anger. Not unlike how we look and treat people changes the world. How we speak, for Christians, makes meaning and being in the world. Our words are powerful and we are accountable for them.

These are three very difficult teachings. These teachings are tough no matter who you are, but especially if you claim to follow Jesus. All too often the Christian point the world and calls for transformation. More often than not it is the Christian, me included, who needs to do the transformative work of listening to Jesus' words.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 3:1-9

" After a heady exposition of how true, Godly wisdom is given by the Spirit of God, Paul returns to directly address the Corinthians' divisions and the assessments of themselves and their leaders upon which those divisions are based.
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, J.R. Daniel Kirk, Epiphany 6, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"We have lost the literal meaning of 'minister' as servant or slave. The Greek word, diakonos, easily lost into technicality, also means slave. Paul uses it here."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 6, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"This congregation, this people, this great good news of Jesus Christ are not objects to be fought over. No church member and no apostle owns this mission field. It is God's."
"You Are Not Ready," Paul Bellan-Boyer, City Called Heaven, 2011.

"God's grace is manifested not only in the forgiveness of our sins but is also creatively redemptive, the power that works in us to make us perfect in love. Nothing short of perfection, Christlikeness in thought, word, and deed, can measure God's loving purpose for us. It is our faith that the fundamental change wrought in the individual by regeneration is a dynamic process which by growth in grace moves toward "mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." We may quench the Spirit and fall from grace but our divine destiny is perfect love and holiness in this life."

"We Believe in Christian Perfection," Georgia Harkness, Chapter 8 in Beliefs That Count, 1961. At Religion Online.

"This congregation, this people, this great good news of Jesus Christ are not objects to be fought over. No church member and no apostle owns this mission field. It is God's."

"You Are Not Ready," Paul Bellan-Boyer, City Called Heaven, 2011.

I love that we are continuing through the Corinthian readings!  In our passage Paul begins by saying that people are still people. That we, some of us that is, are not fully formed in the spirit and so we are "infants in Christ."  We come from the world into the body of Christ through baptism.  We are cultured and as we move closer to Christ we grow in our understanding that we belong to God and in this being are now made different.  Paul is clear the Corinthians are having a hard time with this and are really struggling with their worldly nature.

Will Willimon is fond of saying: "In baptism our citizenship is transferred from one dominion to another, & we become, in whatever culture we find ourselves, resident aliens."  This is Paul's point...It is as if Paul is saying to the Corinthian church folk look you have got this backwards you are not to be resident aliens in the church; instead you are to be resident aliens in the culture.

Paul says if there is jealousy and strife then there is the world and the world's values.  Those who truly represent God are those who act with gracious conduct towards one another. Regardless of the celebrated cause of the day those who are God's never make their cause God's cause they are focused. They never seek division nor do they cause division.

Paul continues to make his case by pointing out that when we take in so is right and so and so is wrong...we are just parroting the world.  Just because you add Jesus' name before you divide people doesn't make it right.  Whenever you abuse another in God's name (our Matthew reading for today points out) you do murder.  Anger and vengeance are not Godly traits.

Preachers will think it is their role to do this.  Paul believes it is worse when preachers do it. Those who are tasked with building up, uniting, and growing the body should never be about dividing it. This is the sign of a false teacher.  The work of the preacher or leader is to do the work of reconciliation with God for themselves and then to aid in God's reconciling work in creation.  To play a role in politics and divisions is to engage in a worldly act.

It is our job to encourage, to love, to unite, to reconcile, to give God's blessing.  As Paul Zahl says: it is about love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. That is it...what more is there. Love, mercy, forgiveness, grace...repeat...

God grows.  We don't grow things.  We are, Paul says, "nothing" in this process.  We are mere vessels.  Every moment we begin to think we are in charge of the vessel leads us down a terrible world.  Our feelings and our perceptions about our-self are flawed.

Paul does say though that those who do the work faithfully will be blessed. Those who keep to these values of unity and encouragement will in fact be fellow-workers with Christ; rather than frustrating Christ's efforts in us.

"For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building."  It is as Gods and in making ourselves open to God's perfecting Holy Spirit that we are able to become a temple of prayer for all God's people and a field in which rise up the great Harvest Lord's ingathering.

Some Thoughts on Deuteronomy 30:15-20

" Jesus states his call and demands in terms as uncompromising as Moses,' and those who would follow him must consider carefully the cost of discipleship. Today's gospel reading leaves no doubt that disciples must make a sharp break with their past, sell all, and do as the Lord commands. Grace is free, but it is not cheap."
Commentary, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Brian C. Jones, Pentecost +16, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"Perhaps this is a day to preach about slaves who labored without pay and without any day to commemorate their harsh work."
Bread for the World Commentary, Barbara K. Lundblad, 2013. (pdf.)

"The majestic speech of Deuteronomy nears its conclusion in this stirring exhortation."Commentary, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Carolyn J. Sharp, Pentecost +15, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"The call to choose life comes right on the heels of this list of condemned actions that are relatively insignificant."
Commentary, Deuteronomy 30:15-20 | Marissa Coblentz | A Plain Account, 2017

"This Pentecost text has commonly been considered the conclusion to the farewell speech of Moses to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20).."
Commentary, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Terence E. Fretheim, Preaching This Week,, 2016.

The Gospel of Matthew offers a vision of the beloved community that is shaped by works of discipleship. The community as envisioned is laid out clearly in the sermon on the mount. The community of followers of Jesus is also deeply rooted in the narrative of Israel and how it was shaped by the boundaries of the Torah. We must be careful here though. While the gospeller tells us that we are tied to the Torah it is always with the lens of Jesus. We must be careful not to take away from the law (would caution Matthew’s author) because to do so is out of step with Jesus’ own understanding. This is certainly seen in his confrontation with the religious leaders of his day. At the same time the Torah must be seen primarily through the eyes of Jesus’ ministry and his instruction. Here is a refocusing of the law with a lens towards justice, mercy, and faith. (Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 121)

So we turn to our reading from Deuteronomy. On the one hand remembering that this is a retelling of the story of the first four books of the Old Testament, with an eye to the faithful community. It is a book cast within the narrative frame of Moses reminding the people what lessons they have learned prior to entering the promised land. Just before this passage Moses says, “These commandments are not too hard for you, and they are not too foreign.” (30:11)

Moses begins our passage with these words: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” (30:15) Then he says that people will know who you are and who you love by the work you undertake in keeping these commandments. Love God and act as followers of God and you will be blessed and those who look upon you will know not only what you do but whose you are.

Furthermore, if you do not then you will perish. You will perish if you worship other gods, if you serve yourself, you will lose what has been promised to you, and you will fail the mission that is yours specifically because you are God’s people. “Everything is before you”, Moses says, “Life and death, blessings and curses.”

The key will be loving God, doing the work of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. This will be understood not simply by worshiping God but as we read the rest of the Old Testament, with an eye to the sermon on the mount, we know it will be remembering the poor, helpless, and hopeless. God has acted for the migrant, the poor, the worker of the land, and those who have nothing. God acts for the motley people of God and God will act for the community that remembers them. Righteousness is to be defined in the prophets to come and in the living out of the covenant not by ritual faithfulness but by communal care of everyone. The land, and creation, is yours, but as will be clear in the rest of the narrative, you will lose it if you forget the lowly. You were delivered, deliver others, or God will go about the delivering Godself and find those who are interested in such works of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Epiphany 5A February 9, 2020


Almighty God, giver of all things, give us grace to be salt with flavor so that we may be helpful in spreading the good news of your kingdom.  Give us wisdom to be light in the world, not hidden but shared, so that people may not only hear of your love for them but find their way into your loving embrace.  Let our salt and light be not only words but actions that honor by serving our neighbor.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:13-20

"...we need to actually show people that they are, in fact, salt and light. So I suggest starting a "Salt & Light Log." Really. Start asking people to collect examples of where God has worked through them to help someone else."

"Salt and Light," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

"God's perfection in this context is, therefore, love offered without partiality."
"You, Therefore, Must Be Perfect," commentary by Fred B. Craddock in The Christian Century, 1990. At Religion Online.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

This passage follows on the heals of the sermon on the mount. However, most everyone did not read that passage last Sunday in our Episcopal tradition but skipped over to Luke for the presentation in the temple and the prophesies by Ana and Simeon.

In this weeks passage Jesus turns his attention to his followers and begins to expand his teaching.  What is interesting is that salt does not actually lose its flavor!  What?! That is correct. Salt does not lose its flavor.  
Common salt comprises a very stable, simple chemical compound called sodium chloride, which has a salty flavour. As table salt, it typically also contains minor amounts of additives to keep it free-flowing.  As it is so chemically stable, sodium chloride will not lose its saltiness, even after being stored dry for many years. However, there are ways in which salt may appear to lose its saltiness.

Historically, salt has been obtained from crude sources such as salt marshes, and minerals such as rock salt. This contains the stable sodium chloride plus other components. Sodium chloride is readily water-soluble, so if this crude salt were exposed to condensation or rain water, the sodium chloride could be dissolved and removed, and the salt could in effect lose its saltiness. 
Also, the salty flavour is detected by our sense of taste. If there were a physiological change in the functioning of our taste buds, salt consumed may no longer taste the same, but this would not be due to any inherent change in the salt itself.
In summary, salt, i.e. sodium chloride, is a very stable material which retains its properties when stored dry. (By Peter Stotereau, 10 Jul 2010 / Chemistry,

What I also found interesting is that salt did, in the religious tradition of Jesus' day, become unclean and was to be thrown away.  When it was ritually pure it was used in the temple to season incense and it was even added to the offerings.)  So...salt was a big deal in the life of Israel and in the life of emerging societies that depended upon it as a preservative.  The basic image nevertheless is a powerful one...salt without its saltiness really isn't any good to anyone.

Jesus then also gives a very practical understanding about light and how people don't go around wasting perfectly good (and expensive - as candles were a luxury) light. Interestingly, candles are mostly associate with worship.  Jesus may be speaking about a lamp here which is probably more likely and more relevant to his hearers' ears. That being said light in darkness was an important and life giving ingredient to humanity.  Think about it also... a typical home only had one opening...the light would only go through a door - no windows. We are to pour light out into the world like a city. And, if we remember our past lesson - even though it was from Luke, Jesus is light in our darkness.  Again...there is a lot going on here.  

Both of these images begin to shape Jesus' expectations of us...that we not remain disciples, but that we become apostles. That we not simply follow Jesus but that we are meant to go out and be an example to others.  We are to change lives by reflecting the life of Jesus. Sometimes I think we get into trouble by trying to reflect other things...but Jesus is saying, "Be salt as I am salt in the world. Be light as I am light in the world." 

Jesus reminds us that there are very faithful people who are members of the family of God. They are good, they try to be good, they do their very best at trying to do the right thing.  Jesus adds thought and says that really isn't enough.  Being a really good person is ok...but if it is focused on you then we may have a little problem.  We are to share what we have in God and what we have found in God.

Jesus is talking about something very different.  Religion is most often about the individual coming to a certain sacred place, doing sacred acts, and so receiving an invitation to be closer to the divine.  Jesus is saying that the divine one is out in the world and all about us.  God is present and when we serve others on God's behalf his presence is multiplied.  Jesus is offering a view of faith that is far more than simply bing good and following the rules.  This is really an expansive view that is not limited to the holy shrine of choice.

Jesus is offering a vision of where the law to love God and love neighbor becomes rooted in the heart where love and compassion are found.  That we are to love, have compassion, offer mercy without partiality to all those we come upon.  Here is how Chris Haslam describes this change:
"One of the ways he fulfills the Law is by looking at its intent and not just the words used to express it. (For example, the Law says you shall not murder but Jesus says, in effect, you shall attempt never to impair your relations with another person.) Whoever regards the Law as he does, even if he or she fails sometimes, will gain entry into the Kingdom."
Jesus is saying that we are to be perfect in moving beyond the law.  You cannot fulfill the law if you are not in healthy thriving relationships with others.  Moreover, it isn't enough to love the ones you love and hate the ones you hate.  Jesus expects the relationship to go far beyond the expected - you are to love the ones you love and love the ones you hate.  Here is what is crazy!  In the regular way things work the old law is based upon ho the other person (other than yourself) treats you.  Fred Craddock says this well:
"The flaw in such relationships is that they are entirely determined by the other person: the one who is friendly is treated as a friend; the one who behaves as an enemy is an object of hatred; the one who speaks is spoken to; the one who spurns is spurned."
Jesus is then bad...the difference between knowledge and wisdom is that knowledge says this or that...wisdom says  No matter how they treat  No matter what they  Do not become like them!  You are God's so be like God.  Craddock continues with these words:
"Jesus says that one’s life is not to be determined by friend or foe but by God, who relates to all not on the basis of their behavior or attitude toward God but according to God’s own nature, which is love. God does not react, but acts out of love toward the just and unjust, the good and the evil. God is thus portrayed as perfect in relationships, that is, complete: not partial but impartial. God’s perfection in this context is, therefore, love offered without partiality."
So there it is...God in Christ Jesus is challenging us to the law and more.  This is how salt and light keep their flavor and how they are shared with others.  For in acting as God acts the world is truly stumped by such grace. And, it is transformed in the face of such abundant grace and love.

As a bishop we talk a lot about why the church is shrinking in size and why people don't find us helpful ingredients in their recipe to find God or light in their pilgrimage to God's embrace.  The real reason is that we have gotten really good at the law part and we really fail to be like God.  We are to love, to not react, but to act always out of love, to do this to the just and unjust, to love those who are good and those who are bad. We like God are to have a complete impartiality with others.  That my friends is difficult and it is certainly not an abolishing of the law but rather an increase of its precepts.  

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 2:1-16

"And so one more time we see that the story we tell about the cross of Christ becomes the measure by which the stories of our own communities are judged."
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16), J.R. Daniel Kirk, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"...Paul's understanding of the Spirit is different from that of the Corinthians, who see the Spirit in terms of miracle and power. For Paul the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and brings to life again that same Christ of the cross."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 5, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Paul's discourse on the cross works as an apocalyptic 'speech-act,' the agent of a perceptual shift that transfers the believer from a false reality to the authentic reality characterized by having the 'mind of Christ'."
"Apocalyptic Transformation in Paul's Discourse on the Cross," Alexandra R. Brown, Volume XVI, Number 4, Word & World, Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary, 1996.

"...Paul's understanding of the Spirit is different from that of the Corinthians, who see the Spirit in terms of miracle and power. For Paul the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and brings to life again that same Christ of the cross."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 5, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"And so one more time we see that the story we tell about the cross of Christ becomes the measure by which the stories of our own communities are judged."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16), J.R. Daniel Kirk, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"It is better to speak of "learning Jesus," rather than of "knowing Jesus," because we are concerned with a process rather than a product."

"Learning Jesus," Luke Timothy Johnson. Spiritual intimacy through Christ, adapted from Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel (1999). Republished at Religion OnLine.

Paul is a simple guy. He is not a philosopher. He was probably educated and he was certainly a man who knew the law. He was a business man and a tent maker.  But Paul was pretty simple and he reminds us of this fact in the first verses of today's lesson. It is as if he is saying, "Look you guys. You like philosophers and lofty words of wisdom. That isn't me. I am a normal guy. But I know this...I know and have come to know God in Christ Jesus and his cross.

It isn't so much an educated vs. non-educated thing. Hardly! In fact it is simply not about signs, symbols, and philosophies.  It is instead about ministry.  It is about our response to God. It isn't about being a hypocrite or not but rather about responding to God.  The cross is a symbol of how God humbled himself, how God became one of us, it is about weakness, and it is about giving oneself over for and on behalf of the others.  Jesus' death on the cross is a symbol of what our ministry is to be like. Transformation comes not from power or convincing someone of a right argument. Instead transformation comes from humility and love and the giving up of oneself and ones agenda so others amy hear clearly the love of God.  (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

The people of Corinth are so focused on the arguments and words of their leaders (almost like a fundamentalist) that they are missing the whole point of Jesus' mission.  Paul is actually completely undermining and then reconstructing their understanding of "wisdom."

David Lose in his blog says this, "Paul sets the disputes in Corinth on a cosmic stage: to side with those who advocate worldly wisdom is to side not with the God who saves by means of the cross but, instead, with those who blindly warred against God's wisdom by crucifying the Lord of glory (2:8)." Yikes!  

(One has to wonder if how we treat one another, our councils/conventions, and our way of running our churches exemplifies the cross of christ or the wisdom of this world?  As they say, "Houston we have a problem!")

Paul then challenges us in our own current mission context.  Are we attempting to attract people because of our superior learning? Are we hoping they will be drawn to Christ because of some measurement (way of reading the bible, way of worshiping, or social class/education).  Are we merely attracting people to our way of being church? If so then Paul seeks to undermine us.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 58:1-12

"Among the many things darkness may symbolize in the Bible, one of them is the silence of God."Commentary, Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12), Bo Lim, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

"We've been hearing about incarnation and God-with-us throughout Advent and Epiphany. Lectionary passages during Epiphany tell us something about this God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ."
Commentary, Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12), Amy Oden, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"No more than in ancient Israel can we simply spiritualize this and say to the hungry and the poor and the naked that we will be praying for their souls. We are called as God?s people to meet the needs of a hurting world on the level of those needs, now."
Commentary on Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12): 5th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A)," Dennis Bratcher, Christian Resource Institute.

This passage is written while the Israelites are divided, most in exile in Babylon and a few in the homeland. The prophet invites, and God invites the people to remain faithful. God is faithful and God will move on behalf of God’s people.

While the people see faithfulness as turning inward and to God by fasting, God and Isaiah offer these words:

“[God desires a fast that] looses the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” God offers a mirror to the people an is clear – when you do none of these things you are most unlike your God and the people you are meant to be.
Remembering Jeremiah and other prophets over the past months, we know that God see righteousness not as simple religious faithfulness but as acts of bounty where people take care of the oppressed, loosen the yoke of another, help with food for the hungry, roofs for the homeless, and clothing for the naked. Here Isaiah prophesies that these are the kinds of true fasting and sacrifices that God declares as righteousness.

When this happens Isaiah tells the people: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

God desires that people, “remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” Light is the light of God’s actions through his people. Light comes by means of work of the faithful for the other.

When nations forget their most vulnerable they shall lie in ashes and sackcloth. When the vulnerable are cared for light, life, and the rebuilding of community are the results. Foundations of generosity will lead to generations of strength among the people.

The Luke writes in his Gospel that this release of people who suffer is key to the very nature of God and especially to the person and mission of Christ Jesus. When in chapter 4, Jesus opens the scroll to read in the temple it is Isaiah 61 with the addition of this passage. What is made clear in Luke’s analysis and use in the narrative is that God has been about the work and care of the poor, oppressed, homeless, helpless, and most vulnerable. God in Christ Jesus continues this mission of righteousness (the caring of others). The jubilee promised to the slaves in Egypt, and the jubilee promised to the people in Babylon is the same jubilee promised for all people under the yoke of Christ. (Richard B Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 224ff)

Release is not only for prisoners (Isaiah 61) but release for all people who are broken and burdened (Isaiah 58). This is a freedom brought on the cross and given through the Holy Spirit to all people. The promise to Abraham and the of Moses and Isaiah now become fulfilled in ministry of Jesus and the inclusion of the whole world. Moreover, that the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ ministry are to continue the work of release – this same faithfulness and righteousness will be the hallmark of the every continuing body of Christ in the world.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Epiphany 4A February 2, 2020


Rescue your church from the seductive promises of this world's powers and form us as the community of the beatitudes, that we may become your faithful remnant in the world, and that Christ alone may be our wisdom and our righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:1-12

"Jesus calls us to join a radical kingdom. He gives us a radical vision to match, that the kingdom of heaven infiltrates our present."

Commentary, Matthew 5:1-12, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"There is a trap hidden in the Beatitudes that I know I have fallen into countless times, and perhaps you have, too. The trap is a simple as it is subtle: believing that Jesus is setting up the conditions of blessing, rather than actually blessing his hearers."

"Imagine That!" David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

"Each 'Beatitude' states that the possessor of this characteristic will be 'blessed' by God. A formal 'blessing' is a divine action, sometimes brought about through an intermediary (priest, king, parent, etc). Beatitudes are common in OT wisdom books (Prov 3:13; 28:14). The NT Beatitudes refer to a future (or eschatological) reward, whereas the wisdom beatitudes assume that the reward is already present." (Daniel Harrington, SJ, Sacra Pagina, Matthew, p 79)

Not unlike the forebearers found in Wisdom the Beatitudes were most likely sayings of Jesus, blessings by Jesus, which circulated among the first followers. The reality is that sayings such as this made their way throughout the community of first followers and eyewitnesses and make up an important part of the oral tradition of Jesus and his ministry. (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p 263) 

These blessings are different too. The blessings in Wisdom are blessings found in the present. Jesus is speaking of blessings to be received in the future.This important connection to the past Wisdom tradition is equally as important with the statements which follow the beatitudes and their connection with the Torah. I make these two points because I believe it is essential to understand that for Matthew and his community, they saw themselves as continuing the tradition of the family of Abraham. So, while we see that the blessings in Matthew point forward we also must think and look into the past and wonder about all the other blessed ones who came before. 

It is in the midst of these two blessed communities (our ancient faith ancestors and the hosts of saints in light) that we find our own blessed pilgrim journey. We walk our way of Christ always continuing the ancient faith of the past and leaning towards the reign of God which lies in our future.This Sunday preachers will spend time preaching the beatitudes as Christian character, "Ethics of Christian discipleship, "values in opposition to the world," or philosophies. (Harrington, 84) 
 "The Beatitides are thoroughly Jewish in form and content. They challenged those who made up 'Israel' in Matthew's time by delineating the kinds of persons and actions that will receive their full reward when God's kingdom comes. They remind Christians today of the Jewish roots of their piety and challenge each generation to reflecton on what persons and actions they consider to be important or 'blessed.'"  (Harrington, 84)
So, we understand then at our first glance that the text places us firmly rooted in our ancient faith, and that we are challenged to see others as God sees them. But is that all?

As is typical we spend more time on us and we might very well miss the opportunity to realize the importance of reading the beatitudes together with Isaiah 61:1-3.61  "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory."  

Remember our text in context. Jesus has come out of the desert time, he has led a great crowd, he is gone up to the mountain. Who is this person that looks and acts so very much in line with the great prophet Moses? Is he Moses? He is in the historic and prophetic line, but see he is the one Isaiah speaks about. Jesus is the Messiah the one who had come to bring good news, good blessings. The parallels are beautifully woven in Jesus' speech to the people. This is a revelation moment. 

The Beatitudes, and their proclamation reveal the very nature of who Jesus is and who he is to become.  Note that Jesus himself is meek, he mourns, he is righteous, he shows mercy, he is persecuted and reproached. Jesus himself is enacting a new creation by reenacting an exodus... he is linking his ministry as the continuation of the prophets and revealing his true nature... but he is himself embodying the incarnation of God's blessings in his own life and ministry.This person - Jesus - is God with us. It is in God's incarnation that we receive the blessings that are to come. 

 Like the Matthean community we are pilgrims along the way, our eyes opened to the revelation of God in Jesus, blessed by a God who knows our suffering and life in this world. This week as we step into the pulpit will we talk about the person of Jesus as revealed in the beatitudes or will we spend time trying to link our lives in the first world with the blessing message of Jesus in a third world? 

It may be that this Sunday we need more to see the revelation of Jesus Christ than to receive more blessings in this life.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

"And how long was the whole great circus to last? Paul said, why, until we all become human beings at last, until we all 'come to maturity,' as he put it; and then, since there had been only one really human being since the world began, until we all make it to where we're like him, he said - 'to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that."
"Paul," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"The message that a convicted felon was the bearer of God's forgiving and transforming love was hard enough for anybody to swallow and for some especially so. For hellenized sophisticates-the Greeks, as Paul puts it - it could only seem absurd."
"Foolishness," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own snowbound, snowblind longing for him."
"Emmanuel," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"Paul takes the language of 'wisdom' and subjects it to the cross, which now has become the criterion, the benchmark, for understanding and for grasping reality."
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Kyle Fever, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"What will we do so that the language of the cross may become more and more the criterion of our human wisdom?"
"1 Corinthians 1:18-25," Commented Bible Passages, Taizé, 2005.

"Each of these experiences -- righteousness, sanctification, and redemption -- is a window on the upside-down foolish wisdom of God."
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (Epiphany 4A), Mary Hinkle Shore, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

"The message that a convicted felon was the bearer of God's forgiving and transforming love was hard enough for anybody to swallow and for some especially so. For hellenized sophisticates-the Greeks, as Paul puts it - it could only seem absurd."
From "Foolishness," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

We must remember that this text is primarily about the community that has taken sides over against itself aligning along factions associated with particular preachers.  In the midst of preaching Christ it has somehow gotten off track and has become about signs, philosophies, and the preachers themselves.  So it is that Paul begins by marking the nature of Gospel preaching that which locates all the power and authority in the crucified Christ. 

No preacher and no human has the power of redemption - save the Christ.

Those who look for sound wisdom will most likely not understand the foolishness of the cross.  The philosophies of the world have not brought forth the knowledge of God and his grace, Paul proclaims.  People will look for signs and symbols, philosophies and wisdom in order to believe. And, many preachers will offer these things. You may even be drawn to these things as a seeker.  However, it is never the signs or symbols that save. It's not the wisdom or great philosophies that save.  It is always and only the death and resurrection of the crucified Christ.

This truth and reality is where we find the strength of God.  It seems foolish by philosophical standards that God should become human and die; yet Paul proclaims it is this very foolish notion by which we are all saved.  That in some very profound and miraculous way God undoes all philosophies and all wisdom by doing the unusual and becoming one of us and experiencing life as one of us and dying as one  of us.  God in Christ Jesus becomes strong in weakness and victorious in death.  

God himself claims the world as his own and through his incarnation and presence shows us the way to eternal life.  We discover in Christ that he is the source of life and light. If we are to understand through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ alone, and we are to seek wisdom in God alone, and we are to seek righteousness and sanctification from God alone.  It is not in understanding fancy things or secret things that we are wise; no more is it true that by becoming strong we become stronger than death.  Only in Christ do we receive eternal life.  Paul writes, "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”"

Some Thoughts on Micah 6:1-8

"We should also be wary of another common misuse of this verse, namely, to excuse one from any corporate faith at all."
Commentary, Micah 6:1-8, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Restorative justice, by dealing with crime and harm in a holistic way, promises to sew together the pieces of torn lives into a fabric of justice that is meaningful for victims, offenders, and the community. How can we discover and implement the restorative practices that will transform our criminal justice system?"
"Restorative Justice," Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, (other resources at) "Peace and War," Christian Reflection, The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2004.

The problem that the Lord has with his faithful people is their lack of faithfulness! What is so often missed in the reading of the Old Testament is God’s forgiveness and God’s concern for the lowly.

Micah gives voice to God’s concern that the people’s lack of faith is revealed in their lack of concern for the poor. Here then we see that God is reminding the people of his work on their behalf. God was faithful. Micah writes:

“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

God looked upon God’s people and saw that they were in need of a champion, they were oppressed and suffering. But in Micah’s time the people have forgotten and so are oppressing their own fellow citizens. They are mistreating the poor and those who are hungry. So it is that Micah pleads God’s case as if he is in court. There is judgement for those who do not share what they have and the judgment is guilt. Faithlessness is seen here as a key ingredient to righteousness and caring for those out of an understanding of plenty a sign of the lack of such faith.

Faithlessness believes that the Lord won’t provide.

Micah offers a glimpse into the response of the people:

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

The people want to make a sacrifice to God…that is their way of thinking this will soothe God’s woundedness on the part of those in need. God then responds by reminding that God delivers, God frees, God provides, and God takes care. The response that God requires is this:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

This is not unique to Micah. Mercy, kindness, and humility coupled with justice can be found in Hosea 6.6, Zechariah 7.9. The Gospels pick this understanding up with the metaphor of God’s nature as shepherd and compassion for the helpless and hopeless. As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews: share what you have and do good works these are the kinds of sacrifices that God desires…none of this groveling stuff. The work and response to God’s raising of Israel out of Egypt, and raising Jesus is in fact to raise others.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Epiphany 3A January 26, 2020

Reading the Bible by the Sea of Galilee.

Prayer Let your word dawn in splendor upon our community to dispel the shadows of division and to disperse the gloom of discord. United in the bond of your love, may we become a radiant sign of salvation and hope for all who journey from darkness toward the light of your new day. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 4:12-23

"When Christ calls, he beckons us beyond the point of familiarity, asking us to risk doing something we don't know how to do, to become someone we're not yet sure we know how to be."
"What About Zebedee?" Mark Ralls, The Christian Century, 2005.

"What an encouragement this story of Christ's ministry must have been to Matthew's church, and what an encouragement to us who may be frightened to give bold witness in the dangerous and nervous times in which we are called to be the church."
"Preaching Matthew 4:12-23," Thomas H. Troeger, Lectionary HomileticsSample.

"Why does the incarnation of the word of God not start in Jerusalem, but instead begins out in the Gentile countryside? "
"Out of Nowhere," Russell Rathbun, The Hardest Question, 2011.

"In one sense it was a problem of idolatry. The Corinthians were putting certain leaders into a place that really belonged only to God."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 3,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

The Presbyterian minister Matthew Henry begins his 1708 commentary with these words: 
"He went not to Herod's court, not to Jerusalem, among the chief priests and the elders, but to the sea of Galilee, among the fishermen. The same power which called Peter and Andrew, could have wrought upon Annas and Caiaphas, for with God nothing is impossible. But Christ chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise." (Matthew Henry's Commentary) 
It is a wonderful image that captures an important theme in the Gospel of Matthew and that is that the incarnation and the word spring forth from the countryside in the midst of the people. 

A new light is dawning as the word takes root in the hearts of the people of God. Jesus emerges from the time of testing, his wilderness pilgrimage, a new Israel whose body is made up of the whole people of God - not only the kings or the religious rulers of the day.  The words of the hymn written by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) echo in our ears: 
Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult of our life's wild, restless sea,day by day his clear voice soundeth,saying, "Christian, follow me;" as, of old, Saint Andrew heart it by the Galilean lake,turned from home and toil and kindred,leaving all for his dear sake.
Jesus' public ministry is underway by the Galilean lake. Mimicking other preachers of his time Jesus is spreading the Word. With a wider view of the whole Gospel text, we can also see developing in Matthew's Gospel the play between Jerusalem and Galilee; with Capernaum as his home base. The movement is spreading and growing. 

Daniel J. Harrington (Matthean scholar) believes this story would have particular meaning to those who first heard the story of Jesus as Matthew's community was most likely in the very vicinity of Jesus' first days of public teaching. (Matthew, 74)  Harrington also points out that the call of the disciples is not the normal way in which followers gather around a teacher of Jesus' time. It would have been normative for the disciples to seek out the teacher. This is true today in both the arts and in higher education. Matthew tells us that Jesus seeks the follower, Jesus calls them. 

God is seeking us and beckoning us to become open to his call. How often in our own spiritual journeys do we discover that as we seek to find we realize we were already found?  The Gospel lesson this week is an opportunity for us to speak about how the incarnation takes root in the world around us. Jesus came and walked and preached in a very real place. He found and called very real people. 

There are two pieces of literary importance in this text that at this point bear some consideration. Here I am relying on Davies and Allison (Matthew, The International Critical Commentary, 398). Jesus does not really call. It is not an invitation. The words used are "unconditional command" an "imperative." The truth is that Jesus' words to the disciples are more of a charge. 

 The second piece of critical literary criticism about the text mentioned in numerous essays on this passage, but I am relying here specifically on the Davies/Allison commentary, is the fact that the art of fishing is paralleled in the scripture with the reign of God. See the reference to Jeremiah 16.16. Tertullian popularized this parallel. 

For Anglicans all over the world and in the Episcopal Church we share and understand the importance of contextual ministry. The adoption of parochial life, the custom of worship, even the prayers (while rooted in our Cramnarian liturgy and confession of a creedal faith the life of our tradition always is found in the incarnational reality of how exactly the Gospel takes root in any one particular place. 

The study guide to the Five Marks of Anglican Mission includes this important reflection on the nature of mission in context:  Mission in context - All mission is done in a particular setting - the context. So, although there is a fundamental unity to the good news, it is shaped by the great diversity of places, times and cultures in which we live, proclaim and embody it. 

It reminds me of the video from the 1990s called the many faces of Anglicanism. Each of us spread across the Diocese of Texas, the country or the world are given the opportunity, called by Jesus Christ, to make incarnationally present the transformative love of Jesus Christ. 

With these two pieces in mind, we see that we are not only firmly rooted in place and time, within a particular missionary context, but that we are charged by the call of Jesus Christ to bring about the reign of God. We are to work together with other Episcopalians and other Christians to change and transform the world around us in unison with God's beckoning siren call. Our cities and our communities, our workplaces, our homes, our families and friendship circles are to changed and transformed through our work with Jesus Christ to resemble the reign of God - the kingdom of Heaven. To discover the vision of this particular work preached by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew we will see it building and growing as we move forward following the crowd and disciples to the sermon on the mount.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

"The church to which Paul writes more likely numbered in the dozens than in the hundreds. "
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Mary Hinkle Shore, Preaching This Week,, 2017.

"Most of us who have been around churches for any amount of time know that Christians can get on one another's nerves."
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Dwight Peterson, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Today, as a body of believers united in Christ through baptism we must remember that we belong to Christ, not a political faction or figurehead weighed by the norms of the world. However, perhaps what is needed most in our day is not another nebulous Christian blog post about 'getting along with one another despite our differences.'"
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 | James Waters | A Plain Account, 2017

What is the consequence of our rivalry? Have we not in our own way tried to speak on behalf of God? have we not said that so and so is clearly speaking God's word?  Have we not taken sides with different preachers, teachers, and theologians?  

After so many years the reality is stunning that humanity has not changed all that much. We Christians still argue and throw words at each other. We take sides on major and minor theological issues.  We claim some kind of orthodoxy based upon our right thinking with the right people on the right things.

Paul believed that such behavior jeopardized the mission of the church.  Paul believes that whenever we take the focus away from the Gospel of Good News and Salvation in Christ Jesus and place it upon our human correctness we sap the power of the cross and its forgiveness.

People will say that conservatives have brought about the collapse and irrelevancy of the church with their dead traditions.  People will say that liberals have brought down the church by virtue of their progressive agenda on women and sex.  The truth is, as in Corinth, we have taken the focus off the power of Jesus Christ (and himself alone) to save us by the mighty power of the cross.   

All of us have lacked faith in the power of God to sort such divisions out.  We have lacked hope enough to believe that God wanted something different from us. We have not had the courage to do the hardest thing which is to remain together for the sake of the Gospel. We have failed God by choosing to divide up the spoils of a long-dead medieval church for the benefit of our own power.  We are no different than Apollos or Cephas but the difference between us and Christ Jesus is stark.

We are in need of repentance.

We are in need of kneeling before the cross of Christ and asking for grace and mercy.

And, when the message is clear that even we are forgiven, we need to reinvest all of our energy, power, authority, and money in reconciliation and then the work of evangelism and service.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 9:1-4

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."
Commentary, Isaiah 9:1-4, Juliana Claassens, Preaching This Week,, 2017.

"Isaiah is painting a picture of a new era and using the child as the harbinger of that era. King Ahaz, though, did not listen to Isaiah narrative of peace and prosperity that came by trusting in God."
Commentary, Isaiah 9:1-4 | Melissa Wass | A Plain Account, 2017

"Everything is arranged for an ignominious defeat, but the wonder of the story is, of course, that it is Midian who is defeated with the ridiculous household implements, wielded by the 300-person rag-tag army of Gideon."
The Prince of Peace, Reflections on Isaiah 9:1-4, John C. Holbert, Patheos, 2011.

"The images of holy war are thick in this passage and may cause some to shy away from preaching on this text. However, one must remember the context of Israel's political life."
Commentary, Isaiah 9:1-4, Frank M. Yamada, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

The beginning of Isaiah is not all sweetness and light but this passage holds within it a spark of the hope that is to be brought to God’s people in Babylon. Here Isaiah prophesies that in time that which is dark will be filled with light. That those who struggle and suffer will have the mantel of slavery lifted from their shoulders. The season wherein the powers of this world to continue to inflict suffering upon God’s people will come to a close. This will all be brought about by a continuation of the Davidic royal line.

This passage is particularly important to Matthew in his gospel. He does something interesting with it. Matthew weaves this passage with Isaiah 42:7. He changes the “walking” (in the original passage) to “sitting” (from 42). By doing this Matthew links the two passages. What he is doing is reading that the light is Jesus, that Jesus is the one to continue the Davidic line, that all the nations will know and bear witness to this light, and that God’s people (all people – universally speaking) are to be brought into the light by Jesus.

What originally was read as a prophecy about the Northern Kingdom of Israel and God’s deliverance of his people enslaved to foreign powers now is read through the eyes of the Gospel as identifying the work and mission of Jesus.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Epiphany 2A January 19, 2020


On all who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints let the Spirit descend and remain, so that filled with grace and peace, we may reveal the One whom we testify to be the Son of God. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 1:29-42

"Perhaps in most congregations, it might be more effective to ignore all the different possible Christological implications of these titles, and simple tell a story about little Andrew who responded to the invitation to come and see and then did his own small part to spread the knowledge of the Messiah to his brother and throughout his town."
Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

"But the hospitality of Jesus was controversial. He chafed against the limits of social propriety by welcoming prostitutes and adulterers, crooks and outcasts into his gracious presence. His hospitality knew no limit. It was not just indiscriminate: it was promiscuous."
"The Other 'H' Word," Mark Ralls, The Christian Century, 2005.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

In this week's appointed Gospel lesson we see a continuing pattern of acknowledgment about the person of Jesus as proclaimed by the first Christians. Last week we were given a vision of Jesus Christ as Son, servant, inaugurator of the new exodus and creation, and the one who fulfills all righteousness. This week we hear in the voice of John the Baptist that Jesus is: Lamb of God, the pre-existent one, the one on whom the Holy Spirit descends, and as the chosen one.

The theme of our season of the Epiphany (a season of God with us) is a season wherein we are able to proclaim and speak clearly about the person of Jesus Christ and our understanding of him as followers. As the Lamb of God, we understand Jesus in terms of the suffering servant from Isaiah. Our early church fathers also saw him clearly as the paschal lamb provided by God for the sake of the world.

The Johannine scholar Raymond Brown writes, "John the Baptist hailed Jesus as the lamb of Jewish apocalyptic expectation who was to be raised up by God to destroy evil in the world, a picture not too far from that of Rev. xvii 14." (John, vol 1, Anchor Bible, 60)  Tying in the first words of John's Gospel, the Baptist reminds us of the concept that Jesus is the incarnation of God and intimately involved in the creation itself.

There is some debate around the idea that this may be more the author's polemic than the Baptist's prophecy. However, this line of thinking seems less interesting than the idea that the first Christians proclaimed and understood that Jesus was God. The second person of the Trinity in accordance with the creeds that would later be formed but nonetheless grounded in these first thoughts. What also seems clear is that many believed Jesus in their first-hand experience to be the "one to come" prophesied in the writings of the Old Testament. (Brown, 64)

Jesus is the one upon whom the Holy Spirit descended. We understand as did the first followers that this is an indication not simply of his holiness but that Jesus was an instrument of God. He is in the words of Isaiah the Messiah, the servant, the one to lead us. We end the scene with the identity of Jesus as the Chosen One. Each of the previous theological typologies for understanding the person of Jesus leads to this one. Jesus in his baptism is the one in whom God is pleased.

While we might look over our long and sacred history and see those saints that came before Jesus and those that came after we cannot help but recognize the first Christian testimony that Jesus is the uniquely chosen one by God to provide deliverance and new life to God's people - gentile and Jew alike. It is a marvel that our author could provide such a rich Isaiah like Christology in these first verses of his Gospel.

We have an opportunity as preachers and teachers to share this unique scriptural witness with those around us. More importantly that as we listen and engage in conversation with those around us we are showing this Christology already at work in their lives and the lives of those in our community.  The challenge this week will be the primary pastoral challenge of the Gospel - to connect the unique story of Christ with the everyday lives of God's people.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

"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.

"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.

Here again, we begin with the Pauline formula of using Greek letter writing traditions.  He, of course, adapts it for his own purposes and inserts a wonderful prayer.

In the prayer he thanks God for grace and spiritual gifts, especially those given to the Corinthian church.  He also gives a nod to the imminent return of Christ.  He tells them that God is present in their lives at this very time and that God is supporting them in their work.  And, as in many of his themes he reminds them of God's own faithfulness to humanity and that he promises to us to be with us and to be with us to the very end.  

Ultimately, Paul is reminding the readers of the past and readers today of God's blessings and care for them.  This passage offers us a moment to invite our listeners to ponder the blessings of life.

In AA and Alanon gratitude is a constant theme.  Without gratitude to our higher power, we begin to believe that we are self-sufficient, all-powerful and in control.  It is always good to encourage our people for they are indeed richly blessed and our encouragement can help lead them to the right use of those blessings. However, in a world of super egoism and narcissism, it may be an even more urgent need to remind them that it is God who provides for them, in fact, provides all things, and provides even their/our very life.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 49:1-7

"As always, it's important here to state the big story at work in Isaiah in order to grasp the power of Isaiah's proclamation in chapter 49."Commentary, Isaiah 49:1-7, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

The passage we have this week from Isaiah is often referred to as the “Second Servant Song.” It is a promise from God through the mouth of Isaiah to the people in Babylon that God will not leave God’s people scattered. That God will not only “comfort, comfort” God’s people but that God will also draw God’s people home to God’s self. In so doing, God’s work will be manifestly witnessed to by all people – there will, in fact, be a universal understanding of God, God’s faithfulness, God’s desire to unite God’s people, to be united with God’s people, and finally to free and deliver God’s people.

This passage had a profound impact on the Gospel authors. The message that God’s light and God’s mission would reach to the ends of the earth-inspired the Gospel authors as they interpreted the ministry of Jesus. They understood specifically that Jesus was not only this “suffering servant” but that God in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit was going to undertake this work. The universal proclamation in Mark and Luke is especially tied to this particular passage. Jesus is the light, his work of salvation will reach all people. The comfort that Isaiah proclaims is spoken again by Simeon and the people are being prepared for the light and life which he brings. Lips will be freed so that all the nations will resound a prophetic acclamation of God’s work and mission. Richard Hays writes in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (a fantastic read) that the Gospels are “hardwired” for this mission.

Paul in Acts says this most clearly: “To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: that the Messiah* must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.’”