Finding the Lessons

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, June 29, 2020

Proper 9A/Ordinary 14A/Pentecost +4 July 5, 2020


To the childlike, O God, you reveal yourself, and on those who are meet and humble of heart you bestow the inheritance of your kingdom.  Set our hearts free from every burden of pretension and refresh our weary souls with the teaching of Christ, that with him we may shoulder the gentle yoke of the cross, and proclaim to everyone the joy that comes from you. 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 11:16-30

"It is not that Jesus invites us to a life of ease. Following him will be full of risks and challenges, as he has made abundantly clear. He calls us to a life of humble service, but it is a life of freedom and joy instead of slavery."

Commentary, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"In the end, I am tempted to the same kind of apathy and indifference as the people in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida. The problems are too big, too complicated, other people don't seem to be as bothered as I am, so why don't I get on about my business and fish?"

"Are You Paying Attention, Capernaum?" Tod Weir, Bloomingcactus, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

There are several sections to this reading; and in fact many will only read portions of the whole series.

The first section begins with the end of a discourse on John the Baptist (11:16-19). The second section is made up of a prophecy of "woe" (11:20-24). Then we have a series of praises to God for his revelation (11:25-30).

We know that John is Jesus precursor, that he decreases as Jesus influence and power increases, and we know that John's career runs parallel with Jesus. This framework gives way in the end to our text today wherein it is clear that Jesus' work and mission is not being responded to and our verses this Sunday offer a key crossroads for the community. (Allison & Davies, Matthew, vol 2, 294ff)
16“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
For those hearing Jesus they have a decision to make will they follow Jesus or John the baptist. For those hearing Matthew's Gospel there is some question as to whether they will follow Jesus or the old ways of their community. For us today we stand at a perpetual crossroads in our daily life, in our communications, and in our relationships wherein we are challenged to follow Jesus.  We are not given a utilitarian outlook on life when we choose to follow and love Jesus. We are changed by the Gospel and changed by those whom God embraces.  When we embrace and choose the path of Jesus we are choosing a more difficult yet very interesting road.

The next section is a prophecy from Jesus about what happens when we do not respond.
21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”
The last section is a section that deals with a thanksgiving to God for revelation. I found it interesting in Allison and Davies commentary to read these words, "...11:25-30 is a capsule summary of the message of the entire gospel."  This passage is as important a text as John 3.16 - famously known as the Gospel in miniature: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.."

In this passage Jesus is clear:
  1. He is the one who is responsible for revelation to the family of God who are in their infancy growing into the discipleship community they were created to be.
  2. He is the meek and humble one (fulfilling the sermon on the mount's blessings) - he is the servant of Israel; he is the Messiah.
  3. He is the embodiment (the Word made flesh) of both the law (he is the righteous one) and wisdom (he is the revealer).
  4. He has come to make know and to act out the perfect will of God, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
It is interesting how our 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and our Rite One service use these two passages together.
They both reveal to us who Jesus is and who we are called to be. His message is profoundly different than that of the baptist; it is for both the old and the new Israel. In this manner we remember the mosaic motif of the evangelists words in describing Jesus and his ministry. He is the one who reveals God's holy law to us and it is similar to the law revealed by moses and it is given to us on a mount not unlike Moses' own delivery. Jesus, like Moses continues the tradition of righteousness and wisdom inherited from the great mosaic tradition. Matthew is clear Jesus is the living word that revealed to Moses the law; now in the flesh he fulfills it. But the new Israel is an expanded version of the old. There is more to it, not in that it is new to God, but rather that it is new to us. In Jesus the purposes of God are more fully revealed. We are to learn and study that with Jesus provides for us but we are to be meek as we become more fully aware of this revelation and we are to be transfigured and transformed by our experience of this revelation.
Not unlike the Matthean Gospel in miniature we are to live out the revelation of Jesus Christ and become the discipleship community creation was intended to bring forth.We are to be servants of all if we are friends of Jesus. We are the meek. Our lives and relationships are to be different than those around us for the purpose of God's revelation. The words we receive we are to proclaim and enact for others, receiving the weary, carrying their heavy burdens, giving others rest. We are to take Jesus' yoke and to learn and while being humble and gentle we are to help others find rest for their souls.

Some Thoughts on Romans 7:13-25

"The tone of these chapters is reflective, meditative. Yet, no portion of the epistle is more challenging to understand than these four chapters."

Commentary, Romans 7:15-25a, Marion L. Soards, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Paul's dilemma is the human dilemma -- all of us struggle in the battle between good and evil, right and wrong choices, thoughts and actions."

"The Blame Game," Bill O'Brien, The Christian Century, 2005.

So lets take a look at Romans.  Paul has been setting up this conversation over the last two readings and today it becomes a bit clearer to understand if not a bit more difficult to undertake.  There are essentially two ways of being in the world.

The first way of being is the old way. This is the way of the law.  The problem with the law is that because of sin humans are constantly breaking it. In point of fact humans cannot keep the law fully; the only thing that one can expect for sure from a life lived by the law is a life of sin and continuity in its breaking.  What this means is that humanity is therefore dependent upon God to help reconcile them.  This dependence comes from the understanding that without God's intervention humanity, a community of law breakers, will have no spiritual life upon their death.

The second way of being in the world is the way provided by God in Christ Jesus.  This other way of making our way in the world is attained through the sacrament of baptism, where in we participate in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  By doing so we have life in Christ Jesus.  This new reality formed in the grave and redeemed means that upon our death we too will be raised like Jesus.  The craziness is that after baptism death brings life - instead of simply death.

Paul then explains that the problem here is not the law itself - important to understand - but it is humanity who is at fault.  Here is how it works.  Humans live in constant tension between their action and their inner self - the mind or will.  Humans desire good and to be good; they desire to live by he law.  As creatures we are created to live by God's ways explains Paul.  YET, and it is a big yet, humans understand that what they do is not what they will to do. There are many things you can will yourself to do and still fail to do them.  I bet you and I could come up with several things right now on our list of "I will do but don't do."  This is sin - that I do the things I do not wish to do - no matter how hard I will it.  Paul says this is sin.  You and I can will ourselves to obey God but in the end we just aren't very good at overcoming the sin that is in us.

This is a key element in theology because what it offers is that humanity is not going to get better - we are continually going to be at war with ourselves and one another. We will do things we should not do and we will leave things undone which we should have done. We will hurt others, hurt ourselves, and even allow others to hurt others on our behalf.  

We might well remember that this does not negate our action to try and be different; this does not negate our response to God's grace, love, and mercy.

Paul is highlighting for us that we are utterly dependent upon God to save us. We are dependent upon God in Christ Jesus to forgive us. We are dependent upon God to be a power greater than ourselves to restore order and sanity into our lives. Our response to this sorry state of affairs and God's salvation is true gratitude.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Finally, the fact that God is considered to be not above the ordinary life events with which people busy themselves; the challenges of finding a suitable life partner or the joy of finding one's soul mate offers an important theological perspective regarding a God who is a personal God; a God who is deeply committed to and involved with God's creation.

"Now in truth, like Rebecca, we often have little idea where our Lord is asking us to go. Our people and our father's house can look very good indeed if we find ourselves, as Rebecca did, in the desert on the back of a camel wondering who that strange person was who was coming her way. We may begin by thinking that going to church is not such a big deal, but before you know it we are in Lithuania... so it is we discover our most passionate desire is to be desired."

Stanley Hauerwas, Disrupting Time

The story of the beginning of Isaac's life with Rebecca is one that is tied deeply with other such narratives and typologies of the Israel's beginning - including Jacob and Rachel. For the early Christian this appears to have two important allegorical offerings for the preacher. 

The first is that the image of the continued linking of the Gentile mission with the inheritance of Abraham. Just as these stories of groom and bride play a natal part of the story of Israel, so they are to become the stories of provision and searching and desire for the ever expanding Christian mission to those who are to be wed into the Gospel narrative. It also prefigures Jacob and Rachel, and therefore is tied to Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman, and it prefigures Jesus at our wells. 

God indeed desires us, and is willing to come after us. God invites us and we go. Though where we will go with our groom is unknown.

Now, I wish to offer a suggestion that the preacher takes this passage in a different way, not from the angle of Isaac but rather with a focus on Rebecca.

Rebecca is one of the great matriarchs of our faith. She is a matriarch of our inheritance - as in the line of Abraham and then Isaac. She plays an important role and is a very strong personality. She is courageous because she leaves her family. Sharon Pace Jeansonne writes, "Her life is detailed from her betrothal as a young woman through her death, and it is developed much more than those of her husband Isaac. The qualities of hospitality and forwardness which Rebekah lays as a girl carry over into her life as a matriarch. Rebekah's actions attest to a certain degree of female autonomy in the biblical world".  (Jo Anne Davidson, Matriarchs of Genesis) In this way when we read the passage assigned we are able to highlight such characteristics, wisdom, and courage. 

Rebecca prefigures then the Christian life...not simply as something or someone to be desired by God...but to be a person who is a champion of God. Courageous to go where God leads, to work for the purposes of God, and to live out a faithful life with God.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Proper 8A/Ordinary 13A/Pentecost +4 June 28, 2020


Pour forth into our hearts, strong and faithful God, the wisdom and daring of your Spirit, that we may take up the cross and follow Christ, willing to lose our lives for his sake and to manifest to the world the hope of your kingdom. 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 10:40-42

"What would happen if we stopped expecting people to come on their own initiative through our church doors, and instead took seriously our calling to bring the gospel to them?" 

Commentary, Matthew 10:40-42, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Who knows how the awareness of God's love first hits people. Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn't believe in God if you paid him."

"Salvation," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

It is important when reading this text that we read the word which come just before as they are intimately tied together; the one giving way to the other.
34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
There was in the Jewish tradition of the day an understanding that in the last days of "tribulation" households would be divided. This is the reality of the time.  Allison & Davies write, "The absence of peace and the presence of the sword is a sign of the great tribulation. And it is in this great tribulation that the Matthean church must carry on its mission." (Allison & Davies, Matthew, 219ff)

Our text for Sunday expands upon this theme bridging and fully quoting Micah 7.6.
4The day of their sentinels, of their punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. 5Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your embrace; 6for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household.
Here too it is important to read what comes next in Micah's prophecy to understand the fullness of the words that Jesus is speaking to his followers.  Micah proclaims
7But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. 8Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.
Just as Micah looks to the Lord for guidance in the time of trial; so too the disciples must look upon the Lord and upon his example and come after him.  In a time of division one can not look for allies in the field but rather to be allied with Christ.  "For Matthew, the cross is, as 10.39 makes plain, the outstanding symbol of self-denial."  (Allison & Davies, 221)  Central throughout the Gospel the cross is this profound moniker of discipleship.  This text is universally attributed to Jesus. Irenaeus in Adv. Haer. 4.5.4 wrote: Righteously also do we, possessing the same faith as Abraham and taking up the cross as Isaac did the wood, follow Him (The Word)."

The purpose of the this challenge and call is linked not to violence but rather to service.  The disciples are to engage selflessly to Christian service.  This may include death as it certainly did for many martyrs.  But it is also about justice, food, clothing, and all of human life.  When one orients one's life to Jesus one chooses something more profound than a utilitarian manner of life which serves ego and bodily desires and hungers as the primary source for direction.  It is a profoundly different way of thinking about life. Rather than making a life based upon one's doubts, fears, or suspicions, one is choosing to affirm the life of Jesus and to choose intentional to try and live out a life which reflects the glory of God and immolates Jesus and his compassion and blessings for others.

To choose to live life as a follower of Jesus means to give meaning to one's existence. It is to live the life we were created to live: loving, caring, and creating community one with another.

Our mission is the mission of Jesus as so clearly stated in the Gospel of Matthew and exemplified by Jesus in Chapter 9.  We are to go about all the cities and villages. We are to gather people and teach.  We are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God out in the world.  We are to be about the work of healing people's lives, their hearts, and their bodies. We are to have compassion on all we find out there, or who walk through our doors. Jesus says to all those who would do this work and come after him, taking up their cross, and denying themselves: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask teh Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."  (9.35-38 and 10.5-15)

We are given authority by God to do this work. (10.1)

We are sent out in the midst of crisis and a time of fear and injustice. (10.16ff)

We are to be like the teacher and have no fear and to live our Christian lives out in the open (10.26f)

This is our work.

Now that the missionary message is clear Jesus turns his attention to teaching about welcoming missionaries.  Returning again to Allison & Davies:
Those who welcome the eschatological messengers of Jesus in effect welcome Jesus himself and gain for themselves reward.  With this thought, which makes the decision for or against the missionaries equivalent to the decision for or against Jesus..." (225)
With these words Matthew closes Jesus' discourse on the life of discipleship and what it means to place one's mind on heavenly things even in the midst of living in this world.  The kingdom and reign of God is possible in this place. We are able to fulfill our purpose if we are courageous and deny that which "draws us from the love of God."  In some way we are challenged to make a decision about what the purpose of the earth and our place upon it holds within the schema of God's action.

Not unlike Joshua who chooses to follow the Lord, Christians make a decision that the purpose of creation is to fulfill God's will, and that we are to join in that work proactively and intentionally.Our work is not a utility that serves me, or to make life smooth and easy, but is to serve the utility of God. Jesus reminds us, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other." (Mtt 6.24)

Take up your cross and follow me.

Some Thoughts on Romans 6:12-23

"The passage reminds us that we are still vulnerable to sin and death, post-baptism. And so the issue becomes: which slavery do we want--slavery to sin that leads to death or slavery to Christ that leads to life?"

Commentary, Romans 6:12-23, Walter F. Taylor, Jr., Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Christ followers in Africa, Asia and Latin America have no problem with the Christian metanarrative. The way they read the Bible leads to the marriage of word and deed, faith and action. Why do their churches look and act so different from churches in the West?"

"Slave Wages," Bill O'Brien, The Christian Century, 2005.

We continue this week reading through Romans. We might remember that Paul has been clear with his readers that baptism has given them a new life.  Even though humanity continue to try and use the law to be close to God all that did was empower false rulers and religious leaders. The law simply made it even more difficult for reconciliation between God and man to occur.  So God responds by loving even more - this is grace.

BUT, while they have this new life and sin/death are forever beaten by Christ and his cross - we are still subject to sin.  We are still going to be tempted and we will even fall to our passions.  But we must be focused upon the life that is in us - this righteousness.  Sin will not win the day - rather - Jesus' death and our baptism will prevail.  

He then returns to this idea of lawlessness. Can we do whatever we like? Nope.

He uses then the image of ancient slavery to explain the ways in which we make our course through the world.  You cannot serve two masters he can only serve the one or the other - life or death.  You are now, through your baptisms, servants or slaves (people bound to) God.  This bounded-ness to God is unbreakable and our hearts in thanksgiving for salvation seek to respond.

Paul says...look you were focused on the wrong things, things that didn't bring you life or liberty.  You payment for serving these things and these other masters was death. Now God frees you. God frees you to a new life without death.  God invites you to respond and to serve a different master.
I think we have to be very careful as we work through this passage given our western history with slavery.  But like our brothers and sisters in other cultures we should not shy away from speaking about how God frees us and we have an opportunity to respond. We should proclaim the reality that God's grace and love has forever linked us to the divine life and that there is nothing we can do to escape it.  And, should we wish to speak on how the meta narrative offers an ethical life - then engage by all means. But be clear that the narrative is not one that invites a new slavery to a new law which serves the empowerment of men and women and society.  Instead our ethical work is the just and proper use of creation, the freedom of captives, the visitation of the sick, the clothing and sheltering of the poor.  We have a new life of response to God's grace and that is to BE God's grace in the world.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 22:1-14

The story of the akedah makes a claim on us: All that we have, even our own lives and those of the ones most dear to us, belong ultimately to God, who gave them to us in the first place. The story of the akedah assures us that God will provide, that God will be present.

Stanley Hauerwas, a seminary professor, theologian, says: “Christ bids a person to come and die,” and even if he meant that metaphorically, it is still not easy. Are we willing to engage in that struggle, are we willing to make that sacrifice, are we willing to take that journey with Abraham and Isaac? God is waiting to find out, and God is patient and will wait as long as it takes.

Dan Bryant, First Christian Church, "An Uncalled For Sacrifice"

Oremus Online NRSV Old Testament 

In the generations of religious following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem there was a direct connection between the Temple mount as the site of the binding of Isaac. (Levenson, Zion, 94-95) It is that on this mount God comes near and is seen. In this way the tradition dating back to the time of the Judges was that this mountain site, like other shrines in Israel, was a place where in God could be seen. The Temple itself becoming the chief place where God was present among God's people.

What takes place over the centuries is captured well in the writing of Jon D. Levenson in his book Sinai and Zion. He writes, "The Sinai tradition [that associated with the covenant of Moses and the shrines of Israel]...represents the possibility of meaningful history, of history that leads toward an affirmation, Zion [the tradition of David and the Temple] represents the possibility of meaning above history, out of history, through an opening into the realm of the ideal. (Ibid, 141-142)

Here then is the meaning for the early Christians of the story of Isaac. For the early Christian the idea that a beloved son of the family would be brought into violence was in fact a thematic reality - an "archetypal" account if you will. (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 43) In this way it is not that Jesus was the required sacrifice as latter centuries would propose but that it was natural for the beloved son to come to a violent end. In fact it is the very act, in the rabbinic tradition, of this violence to the sons of Israel that over and over again plays a redemptive role in the great Sinai story of historical affirmation.

We want to be careful though. The religious theologian and philosopher is quick to remind us that while there are particular traditions that place God as the actor requiring Jesus death, this is an offensive theology. Perhaps rooted in the story of Isaac what we know is that Isaac's story itself is a story about how God wishes not to have child sacrifice.

René Girard writes:
Far more than we moderns generally realize, human sacrifice was a fact of life among the peoples of the ancient Near East in tension with whom Israel first achieved cultural self-definition. Israel's renunciation of the practice of human sacrifice took place over a long period of time, during which intermittent reversions to it occurred. No biblical story better depicts how the Bible is at cross-purposes with itself on the subject of sacrifice than does the story of Abraham and Isaac. ... We are told that God bestowed the blessing and promise on Abraham after the "test" on Mount Moriah because Abraham had been willing to do what God had intervened to keep him from doing -- sacrificing his son. This understanding may have had a certain coherence in the dark world of human sacrifice to which it hearkens back, and it may have some psychological pertinence, but the true biblical spirit has little nostalgia for the sacrificial past and almost no interest in psychology. What we must try to see in the story of Abraham's non-sacrifice of Isaac is that Abraham's faith consisted, not of almost doing what he didn't do, but of not doing what he almost did, and not doing it in fidelity to the God in whose name his contemporaries thought it should be done. (Violence Unveiled, p. 140)
So what are we left with? Jesus, the son, falls victim to worldly sacrifice as did so many sons an daughters during the time of child sacrifice before God said, "Stop." This is complete victimhood to the memetic, the repeating, sacrificial offerings of humanity to the lesser gods. The God we worship desires not child sacrifice and instead redeems Isaac and stops it...just as God puts an end to death in the resurrection of Jesus.

Today we will spend a good measure of time in our pulpits speaking of the near sacrifice of Isaac and questioning how faithful are we willing to be? Are we willing to journey to Mount Moriah or the mountain top of our choosing and lay down our life? Meanwhile the true question of faith remains be for us. As followers of Jesus are we willing to lay down our violence and willingness to sacrifice our brothers and sisters on the altar of social wars, global un-mandated wars, and doctrines of our supposed protection when the Christ we worship dies as a peacemaker and invites those who would come after to take up their cross and lay down the crosses intended for others.

Girard challenges us:
Nearly four thousand years ago, Abraham passed this test. He heard the voice of the true God telling him to stop, don’t kill. And now almost two thousand years after the voice of our risen Savior forgiving us for our numerous slaughters, all those brought together on his cross, are we ready to pass the test, too? Are we ready to stop the killing? What could happen in our world if two billion people who claim Abraham as their father could finally recognize what this test of faith is really all about?

Monday, June 15, 2020

Proper 7A/Ordinary 12A/Pentecost +2 June 21, 2020


Prayer written by pastor Kurt Struckmeyer on discipleship:

God of love,
source of mercy and compassion,
weave your dream for the world
into the fabric of our lives.

Remove the scales from our eyes
and lift the indifference from our hearts,
so that we may see your vision –
a new reign of justice and compassion
that will renew the earth.

Transform our lives,
so that we may accomplish your purpose.

Anoint us with your Spirit
that we might bring good news to the oppressed,
bind up the brokenhearted,
and proclaim release to the captive.

Give us a new urgency
and a new commitment
to feed the hungry,
clothe the naked,
shelter the homeless,
and visit those who live in isolation.

Help us to reach out to those
whom no one else will touch,
to accept the unacceptable,
and to embrace the enemy.

Surround us with your love,
fill us with your grace,
and strengthen us for your service.

Empower us to respond to the call of Jesus –
to deny ourselves,
to take up our crosses,
and to follow.

Make us your disciples.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 10:24-39

"We all know how to lose our life so that it is lost. The trick is to figure out how to lose one's life so that it will be found. And the key to that mystery is to lose our life for Jesus' sake. For Jesus' purpose, aim, or end."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew Matthew10:24-39 David Ewart, 2011.

"...Reconcilers must remind themselves moment to moment to stay grounded in God's love. Remember just how much and how unconditionally God loves and values you, and you won't be thrown off-center by anyone's attempts to make you feel as worthless as they do. Remember just how powerful God's love is to heal, and you won't have to flee from things that remind you of your own vulnerabilities and wounds."

Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Proper 7. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

This week we move back in time in Matthew's gospel.  Jesus is preparing his disiciples to carry on his ministry of proclaiming the Good News of salvation.  He is here in Matthew's Gospel portrayed as wise teacher and also as a master of creation.  Remember in Matthew's Gospel Jesus is about the work of remaking all of creation.  The disciples, those both intimately connected and those loosely affiliated, are near him to learn - they are his students.  In-turn, as we read last week, they are to take on his mission.  

The great commission which begins our readings for the summer last week is the cornerstone and lens for all that is to follow.  

Those who follow Jesus though, while continuing the mission, are not to be like the authorities and teachers of the world. They are not to set themselves over and against others, but rather to be as guides.  There is a lot to learn after all.  

This form of ministry is very scary to the religious teachers and authorities of the day and they are even calling him names.  Jesus is clear - don't be scared. The love and mercy of God that is even now remaking the world will reveal in time the reality of these efforts and how they are not any good.  Don't worry about those who are against you - be focused on the work before you.  Everything will be revealed.

Jesus then interprets scripture for them. He uses a verse from Micah 7.6.  This was a prophecy that told the ancient Hebrews that society which is not of God and destroys the creatures and people of God is not only unholy but it is passing.  The gospel will prevail.  

Setting up next weeks passage we are told this Gospel of mercy and love will have repercussions. People will be against you.  You though must be clear. You must follow and be loyal to the call you have been given. You are already participating in part in a kingdom that is gaining its foothold in the world.

It is hard today to see the hope in some of this...  Yet here it is. God's mission will prevail. God's kingdom will win the day. Love, mercy, kindness, healing, feeding, clothing, sheltering, and caring are the eternal revelatory truths of the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus.  Anything that looks like something else probably is...

It is true that nothing will undo this mission.  Even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mtt 16)  I believe that what is falling away in the church today is the parts of it that do nor reflect this new creation.  It isn't that the kingdom of God or the church is dying but rather the human misrepresentation that has more in common with the religious institutions of Jesus' day is continuing its ever dying dance. 

Some Thoughts on Romans 6:1-11

"Lesslie Newbigin once said that if you do not see the kingdom it?s because you are facing the wrong direction."

"Dying to Live," Bill O'Brien, The Christian Century, 2005.

"When he spoke of what happened to him on the Damascus Road, Paul never knew whether to call it being born or being killed. In a way, it felt like both at the same time. Whatever it was, it had something to do with letting go."

"Letting Go Down Here," William Willimon, The Christian Century, 1986. AtReligion Online.

This passage from Romans is a classic conversation between the Romans and the Protestants even today!  In fact I was engaged in just such a conversation not two weeks ago.  Paul is clear God is a lover of humanity and creation. God gives us grace, grace, grace.  Christ's death was a final blow that released grace into the world freely.  Grace has a simple equation in Paul's writings: the more there is sin the more grace abounds!  This is good news my friends...this is THE GOOD NEWS.

So Paul says, rhetorically, so does this mean that we can or should sin even more in order to receive grace?  We need to remember that one of the charges against early Christians and their communities was that they were lawless.  This argument posed would certainly lead to lawlessness.  Paul's answer to himself is "of course not."  

He then makes it clear that through baptism we die to sin and become inextricably linked to Christ's death and his resurrection.  We are raised by God and we are made to walk in the world around us in new life.  Paul is clear that as we rise up into this new life we are to respond to God's grace with (what one scholar called) "conscience-based ethical conduct."  We would not want or desire to respond intentionally to God's love, mercy, and grace with behavior other than that which builds up the body of Christ and reflects well upon the God who saved us.

I believe that Paul was clear to himself - new life means new behaviors. Just as death with Christ is given so is life and so our lives will reflect this new behavior - our lives will look like the life of Jesus.  I think Chris Haslaam of Canada does an excellent job of capturing the Gospel of Paul as laid out in Romans with this "cliff notes version":

Just as we have been grafted on to Christ in his death, so we too will share with him through a resurrection like his (v. 5). We know that we ceased to be dominated by sin and divine wrath (“our old self”, v. 6) when we were baptised. This removed the effects of our waywardness, our enslavement to sin, but makes us ethically responsible for our actions. This is what baptism does (v. 7). Dying with Christ also includes living with him. Because Christ has risen, he will “never die again” (v. 9) – this is unique, once-for-all-time act, an anticipation of the age to come. And then the answer to the question in v. 2: Christ “died to sin” in the sense that sinless, he died rather than disobey the Father, and in the context of a sinful world. He was raised by the Father (v. 4) in order that he might live “to God” (v. 10, as he has always done.) So, as Christ is the model for our lives, and it is he upon whom our lives are grafted, we too must leave sin behind and be “alive to God” (v. 11) in Christ.
The miracle of life with Christ is that though we are never free from sin we are always one step away from complete forgiveness because our God continues to reach out to us with Grace.  Paul believes that those who follow Jesus will live an intentional life - though a grace filled one.  Moreover, that the grace received is the grace in-turn offered to all those whom we meet. We like Christ are to be forgiving and grace filled vessels in the world.  It is not enough to live a life full after baptism it is to reflect and be grace agents int he world around us - ultimately, enabling others to discover their grafted-ness into the life of God in Christ Jesus.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 21:8-21

In our passage assigned for this Sunday we continue with the story of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah have had a child and Abraham and Hagar have had a child. Sarah's son is of course Isaac and Ishmael is Hagar's. Things aren't going well in the household between Sarah and Hagar and so God promises to help Abraham out by offering to solve things.

What this ultimately means is that Hagar and Ishmael will be sent away. This is very sad and Abraham is sad too. Nevertheless, Hagar and Ishmael leave and almost die of starvation and thirst. But God provides for them too. In the end Ishmael is to marry an Egyptian and to become a wandering nomad. This is all part of God's plan to continue the line of Abraham and to build on the relationship. 

Ishmael is a name that means "God listens". The tradition is that Ishmael is a great prophet in Islam. Moreover, that he helped by Abraham to build the Kaaba in Mecca. Some ancient stories place Ishmael at the sacrifice and not Isaac. 

J. Kristen Urban is associate professor of political science at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland writes in her essay entitled Isaac and Ishmael: Opportunities for Peace within Religious Narrative the following:

As children of Abraham, Jews and Muslims draw upon rich moral traditions embedded within a shared past recorded in Genesis of the Hebrew Bible and referenced in the Qur’an. It is a past that identifies Ishmael as the father of the Arabs, while his half-brother Isaac becomes the progenitor of the biblical Israelites. What we read in the Genesis account, however, is not an idyllic story, but as Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin observes, the story of a dysfunctional family: “It is the eternal pattern of the book of Genesis: damaged, shattered relationships between siblings and within families.” Indeed, the great drama of Genesis, according to Salkin, is the battle between brothers, whether we talk about Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, or Jacob and Esau".
In this way the story is part of the creation stories seeking to answer, "who are we?" and "who are they?" and "How are we related?" The story is both an origin story for the people of Israel and for Islam. 

For Paul the passage was an allegory in his preaching to the gentiles who had nothing in common with Isaac and more in common with Ishmael. It was a sign that the gentile mission was a mission to those who through Christ had once been far off but were being brought near. The gentile, despite the notions of the religious of the day, were not those driven off by God but instead those who were to inherit the promise of Abraham. (Galatians 4:28-31) This was a radical notion and one that undermined the traditional religious ideas of the day. 

We might ponder for a moment who is it that is our Ishmael? Who do we believe has been cast out? And, is God not listening to them in their desert wanderings? Is God not providing water for them? The discovery that waits for them is that God hears them and loves them. In fact they are offspring of Abraham all through the grace of God. No longer are they to wander in the desert or feel like second class citizens in the houses of God. God has restored not only the fortunes of Israel through the cross of Christ but also the fortunes of those who feel they are the step sons and daughters of God. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Proper 6A/Ordinary 11A/Pentecost +2 June 14, 2020


Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servants, the twelve disciples, who you called to preach the Gospel to all people. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, p. 257.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 9:35-10:8

"On one is true that only the unqualified should present themselves for the church's ministry. No one can be qualified. Everyone who serves does so as the Twelve did, by Jesus' authorization given them by Jesus."

"The Unqualified Twelve," Beverly R. Gaventa, The Christian Century, 1993.

"Jesus then instructs his disciples on how to live as itinerants, what to expect, and how to handle difficulties. These teachings were important because his followers would only have known village life - relying on family and kin for sustenance - and would be totally unfamiliar with the social realities of being an outsider."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 9:35- 10:8, (9-23), David Ewart, 2011.
We arrive on the scene of our gospel story in chapter 10 following Jesus' modeling of ministry. Jesus has looked out and seen the crowds, he has been moved in his belly towards them, he has been at work then healing and freeing people from that which binds them.

The harvest is now made ready for harvesting and Jesus is prepared to send out people to do the work of mission. This work is work that immolates his own work. And, it is work whereby those first followers are sent, no longer to be led this way and that but to lead and to do the work of ministry.

Before Jesus sends them out he gives them his authority. Jesus lays upon them his spirit and gives them the same power to heal and to cast out. To hold and to release. The word here literally is the word "sent", they are sent, they are apostles. They are no longer disciples. They are in this moment to go out to all those without a shepherd. This is not yet the gentile expansion of mission, but it is an expansion of mission nonetheless. 

The religion of the day was a religion that required the faithful, if they were faithful, to come to the centers of faith. God was in God's house and the faithful came to make their offerings and to support the central religious faith over and against any local or dispersed religiosity. One could only be faithful in direct pilgrimage with the one shrine on the holy mount. So what Jesus does in sending out disciples is quite radical. It undermines a central religious system and takes faith and spirit and the unbinding of burdens out into the field where the people are. 

The image of a harvest is an image of a great dispersed faithful people being gathered in. Lost because of the abandonment of their religious shepherds in favor of a "come and see", "come and get" religious system of exchange. Faithfulness bequeathed to the pilgrim, faithfulness given to the generous who gave of themselves to the house of God. Jesus' and his apostles change this - the Gospel comes near to you...not you to the Gospel.

Furthermore, this radical movement that is to take place in and among the people is to be one that does not require great scholarship or participation in the schools of the wise. There is not need to go and study at the religious centers. In fact a fisherman can do this work. Here again Jesus undermines the religious systems of hierarchical reason and wisdom training in order to be a leader in the faith. Jesus sends them out as apostles with very little training...other than watching him. 

He sends them out without plans. Go and depend on the kindness of others. Go to people's homes. Sure, there will be people uninterested in your work and your good news. That is ok. Pass on by. Pass on by.  

This mission is so very radical that Jesus prepares them by telling them that the religious leaders may even come down hard on the apostles. He charges them not to worry about what to say to the homeowner or to the religious who seek to undermine their ministry. God will give them good words at the best time. 

They will be accepted and they will be reviled. They will be brought in under people's roofs and they will be cast out. But this journey of Good News unleashed on the world and in the streets and people's homes is one that for the apostle will teach them to depend on the grace of God. It will be their humility and mimicking of the the ministry of Jesus and his compassion and love that will reveal to the world exactly who they follow. Their actions, their grace, their mercy, healing and releasing will reveal God to the world. 

Some Thoughts on Romans 5:1-8

"As the prophetic tradition affirms, the Spirit is God's gift of the new creation making the people of God ready for the new age."

Commentary, Romans 5:1-5, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Preaching This Week,, 2016.

"The past and the future. Memory and expectation. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for him whose face we all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life we all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived, have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves. Remember him who himself remembers us as he promised to remember the thief who died beside him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping."

"Hope," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog. Justification, from Whistling in the Dark.

"So for Paul peace is about being in a right relationship with God, not as some distant judge nor as someone who is trying to draw us up into himself, but as one who is expansively living love out into the universe."

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

Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text 

Paul writes to the church in Rome that all that we are invited to do is to have faith. We are invited to have faith that God has intervened for us. We are to be at peace about what will happen and even our own judgment for God in Christ Jesus has justified us by the work on the cross. Grace is not given to us by faith, but in faith we have the grace given to us.

As Jonah speaks to God in chapter 4: "I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." While Jonah was bemoaning the fact that we shouldn't even bother with calling people to repentance that the fact is and shall always be that God is a God of grace and it is upon that grace that we stand. We boast in our hope in this very real faith that is in us. 

In our need for endurance, in our suffering, in our lives we come to understand that grace, the grace that enables us to risk, is the grace that give us hope. Our very character is formed by our dependance upon God's grace in in sure and certain hope we will not be disappointed. Paul writes in vs. 5: "and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

We as humans are quick to change all of this though. We love our religion. We love to turn our faith into religion. In this way we begin to pretend that God is working on some kind of exchange system. We begin to tell ourselves that we must act right, do right, and talk right. In this way we can earn God's love. Sure, we tell ourselves, God is grace filled but no slacker Christian will he tolerate. But this is to remake God into a lesser god a demigod, a god who likes to barter and exchange devotion and adoration for love and acceptance. Our god, this God of Paul and the scriptures is no such God. This God does not need our love, devotion, and adoration to exist. 

No, in fact this God does not wait for humans to get their act together. This god does not wait for me to get my act together. Paul writes, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." What? That is right. God in Jesus Christ saves us while we were yet sinners. God saved us, all people, once and for all by God's mighty work of the cross. To deny this fact, or to make God into a god of exchanges is to create a god in our own image - a god who is no god at all. To make God into a god of no sovereign power to save those God wishes to save. And, it turns out, God wishes to save not the righteous, clean, and faithful but the lost, the least, the unseen, and the sinner. 

That my friends is good news indeed.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

"Abraham has received a seemingly impossible promise, but his animated efforts on behalf of these strangers under adverse conditions suggest that he still trusts that God can and will do the impossible."

Commentary, Genesis 18:1-10a (Pentecost +8), Jacqueline E. Lapsley, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"Grace always comes first. Because that grace is there, God's people can respond with their best."

Commentary, Genesis 18:1-10a (Pentecost +9), Sara Koenig, Preaching This Week,, 2013.
"Along the way, Abraham learns that no one person has a monopoly on God's covenant, and that great endeavors require great partners."

"A Great Partner for a Great Endeavor," Torah Commentary by Wendy Amsellem. BeliefNet.

This is a chunk of scripture. But it is good stuff. God has called Abram out of the land of Uhr. Abram has followed God and set up altars along the way. For his work and pilgrimage God has given he and Sarai new names. Furthermore, God has continued to journey with him even into the land near the oaks of Mamre. 

We are told that God appears there in the person of three men. God is then received, the three men are received, by Abraham and Sarah and they are welcomed and fed. Before God leaves God promises that they will have a son. This seems impossible but God makes the promise that it will in fact happen before God is with them again. Indeed God keeps God's promise. 

This event is often depicted in the great masterpiece of the Trinity as written in the icon my Rublev. The icon is entitled "The Hospitality of Abraham."

Now the passage itself is important for many reasons. Certainly it is important in the origination stories of the people of Israel for it speaks to God's special relationship with Abraham. It is also important for it speaks to God's relationship with God's people and God's willingness for those people to prosper and to multiply.

The passage cannot be divorced from the Genesis desire on God's part that the people multiply themselves. Nor can it be separated out from God's continued desire to walk with his creation in the eve of the day beneath the trees of his garden.

Mary translates her pregnancy to the story of God delivering God's people but also the story of God's promise to Abraham. This links the past to the present in the Gospel narrative, the old with the new. Jesus calls his followers to the work of the hospitality of Abraham. In fact that they are the inheritors, the very real progeny of the Gospel and covenant of Abraham says Peter in Acts. Paul invites his hearers to understand they are inheritors of the relationship Abraham had with God.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Trinity Year A, Pentecost +1, June 7, 2020


St. Patrick's Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet 'Well done' in judgment hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Translation: Cecil Frances Alexander

Some Thoughts on Matthew 28:16-20

"...if we want our people to get excited about, rather than feel guilty because of, the Great Commission, we need to commit to reclaiming Sunday worship and preaching as the God-given time in which to rehearse and practice the skills essential to Christian living..."
"Reclaiming the Great Commission," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

"This is such an important text in the context of Matthew's gospel that there is a danger that its use on Trinity Sunday will lead to too much focus on its tenuous links with the Trinity, so I want to start with the passage itself. It has enormous significance as the climax of the gospel, drawing together major themes of the gospel..."
First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages from the Lectionary, Trinity A. William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

As so many of you know the doctrine of the Trinity is the primary doctrine that informs my theology and ministry.  So, I was struck by William Loader's comment, "This is such an important text in the context of Matthew's gospel that there is a danger that its use on Trinity Sunday will lead to too much focus on its tenuous links with the Trinity..."  This sense of the importance of pausing and re-engaging the text in a fresh was reinforced by these words from the Matthean scholar Warren Carter, "The scene has significant Christological elements. It is the risen Christ who commissions the disciples."  (Matthew and the Margins, 549)  So let us look again at this passage with fresh eyes and seek the testimony being proclaimed by Matthew.

Let me begin by relying heavily on Allison and Davies (Matthew, vol III, 687):

"28.16-20, which was so important to William Carey and the nineteenth-century Protestant missionary movement, is from the literary point of view, perfect, in the sense that it satisfyingly completes the Gospel: we cold hardly improve upon it.  Nothing is superfluous, yet nothing more could be added without spoiling the effect.  The grand denouement, so consonant with the spirit of the whole Gospel because so full of resonances with earlier passages, is, despite its terseness, almost a compendium of Matthean theology:
Galilee fulfils the prophecies in 26.32 and 28.7 and creates a literary arch with 4.12 that spans the Gospel
Mountain recalls other mountain scenes, especially 4.8 (where Jesus refuses to accept from the devil what he will later accept from the Father) and ...(where Jesus gave them commands.) 5.1
They worshipped him, but some doubted has been foreshadowed by 14.31-3
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me echoes 11.27 as well as a prophecy (Dan 7.13-14) which Jesus has elsewhere applied to himself (24.30; 26.64); it further brings to completion the theme of Jesus' kingship (1.1; etc)
Make disciples reminds one of 13.52 (cf 27.57)
All the nations terminates the prohibition of 10.5-6 (cf 15.24) and announces the realization of the promise made to Abraham (cf 1.1; also Gen 12.3; 18.18; 22.18)
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit' in connexion with baptism reminds one of chapter 3, where the Son is baptized, the Father speaks, and the Spirit descends
Teaching recapitulates a central theme and gives the disciples a task heretofore reserved for Jesus
All that I have commanded you is a sweeping retrospective of all Jesus has said and done
I am with you always forms an inclusio with 1.23 and is similar to 18.20
The end of the age is a phrase used earlier (13.39, 40, 49; 24.3) and puts one in mind of Jesus' teachings about the end
...The climax and crown of Matthew's Gospel is profoundly apt in that it invites the reader to enter the story: 28.16-20 is an open ended ending.  Not only does v.20a underline that the particular man, Jesus, has universal significance, but 'I am with you always' reveals that he is always with his people.  The result is that the believing audience and the ever-living Son of God become intimate.  The Jesus who commands difficult obedience is at the same time the ever-graceful divine presence.
One can not more clearly see the power of the ending of Matthew's Gospel; it is almost an exclamation point to the driving force of the narrative.  Such connections can often only be seen when one reads the text in one sitting as so many people now are doing.  (This is a great Advent event which I cannot more strongly recommend!)

The literary import of this passage is very interesting. But so are the words of Jesus that all are sent (doubters in the midst of the believers).  That we who find ourselves in different places along the Way are invited into the missionary work of God for God's people.

We used this passage this week as our bible passage for the Executive Board of our diocese.  One of the people in my group had a wonderful saying.  He invited us to consider and hold precious our doubts, wrestle with them, and seek enlightenment; however, he challenged that we not stand on doubt as to the guiding principle of life or the guiding principle of following Jesus.  We are challenged to make the Way and Jesus the road map of our faith pilgrimage along with the doubts that come as conversation partners along the journey.

Warren Carter wrote:
The small, minority, marginal community of disciples is commissioned to nothing less than worldwide mission in proclaiming obedience to Jesus and his teaching.  But this mission is carried out in a dangerous and resistant world as the passion narrative and the immediately prior scene in 28:11-15 have made clear.  There are rivals for human loyalty, who are, like this gospel's vision, intolerant of other claimants.  There are competing understandings of what God and/or the gods want from humans.  Post-70 Judaism struggles with diverse visions of its future without the Jerusalem temple, but many do not find the Matthean vision convincing.... [Jesus announcement and commissioning] calls people to recognize God's sovereignty as "Lord of Heaven and earth" (11.25).  And it proclaims that God's purposes are supreme. The future is not that of eternal Rome, but of God's just and life-giving empire established over all (chs. 24-25).  It is to this mission that the community of disciples is again sent by the one who claims "all authority in heaven and earth." (Matthew and the Margins, 550ff)
We are the inheritors of this mission. We have received it from all the mothers and fathers and grandparents who dared to give us the expectation and opportunity of faith. We have received it from as a sacramental blessing from all the priests and deacons who have given countless hours at the altars of God and at the altar of our dining room tables.  We are inheritors from the apostles who have gone before us: Wimberly, Payne, Benitez, Richardson, Hines, Quin, Kinsolving, and Gregg.  We are inheritors of this sacred journey from saints who with a Mother Teresa mixture of faith and doubt have paved the imperial road of God's kingdom for our pilgrim journey.

What blessings are bestowed upon us; to be brought into the divine community by Jesus Christ, commissioned and handed the privilege of serving as a missionary in God's plan. 

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 13:5-14

"Genitives aside, verse 13 provides ample opportunity to rehearse the history of salvation: Christ who brought grace, God who loves, and the Spirit that creates the church and in whom believers live and serve."
Commentary, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 (Trinity A), Fred Gaiser, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Paul has expanded a traditional farewell to make it match a situation where community and compassion was largely missing."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Trinity, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

I wrote my master's thesis on the Trinity - specifically on Johnathan Edwards' vision of the Trinitarian God in and through creation. I love the Trinity! I love Trinitarian theology!  But we will ruin preaching on this passage if we force Trinitarian thinking into lets take another look.

While last week's reading from Paul had a bit more Trinitarian thinking buried within it - this does not. As scholar Matt Skinner wrote,
... it does not adequately express the affirmations and nuances of the classical Trinitarian doctrine that was formulated in the centuries after Paul lived.  Notice that 2 Corinthians 13:13 (which appears as 13:14 in some versions, such as the TNIV and RSV) explicitly names just two Persons of the Godhead, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. A strictly Trinitarian expression would not assume that "the love of God" was fully equivalent to "the love of the Father." Also, Paul's ordering differs from the traditional Trinitarian sequence of Father, Son, and Spirit. All this is to acknowledge that Paul--as demonstrated not only here but also in the rest of his letters--was not himself "Trinitarian," as Christian doctrine came to understand the term and its implications. His aim was hardly to define God and God's nature in precise, abstract categories.
What happens when we get tangled in the Trinitarian knot by our liturgical reading cycle is that we miss a great opportunity to preach on Paul's actual message. 

Paul is dealing with a deeply divided community at war with itself.  Like many churches today (denominational and nondenominational) they are dividing and acting most un-church like!  Paul's message of unity and community is essential in understanding how the ancient church grew and became the global church of Jesus followers with many shapes and kinds in every part and corner of the world.  

What Paul is saying is this - God, the creator of all things, is the God of grace and love and mercy.  This is the foundation of community and community life together.

Paul challenges them to live together in harmony.  He tells them to restore order and peace.  Be the people of love, mercy, and grace that God has called you to be.  Paul is certain and clear - you are to share the grace you have received with ALL people.  You are not the sorting hat of God.  Paul lays out a litmus test for Corinth and for Christians today.  If you are a God-fearer and Jesus follower then you will indiscriminately share the grace we received, leading us to love God and to have that same love flow into the community.   

As it says in the Madeline books, "That is all there is, there isn't anymore." All the rest is extra, all the rest is where humanity gets into trouble.  All the rest is how the church as community has routinely made a mess of a perfectly good creation!

Some Thoughts on Genesis 1:1 - 2:4

Genesis revealed for the first Christians the nature of God and God’s relationship to the creation in three ways.

The first is the interpretation of the creative work in Genesis as a revelation of work by the eternal Word. John’s gospel offers a vision of the eternal Word at work in the creation. John’s own prologue echoes the work of God in creation. But specifically (as in Psalm 33:6 “By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made), John’s Gospel ties the birth of creation to the eternal incarnation. God as Trinity is not a theological concept that comes along as a historical sorting out of Jesus’ relationship to God. Instead, a Trinitarian theology recognizes and holds that the second person is eternal – the Word is eternal. All things were created through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. This is different than Sophia, or wisdom, it is instead the logos – the spoken, speaking Word that is God. See John’s Gospel 1:4-5 and 7-9. (Richard Hays offers a succinct argument which parallels and mirrors accepted biblical scholarship, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 308-309.)
The second is that the unique incarnation of the Word, Jesus, is evidenced in power and master of the elements. Jesus storms the sea is the same God who divides the waters so Israel may walkthrough. Jesus who divides loaves and fishes is the same God who brings manna in the wilderness and water from the rock. Jesus who in his death unites heaven and earth is the same God who parts the heavens and earth.

The third of the three passages is the “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. When speaking and looking at the coin Jesus uses the word from the creation story. He plays with the notion that God has created all things, all things are God’s. Caesar can believe this or that is his, but even in the end when Caesar lies beneath the earth everything, even Caesar, returns to God. This is a powerful and subtle statement about God having in hand all things.

Sometimes we approach the Genesis passage as if it is a stand-alone passage. But the Gospel authors and early Christians understood it as revealing not only the nature of God and the creation but the place of the eternal Word and incarnation in it. To speak of the creation is to speak of the eternal Words possession of it, and its creation through it. On this Trinity Sunday it is a perfect opportunity to find in the creation story a way of unmooring the trinity from boring sermons on doctrine and to weave the creation story into the Gospel in order to reveal the Trinity in through early Christian eyes.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Pentecost Day A May 31, 2020


O God the Holy Ghost
Who art light unto thine elect
Evermore enlighten us.
Thou who art fire of love
Evermore enkindle us.
Thou who art Lord and Giver of Life,
Evermore live in us.
Thou who bestowest sevenfold grace,
Evermore replenish us.
As the wind is thy symbol,
So forward our goings.
As the dove, so launch us heavenwards.
As water, so purify our spirits.
As a cloud, so abate our temptations.
As dew, so revive our languor.
As fire, so purge our dross

Christina Rossetti (AD 1830-1894)
Read more at:

Some Thoughts on John 20:19-31

"What is more, he keeps showing up. As he came back a week later for Thomas, Jesus keeps coming back week after week among his gathered disciples -- in the word, the water, the bread, and the wine -- not wanting any to miss out on the life and peace he gives."
Commentary, Elisabeth Johnson, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week,, 2014.

"Sometimes I think we have more faith in our fears than we do in God, in the Risen Christ. Have you ever been locked in by your fears?"
"Locked In And Locked Out," Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Our passage begins on the evening of the first day. Ignatius believed this was the moment when Christians began to associate Sunday morning worship with the resurrected Lord over and against the sabbath.  That the first day of the week was a day of work, to begin with, the work God has given us through the Holy Spirit.

Certainly, this is indeed what happens.  Jesus comes and in their midst.
Raymond Brown points out that this is typical of the Johannine resurrection pieces:
1. A bereft situation
2. The appearance
3. Greeting
4. Recognition
5. Command (John, Anchor Bible, 1028)

He tells his followers that he is sending them out and that they are to receive the Holy Spirit. The passing of the Holy Spirit over to the disciples is a giving of authority. They are representatives of the family of God in their proclamation, mission, and service to others.

We spent time on this passage previously the Sunday following Easter and so I don't want to spend time on the resurrection appearance. I would rather focus on the powers given over to the disciples.

The Holy Spirit has been given to them directly from God.

Throughout the whole of John's Gospel he has refrained from talking about the disciples as apostles, in this passage he does this for the first time. (Brown, John, 1036)
We see that the grounding, the theology of the trinitarian community ad extra, serves as the grounding for the disciples being sent by Jesus.

They are holy, they are consecrated by the Spirit to bear the Gospel forward.  This breathing on them echoes the first breaths given to man in Genesis 2.7. This is a new creation that is being made.

We might remember our Holy Saturday Great Vigil and the words spoken in Ezekiel's prophecy (ch 37).  In it the "Son of Man" is told to prophesy to the dry bones: "Hear the word of the Lord...I will cause breath [spirit] to enter you, and you shall live." (1037)

I very much like how Raymond Brown speaks of this moment:
Now, another Son of Man, himself fresh from the tomb, speaks as the risen Lord and causes the breath of eternal life to enter those who hear his word.  In the secondary, baptismal symbolism of John 3.5 the readers of the Gospel are told that by water and Spirit they are begotten as God's children; the present scene serves as the Baptism of Jesus' immediate disciples and a pledge of divine begetting to all believers of a future period represented by the disciples. (Small wonder that the custom of breathing upon the subject to be baptized found its way into the baptismal ceremonial.)  Now they are truly Jesus' brothers and can call his Father their Father (20.17)  The gift of the Spirit is the "ultimate climax of the personal relations between Jesus and his disciples. (1037ff)
This Sunday we will all celebrate the great gift of the Holy Spirit. Some will call this the birthday of the church and many will wear read. It will be a festive and exciting time.

We must not lose sight though that the gift of the spirit is a missionary gift. The recreation of humanity is not for the church alone but for the whole body of God's people around the world.

We should have a glorious celebration of the Church's new creation, but as the first fruits of the great community of God, the reign of God yet to be fulfilled; and the mission of God in which we have the privilege to participate.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 12:3-13

"I would have fit in well in Corinth. The Corinthian Christians' struggles, which Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 1?4, resemble my own: jealousy, striving, arrogance, and a propensity to measure one's worth through comparisons with other people."
Commentary, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"... [Paul] is thinking about people who make claims that their actions flow from the Spirit. In effect it is indeed possible to curse Christ by what we do and think, even when we are claim to be acting and speaking by the inspiration of the Spirit."
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

On this Pentecost we attach Paul's writing on the gifts of the spirit.  Of course, Paul is writing because there is an argument over whose gifts are most important and who is more important and what gifts are acceptable...blah blah blah.  It is typical of Christian community to argue not only over who is in and who is out but also what the hierarchy is once you are part of the group.  I think this is not unique to the Christian community but the problem with community in general.

While the community is focused on the spiritual gift of speech, Paul reorients them to understanding that there are many gifts.  Deep within the text is a bit of important trinitarian theology.  Paul writes: “same Spirit ... same Lord ... same God” The Spirit is a gift of the Father; Christ was to serve or minister, and the Father is the creator of all things. This is where and how the gift-giving is rooted in God. Nothing is for personal use all of it builds up the kingdom, builds up the church, and does God's work in the world.

There is the speaking but also wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle-working, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.  We each receive gifts for this work - the work of the church.

Because baptism is through the Spirit these gifts are through the spirit as well. Everyone no matter what their background, family of origin, or place within the roman social hierarchy - all are given gifts for ministry.

I believe that the place where these sermons go wrong - including my own in the past - is when we narrowly define the purpose of the gifts.  I think we do a good job of telling people they have gifts, that God receives them all into his kingdom, and that they are each blessed and chosen by God for his work. We fall down on this message when we so narrowly focus the gifts so as to imply that their use is only within the four walls of a church building.  When we do this we create a separate world apart from the world that God came to save.

God does welcome us all into his family, regardless of who we are and where we have been, he radically forgives and welcomes the prodigals.  He does this so that the world may know him and be reconciled.  The work takes place out in the world. The kingdom gifts are given to each and every person so that in their families, in their work, and in their life - in general - they may be a witness.  God has not raised all of us up, gone through this extraordinary ordeal, sent his Holy Spirit so that we might figure out how to keep the lights on in an empty church.  Our gifts are given for evangelism - spreading the Good News of Salvation through the unique witness of God in Christ Jesus AND our gifts are given that we might serve our neighbor and in so doing serve the God who created and has made all things - who gives life and light and love.  That is a much more important mission and it is the mission for which these gifts have been given.

Some Thoughts on Acts 2:1-21

As many are aware, there are several passages that describe the moment in which the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples. John’s version is very much an imparting from Jesus as he breathes on them and gives them peace. Luke’s is the story of the mighty rushing wind and it is more likely the popular version people remember.

In Paul’s sermon at Pisidian Antioch he says, “[Jesus is the fulfillment of] the holy and faithful things of David.” (Acts 13:13-41 as referred to in connection with this passage by Richard Hays in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 232.) Luke is clear regardless of who is speaking, Peter or Paul, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy that God’s reign will be victorious and that it is meant for the whole world. The Gospel authors, Luke included, read the Old Testament as the prefigured and prophetic work of the Word at work in the world.

The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples is clearly the way/manner in which this gospel message of fulfillment will be taken into the world. And, the coming of the Holy Spirit (as discussed in previous passages on Peter’s speech) is also part of the fulfillment itself. For while Jesus is the culmination of the work of the Word, it is the Holy Spirit that shall reweave and restore creation and humanity. And, Jesus is to be the Lord of all.

This is all clouded in the midst of our celebrations of Pentecost Sunday. The message will be muddled by the reading of the story in different languages. It will be obscured by the celebrations of the “birthday of the church”. It really isn’t a story about the inside but our celebrations tend to reinforce a stayed church institution and hermeneutic of attraction. The story is instead one of sending, of going, of being empowered with gifts for the journey and being unmoored from our appointed seats at the table to a world hoping for light in the midst of a shadow. Pentecost is NOT about the birth of a church it is about the ever-expanding reign of God and the Good News of the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus outside our church boxes and upper rooms and actively spreading into the world around us.

A Sermon on Pentecost

Who are we? We are forgiveness bearers.

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

There is this great scene in one of my favorite movies, Joe Vs. the Volcano; where Joe Banks (played by Tom Hanks) receives credit cards to help him begin a journey to the Volcano island Wapponi Whu (which means island with a big volcano). He is going to jump in the volcano because he has a “brain cloud;” and doesn’t have anything else to do with his last days. He hires a limousine and driver to take him out to buy things for his journey. The driver asks him where he wants to go. Joe replies, “Shopping for clothes.” The driver asks what kind of clothes and where would you like to go. Joe answers that he doesn’t know; and then asks the driver, “Where do you go for clothes?” To which the driver quickly pulls over the car and says. “You don’t know who you are. You don’t know where you want to go. You don’t know what kind of clothes you want to buy. And that is a very personal thing. I believe clothes make the man. I have spent my whole life trying to figure out who I am, and I am tired. I certainly don’t know who you are.”

I have spent my whole life trying to figure out who I am.

I used to believe that I knew who I was and where I was going. But when I arrived at that destination I found that my vision wasn’t large enough to encompass who God was calling me to be.

I have spent my whole life trying to figure that out. I don’t believe we really know who we are.

If we spend our lives trying to figure out who we are then who has time to figure out who Jesus is. After all, like the limousine driver says: “I am tired.”

I really believe our lives are frustrated by the fact that we don’t really know who Jesus is either. As a Christian this poses a major identity crisis. Because I primarily understand myself in relationship to God above all other relationships and so when I don’t understand who God is and who this person of Jesus is; I am just a little confused. If I don’t understand who God and Jesus are, I really can’t understand myself.

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott writes:

As we sat there on the runway, the man with the book about the Apocalypse commented on the small gold cross I wear.

“Are you born again?” he asked, as we taxied down the runway. He was rather prim and tense, maybe a little like David Eisenhower with a spastic colon, I did not know hot to answer for a moment.

“Yes,” I said. “I am.”

My friends like to tell each other that I am not really a born-again Christian. They think of me more along the lines of that old Jonathan Miller routine, where he said, “I’m not really a Jew – I’m Jew-ish.” They think I am Christian-ish. But I’m not. I’m just a bad Christian. A bad born-again Christian. And certainly, like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting myself as a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and maybe sort of a vaguely Jesusy bon-vivant. But it’s not true. And I believe that when you get on a plane, if you start lying you are totally doomed.

So I told the truth: that I am a believer, a convert, I’m probably about three months away from slapping an aluminum Jesus-fish on the back of my car, although I first want to see if the application or stickum in any way interferes with my lease agreement.
That is kind of the way I approach my life. Before I decide I am anything I want to know how this impending choice is going to affect my lease agreement. How will this Jesus affect who I am? What will I be asked to do if I follow him?

I think that is why many churches don’t ask much of you; they keep Jesus just far enough away that you can’t get a good enough feeling about who this is. In this way our lives and choices are not complicated and a whole life of complicity can spread out before you.

The disciples were exactly the same way. They were in the midst of an identity crisis. Their leader, teacher, a friend had led them into the city of Jerusalem and been crucified. Now he was nowhere to be found and they had locked themselves in a room for fear that they would be rounded up and caught and crucified.

Jesus comes and stands in their midst and they receive him. They know him. They recognize him. They are transformed by his presence in their lives.

His presence tells them who they are. They know him and they know themselves. He says to them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

They find out they are forgiveness bearers. They find out that they are bearers of God’s peace to the world. Peace and forgiveness bearers that is their identity in the risen and transforming life of this “Resurrected Jesus.”

Now of course Thomas wasn’t there and he has to come along and see Jesus for himself. And, he does; and then he knows who he is. Thomas finds out he too, through his belief, is a peace and forgiveness bearer to the world. That is his identity.

What I love about the story is that the disciples and Thomas come to know the risen Jesus in two different ways. They require different manners of knowing. Both ways are all right, and both ways lead to understanding themselves. Their belief helps them to know who they are and what their purpose is.

Their experience informs their belief. Their belief transforms who they are.
Richard Rohr in Hope Against Darkness, writes:
Everybody looks at the world through their own lens, a matrix of culturally inherited qualities, family influences and other life experiences. This lens, or worldview, truly determines what you bring to every discussion. When Jesus spoke of the coming reign of God, he was trying to change people’s foundational worldview… When Americans speak of money as “the bottom line,” they are revealing more about their real worldview than they realize.

We would do well to get in touch with our won operative worldview. It is there anyway, so you might as well know what this highly influential window on reality is. It’s what really motivates you. Your de facto worldview determines what you pay attention to and what you don’t notice at all. It’s largely unconscious and it drives you to do this and not that. It is surely important to become conscious of such a primary lens, or we will never know what we don’t see and why we see other things out of all perspective.

Until we can allow the gospel to move into that deepest level of unconscious and touch our operative worldview nothing substantial is going to change.
What is your operating worldview?

What is your operating core?

What is your lens?

Is there room in the core of your being for God’s peace? Is there room in the heart of your heart for God’s forgiveness?

That seems to me to be the radical call of the Gospel: Peace and forgiveness. Supernatural grace: peace and forgiveness.

We say that we know and can see resurrection all around us. We see the transformation in ourselves and in others. We know Easter is real. Easter has ontological value in our world. There are resurrection and transformation. There are peace and forgiveness.

But do we know this peace and forgiveness ourselves? Is it the lens that we view the world through?

When it becomes your lens, life changes for us. Gordon Cosby of the Church of Our Saviour in Washington, D.C. says:
“…We come to know that God’s grace is surrounding you and you rest back in it. You know you have been loved with this sort of love. And simply because you have entered into this love you are able to splash it around so that it touches anybody who comes close to you. For this is a supernatural grace and there are people who love in this way. I have seen them. I know them, and you recognize in them just enough of Jesus to make you uncomfortable.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” This is what it means to be a Christian. And if we do not love this way, we are not Christian.

Who am I today? Who am I tomorrow? I am a bearer of Christ’s peace and forgiveness. That is how they will know I am Christian; that is how I know I am Christian.

Who are you today? Who are you going to be tomorrow?