Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday. This means 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 also can simply search below by entering the liturgical date, scripture, or proper. This will pull up all previous post. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Proper 15C / Ordinary 20C / Pentecost +13 August 14, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"By and large, we avoid conflict and division in our congregations at all costs, yet here Jesus is talking about bringing just that. We want peace and moreover call Jesus the prince of peace, yet just now Jesus says that’s not what he came to bring."

"A Stressful Sermon," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

"These words remind us that Jesus keeps us in the tension of longing and looking. On one hand, we yearn for peace, we hunger for the reign of God, we thirst for what is to come, but our prophetic vision cannot blind us to the reality that surrounds us."

Preaching Luke 12:49-56, Carol Howard Merritt, Lectionary Homileticssample.

"It is difficult to over-emphasize how revolutionary Jesus is being in stressing loyalty to him - and kinship with those who are also loyal to him - over family."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke12:32-40, David Ewart, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Surrounded by your great cloud of witnesses, we look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. Let us be consumed in the fire he kindles, and immersed in the baptism of his death, that he may remember us when he comes into his 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 12:49-56

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

As we begin the study of the passage for this week we are mindful of references to Elijah who drew down fire and to John the Baptist who foretold, “the tree not bearing fruit is to be thrown in the fire.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 207). Jesus’ time is coming, and he is eager for the judgment and the eschaton – end time. He is also sure that his followers are not ready…that we are not ready. We are not ready to go through the baptism that he will go through.

Jesus continues prophetically by speaking of the peace and the division of families. Unlike Gabriel’s words in 1:17 where the heart of the father will be turned towards the son, Jesus promises a different outcome for those who choose to follow into the fire.

The listener shares the “blindness of the lawyers” previously discussed. (LTJ, Luke, 209) They are hypocrites like them and can’t see it is time to do what is right. Calling his followers and listeners hypocrites raises before them the concept that they can read the seasons but do not know that the Son of God is with them now! The time is now! Follow now! Live the life I give to you now!

I cannot help but connect the prophetic naming of hypocrite with the one who is more willing to bring the faults of others to the Godly throne. Do what is right and be careful of hauling your neighbor before the judge.

Jesus began this section of teaching by encouraging his followers. Jesus ends the teaching with a call to conversion. The reader must assume the conversion is meant for everyone - most of all for the reader.

There is a metaphorical connection between the reader/listener/follower and the parable of the two on the road to the judge. We are reading and on the way with Jesus. His listeners are standing on the road with Jesus. All of us are there on the way to Jerusalem, to the judgment seat (literally and figuratively and literally). Settling into life with Jesus now will be easier than later.

This is as if to say that our purpose is to live the life of Jesus in this world - to get to the work of restoration and glorification of God now, imitating our teacher and loving our neighbor. We may choose at the judgment seat in the next life to accept Christ, but it will be more difficult if not impossible. We may first, like the traveler along the road who rested in the comfort of his neighbor’s sure demise, be required to pay all that we owe. We may have to get all that is coming to us.

This reminds me of what my father-in-law used to say, “Would you like a piece of pie?” You would of course say, “Yes.” Then you would notice perhaps that a little crust was left in the pie plate from your piece. You might then say, “Now Paw Paw, I want all that is coming to me.” He would then smile and say, “Do you really want all that is coming to you?” Knowing immediately what he was thinking you say quickly, “Well…no…not ALL that is coming to me.”

When I think of Jesus and this passage  I am thinking of that piece of pie. How sure I sometimes am that I really want all that is coming to me and I want all that is coming to my neighbor too. But Jesus takes the focus off of the other and beckons us to be introspective and act first out of a sense of repentance to the grace we are being offered. Jesus is standing there before us, just at the time we are sure we are the one’s who have it all right, and he is saying, “Do you really want all that is coming to you?” Then Jesus is saying, “You can read the seasons and times, but you can't see the time is now. I am on the road with you right now, as you are trying to follow the way. You better get things right with me now. You better get to work living the life. You better be careful, because you don’t really want all that is coming to you.”

These are the uncomfortable words of Jesus. Have courage. Get right with Jesus before the judgment. Repent, and take a step into the fire.

I am mindful of the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedinego, the three young men in the fire by Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. (Daniel 1.1ff).  The passage also made me think of Bob Marley and the Wailer’s song Survival.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

How can you be sitting there
Telling me that you care -
That you care?
When every time I look around,
The people suffer in the suffering
In everyway, in everywhere.

Say: na-na-na-na-na (na-na, na-na!):
We're the survivors, yes: the Black survivors!
I tell you what: some people got everything;
Some people got nothing;
Some people got hopes and dreams;
Some people got ways and means…

We're the survivors, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,
Thrown in the fire, but-a never get burn.
So brothren, sistren,
The preaching and talkin' is done;
We've gotta live up, wo now, wo now! -
'Cause the Father's time has come.
Some people put the best outside;
Some people keep the best inside;
Some people can't stand up strong;
Some people won't wait for long.


Some Thoughts on Hebrews 11:29-12:2


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


From fire to the Red Sea, our Epistle also speaks to us of deliverance.  The author of Hebrews continues to tell the story of the people Israel, offering their story as the Christian story. They are the Christian's faith ancestors.  Their faith, their response to the creator God led them through the REd Sea.  It was their faith in this creator God that led them to understand that when the land became theirs it was because of the creator God.  It was Rahab's faith in this God that saved her as well.  It is not difficult to understand or see how these stories can easily become problematic and used to authorize power and abuse.  This however is not the author's intent.  What is?  "What more should [the author] say?" The author makes his argument clear.  The whole history of the people of Israel is a story of faithful people responding to faith in the creator God.

"And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect."
They made their faithful response.  They were understood to be God's people by their faith.  No matter how hard or difficult life was or how long or arduous the journey was - they were commended by God.

Then follows one of my favorite quotes from scripture, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."

The life of faith, the creative vibrant life of faith, is always lived in response to God and to Jesus.  This is our privilege, this is our calling, this is what we do as Christians and as Episcopalians.  In fact as faithful people, not unlike the gathering cloud of witnesses, it is our hearts song in response to this God that beckons us forward into mission.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Proper 14C / Ordinary 19C / Pentecost +12 August 7, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The generosity Jesus urges is not an accumulative good-deed-doing, to bank on earning you a ticket to heaven, but a rush of self-forgetting, a joyfully celebrative generosity that empties its purse without worries of a harsh future."

"Treasure in Heaven," Nancy Rockwell, The Bite in the Apple, 2013.

"Fear, treasure, and being prepared is the pattern for discipleship. Being without fear, knowing the source of your treasure -- that is, your identity, your worth -- makes it possible to be prepared for and an actual participant in God's kingdom."

Commentary, Luke 12:32-40, Karoline Lewis, Pentecost 12C Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"Let's each use this day to complete our own portfolio reviews. Where am I letting fear cloud my judgment? What possessions could I sell to enjoy greater simplicity while also being a tangible blessing to someone else?"

"Portfolio Review," Steve Godfrey, Church in the World, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Keep our lamps burning brightly, our hearts ever watchful for the hour of your Son’s return, that we may open the gate as soon as he knocks and be admitted by him to the eternal banquet. 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 12:32-48

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is clear about our work. We are to share all that we have, just as God has shared all that he is. So we arrive at this Gospel for today prepared to hear Jesus tell us to be watchful and be prepared to serve.
Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out
We are ready. Our belts are cinched and we are waiting for the moment, just as a master of the house expecting a thief.

Unlike the rich man from last week’s Gospel reading, we are to be ready. We do not know when God is coming, but we are to be prepared as if it were now – this very moment.

What we discover is that Jesus is not only talking about the Day of Judgment. Jesus is also talking about the fact that we are to be acting and ready in every moment. God sees us. God sees us all the time. There is never a time when we are alone – the existential and egotism of the modern era would be considered a lie to Jesus.  No we are always in community with our God.

Notice Jesus and the work of the disciples are to be compared with the servant/slave who serves the table and household well. We get caught sometimes in the parables awful tale of woe for the lazy and unfaithful steward; perhaps because we automatically place ourselves in this secondary role.

Jesus though seems to want us to identify with the good servant.  Jesus is offering, beckoning us to take the first role. We are called and invited to be like Jesus (who will after all serve at the last supper). We are to be the first servant. We are to be faithful managers of the household. We are to be sensible. We are to make sure everyone has food to eat and we are to so see that kingdom work is carried out.

Jesus is clearly offering not only a vision of discipleship as the “sensible” servant. He is also offering a vision of those who are currently keeping God’s house.

Here is the work of the church today. We must take care not to become the second servant. We cannot become the one who abuses those who serve with us. We cannot be gluttonous desiring only our own worldly security. This will become clearer as we approach the parables of kingship and vineyard from Luke's gospel.

We as Christians, followers of Jesus, who believe in the divine household of God, given through God’s providence, know that with such a great gift comes a great responsibility for all of creation. It is this great responsibility and great task that we inherit a mandate for healthy and active stewardship.

We must be ready, for we do not know when the master of the house returns. But when he returns, even though we be servants in the household of God for only a short while, may he find here in the church a family of God, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a community of faithful, wise, and sensible servants; and a world changed by our mission on his behalf.

It has me wondering what would a world changed and improved by the church's presence, and the presence of active followers, look like to God?  Would it look like this world?


Some Thoughts on Hebrews 11:1-19


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  This is a great passage of scripture!  This is the story of Israel's faith and this is the story of our faith.

This passage is mentioned by Augustine and Aquinas, and is even the answer of Dante when he arrives in Paradise. (Craig Koester, Hebrews, 478). Essentially Paul tells us that faith is something our ancestors had and that God blessed.  Faith understands that God is creator of all things and that God has spoken the whole of creation into being.  And that it is from things not seen that all things flow.  Out of nothingness, from a world that cannot be seen, and from the speaking mouth of God.

The author then recounts the faith of Abel, Enoch and others.  Faith though seems to have some qualities that are presented.

Abel - acceptable sacrifice
Enoch - pleased God in his lifetime of believing
Noah - listened to God and acted
Abraham - listened to God and ventured out not knowing his destination
Isaac and Jacob - listened and were builders of God's vision
Sarah - believed and was given a family

Each of these people were faithful. They did not necessarily see or even experience the results of their faith. (An important fact in the story telling which is often forgotten in a culture of immediately attainable goals.)

In the very last phrase of our passage we are told that God has chosen them and he has not been disappointed.  


Monday, July 4, 2016

Proper 13C / Ordinary 18C / Pentecost +11 July 31, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"So greed seems to be a rather universal concept, from Norse and Saxon to Indian Sanskrit, the word seeks to describe the universal problem. A 'sickness to have something'."

"Lifting our Mater from Materialism," Peter Woods, I Am Listening, 2010.

"We learn the essential lesson: do not attempt to possess things, for things cannot really be possessed. Only make sure you are not possessed by them, lest your god change."

"Possessed by a Thing," Michael Battle, The Witness.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
As we labor to produce a rich harvest, do not let greed or self-importance rule our lives. Let us not store up treasures for ourselves, but grow rich in those things that are pleasing to 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 12:13-21

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel


Jesus is surrounded by people and one is a petitioner. He wants Jesus to make his brother divide the house. Jesus’ response is clear. He is not going to be a judge or mediator. This is an interesting lesson to follow the passage on prayer last week. Jesus uses this as a foil to discuss greed; and we should be aware that it tempers the idea of waking God and beseeching providential care that is simply a
masquerade for our own greed.

Greed is the sin that never rests and always seeks more. But Jesus is clear, “Life is a gift of God. No amount of possessions, however abundant, can make it greater or give it security.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, Sacra Pagina, 199)

The man in the parable is a symbol of this misguided desire and this sin left to its own desires.

Luke has a very particular understanding of stewardship: “Wealth with respect to God has two levels of meaning for Luke; the first is the response of faith, the second is the disposition of possessions in accordance with faith, which means to share them with others rather than accumulating them for one’s self.” (LTJ, 199)

The man is wealthy because he had a lot of stuff; he is fool because he thought that meant he also had security. It seems to me the parable and the teaching is that people are meant for eternity and that this is not so much about death but about the real living of life in the reign of God today.

We can see clearly the foolishness in this way of living for the individual. But do we see it in terms of the institution? Do we believe that things, wealth, buildings, success, rector-ship, or belonging to the right congregation, or singing the right kind of praise song, or worshiping with the right amount of incense will provide some kind of security? One does not have to read the pages of history or even to travel the ancient highways to see the foolishness of men’s desires and dreams.

Only the institution willing to loose everything for the kingdom will live within the reign of God Jesus is proclaiming. What are we thinking of? Are we hoping to secure our future with a budget that keeps the doors open? Or, are we ready to live the kingdom now?

As a bishop these are hard questions to ask of a congregation. These are hard questions to ask about the church.

John Hines said something about risking it all for the sake of the Gospel. Is the sin of greed and the sin of prosperity and the sin of security upon us?

Forgive us lord our sins, and give us our daily bread, for only in you do we live and move and have our being.


Some Thoughts on Colossians 3:1-11


Resources for Sunday's Epistle


Paul is saying to us who have been baptized and choose to believe in this God and this unique revelation of God in Christ Jesus: seek heavenly things.  "Seek the things that are above."  "Set your minds."  You already are participating in the death and resurrection of Christ.  So the life of Christ is revealed to you and through you.  

Let your old life die away.  Let the notion that you are controlled by other forces, and maligned by others, and that what you do and what you eat are infecting you away.  That is not the way life is when it is lived in Christ and focused on the heavenly things.  

Anything that separates you from God, any idolatry, seek to put away from yourselves.  Any idolatry that seeks to make you the center of the universe and world put away and look beyond these things beyond these behaviors.  This is the key to Paul's moral theology.

Paul is not content though in simply naming the idolatrous behaviors which consume us he is also interested in help us understand that such behaviors motive: "anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth." Telling lies too is included in the behaviors which seek to gratify or protect our idolatrous selves.  

Here is the fascinating part. If we put on Christ, focus on Christ, live Christ then other things fall away too. When we are focused on our spiritual life and our walk with Christ we no longer have time to tell others how they are not doing it right.  In other words Paul's understanding of idolatry includes the notion that when you put down another person, seek to separate them from yourself, you are actually aggrandizing yourself and making yourself Godlike and perhaps legally holy.  

Paul reminds us this just isn't true; its just another lie which makes us and our life the center instead of Christ's.  When we focus upon the life of Christ and heavenly things and our response to freedom and grace there is no time to (as my friends in the program say) take another person's inventory. So then when we are clothed in Christ and the image of the creator there "is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!"

Some Thoughts on Hosea 11:1-11


Our lesson structure does not make room for us to read all of Hosea. What we read instead is the ending. Our last lesson from Hosea promised that God would not desert God's people. This concluding chapter of the prophet's ministry offers a vision of God's love.

Hosea begins by reminding that Israel belongs to God's love. Israel is God's child. Hosea reminds the people that God has been faithful but they have offered sacrifices to local idols in order to gain worldly power and security.

God was the one who delivered them, taught them how to be in the world, how to care for each other, and how to be faithful. God delivered them out of Egypt, healed them, and fed them. Hosea writes:
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.
Hosea then says that the people lack of remembering and faith will inevitably bring them back to Egypt where the king will no know them and will devour them. The earthly kings of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and even Israel are all the same - they devour the people, their labor, their economy, their very beings for their own worldly gain. Like Amos, Hosea draws a clear line between the worship and allegiance to the powers and forces of this world will bring about destruction. People will in the end inevitably, always, sell themselves into slavery for the things of this world.

But God will not and cannot forget them - Hosea says. God's heart breaks for his children. Hosea writes,
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
God awaits their return. God will free them once again. God will return them to their home one more time. God will be faithful and God will act for them even though they are unfaithful. God will stand loyal to God's people, even though they continue to worship and follow after the false gods of the world.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Proper 12C / Ordinary 17C / Pentecost +10 July 24, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"First of all, we need to admit that prayer is not "putting coins in a vending machine." It is not putting our prayer in the right slot, pushing the right button, and waiting for the vending machine God to spit out exactly what we want. God is not a vending machine."

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

"If you're going to preach on the gospel reading from Luke this Sunday, I have some advice for you: clear some time on your schedule for additional pastoral counseling in the coming weeks."

"Shameless," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2010.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
May we who ask you for our daily bread give gladly and generously to those in need. Let us who search for mercy ourselves be quick to let others find mercy with us. May we who knock at the door of your kingdom keep our own hearts and hands open wide in welcome. 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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 11:1-13

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This reading is all about prayer. We learn that John taught his disciples to pray and now Jesus is asked to teach us to pray. We certainly have many occasions to reflect throughout scripture on the manner and form of Jesus’ own prayer. Here we see Luke offering us a didactic moment.


We are given the version of the Lord’s prayer without the doxology as in the didache text.

We begin with a simple greeting of God as father. Sometimes we get caught up on, not an unimportant theological point, but whether or not the particular typological reference to God as a male is appropriate. I find that while I love a good theological discussion and argument this is to miss the point. Jesus here is prescribing that the communal work of prayer should be as intimate as is his prayer to God. So it is Jesus who calls God Father, and it is for this reason that we do the same.

We sanctify God’s name as in the ancient tradition of offering God glory through our worship. A key manifestation of the act of returning to God what God intends of all creation: that God be glorified, magnified, reflected back to God’s self.

More than talking about God as male or female this passage makes clear, as does the Lord’s Prayer, that God is absolutely different, wholly and holy different from the created order.

Then we are to pray that God’s kingdom may become reality in this world. Paralleling the Kaddish we understand that our work is to be a part of, a citizen, in the reign of God. This is the theme running throughout chapter 9 through 11 of Luke’s Gospel: the reign of God is here; our work is to open our eyes to see, open our ears to hear it, and open our hands to work within its harvest.

“The bread we need.” This is a very difficult phrase to translate from Greek into English because this is the only place (here and in the Gospel of Matthew) where it is use in all of the Greek language. (LTJ, Luke, Sacra Pagina, 177) Most every scholar agrees it does not mean supernatural bread, though this is exactly what the Patristic writers seemed to think it meant. It is daily bread, future bread, and necessary bread. It is bread that is received as gift and it is bread that is given. While modern scholars disagree with Patristic scholars we who pray it, I find, have reason enough to believe we know how to translate this particular phrase. I have sat down with friends at table, I have sat in Alanon meetings, I have sat at camp, I have sat in bible studies, and I have sat in prayer circles. In each place this particular request for daily bread has been translated in so many ways that are real and present that while I may not know exactly what it means I know it comes down to this. God, you are a God of providence, you give me all that I have and all that I am, do not stop your giving.

And, in receiving your providence in bread and in forgiveness of sins, let me be repentant. Let me turn away, and do not try me for life is hard enough. The work of a disciple who follows Jesus is clearly difficult and it is one that will test and try us. These are themes throughout Luke and Acts.

Petition and regular conversation with God is the way of prayer. We are to be the shameless petitioner. In the middle of the night, throughout the day, at all the most inconvenient times we are to pray to God. There is never at time when prayer should not be appropriately offered. Jesus is teaching them that this is what I call, “in your face prayer.” Knock on that door. Wake God up! Get God out of bed! But Jesus’ message is clear. God will be even more gracious than a friend who has all things in common with you. This is the providence of God.


Some Thoughts on Colossians 2:6-15


Resources for Sunday's Epistle



"It is commonplace that we do not and cannot share the powerful fear of Paul's contemporaries that principalities and powers reign in the upper air, that the stars exercise a malign influence, or that personal demonic forces contaminate food and drink." (Ralph Martin, Interpretation Colossians, page 116)  This is just not what we believe nor how we navigate the world.

However, ever present is the fact that human beings actually do attribute their lot in life to other powers, they do believe other things exercise a malign influence on their life, they do believe that demonic forces are at work. Yep...that is us!

For us Paul has good news.  As believers in Christ Jesus our Lord we have a life that can be lived in him.  We have the potential of a life that is established in faith and gratefulness.  We receive this because the creation and all its powers are God's.  They are birthed through Christ.  Christ is over all things; including those things we fear.  Christ has more power than they do.  In baptism we are yoked with Christ and there is nothing that will over power the God of Love.  In fact we are going to be raised with Christ.  Christ's own public humiliation gives birth to our triumph.

Paul is clear: there is nothing in this world real or unseen that can condemn us.  Food, drink, observing festivals, new moons, sabbaths, or any action - for if we are Christ's we are raised with Christ.

How often are we willing to let someone disqualify us, some power to undermine us.  Paul says, "Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God."  

The message is clear. God loves you. God redeems you in Christ. Live in Christ and upon Christ's faith and work and be free of the possession of things seen and unseen, of powers and principalities.  You don't have to do that stuff it has no power in a world created by God and possessed by Christ.



Some Thoughts on Hosea 1:2-10


Resources for Sunday's Old Testament

We must put into context the prophesy of Hosea. We have just finished reading from Amos. Like Amos, Hosea is prophesying against the northern kingdom. His time of prophesy lies between Elijah, Elisha, Amos and those who come after Hosea - Jonah and Nahum. He prophesies just before the final death blows are given to the northern kingdom and it comes to an end under the invasion of the Assyrians.

Hosea uses his own life story to explain God's faithfulness. Hosea's wife leaves him with children for other men. Hosea though forgives her and takes her back. He is married to a prostitute. There is some argument about if this is a literary ploy or autobiographical. Regardless, Hosea is communicating that God will be forgiving and just if his people will but hear his invitation to repent and return. God will not leave his people but continuously desires that they embody his love by repenting.

Hosea also reminds the people that God intends compassion for his people. God intends to be faithful to the covenant regardless of Israel's lack of faith. Hosea promises a measure of redemption lies before them, even in the midst of this very difficult time of anarchy.
God promises, "I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.” They shall be saved by remembering their dependence upon God and that the powers of this world will not provide or bring about the reign I have promised.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Proper 11C / Ordinary 16C / Pentecost +9 July 17, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"We do know that Jesus invites all of us who are worried and distracted by many things to sit and rest in his presence, to hear his words of grace and truth, to know that we are loved and valued as children of God, to be renewed in faith and strengthened for service.

Commentary, Luke 10:38-42, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"This brief encounter within the gospel narrative purposely disrupts expectations and disturbs our sense of propriety. I hope to hear a sermon that resists the temptation to justify Jesus and allows Jesus the guest to offend my sensibilities."

Commentary, Luke 10:38-42 (Pentecost +8), Marilyn Salmon, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Let your gracious presence here in word an at table remind us that one thing only is necessary, and that in those to whom we offer hospitality, it is you whom we receive as a guest.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 10:38-42

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The first thing that is interesting to me is that most scholars group this passage with the passage of the

Good Samaritan. As familiar with the last story as most Christians are the story of Mary and Martha has cultural ramifications and is very popular in its own way.

Martha welcomes Jesus and sets about his comfort. Meanwhile, Mary sits and listens to the word. Overwhelmed by the serving Martha has had enough. She is all tangled up in life and goes to Jesus to seek a better portion. But she finds in the words of Jesus that her cause of anxiety and worry and trouble is of her own making. As Jesus points out there is only need of one thing. So what is the one thing?

Some scribes have made some serious errors. They thought Jesus meant dishes and so replaced one with few. We are all focused on the dishes vs. prayer argument.

Jesus is simply talking about the essential note of hospitality: pay attention.

Others have thought he meant the one thing – Jesus.

The idea that Jesus means to be attentive and that this is the chief concern of hospitality may seem foreign but not when you take it into the context of the last few weeks Gospel lessons. When you are a messenger be attentive to your message (do lift your head from your plow), those to whom you go should be attentive for the kingdom is near, and be attentive to your opportunity to serve even if the person is so very unlike you. In this reading we see that if we miss being attentive because we have busied ourselves with the practice we will in the end miss our opportunity.

Remember, the message of the Gospel of Luke is that Jesus the great prophet is present, he is working miracles, he is bringing in the very real kingdom of God, and he is sending us out. Acts teaches us the Spirit is present with us today. Be ATTENTIVE God is working in our lives and we don’t want to miss it!

Luke Timothy Johnson summarizes this series of episodes on the way to Jerusalem in a wonderful way:

“It is obvious that Luke understand something about human psychology. The pattern of avoidance exhibited by the priest and Levite, the self-justifying bluster of the lawyers, the irritation of the “dutiful daughter” Martha. These are people like us. Less familiar perhaps is what goes beyond psychology into gospel: the compassion that is not simply a feeling but translates itself into the self-giving that takes risks, that disposes of the self and one’s possessions and then allows the other to leave without clinging; the hospitality that receives the other as the other wishes to be received, that listens.”

This Sunday the preacher will have a difficult time staying away from the allegory of Mary and Martha, the worker bee and the contemplative. To engage in that dichotomy may be a false sense of Christian life. In the meditations of a Benedictine at work we discover work is prayer. In the contemplation of a solitary we discover prayer is work. Both are true but neither is Godly unless it is attentive to the revelation of Christ.


Some Thoughts on Colossians 1:15-29


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

This week we read an ancient Christian hymn.  The purpose of the hymn is to remind us of who it is that is the Church's Lord.

Jesus Christ is the revelation, the manifestation, and the representation of God.  Christ is not a copy but as Ralph Martin says, Christ is the "projection of God on the canvas of our humanity and the embodiment of the divine in the world of men and women." (Colossians,Interpretation,  109)

The hymn is use by Paul to set forth his theology.

Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God.  He is the firstborn of creation.  All things were created, everything on heaven and in the earth.  Thrones, dominions, principles, authorities, are all under his authority.  Creation is his and it exists for him. Christ is the binder of all creation and he is the head of the church.  Christ, the resurrected one, is the firstborn of the dead who will rise.  Jesus Christ is the one who has done (and is the only one who can) do the work of reconciliation.  

Not unlike the passage from Luke, Paul is clear that Christ is the revelation of God and that we are to be attentive to this revelation. Moreover, like Paul we are to reveal this God in our own lives and in our ministry.  I am challenged to reflect today...when people are in contact with me and engage in ministry with me...do they see the revelation of God as through Christ?  Hmmmm...


Some Thoughts on Amos 8:1-12


We continue this week with our lesson from Amos. We remember that Amos is a dresser of fruit trees and herdsman. From his context the prophet brings forth imagery to call people back into a faithful response to God's mercy and deliverance.

We must always remember that the framework of the prophets is located within the following faith system:
1) God acted on behalf of his people
2) At Sinai the people chose to respond to God's action with faithfulness
3) God's people are want to faithlessness and to replace God with kings and rulers
4) The prophets are raised by God to call the people to repent
Amos refers to the failing leaders and idols as a basket of rotting summer fruit. Then Amos says that part of the unfaithfulness has become evident by the people's lack of care for those in need and the poor of the land are revelations of the people's rejection of God and God's desire that all be cared for on God's behalf. 

Amos then reminds the people of their covenant with god and that they have brought upon 
God's poor and the neglected and so themselves shall suffer. This is not merely an act of God upon the kingdom but a direct correlation is made in Amos' prophesy between the kingdom's faithfulness, the poor and needy, and their longterm prosperity. 

Amos makes it clear that the kingdom that remembers their promise to God after Sinai will be a people who remember the poor and neglected (as God once remembered his suffering people) and so will bring about just community. But when the nation forgets their God they bring upon themselves their own terrible suffering. Amos tells the people in no uncertain terms their unfaithfulness is bringing upon them a great calamity; and God will not stop it.



Friday, July 1, 2016

Proper 10C / Ordinary 15C / Pentecost +8 July 10, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"We are all "tribal" by instinct and by habit. We are most comfortable with and usually care most about those like us. But now we live side-by-side with people of many different tribes."

Commentary, Luke 10:25-37 (Pentecost +8), Michael Rogness, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"Having created the impossible-possibility of a despised no-body doing what is needed to inherit eternal life, ... presents a double challenge. First. To be able to see someone we despise as being able to do what God desires. Second. To imagine ourselves lying left-for-dead in a ditch and being aided by such a one."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 10:25-37, David Ewart, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Fill our hearts, with compassion and generosity toward the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, so that, like Christ, e may become Good Samaritans to the whole world.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 10:25-37

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

This passage begins with a hostile question from a lawyer. It is the same question from Luke 18:18.
What must one do to inherit eternal life? This phrase “eternal life” interestingly appears very few times in the whole of the New Testament. It appears only 12 times, and five of those times are in Luke’s Gospel. This is not to say that we don’t read about the idea in other ways elsewhere, but it is clear that it only appears in this exact phrasing but a few times.

In this moment Jesus refers him to the passage from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Both commandments are here enjoined as a cliff notes of sorts to the basic teachings of scripture and of Jesus.

In asking who is one’s neighbor with the lawyer we might look at the actual text of Leviticus first to see what it says. When we do we see that it means the following: sons of your own people (Lev 19:18) stranger or sojourner in the land (Lev 19:33-34). (LTJ, Luke, Sacra Pagina, 172) It is interesting to not here that the Pharisees, like those at Qumran understood this only in the first sense of understanding: it was about your own people. Jesus evidently believes it is a much broader group as in the parable we are about to hear.

The story of the Good Samaritan begins. As we have already seen and read in the past few weeks we are reading through a section of Luke focused on Samaria. We arrive at the telling of this story fully aware of the differences between Jerusalem and Samaria. We know of the division, and we are pretty sure that while they are not one of us, Jesus intends for them to be one of us. This message of inclusion is troubling to his first followers and it is troubling to his followers today.

When Jesus finishes the story he reverses the question from a legal obligation to a question about who deserves “love.” All of a sudden the question is turned over as Jesus asks not who is my neighbor, but to who may I be neighborly? Moreover, the answer reveals that the Samaritan while clearly not neighbor by the law of Lev 19:18 is the moral exemplar of the reign of God intended by Jesus.

Luke Timothy Johnson writes the following:
“More stunning still is the use to which Jesus turns the parable. The point, we learn, is not who deserves to be cared for, but rather the demand to become a person who treats everyone encountered – however frightening, alien, naked or defenseless – with compassion: “you go and do the same.” Jesus does not clarify a point of law, but transmutes law to gospel. One must take the same risks with one’s life and possessions that the Samaritan did!”

The idea that Jesus offers this unique change in the ethnic understanding of neighborliness and offers a vision of what we might call the ever expanding reach of Gospel proclamation may be news. It is Jesus himself who offers the Christian Church the ever expanding, always missional questions, “who is unlike you?” and, “what is the opportunity they offer you?” How are you going to minister to them?” Can you be as Jesus to them?” “How about as the Samaritan to them?”

We are given the opportunity to see those completely unlike ourselves as the missionary recipient of God’s never failing love and grace. We are to be neighbors, not counting the cost, but risking everything; including the risk of being thrown out of our faith ghetto for fraternizing with the enemy.

There is a great reminder here that we are to read the whole of scripture and that we are to see the fullness of God’s mission. We are invited through our faith in Jesus to be tested and to do the work Jesus has given us to do. We are to be like the Samaritan.

Can I do the same?

More radical may be to answer this question: Do I believe my inheritance of eternal life is dependant upon this work?

Some Thoughts on Colossians 1:1-14


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

We move this week to the Epistle for Sunday which is a switch from Galatians to Colosians.  In typical fashion Paul tells him that he is one sent out to proclaim the word by the Grace of God.  And, that he brings to a community in conflict a word of peace; hearkening to Jesus' own words at the resurrection.  ( I am fully aware that there is a scholarly debate over the authorship of the letter; but for the purposes of digesting its offerings, and for simplicity, I am going to refer to Paul as the author.)

This passage is about bearing fruit.  The fruit that is being born is a fruit of hope and it comes from the God's Spirit. Paul is very clear that it is the Gospel and the Spirit which bears the fruit and it does so where there is faith.

The work of the follower of Jesus is to bear fruit; by and through the grace and hope that is in us.  Furthermore that the follower is not simply a follower but like Paul is sent out in strength and with patience to do the work of God by sharing the inheritance.  What Paul has received, what the Colossians have received, is for the world  and it is to be offered to the world.  It is free and all may have it.

Underlying these words of bearing fruit, faithfulness, and inheritance is the issue that seems to be plaguing the Colossians (as it did many early Christian communities).  Do you have to follow a bunch of laws to receive God's love.  The answer is Pauline and clear. God has provided this to all and it is provided freely.  

William Loader says this about the passage:

This needs to be set against the backdrop of what is bothering the community. Some are saying that God's love is not so free, but depends on religious rites and achievements which must be performed if we are to be sure of getting past the powers which hold sway in this universe. The result can be religious preoccupation with our own destiny. We can become busy trying to justify ourselves. We can do that by performing religious rites or doing many other things "religiously". We can even make ourselves busy with overwork (even with church work!) to achieve that sense of being valued and ultimately coming through and finding a place of worth. Colossians is acclaiming a generous love which says: stop all this and believe in grace! You don't have to become religious in this way. On the contrary, you can be liberated from such religion to be free to respond to God and others and yourselves with joy!

Paul and our author is clear that the Gospel is one of generous love. This love will breed faithfulness and fruit.  But faithfulness and fruit will not beget love; it never does.  The God we believe in reaches out to us and loves us.  God is more than kind, the God we believe in is grace filled.  Like God we are to be vines laden with grace and generous love.  This vine will bear much fruit.

Some Thoughts on Amos 7:7-17


Resources for Sunday's Old Testament

When in Jerusalem our guide, The Rev. Canon John Peterson, took us to a little hillside near Tekoa. In the hill beneath a mound of rubble and centuries of pot shards was a little cave. The cave is long believed to be a small ancient Christian church site to Amos the prophet. On this hill, and the valley below, one gets an understanding of the man from Tekoa, who was a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees. Like the fruit of the sycamore tree (which is like a date) and must be punctured in order to be dried and eaten, Amos punctures the pearly visions of the ruling class of his day.

The time in which Amos prophesied is a time of a divided kingdom of Israel. The Northern kingdom and tribes are ruled over by King Jeroboam (786-746 BCE). 

God calls Amos to invite his people to repent. His prophecies are not good for the kingdom.

The reason is the long standing problem with those who chose to follow God - we are a fickle people. We are wont to find other god's who promise us prosperity, power, and health. The religious powers of the court are no different. Whenever the kings of Israel drifted away from their loyalty to the God who freed his people out of Egypt, the prophets were raised up by God to speak a word of return. 

An important piece here is that we easily place our trust in the world and powers of the world. God can become distant and far off. When this happens, and our anxiety rises, we will give ourselves, our wealth, time, and families over to the authorities of the world around us for an economic promise of safety. 

We can easily focus upon Amos proclamation that the kingdom will soon fall because of its prostitution to these ungodly forces. But what seems more important is to wonder out loud about how Amos' prophesy might have a word for us in our own time of anxiety and desire for security?

How are the sanctuaries - institutions of our day - passing away even as they promise security with reinvestment? (v 8,9) What have they promised in the passed and fallen short in their delivery? (7ff) How has our use of violence in order to prosper our own desires brought violence and death to our shores? (v 11) How have we rejected those who continuously invite us to the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love of God? (v 13) 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Proper 9C / Ordinary 14C / Pentecost +7

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Notice how Jesus only tells them what they should do and doesn't say anything about measuring their success. If people don't accept your message, he says, shake their dust off your feet and move on. In our congregations it's difficult to avoid measuring success."

Commentary, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Michael Rogness, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

"Leo Bebb said, 'It's worth breaking the law just so you can get put in the lock-up, where the grapes are ripe for the harvest and the Lord needs all the hands he can get for the vineyard. You should hear the way they sing hymns behind bars, Antonio. Makes you go all over gooseflesh.'"

"Hands for the Harvest," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog. The following excerpt was initially published in Lion Country and later in The Book of Bebb:


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
Give us the courage of the apostles, and let the gospel set us free that wherever life takes us and with whomever we find ourselves, our first word may always be your gift of love and peace.  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 C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We begin here in the same way that we began with last Sunday’s Gospel from Luke. Jesus sends out before him messengers. This time he is sending out seventy. The harvest is rich says Jesus. Pray for help in the harvest.

I cannot help but imagine this text without thinking of Moses’ seventy elders who go with him to the mountain. While I do not intend to question the number I cannot help but think this is an important story to be included in the Gospel account because of this very fact. It is important to the theme of Jesus as the great high priestly prophet that he is compared with Moses, not just in deeds as in our last few weeks of reading, but here in action of disbursing authority and replicating and multiplying the proclamation of the Good news.

We can see immediately that previously in our text, Jesus sent the twelve to preach and heal, the messengers to prepare hospitality, and the seventy to do both!

Just as we remember this prophet and the prophets work makes orphans of family members and homeless those who have houses, so here we see that those who follow and undertake this work are sent out for the good work of harvesting and will for their efforts place their lives in danger.

He tells them what to take with them and what to leave behind. The message here seems to be travel light and carry with you the providence of God.

This mission is in the hostile land of Samaria and this cannot be overlooked. They are to be careful and remember they are ministering in a place that will not be welcoming to messengers sent from a prophet of Jerusalem…even if it is in Jerusalem where he will meet his death.  And, at the same time it is in Samaria a perceived hostile land that the Good News takes hold and great works and miraculous deeds are accomplished.

Nothing less than the kingdom of God is going with them, the very same message that has traveled as a mantle with Jesus’ every word. Now they are to carry it, and where it is accepted there will be peace. The kingdom is here and where it is there is peace for those who choose to live their life within its expanding territory.

Wipe off the dirt when they don’t accept you…leave them be and go. When the Day of Judgment comes they will receive what is due them. Jesus uses a colloquial proverb from his day, “go easier for Sodom.” (LTJ, Luke, Sacra Pagina, 168).

We se here in the verses that follow the them of repentance. And, we understand that where the kingdom is, where the grace appears, where God is truly received there is indeed an automatic work of repentance taken on by the people. Woe to those who do not turn to the Lord.

I think that it would be much clearer if we understood that the messengers, these seventy, were actually to do the fire bombing Jesus speaks about. But we must remember from last week’s reading, Jesus carefully instructs those who go before him to stay away from this work. Will there be judgment? The answer is clearly yes. Are we to be the ones to dish it out? Clearly: no. In fact we are to keep focused on the mission. We might remember the plough imagery from last week. We are to keep moving, dust our feet off. True enough…woe to Chorazin…but keep moving…keep proclaiming the Gospel message.

Then Jesus talks about Satan’s fall as he hears of the work his disciples have been doing. This is great news. But don’t let the news of the good work be what drives you forward. Jesus again redirects our attention. It is not the winning or the loosing, the success of the mission, or the fact that they seem to be doing good work that is important, it is rather that they are citizens in the reign or kingdom of God and they are fulfilling their citizenship by ministering in God’s name.

A new beatitude is added to our list. Blessed are those that see and those that hear. Blessed are the ones who can experience and the reign of God in a very real way. While scholars seize on the seeing and the hearing, it is interesting to me in the pericope to note that there is also a part of this saying which is the desire fulfilled. There are many Jesus says who desired to experience the kingdom. They do. So, indeed, blessed are the ones who see and hear of the kingdom. Perhaps, blessed are the citizens of this new kingdom and blessed are they that repent and are able to dwell within its boundaries.

The journey to Jerusalem is the unfolding of Jesus’ sermon on the plain. There is a declaration of woe says Luke Timothy Johnson and then a blessings, here in the alternating action, conversation, witnessing, and teaching we see Jesus’ reign of God unfold. (LTJ, 171)

It is clear that Jesus sees the Samaritans as outcasts of the people and that we are seeing in his own ministry the very essential ingredients to the life and work of the church. If we are a mission of Jesus Christ, the “seventy” sent out into the world, then we must measure our success not on the results of our work, but on these qualities expressed in today’s Gospel.

Moreover, instead of fearing the land outside our congregations like a neo-Samaria we should lift our heads and eyes to see that it is in the world of mission that great things happen and the Gospel takes root.


Some Thoughts on Galatians 6:1-18


Resources for Sunday's Epistle

While taking a stab at the spiritually superior Paul reminds them that their work is to be a mutual support to one another in fulfilling the law of Christ.

This law is governed by the Spirit of Christ.  The law of God in human relationship has a particular history.  God's initial and singular law is replaced by the law of Sinai which human beings are unable to keep.  This then is replaced by Christ and the return to the singular law.  The Sinai law will enslave us; for Paul this is self evident and illustrative both in the teachings of Jesus and through the spirit of revelation.  The singular law revealed is the law of love.

Love one another.  Christ has brought this one way love of God to humans and into the world. The law of Christ, the law of love, is to be the law which ultimately governs the new emerging community of the church.  The church will be known to be Christ's and governed by Christ's law based upon love.

In Paul's words:

"In love, bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will bring to completion in the corporate life of your churches (future tense of ἀναπληρόω - anapléroó) the law that Chris himself has brought to completion.  For Christ brought the Law to completion, when he made it his own Law, by loving us and giving his life for us.  Indeed, he did that precisely in accordance with the will of God our Father, whose promise and whose guidance are spoken by the scriptural Law that is now the Law in the hands of Christ." (Translation by J. Louis Martyn, Galatians, p 558)


Some Thoughts on 2 Kings 5:1-17

I think a lot of times we forget how many times God does good work for the least and lost in the Old Testament. We often times think that it is purely a series of books that have only to do with the people of Israel.

We might do well to remember the Elijah story from a few weeks past when Elijah went and was with a woman, most likely canaanite, and multiplied the food she had and raised her son from the dead. Here again we have a similar story in that Elisha is called out to work miracles for someone not found to be of value in Israel's religious eyes - he is not Israelite, and he is not clean.

The first thing to notice int he story is that Naaman is a great warrior who has had many victories. He has everything in terms of victory but has nothing for he has leprosy. He is counted unclean and therefore he is one of the least.

One of his servants/captives, who became his wife, is one who knows of the miraculous work of the Sinai prophet Elisha and says to her owner/husband you should go and see him. She is an Israelite and considered even lower than he in the eyes of the the powerful in Damascus.

Naaman's king writes to the king of Israel for permission. Naaman is a great warrior and so the king is VERY scared! He is worried that the king of Aram and Naaman are plotting to overthrow him. Elisha says, calm down and let him come to me. So Naaman goes with many gifts. He arrives with many horses and chariots and in great finery.

Here is one of the great exchanges in biblical history:

Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”  
Naaman has a fit. We are told that Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.  
Again, a servant wife who is accounted nothing comes to Naaman and says, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  
So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Naaman offers Elisha gifts but Elisha says no. The miracle story is important because on the one hand it is telling the story of religious truth found in Israel over and against its neighbors. Certainly God's power is present there in the prophet Elisha, in the Israelite woman, and in the river Jordan. But I think there is still more here for us.

This is a story of how the power of God to deliver and heal for the least and for the other is important. God is clearly working to restore all people, not simply the people of Israel. God is the God of all nations and all people. All come to him and all will worship. This is a story about how God is, through the work of Elisha (like Elijah), working in the lives of those who do not count as members of his flock - Israel.

I know that there are a number of readings possible over these weeks and some number have stayed with the readings from Isaiah. I have kept to the readings from Kings because I think it is of the utmost importance to see that Jesus himself was involved in a ministry not so very foreign to the Sinai prophets who ministered to the least and lost, to the lame and leper, all of whom have very little value in the eyes of the religious. Jesus' work to expand and pronounce goodness and healing for all the least and lost despite of religious or national orientation is essential and rooted deep in a tradition of a God who has forever sought to work on behalf of the least and lost.