Finding the Lessons

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

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Proper 16A/Ordinary 21A/Pentecost +11 August 24, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think
The road to Caesarea Philippi


"From fisher of fish to fisher of people to keeper of the keys to shepherd. It was the Rock's final promotion, and from that day forward he never let the head office down again."
"Peter," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"La predicación de la confesión de Pedro (Mateo 16.13-20) es una oportunidad de retornar al principio de la fe cristiana vis a vis la opinión post moderna sobre el cristianismo en general y quien Jesús es en particular."
Comentario del Evangelio por Alvin Padilla, San Mateo 16:13-20, Working Preacher, 2011.

"For Matthew the location is also Caesarea Philippi and perhaps the same shadows of imperial power or power through its local Jewish proteges of Herod's family are in mind. But in Matthew the passage is not such a turning point as it is in Mark."
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 10, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

God, well-spring of all wisdom and font of every insight, you inspired Simon Peter to confess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and on the rock of this faith you built your church.  Pour out your Spirit in abundance, that all may join in this profession, and so become living stones built up into your church, standing firm upon the one foundation, which is our Lord Jesus Christ. 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 16:13-20

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The passage for this Sunday's Gospel is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Messiah and Son of the Living God. It is Peter's proclamation on the road to Caesarea Philippi.  It is an important theological passage for Christianity and is an important passage within the Gospel of Matthew.

We begin the passage with Jesus' question to his disciples. This then reveals that Jesus is a great prophet. It isn't simply that he is compared to the great heroes of the Jewish faith.  He is on par with, he is equal to, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist.  He is not simply a great prophet he is the greatest of prophets.  He is the Christ, Son of the Living God.  The message of Jesus is the continuation of the ancient faith of Israel.  He is the fulfillment of all the hope of Israel.  He is the omega of salvation-history. At the same time he is doing something radically new - he is birthing (through word and spirit) the Church.

Jesus in Matthew's Gospel is the one who is laying the foundation of a living Word that will withstand the powers and principalities of both this world and the world to come.  He is building up living stones and a kingdom of priests to expand the reign of the kingdom of God - this "eschatalogical temple." (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 642)

There is a great debate among scholars as to Matthew's own Christology. Did he think of Jesus as God in the same way as John and his Gospel? In point of fact no direct statement is made.  Yet, in my opinion the author of this Gospel indeed understands Jesus as God.  For in my reading of Matthew Jesus not only is the continuum of messianic hope he is the culmination as well.  He is here on this road proclaimed as the Son of the Living God.  Matthew's Gospel is clear about its revelation - Jesus is one with God and therefore transcends the simple relationship of follower or prophet of the most high God.

Furthermore, this Jesus is the one who has been given the power and authority to call forth the new community of faithful followers into the kingdom.  In this section of the narrative of Jesus, in this moment, on the road to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus is seen as Lord of this new kingdom. He is in the miracle of loaves and fishes, in the stilling of the storm, he is bringing together a new people of God. This new people of God is made up of those who unlike many of the religious powers of his day have not rejected him and those who are on the fringes of religious society - to include Gentiles.  This is the God made man who in sitting and eating with sinners and tax collectors is binding together a new family of God.

Jesus in his ministry, and from this point on in Matthew's Gospel, is passing along the inheritance of the kingdom of God. Jesus is gathering in and multiplying the numbers of Abraham's descendants. He is through the power of the Holy Spirit taking the spirit that has been under the custodial leadership of the religious authorities of his day and is placing that spirit upon a new people, a growing people, a diverse people - the ecclesia - The People of God.

The image of this new people of God is not the perfected disciple but the disciple Peter, the one whose faith led him to step out of the boat, the one whose faith has revealed the true nature of Jesus, the one who also will struggle with his faith and deny him during the passion tide.  This imperfect human is the one upon whom the church, the new ecclesia, is built.

Allison and Davies write this beautiful passage about the revelation of Jesus as Son of the Living God and spiritual architect of the new people of God:

Jesus is the Son promised in 2 Sam 7.4-16, the king who builds the eschatological temple. This temple is the church.  Like the old temple, it is founded on a rock.  But unlike the old temple, it has no geographical location.  It is not in Jerusalem.  The new, eschatological temple is a spiritual temple.  It stands under the rule: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (18:20; cf. Jn 4:21).  Mathew is thus at one with the rest of the NT in substituting for the Holiness of place the holiness of a person: holy space has been Christified. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 642)
Allison and Davies contend, and I think it is a great image, that just as Jesus is himself the New Covenant so Peter is then the New Abraham.  They write:

The parallels between 16:13-20 and Genesis 17:1-8 indicate that Peter functions as a new Abraham.  He is the first of his kind, and he stands at the head of a new people. Peter is, like Abraham, a rock (cf. Isa 51:1-2), and the change in his name denotes his function.  What follows?  Peter is not just a representative disciple, as so many Protestant exegetes have been anxious to maintain.  Nor is he obviously the first holder of an office others will someday hold, as Roman Catholic tradition has so steadfastly maintained.  Rather, he is a man with a unique role in salvation history.  The eschatological revelation vouchsafed to him opens a new era.  His person marks a change in the times.  His significance is the significance of Abraham, which is to say: his faith is the means by which God brings a new people into being. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 642ff)
This week's Gospel lesson is as much about Jesus as it is about Peter.  We need leaders in each Episcopal congregation (clergy and lay) who are ready to give voice to the proclamation of Jesus as Son of the Living God and Lord of all; and to incarnate their faith in living a living Word that is Gospel. We need leadership who will also see themselves not simply as disciples of a particular kind but in the tradition of Peter and Abraham; ready to take steps out into the world. We need leadership who are ready to be the stones upon which new churches are designed and built.  We need leaders who are through their ministry ushering in a new era of Gospel proclamation and mission.  We need leaders who by means of their faith God is bringing a new people, a new ecclesia, into being.


" To be enslaved to sin is to have one's body commandeered every bit as much as one's soul."Commentary, Romans 12:1-8, Mary Hinkle Shore,, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Paul's main point about spiritual gifts, mentioned in verse 6, is that God has given us these as members of the body of Christ. So we are to use the particular gift God has given us to help the body function, not to promote ourselves or show how we as one body part are better than others who are another body part."
Commentary, Romans 12:1-8, Mark Reasoner, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

Romans is about God's unconditional one way love that in the end will conquer all powers and principalities and make us heirs and family members with God. 

Paul invites the members of the community at Rome then to make an offering in response to God's action on our behalf.  We are invited to present ourselves and our very life as a sacrifice. Not like those sacrifices made in the Temple on our behalf but to be the sacrifice and offering to God - because in so doing we will experience transformation.  

Our grateful response to God is to discern our life and its patterns as a reflection of the God who loves us.  We can easily go back to the way of the world. We can try to live by the law. We can try and purchase or buy our sacrifice but nothing will lead to the same life that God is freely offering to each of us.  So we have to begin again. We must realize that we must daily start anew. We respond to God's never failing love for us by each day committing ourselves to a grateful response.

Our bodies, our gifts, our very life is given to us as a part of the whole life of God on earth. We are members of a great cloud of witnesses, a great body of Christ. Each of us is given part of the work of carrying out God's mercy in the world. The Holy Spirit which makes us part of the one body of  Christ also enlivens us to be an active member in our community and out in the world.  We are all given unique qualities which reflect the God we believe in and the God who animates all creation.  Yet we are not independent but interdependent members. We depend upon one another and are part of one another's life and livelihood.

This interdependence is for the building up of the kingdom of God and the manifestation of grace in the world around us.  Our uniqueness and our unique gifts are part of the wider community and its overall functioning. Gifts are each dependent upon the others.  So Paul continues...As one body in Christ the gift of prophecy (inspired preaching) is dependent upon the gift of ministry - the administration of aid and distribution of alms.  Teaching is dependent upon exhortation (the urging of others to have faith).[see Chris Haslaam's site on the breakdown]  All of these are gifts that work together in harmony and unity.
4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
As one body there are many members and we are all in need of the other.  

I think the challenge here is that we don't truly engage in this notion that all have gifts. We don't really have time to figure this out with people. We are typically only interested in the gifts that help run the church. Any gift that might take more time or cause a disruption in the gentle order of things is a gift discarded.  We have decided that the only gifts of preaching, teaching, church planting, and leadership belong to those with advanced training and three years of masters study.  

Paul points out the truth of Jesus and his call to those first fishermen. Paul points out the truth of the call to the first apostles appointed by the Holy Spirit - none of them had an MDiv.  They were all kinds and sorts of people. They were poor and wealthy. They were wise and simple. Yet all received their gifts from the Holy Spirit. They gave their lives to the health and vitality of the kingdom of God.  

So I wonder...do we dare preach the truth this Sunday? Even though it will cause a fair bit of trouble for those in power and enmeshed in the hierarchy... courage is probably the right tactic here. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Proper 15A/Ordinary 20A/Pentecost +10 August 17, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think



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

"Like the story of the woman who as an outsider experiences God's mercy and so challenges a too-narrow tradition that would want to restrict God's mercies to a chosen few, so these sayings invite a reexamination of our hearts and call us to a new appraisal of the expansive reach of God's mercies."
Commentary, Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

God of all the nations, in the outstretched arms of Jesus the Crucified you gather the people of earth, diverse and divided, into a single embrace of salvation and peace.  Stir up within us the longing for unity that filled the heart of Jesus your Son, and let our every word and deed serve your design of universal salvation, until all are gathered into your one family to be perfectly one in your covenant of love. 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 15:10-28

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Wow. Now this Sunday we have an interesting passage! In order to engage this passage we must realize that it comes after a confrontation scene with the religious leaders. Jesus has just been confronted by the authorities who are challenging him that he is not following the tradition of his faith ancestors.  They are acting somewhat like inspectors who are pretty sure the disciples have not been washing their hands before they sit down and eat.  The passage is a direct engagement with the rules of the day which understand the tradition of the religious authorities to be outside the tradition of scripture; and therefore Jesus in our passage today teaches the crowd around him.

Scholars tend to look upon this text as trying to deal with the difference between the Matthean communal rule of life and that of their forebears.

At the same time we must recognize that while this may be true, we also know that this engagement with the religious authorities was one of the key mitigating factors that led to Jesus' crucifixion.

Jesus is proclaiming a message that connects the new emerging communities with the ancient law of the Israel and their prophets.  The new communities that Jesus is speaking to are certainly continuing Jewish communities.  But the Gentile mission too was quickly to engage as a full member of the evolving understanding of God's widening kingdom.  Jesus is preserving the good news of a God who is in relationship with his people and who makes promises to be with them always even to the end of the ages; a God who promises the abundance of creation.  So there is a sense that Jesus is continuing and reforming. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 537)

Jesus' teaching is essential to a global mission.  Jesus' teaching is the pre-cursor to the Apostolic Decree from Acts 15.20, 29; 21.45.  Wherein the first community of followers of Jesus quickly laid out the boundaries that would enable the Jew and the Gentile to worship God through the particular revelation of Jesus Christ without getting in one an other's way.  The rule prohibited four things: eating meat sacrificed to idols, eating blood, eating strangled animals, and intercourse with near kin. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 538)  These were the rules.

The real focus I think for this passage has to be the text: What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and that defiles a man (15.18).  This is a key component to Matthew's Gospel; indeed the whole of the Gospels. It is mentioned throughout the Gospel narrative.  Too often religion gets overly focused upon ritual and in so doing looses sight of the key component of faith - the direction through the heart of one's life and work.

It is one's intention and attitudes that is a chief characteristic of Jesus' words to his followers.  It is perhaps the center of Jesus' own moral teachings.  Integrity is the result of harmony between thought and act.  Integrity is the result of an action based upon the living word of God brought into being through the vessel of one's heart and delivered by mouth and hands.

In the end Jesus' own teaching is why he must accept the challenge by the woman.  He too much act in accordance with his own teaching and in so doing shows the integrity of his words and his actions.  All too many preachers will get hung up on the woman's challenge. Do not miss the challenge Jesus is offering to us who craft many rules for the segregating of our own communities.

This is not particularly new teaching that Jesus is offering his followers. In fact most religious reform is not new.  It is rather a rereading, reinterpreting, and re vocalizing of the ancient words of psalms, prophets, and rabbis.  It is to say that keeping the commandment was good, but that interiorizing the commandment was essential religious work.

Allison and Davies in their work on Matthew write this:

The Psalms, the prophets, and the rabbis all attest the necessity of cleansing the heart and purifying interior disposition.  In the First Gospel, however, there is a regular and emphatic dwelling on the them, so that Matthew remains a constant reminder that Jesus laid an extraordinary emphasis on the real inner religious significance of the commandments.

We are challenged by this passage a great deal.  As a Church we are working through divisions on the different ways of acting out our faith - liturgy, sacrament, and polity. Yet I think we are being judged by those who do not come to church but seek God. We are being looked upon by those who love Jesus and believe he would have similar criticisms of today's church.

I think we are challenged to hold up today's scripture and ask ourselves as individuals and as preachers and teachers what are the things we are most concerned about? What are the items from the last meeting we went to and did not go our way and so now we are harboring as essential to the life of our church? What are the items we hold most dear and most important: budget, altar guild, ritual, grounds, coffee hour?  What are they and how are they connected to the religious heart of our church? How are the things we hold as most important connected to the religious heart of Jesus' Gospel?

This is a good exercise.  Perhaps we should do the work corporately and then offer ourselves to God and be reconciled to God, our neighbor and the world.  Then perhaps we can take genuine step forward in mission reconnecting our words and actions with our own heart and with the heart of Jesus and his Word.

"God will not give up on us. His promise of life is centered in the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the Deliverer from sin, death, and the power of the devil for Jew and Gentile alike."
Commentary, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"What a wonderful vision: God wants to have compassion towards all people - and will!"
"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 9, William Loader, Murdoch University 



Paul has made his case, one that I do not agree with, that Israel will not be saved at the last day.  My view is in fact a generous view given the fact that most Jews today do not believe as I do that reconciliation with God is possible by God's doing and through God's love.  Some may be saved he says, but not many.  

Paul then explains how like him both Jews and Gentiles may come to believe and that he is a chief example of how God is working his purpose out with his people the Israelites.  God is faithful and God intends to save his people. The Israelites are still his chosen people.  God will lead the Israelites to this new understanding by means of the Gentile Christians and their faithfulness he says.

Gentile Christians, who were once unfaithful/disobedient are now part of the family of God. They are and can be examples to the Jews ans show them how to respond to the grace and mercy and love of God.  They are to be examples to the world, to Jew and Gentile alike, of how to live with God.  I think this is the part of the passage that will preach.

As a follower of Jesus, who receives grace and the spirit, I have an opportunity to live a life worthy of my saving. I have an opportunity out of gratitude to reflect the love of God to all people.  In so doing they will be drawn towards God and God's love.  

I am not to spend a lot of time worrying about who is save and who is not.  Instead my work as a God fearer and Jesus follower is to live a life of grace. I am to be as C. S. Lewis said, a little Christ.  In so doing others will become as I am and in turn be Christs out in the world.  This is our work. Freed from the law and forever united by the love of God I am to respond out of gratitude and live a life of the Spirit for all the world to see...never boasting in my own saving work but in the work of may savior Jesus Christ.






Monday, August 4, 2014

Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +9 August 10, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"How can we preach this tired story in a way that people can hear it?"
"Salvation and Fear and Jesus' Ghost," Russell Rathbun, The Hardest Question, 2011.

"...faith is about doing. A faithful person eventually gets to the point at which s/he can say to God, 'I don't know where you're going, but I know that wherever it is, I'd rather be drowning with you than be crowned by somebody else.'"
Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Proper 14. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Strong and faithful God, your outstretched arm governs the mighty forces of creation, and your gentle hand cradles event he smallest of creatures.  Strengthen our "little faith," and open our eyes to your presence at every moment of history and in every circumstance of life, that we may face with serenity times of testing and turmoil, and walk with Christ through every storm toward safe haven and true 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 A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 14:22-33

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

There is a lot occurring in this passage from Matthew.  Not unlike the work of Jesus Christ as co-creator shining through the miracle of the loaves and fishes we now continue on to see God's hand at work as the lord of the seas.

At first glance we see here in this passage the miraculous acts of Jesus holding up Peter's faith walk, walking on the sea himself, and stilling the storm.  While miraculous in their own right we must also pay close attention to the notion that these are acts reserved for God; these are literally acts which throughout the narrative of the Old Testament are work reserved for God alone.  So, the story is on the one hand a story of miracles but as preachers we must not loose the notion that the story also reveals the holiness, the other-ness, the God-ness of Jesus Christ.  These acts reveal Jesus as the divine Christ.

Not unlike the creedal faith soon proclaimed by the church we see in this story that the Godhead shares with the divine Jesus his nature as creator.

Allison and Davies (the Matthean scholars) point out that Matthew is quick to address the theological for evangelism purposes while at the same time delivering a teaching on the nature of following Jesus.  The Gospel for this Sunday is as much about who Jesus is as it is about whom we are to become if we choose to follow Jesus.

Christians must have faith in the face of difficulties.  As Christians try and follow Jesus and try to enact or make real his commands we know we will have difficulties.  Get out and come to me....is not as easy as it may sound.  The idea that when we step out in faith we step out upon the deep water itself.  The metaphorical teaching of the Gospel lesson is clear: Jesus will not abandon his church (those in the boat) and will come to our aid when we tread the deep water for Jesus sake.  Jesus does not promise there will not be storms but does promise to be there in the midst of the storm.

There is still something more here though. We cannot forget that the Gospel voice of Matthew is one born out of a continuing Jewish context of Jesus followers.  Here in this passage we move from a general understanding of the kingdom to the specific building upon the shoulders of Peter a new community ( a specific Matthean community) of faithful followers.  The insight offered is not one of perfection (after all Peter sinks and will fail again at the passion).  The insight rather is one of understanding the difficulty of faithful following itself.  The apostolic witness of Peter is one upon whom the community will be built. He represents the continuation and tie with the ancient faith ancestors of Israel, and also the willingness to step out and bring the revelation of God in Jesus Christ into the messianic age of community.  A community of continuing Israel's faith in a Messiah who does not leave us but continues to engage the storm of community life and faithful attempts to bear witness to his divine nature and kingdom.

I have to admit that I fail.  That is not something we aspire to in the United States. Failure is not an American option.  It has led us to hold leaders up to a perfection unattainable. At the same time our aspiration for success has also led us to be unwilling to bend or fail; in turn this has led us to not even try.  It is the not trying that is the greater sin. As I reflect upon Peter's walk I think that the reality is that the greater sin is not found in his faith as it falters for there is enough grace for all.  The greater sin would have been not to have tried.  The greater sin would have to not believed in the grace of Christ such that we would have stayed in the boat.

I believe the issue with the church isn't so much that we don't believe in Jesus Christ, but that our real sin is that of perfection.  If it can't be perfect then we should not try.  The Episcopal Church (and my guess is all churches) today is being challenged to get out of the boat. We are being challenged to take a faithful step out into the world. We are being invited and challenged to step out upon deep waters and we are being challenged to fail gloriously.  When an institution and a culture no longer has the ability to tolerate failure the organization is dead.

I hope you will challenge people to get out of the boat.  I hope you will challenge the church to leave the building.  Most of all I pray for you and for me the gift of toleration to allow people to fail gloriously for the sake of the kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus.  In such grace we can hear Jesus' words to us:  “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”


"Paul seeks to work out a theology which is consistently informed by the being and nature of God as caring. Where it poses problems, even for the new Christianity, Paul refuses to surrender it as a starting point."
"First Thoughts on Passages on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Lent 1, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"This is the word of salvation that God has ordained from before time. Jesus Christ is the word in whom all are called to rejoice, Jew and Gentile. This is the word that calls for heralds of God's promise today."
Commentary, Romans 10:5-15, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.


In our passage from Romans today we continue with Paul's attempts to understand and explain why the Jews have some how failed to grasp the truth about God in Christ Jesus.

The primary reason Paul says is that their faith and relationship with God the Father is based upon their covenant at Sinai.  They are in relationship with God through the law and the law alone. They are focused upon works and not faith.  Paul then does, what I think is an unfortunate thing, he twists a passage from Isaiah and offers a vision that God intended the Jews to fail.  I don't think this is true.  I think Paul has confused the passage completely.

The Jews still await a messiah but they have missed out on the Messiah that God has chosen Christ Jesus.  They remain focused upon the law and their own path to God's bosom.  Paul sees it clearly and says they ave essentially missed the messiah and Christ's redemption from the law so they remain imprisoned.

Paul points out that even Moses offered a faith of the heart and lips and not one solely based upon the law. Paul says they have gotten off track and that in missing Jesus they have missed salvation.  They have instead chosen the harder way to God and that the way of the law is ultimately going to lead to death.

Paul then uses Isaiah and Joel again to point towards Christ. He reinterprets the passage to mean Jesus and that Jesus is the bearer of the good news.  All people have the opportunity to understand it.  Yet many still do not believe.  

The problem I think for the preacher is how not to become anti-Semitic here in this teaching. I believe that God saves the Jews and the Muslims through and by their Abrahamic covenants.  That is theirs to sort out and to keep.  The three faiths are different.  So I would steer clear even though Paul has a very clear view of their predicament.

That being said I think this passage holds a great deal of prophetic teaching and preaching for those who choose to undertake the difficult work of parsing it out.  The reality is that humans in human communities all reject the grace and messianic truth of Jesus - even Christians. We too easily fall into the way of the law and begin to use the law as a means of salvation. 
1. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.
2. I worship him in the spirit.
3. I am baptized.
4. I believe the scripture and fulfill it.
AND you (whoever the you is) don't...
We do well to remember the powerful place Romans plays in the reformation. The reformers read this and saw clearly that the Christian Church itself had become a place of the law and not a place of grace.

In this moment of great awakening let us preach and offer a Gospel message of grace and salvation. Let us focus upon our own saving, our gratitude and our response. And, let us make way within our community for God's grace to gather others in - especially those who do not follow the laws we have created to keep them out.



Monday, July 28, 2014

Proper 13A/Ordinary 18A/Pentecost +8 August 3, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"Dostoevsky, in the magnificent "The Grand Inquisitor" chapter of The Brothers Karamazov, ties the matter of bread and hunger to the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11."
Commentary, Matthew 14:13-21, (Pentecost 7), Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The last supper makes sense in the light of all the other meals including this one and they make sense in the light of the vision of liberation and reconciliation which inspired them. To receive him in bread and wine is also to participate in the vision and nourishment which makes it possible."
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Loving God as a mother tenderly gathers her children and as a father joyfully welcomes his own, so in the compassion of Jesus you nurture and nourish us, feed us and heal us.  Let the bread Jesus multiplied then in the wilderness be broken and shared among us now.  May the communion we experience with each other in this holy meal, compel us to seek communion with everyone in loving service toward all. 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 14:13-21

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Not unlike the grace imparted in the Eucharistic meal the feeding of the five thousand connects Jesus' ministry of feeding people with God's continuous outpouring of love.

Certainly, the Gospel author tells his story in such a way that the feeding events in the Matthean narrative are linked.  They give shape and image to the final feast.  Matthew's vision of Jesus as Christ and as provider shapes the story even in the telling.

This passage comes in the midst of the fourth largest section of the Gospel. It echoes the abundance of the previous passages on the kingdom of God and not unlike a sacrament it puts flesh on the images of parables that Jesus has been offering those who have ears. In a way, the feeding of the five thousand is an incarnation of the kingdom parables.  Jesus is showing that the kingdom is all around and that God's grace abounds in the fields and on the hill tops not only in the sanctuaries.  He is showing that the mandate to care and love and feed one another is a commandment that will not be confined to the rules of the religiously powerful.

He is also manifesting a very real kingdom community.  The signs and stories, the symbols and the miracles, are now embracing an ever expanding vision and reality which is the growing kingdom.

The New Testament scholar Gerhardsson comments:

In Matthew's time the Eucharist had probably not yet been made fully distinct from the satiating common meals in the early Christian communities.  Thus Eucharistic symbolism does not exclude the possibility that the story is concerned with the satisfaction of elementary bodily hunger -- and vice versa."(Allison/Davies, Matthew, p 492)

The Davies and Allison Commentary continues the theme:

In other words, the spiritualizing of 14:13-21 on Matthew's part does not discount the equal emphasis upon Jesus as the one who can meet mundane, physical needs.  Our pericope therefore both shows Jesus' concern for such 'non-religous' needs and likewise demonstrates his ability to act in accord with that concern.  So the christological assertion that Jesus is  Lord of all seems implicit. (Ibid)
In the miracle of the multiplication of fish and loaves the Christian Church as a vision of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, through whom all things were made.  We have a vision of Jesus modeling a stewardship of abundance that insures that the world is not simply a place of consumption ("This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away"); but rather that all creation is seen as bountiful for a sustainable kingdom of God ("They need not go away.")

The miracle challenges us to see the possibilities of a church at work in the world.  It challenges us to move out as missionaries into our culture of scarcity and seek to transform the world by bringing real food to all those who are hungry.  Instead of sending them away to other agencies or expecting the government to care we, the Episcopal Church and the Church, must take our rightful place as the hands of God.  We must feed the world and make real the kingdom. We must make the Gospel story of our bible, the one of parable and miracle, a reality.  Only when we re-engage the world as the incarnational body of Christ at work (meeting the very real needs) will the world listen to the Good News we also offer.

For far too long the Church has squabbled over the idea that it is either evangelism or outreach. This Gospel lesson reminds us that service to the poor, with whom Jesus identified himself, and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God go hand in hand.


"People these days ask God to damn lots of things. I have, too; but I've never had the nerve to include myself on the list. Paul did, offering to surrender his own salvation in Christ if it could make a difference."
Commentary, Romans 9:1-5, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"The identity of the Messiah is the greatest of God's gifts to Paul's kindred according to the flesh. This brings Paul to the only words that can express the focus of all that he has said in these introductory words?a doxology of praise to God?'God blessed forever. Amen!'"
Commentary, Romans 9:1-5, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

Romans is a magnificent text by Paul.  We have covered a great deal of theological breadth.  He has offered an understanding of how God is at work in the world even now and making it new. He has given us an understanding of the life of the disciple who follows Jesus, is baptized, and forever adopted into union with God.  He has given us hope in our suffering and an understanding nothing can separate us from the love of God.

In this part of Romans he deals with the issue that the Jews have rejected Christ and the Good News of Salvation.  Paul, a Jew himself, wishes this was not so.  Paul would do anything to help the Jews come to Christ.  Then Paul offers these insights. They are insights worth pondering as we seek a healthy relationship with our brothers and sisters with whom we share the Abrahamic faith.

  • The Jews also called the Israelites are inheritors of God's promise to Abraham.  They are adopted like us and children of God.
  • God has been present with them in the desert and in the Temple and continues his presence among them.
  • God is faithful to his promises and so will keep his covenants made with their forefathers - Adam, Noah, Moses, and David of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • God has given them the law to follow and it expresses his will at Sinai and his desire for them to worship.
  • Their continual and faithful worship is essential in their life with God.

Paul though also believes that Jesus is their gift as well.  God is the one who chooses and not the Jews. This is where Paul believes they have gone wrong. God has chosen Jesus to fulfill the law and to unite all humanity to God.  So, while they have so much they lack the one thing.

I think the challenge this passage presents to us is the reality that God is continuing to move and work in the world around us. We like the Jews of Paul's time may be too assured in our certainty and may in fact - like them - be missing the work the Holy Spirit is undertaking outside our churches. Just as the Jews could not see a religion freed to the masses beyond the confines of the Temple so too we may have a difficult time seeing God at work in the world around us.  We may count upon our lineage and adoption too much.  Paul is willing to give it all up to participate in the emerging faith around him. What are we willing to give up so that others may have life and have it abundantly?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Proper 12A/Ordinary 17A/Pentecost +7 July 27, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Jesus’ parables, the words of St. Paul, and much of the Bible should serve as a reminder that when it comes to the enormity of God, God’s Kingdom, God’s Salvation, etc. we are not only merely privy to dim reflection—silhouettes—but a silhouette is all we can handle."
"Splashing Water on the Floor," Fr. Rick Morley, a garden path, 2011.


"In the Treasure parable, one's "treasure" (thesaurus in Greek) is an important metaphor in Matthew indicating where one's allegiance ultimately lies and its nature."
Commentary, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer

Good and generous God, fountain of all wisdom, in Christ you have revealed your kingdom to us, a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price.  Grant us your Spirit's gift of discernment, that we may learn to distinguish aright between the passing wealth of this present world and the enduring value of your kingdom.  Then make us swift to renounce all else to acquire the treasure you alone can bestow. 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 13:31-52

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We continue with our parable teaching of Jesus this week.  It it good to remember that Matthew's Gospel account tells us of a number of Jesus' parables.

13.24-30 The weeds and wheat
13.44-6 The hidden treasure and the pearl of great price
13.47-50 The net
13.23-35 The unfaithful servant
20.1-16 The workers in the vineyard
21.29-32 The two sons
22.1-14 The marriage supper
25.1-13 The ten virgins
25.31-46 The last judgment
Together these are about the kingdom of God, and they helps us understand the urgency of following, the cost of following, the importance of not being divided along the way, and the need for preparedness.  The kingdom of God is at hand. We must be ready and we must be willing to make our journey not concerned about the cost nor our traveling partners!

This Sunday we read three of these: Hidden Treasure; Pearl of Great Price; and The Drag Net

Each begins in a similar manner: “The kingdom of Heaven is like.…” One of the interesting things is that none of this Sunday's material appears in any of the other Gospels; so this is a special Sunday that gives the preacher an opportunity to really grasp the Matthean Gospel message of kingdom and kingdom community.

The first image that Jesus gives us is that finding the kingdom of Heaven is like finding a treasure hidden in a field, for the sake of which one will sell everything. Treasure was often hidden in fields.  We might remember the find in England called the Staffordshire Hoard. Found in 2009 you can read and watch the story by following the link above.  The treasure included 1500 pieces of Anglo Saxon treasure.  Unlike treasure buried in a tomb the scholars believe this treasure was buried for safe keeping.

We note that this parable presupposes that the kingdom is hidden, that it is not yet revealed to everyone.  This fits well with the thrust of the rest of the chapter. The Kingdom of God is breaking forth and not everyone either sees it or is able to live within it yet.  Not unlike previous parables the revelation of Jesus and God's kingdom is not perfectly clear to all…it can only be perceived by those with ears to hear and eyes to see.  We think immediately of Jesus as he returns to his home town:
54 He came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?55Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?56And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’57And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.’58And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
The next parable is the one most often called the Pearl of Great Price.  The rawness of these three parable is so very like what most scholars believe would have been Jesus' teaching style.  Many presuppose that this is exactly how Jesus would have talked and would have taught those who followed him.  Not unlike the the parable of the treasure hidden in a field the meaning is similar.
Unlike the previous parable though we are challenged to ask the question: why does a merchant purchase a pearl?  Merchants purchase items to resell them.  So we have a spin on the hidden treasure. The hidden treasure is for the pleasure of the finder. The pearl’s pleasure is in its sale.  We might say that the pearl becomes symbolically connected with the Gospel itself and the discipleship of giving away the grace received.

The last parable in our teaching is The Parable of The Drag-Net.  Perhaps like the wheat and the weeds we are being reminded once again that in the end the wicked and the righteous will be separated out.  I don't think that the preacher can get around the message here that Jesus, and likely his followers, saw a very tragic end of those who reject the Messiah.  This was rooted in their history and in the prophetic teachings they received.  This too is our understanding.  We believe as a church that there will be judgment in the end. The argument about who is saved and who is not is as old as the scriptures themselves.  Recently this argument has been ignited by the writings of N. T. Wright and Rob Bell.  Certainly we have our catholic faith which tells us there is judgement.  We have our own desire that tells us that we hope everyone is saved; in part because we worry about our own salvation and life lived.

It seems to me though that not unlike the message of the sower and the weeds we must ask ourselves about the net itself. Is our mission work like the drag net? Are we so working and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we are encircling and bringing in such a bounty that there will be many saints and sinners caught by the kingdom of God and the Gospel we proclaim.  Certainly Jesus will do the sorting out (not us!) but is our net big enough? Are we strong enough to live as saints and sinners, as sinners and saints, shoulder to shoulder with a diverse community.  We might remember the other stories of nets in the Gospel...  Is our mission broad enough so that our net is about to break?

You see the parable of the drag net includes a Greek word: genos.  Before the parable is explained Jesus says: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind." (Every KIND, every genos.)  This word was most often used to mean race, nation, or tribe.  I would offer that before you spend a lot of time preaching about judgement the church as a whole could use a good dose of preaching on mission and that the parable of the drag net challenges us to be a church in mission.  Let us as a church mirror the culture around us in our diversity of race and language. Let each church represent the people in the neighborhoods around them.  Let each diocese be challenged to represent the people (in all their diversity) of the geography in which they have been planted.


"Without the future hope, God's present involvement in the lives of the suffering might amount to little more than a feeble expression of the company that misery loves."
Commentary, Romans 8:26-39, Mary Hinkle Shore, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

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

God loves us and reconciles himself to us. He sets aside the result of the law in order to have us be together eternally.  We can see and hope in this very real adoption received by Christ's death and resurrection and marked upon us in baptism.  We know death is not final and that we will live with God eternally and that nothing can separate us from God's love. This has been the theme of Romans.  In our passage today Paul reminds us that we need help from the Spirit in order to navigate and live in the mean time.

We are limited both by our vision and because of our sinful broken nature.  We just can't seem to do the things we want to do and are forever doing the things we do not want to do.  For this reason the Spirit helps us.  God created us to love and respond to him.  God knew we would do this and and that we would need help.  Paul says this is part of the plan to which creation is following.  We are struggling and so the Spirit is sent to us to help us.

When we open ourselves up to God and God's love the Spirit intercedes where we are weak and gives us strength.  We are recreated in this world as preparation for the next. God is remaking us.  God is enabling us to be faithful...though we will surely fail again.  

So how do we know? How are we certain God will be successful?  Paul says God is for us, God has decided not to condemn us, and God has and is justifying us.  Christ Jesus who knows us in now with God. He himself is preparing a place for us. Christ Jesus is advocating for us and pleading our case.  God has come into the world and has returned and so knows us intimately and knows our struggles and our faithfulness.  

It is this reason, this presence of Christ Jesus with God, that assures our triumph and the certain hope of those things promised - our eternal adoption. Then Paul gives that wonderful few words that are some of the most comforting in all of scripture - especially for a sinner like me...
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No matter what we may suffer in this life we will have victory because of God in Christ Jesus.  Nothing can separate us from God's love.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Proper 11A/Ordinary 16A/Pentecost +6 July 20, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Perhaps there were some overzealous 'weeders' in Matthew's congregation who wanted to purify the community by rooting out the bad seed. This seems to be a temptation for followers of Jesus in every age."
Commentary, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 201l.

"Never uproot people in your mind or attitude by treating them as no longer of any worth!"
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 5, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer
With a love both powerful and patient, O God you sustain the growth of the good seed your Son has planted. Let your word like a mustard seed, bear rich fruit within us, and like a little yeast, produce its effects throughout the whole church. Thus may we dare to hope that a new humanity will blossom and grow to shine like the sun in your kingdom when the Lord of the harvest returns at the end of the age.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 13:24-43

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We remember from our work on this chapter last week that Jesus has been surrounded by crowds and is teaching from a boat. He is teaching in parables as was his custom on many occasions; and was a traditional form of teaching and preaching. Perhaps not unlike our postmodern custom of preaching which weaves in cultural stories, narratives, movies, and prose.

The material in this cycle of teaching is unique to Matthew's Gospel and so may offer insight about the nature of his community.

The Greek indicates that this first story is about a householder with servants. He has fields and during the night while everyone is asleep an enemy comes and sows weeds into his perfectly good field. His servants are very concerned and want to pull up the weeds. He then says, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn."

According to Leviticus 19.19 sowing weeds into the field makes the field ritually impure. As a number of scholars point out just gathering the weeds won't fix the problem.

So perhaps in keeping with the sowing of seeds which is also part of this chapter the kingdom of heaven is very different than the community of faith in Jesus' time which aimed at being pure. Perhaps the kingdom of heaven exists in the midst of the impure - the profane. Not unlike the sower who sows seeds with abandon; we see that the idea of where the community of God exists is in the world. That there is no separation in the world between the righteous and the unrighteous. That the mission of God is in the midst of the people of God (those actively participating in the kingdom and those who have not yet heard the Gospel).

We might be challenged then after reading the first parable in this sunday's lesson to ask ourselves: Do we have enough weeds in our field?

The second parable is the parable of the mustard seed. This parable then continues to challenge our notion of the nature of the kingdom of God. First we have a kingdom which lives out its mission in the midst of weeds which is seen by the establishment as unclean and impure. Now we read that the kingdom of heave is a weed.

No one plants a field of mustard seed. It is voracious and chokes out all other growth. In fact it will blossom and bloom and spread to neighboring fields. It grows into a wild bush where many creatures inhabit and live.

We might be challenged then after reading the second parable to ask ourselves: As missionaries do we sow a Gospel that is voracious and weed like; in which many creatures may find shelter?

In the last parable Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” This is crazy! This parable of the kingdom is even wilder than the sower who sows with abandon; the farmer who allows the weeds into his field; or the farmer who grows mustard!

Think about this for a minute. The woman has yeast. She must remove it for the sabbath. This yeast (given the period of time) would have been much like a sourdough starter today. So she is going to mix the yeast in with flour and bake the bread thereby cleaning the house of all its impurity and insuring she does not do any work. She takes this starter and mixes it with "three measures of flour." A measure of flour in the first century was about 8.5 liters; or 36 cups. She has mixed this threefold meaning that she has mixed her yeast starter into 108 cups flour! This will mean that she will end up making about 18 loaves of bread. A loaf of bread would have cost a person a day's wages in Jesus time.

So the kingdom of heaven is like a mad baker! The parable of the yeast is not unlike the parable of the sower. The results is a multiplication of ample amounts.

We are challenged in this third parable to ask ourselves: is our mission proclamation of the Gospel kneading into the world around us copious amounts of yeast to bring forth a great bounty of bread for the world?

Is our Gospel proclamation providing the world around us enough bread that those who are hungry are fed?

The last portion of our text today is an apocalyptic interpretation of the parable about the wheat and the weeds.

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

I do think that one has to make a decision as the preacher how one is going to approach the text. Jesus himself teaches to the crowd and teaches to his closest followers. Will you preach to the wheat and the weeds both parts of this text?

I do think that the preacher needs to make some mention of the reality that the Gospel offers a vision of an end that includes judgement. How is that judgement to be explained.

The reality is that this pulls into the text the a Daniel (12.3) like prophetic vision of the end. Perhaps it is entombed in Jesus' time period and should be overlooked. But I think that we loose something if we don't also deal with accountability. I think that for Jesus and for Matthew's community the message is clear: the proclamation of the kingdom of God matters to God.

No matter what the end times are going to be like...no matter what judgment will be like...our work to sow the seeds, live in a mixed community, proclaim the gospel like a weed and leavening the world around us MATTERS to our God. This is our work and we believe it matters and is essential to life in a community that proclaims Jesus as Lord.

A Blessing
I like this blessing and thought I would share it with you as I think it ties into today's lesson. We have work to do and our footprints in the garden are short, there is community to embrace, a weed like Gospel to sow, and leaven to knead!

"Remember that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be quick to be kind, make haste to love, and may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you now and forever more."

An Excellent Sermon by Martin Luther
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Matthew 13:24-30

A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 1525.
[The following sermon is taken from volume II:100-104 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]

Matt. 13:24-30: Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

1. The Saviour himself explained this parable in the same chapter upon the request of his disciples and says: He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. These seven points of explanation comprehend and clearly set forth what Christ meant by this parable. But who could have discovered such an interpretation, seeing that in this parable he calls people the seed and the world the field; although in the parable preceding this one he defines the seed to be the Word of God and the field the people or the hearts of the people. If Christ himself had not here interpreted this parable every one would have imitated his explanation of the preceding parable and considered the seed to be the Word of God, and thus the Saviour's object and understanding of it would have been lost.

2. Permit me to make an observation here for the benefit of the wise and learned who study the Scriptures. Imitating or guessing is not to be allowed in the explanation of Scripture; but one should and must be sure and firm. Just like Joseph in Gen. 40:12f. interpreted the two dreams of the butler and baker so differently, although they resembled each other, and he did not make the one a copy of the other. True, the danger would not have been great if the seed had been interpreted to be the Word of God; still had this been the case the parable would not have been thus understood correctly.

3. Now this Gospel teaches us how the kingdom of God or Christianity fares in the world, especially on account of its teaching, namely, that we are not to think that only true Christians and the pure doctrine of God are to dwell upon the earth; but that there must be also false Christians and heretics in order that the true Christians may be approved, as St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:19. For this parable treats not of false Christians, who are so only outwardly in their lives, but of those who are unchristian in their doctrine and faith under the name Christian, who beautifully play the hypocrite and work harm. It is a matter of the conscience and not of the hand. And they must be very spiritual servants to be able to identify the tares among the wheat. And the sum of all is that we should not marvel nor be terrified if there spring up among us many different false teachings and false faiths. Satan is constantly among the children of God. (Job 1:6).

4. Again this Gospel teaches how we should conduct ourselves toward these heretics and false teachers. We are not to uproot nor destroy them. Here he says publicly let both grow together. We have to do here with God's Word alone; for in this matter he who errs today may find the truth tomorrow. Who knows when the Word of God may touch his heart? But if he be burned at the stake, or otherwise destroyed, it is thereby assured that he can never find the truth; and thus the Word of God is snatched from him, and he must be lost, who otherwise might have been saved. Hence the Lord says here, that the wheat also will be uprooted if we weed out the tares. That is something awful in the eyes of God and never to be justified.

5. From this observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe; the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, the Jews with death, and thus outroot the tares by our own power, as if we were the ones who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God's Word alone must do. But by murder we separate the people from the Word, so that it cannot possibly work upon them and we bring thus, with one stroke a double murder upon ourselves, as far as it lies in our power, namely, in that we murder the body for time and the soul for eternity, and afterwards say we did God a service by our actions, and wish to merit something special in heaven.

6. Therefore this passage should in all reason terrify the grand inquisitors and murderers of the people, where they are not brazened faced, even if they have to deal with true heretics. But at present they burn the true saints and are themselves heretics. What is that but uprooting the wheat, and pretending to exterminate the tares, like insane people?

7. Today's Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing, since the good seed is sowed only by Christ, and Satan can sow nothing but evil Seed; as we also see that the field of itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat, although the field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat. In the same way the false Christians among the true Christians are of no use but to feed the world and be food for Satan, and they are so beautifully green and hypocritical, as if they alone were the saints, and hold the place in Christendom as if they were lords there, and the government and highest places belonged to them; and for no other reason than that they glory that they are Christians and are among Christians in the church of Christ, although they see and confess that they live unchristian lives.

8. In that the Saviour pictures here also Satan scattering his seed while the people sleep and no one sees who did it, he shows how Satan adorns and disguises himself so that he cannot be taken for Satan. As we experienced when Christianity was planted in the world Satan thrust into its midst false teachers. People securely think here God is enthroned without a rival and Satan is a thousand miles away, and no one sees anything except how they parade the Word, name and work of God. That course proves beautifully effective. But when the wheat springs up, then we see the tares, that is, if we are conscientious with Gods Word and teach faith, we see that it brings forth fruit, then they go about and antagonize it, and wish to be masters of the field and fear lest only wheat grows in the field, and their interests be overlooked.

9. Then the church and pastor marvel; but they are not allowed to pass judgment, and eagerly wish to interpret all for the best, since such persons bear the Christian name. But it is apparent they are tares and evil seed, have strayed from the faith and fallen to trust in works, and think of rooting out the tares. They lament because of it before the Lord, in the heartfelt prayer of their spirit. For the sower of the good seed says again, they should not uproot it, that is, they should have patience, and suffer such blasphemy, and commend all to God; for although the tares hinder the wheat, yet they make it the more beautiful to behold, compared with the tares, as St. Paul also says in 1 Cor. 2:19: "For there must be false factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you." This is sufficient on today's text. 


"The inheritance is not a place or a gift or a reward, but God and God's glory. And God's glory is not golden shiny streets, but God's own being. The glow and glory of God is what we celebrate in God. Paul is saying: our hope is nothing other than to share in that life."
"First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Whatever evil or suffering we face, we have the blessed assurance that God will see to the completion of our adoption, and nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)."
Commentary, Romans 8:12-17 (Trinity B), Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

God does not promise that now that we live in the Spirit that life will be easy, without difficulty, suffering or sin.  In fact we will encounter and experience all of these things. But life is changed, life is changed and we have hope because God has reconciled us already and our failings and sufferings cannot undo our salvation. Just as we cannot do anything to earn our salvation so too we cannot do anything to undo it.

Our reality is that now that we are Jesus followers and God fearers that we are debtors. We understand our current reality and God's love, grace, and mercy so we are people with a debt.  We now know what God has done and so we are grateful and our response to that gratitude is to live a life that mimics the one who has saved us.

Paul says that we may hope for reconciled life with God and do not despair over the finality of death which will have no hold upon us.  We are the new heirs of Abraham, we are God's children.  We are adopted by God and made heirs.  We are not like slaves who are mandated to do this or that and must fear the master.  Instead we gentiles, like our brothers and sisters of Israel, call God father because we are intimately connected as part of his family.  This is not a statement of maleness or the sex of God but rather an image of the intimate nature of our reconciled relationship with God.  What are the words you might use to describe this? Regardless of what you call it, we as followers of God in Christ Jesus have received union with God. This is a union that cannot be undone.  This adoption is finalized.

Paul then turns to the reality of the community in Rome; probably around 57 ad.  He recognizes and honors their suffering but also points out that this will fail in comparison to the glory which is to come at the end of life.  Sin is a terrible state and has grown in power and it has enslaved us and made us servants to a demanding and awful master.  The world is in bondage and is even now decaying.  But God is at work in and among us.  Everything is even now laboring with great pains toward the kingdom of God.  As Christians in Rome they are suffering and their suffering is part of these pains.  But we are to see that nothing will put an end to God's mighty work of recreating and reconciling the world.  We are enduring and hoping in things not seen because we know that God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Proper 10A/Ordinary 15A/Pentecost +5 July 13, 2014

Quotes That Make Me Think


"This is not about what good soil we are, and how well we understand the divine mysteries. This is about what God is doing in staggering numbers."
Preaching Matthew 13:1-9, Anna Carter Florence, Lectionary Homiletics sample.

"The parable of the careless sower, the miraculous harvest, the helpless, hapless seeds, or the good soil? Which brand name(s) do you prefer? Whichever one(s) you pick, 'let's hear something we've never heard before.'"
"Rebranding the Parable of the Sower," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

Prayer


Creator God, unceasingly at work in the field of humanity sowing the good seed and awaiting its yield, let your Spirit move in power over us to transform our hearts into the good soil you seek. Then may your word bear fruit a hundredfold in our deeds of justice and peace, and thus reveal to a world that eagerly awaits its liberation the blessed hope and glorious freedom of your reign.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 13:1-23

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The setting for this parable is on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. There are many people following Jesus now and they are pressing in on him. He is offering them something they are not receiving elsewhere. He is perhaps helping them see that the world does not have to be the way it is and that the reign of God is at hand. He is sharing with them his vision of the kingdom of God and inviting them to realize that the change begins in their own lives. This band of disciples and Jesus are living on the edge of the culture and of their faith but here they are finding companionship along the way. Herein on the Sea of Galilee they are finding that perhaps there are many who feel they live on the edge.

As the people press in on Jesus he gets in a boat and begins to teach them from this place. One can imagine the people sitting along the edge amidst fishermen repairing their nets and boats. They sit and stand and listen.

Jesus chooses a very pastoral parable. Parables of course are stories with many possible meanings. Martin Luther said that one must depend upon the Holy Spirit to open their deep meaning to the person listening. Jesus even says:

The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.

It is probably worth spending a little time this Sunday teaching about what parables are and the nature of them. Many people have heard them, but most people don't really know what they are; how many they are; or that they were a natural part of teaching during Jesus time.

The text is divided into two parts. The first is the actual teaching, and the the explanation of the teaching. Both are important and both have their place, but I would suggest to you that you must choose to deal with Jesus' parable or Jesus' teaching of the parable.

Let us simply go over the teaching of the parable by Jesus first. Certainly people in Jesus time were more connected with their food sources and where their food comes from. Unlike us today, most of them would have had small gardens. Certainly there was a growing dependance upon farmers, but unlike the industrial age when we see whole economies depend upon foreign food production, people in the time of Jesus all farmed a little. So it is easy to understand his teaching. The sowers sows the seed this is the good news. The ground is us. We can be fruitful or not. We can be like the hard ground, the rocks, or the thorns. We can let birds come and gather it up. These are hard times and much can happen. Here is what Jesus says:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


I think those gathered around Jesus heard this parable and thought about God. Perhaps some of the more religiously astute remember the prophecy of JEroboam from 1 Kings 14:7-11. In this story the prophet Ahijah tells Jeroboam that because he abandoned God and worshipped false Gods that he and his household will suffer for their evil ways and and that the birds of the air will peck at them upon their death. It is the same for King Baasha. So there was some understanding by the population that this birds of the air was not a good thing at all!

It is not a difficult thing to think that God is the sower, receive the good news and reign of God and don't let anything happen to it...nurture it...water it...and for goodness sakes be good ground. At the end of the day if every one of our people sitting in the pew on Sunday morning got that much (be good earth for the Gospel) we would be off to a grand start.

I think there is more there though that is worth looking at and going a little deeper. Here we see that listening and doing are important and key to discipleship work.

A disciple is not one who abandons the quest.
A disciple is not one who listens lightly and then returns to his life as though nothing has changed.
A disciple is one who will be persecuted for their faith.and if not prepared the Gospel will not have rooted itself deep enough o withstand pressure to relent.

These are some key discipleship thoughts. I am interested though in what happens when we take Jesus' last words here and return to the parable to hear it again for the first time.

Jesus says, "But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

Does the one who hears, who understands it, then bears fruit not in turn like the sower. A fruit tree itself is a sower of fruits and seeds. They fall and land every which way. The fruit tree produces a hundredfold. Yet all of it does not grow new fruit trees just like the original sower of seeds. In this way the disciple becomes like the master, the assistant gardener like the master gardener.

In this way the human being who was created to be God's partner in the garden, tending and walking with God in the end of the day is restored. The disciple returns to the work we were originally created to undertake. We are to be, like Jesus, sowers of the seeds of the kingdom of God. We are to sow with abandonment. We are to sow in all kinds of places. We are to not worry about what grows up but it is the production of fruit and the propagation of the Gospel that is essential.

In our work places, in our homes, in our families you and I are to bear the fruit of the Gospel. Which for Jesus is very clear. We are to be the family of God. We are to care for young and old, rich and poor, the powerless and the powerful. We are to bring all to a closer knowledge of God and of his son Jesus Christ. We are to so proclaim the Good News that those around us find the transformation they are seeking.

If we are to go deeper...if we are to go beyond a gnostic understanding of this gospel text where some get it and others don't...then we ourselves must become sowers of the Gospel seed.


One flew off in the belly of a bird.
One sprang up, but withered fast.
One choked by thistles, or so I've heard.
One gained a hundred when it was cast.

Come hear the wise old story
Of a sower and his seed.
He flung it far to fall,
Then battled bird and weed.
Some seed sprouted quickly,
Then withered in the sun--
But some seed fell upon good soil,
And repaid the work he'd done.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

Gospel Seed, that's what we need,
\Gospel Seed, sweet Lord, we plead.
Draw deep truth from God's own word,
Cast it far until its heard.
Gospel Seed, new life within,
Gospel Seed, some soul we'll win.
Nothing's growing till we're sowing
Gospel Seed.

Sun and rain and time pass by,
And what was sown awakes.
First the blade, then the bud,
Then full ear it makes.
Come now golden harvest,
We'll reap what we have sown.
Seed once watered by our tears
Will be glad sheaves brought home.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

Gospel Seed, that's what we need,
Gospel Seed, sweet Lord, we plead.
Draw deep truth from God's own word,
Cast it far until its heard.
Gospel Seed, new life within,
Gospel Seed, some soul we'll win.
Nothing's growing till we're sowing
Gospel Seed.

Bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves.
We will come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.
Bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves,
We will come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.

But nothing can start growing,
Until we begin sowing.

2002 by Skip Johnson


"...To hear, that is, that no matter what we've done or has been done to us, no matter what we may have previously heard or presently believe, God is not angry with us. To hear that God loves us, forgives us, accepts us as we are, and sets us free to live lives of meaning, purpose, grace, and gratitude."
"What Willl You Do...?" David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.
"Preachers of this text must, therefore, be careful to read it not as an ethically prescriptive text but rather as an anthropologically descriptive text, a metaphor for the act of salvation that only God is able to do."
Commentary, Romans 8:6-11 (Lent 5A), Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

Last week we talked about the two ways of being in the world - living by the law, living by the grace of God knowing you will fail to keep the law. In this passage Paul talked about the conflict between the exterior doing self and the inner believing self.

In this passage Paul continues his thinking by laying out that something is simply wrong in our inner being - in our mind - our will.  We seem (while we are created to be God's creatures) to be unable to do what God wills. We are sinful and we are somehow broken.  Our flesh, Paul offers, seems to do bad things quite naturally.  

This being true we are grateful to God that there is no ultimate condemnation for these mistakes.  100% forgiveness.  This is true Paul says, because God's Spirit, through God's action in baptism, has freed us from death.  Nothing we do has done this...God has done it all. God has loved us so much that God came into the world.  God in the world, reaching out to us in perfect love, dies because of our sin. We do what we do...we kill love, forgiveness, and mercy.  God is faithful to us and does not raise a hand against us but heals and serves us and changes the equation.  God suffers what we give in return and dies in accordance with the law and our will.  God then redeems the whole situation through resurrection - forever reconciling us with God and with one another.

Paul then illustrates that even still there remains two mindsets which struggle against one another - the one focused upon ourselves and the other which is focused upon God.  The first is rooted in the law and leads to death; the second is a life lived in gratitude and leads to eternal life.  Those who follow Jesus are the ones who are living in the spirit and therefore will not die but have life eternal.  

God's spirit is with us - even to the end of the ages - and when we live in gratitude to the mighty work of God we be living in the spirit and have life abundantly.  This is the only way one has life.  The truth is that as humans we live believing that everything else will bring us happiness and eternal life. We believe all else will provide life abundantly - but in the end - the truth is clear - none of it brings gratitude and life.